Looking back, the logic behind my desire to make this trip made no sense. “I want to do it to prove something to myself,” I would tell people who questioned my reasoning. I would naively continue, “I have never traveled somewhere alone. It will be a huge personal growth experience.”
I was sitting in my favorite corner of Campbell’s Canal Café, located in my favorite borough of London, Camden. I had become accustomed to only facetiming my friends and family back home. The phone I had purchased in London only worked within the European Union, and my phone from home only worked on Wi-Fi. It was a first world problem at its finest. I had gotten to know the employee’s at the Café well enough over the past four months that I no longer tried to have private facetime conversations. The only thing more awkward than having a conversation with your phone is trying to hide the fact you are having a conversation with an inanimate object. It had been almost a week since I had last talked to my mom, so I thought I owed it to her to inform her I was still alive.
Bailey and I had just planned out our longest adventure while abroad. A two-week journey through the European cities we had yet to explore. It would start in Barcelona, Spain, where we would stay with one of my high school friends who was working abroad and end on an island called Ischia, off the coast of Naples, where we would stay in the upstairs bedroom of an older woman’s house in the hills. The entire extravaganza worked out perfectly. The last day of our travels, Bailey’s mom would be flying into London Heathrow. Bailey would fly from Naples to London and meet her mom at our favorite brunch spot, Bills. I, on the other hand, had no clue where I would go next.
I am infamous for having the means, but no end. Four months prior, I flew to London on a one-way with no knowledge of when or how I may return. Although I had never been to Europe, London had always intrigued me. Yes, with its gloomy reputation of sarcastic sour faced inhabitants, I was determined to live there. I had roughly two more months in London, and I was panicking. I had a list of places in Europe I wanted to visit while living here, and while I had made a hefty dent in it, I wanted to experience so much more.
After my mom’s initial sarcastic “thanks for keeping in touch” comment, she continued on with her normal rambling. I zoned out sometime after she explained in detail how cute my basset hound, Oliver, looked at the moment. Mind you, this is the 21st century, and we were speaking via video. The logical thing would be to show me Oliver, but I’m dealing with a baby boomer, so I let it slide. With her speaking in the background, I began to scan over my list of places to go; too far out of the way, too unsafe, too cold, Budapest. Budapest captivated me. With no clue what my mom was onto at that point, I interrupted her mid sentence. “I think I am going to go to Budapest alone,” I said excitedly. She did not mirror my excitement. Instead, she turned speechless.
Convincing my parents to let me spend an entire semester in London amidst all of the horrific acts going on in the world was no easy task. I knew my mom would not take my Budapest news well, but she was many, many miles away and I had my mind set. To give her piece of mind, I said I would think about my decision for a bit to make sure it was actually a responsible idea. We said our goodbyes and almost as quickly as I hung up, I clicked checkout on my laptop. My one hour and forty minute flight from Naples, Italy to Budapest, Hungary was officially booked.
Leaving Ischia, Italy was hard. Bailey and I had grown to love the elderly woman whose top floor we were occupying. We would miss the faces we had began to recognize over the last few days. Bailey had to leave in the wee hours of the morning, leaving me with some alone time. I headed to the roof with a hot cup of coffee and a croissant left over from the day before and stared out over the ocean. Today was the day. I packed up all of my belongings and headed into town for one last stroll. I purchased one last cup of Italian coffee and headed over to the newsstand.
The two boys who worked there recognized me from our numerous encounters earlier in our visit. Other than Italian, they spoke Dutch and German. I wish I could have asked them how they ended up in Ischia, but my translation resources were limited. The boys and I had mastered the art of nodding while simultaneously smiling, pointing, and using our thumbs for yes and no. I would really miss those boys. They handed me a ferry ticket that was to leave in 30-minutes and bid me farewell. I was off to Budapest – alone.
By this time, I had become a master at interpreting signs in different languages. Therefore, navigating my way around Budapest Ferenc List International Airport was a breeze. I was next in line at the taxi service when I realized I had no money. In my leather change purse was a mixture of pounds, euros, Czech crowns, and even a few Vatican coins. Hungarian forint, however, was nowhere to be found. I had an issue with an ATM once before while traveling. In Paris, my bank had locked up my account denying me from access to my money. Thankfully Bailey was with me until I was able to get the issue sorted out.
I did not expect the lock out to happen again, especially while I was alone, against my parent’s wishes, in Budapest, Hungary. Hesitantly, I called my dad and after about three rings he picked up. I did not give him enough time to say hello before I blurted out, “Hi dad! In Budapest. Everything’s fine. Except the bank locked me out again and I am stuck in the airport with no money.” I could feel his eyes rolling through the phone. “I’ll call the bank,” he muttered then hung up. My problem was soon solved.
The taxi driver was playing an odd mixture of Latino music and America Top 40 as he pulled up in front of my Airbnb. He dropped my bags on the sidewalk, waited for a tip, and off he went. Finally, I had arrived. I grabbed my bags and headed inside, but not before taking in the spectacular view that beckoned ahead. Directly in front of me was the Danube River. Above that were the Buda Castle and the Fisherman’s Bastion, two landmarks I could not wait to visit.
The view was breathtaking. I sat on a bench looking over the Danube for over an hour, writing in my journal about the couple who asked me to take their picture, my day of travel, and how lucky I was to be able to have this experience. I observed a commercial being filmed on one of the lower tiers of the Bastion. It looked like some kind of fitness promotion. I could not help but laugh at these hefty Hungarian men jumping around for the camera. When dusk hit, I thought I better head down to the city center. On the way back, my nose led me to a market off the beaten track. The street food was incredible; I could not pass up the smoky smells. I opted for a kabob that was twice the size my head and I ate every last bit. Even the stick was tempting.
I woke up the next morning to a text from my dad. The note read, “don’t wander down any dark roads alone. Love, dad.” I smirked. The thought was nice, but seriously how dumb did he think I was? And off I went to explore. After a full day of eating too much, walking around, and shopping, I headed back to my Airbnb, again. I must have nodded off as soon as I got home.
It was 11:30 p.m. when I slowly woke up to the sound of my stomach grumbling. How could I possibly be hungry? Submitting to my stomachs cries, I threw on shoes and headed out into the night. I was half way down an abandoned dark alley before I stopped and laughed to myself – I suppose my dad does know me better than I know myself. I sped up toward the only light in sight – a vegan bakery open at midnight. Slightly confused, I stepped in to the obviously local gathering spot. A case of sweets lined one wall with two friendly looking girls behind it ready to help. Of course they knew no English. Between the three of us, a spectacle was made. We were laughing and jumping and clapping and I felt like we had just shared stories from our lives, however we spoke no words to each other. I picked out six little treats to take back with me, all recommended by those around me in the bakery. As I left, I turned around and said, “Ciao!” “Ciao!” They responded in unison. I turned around and began back down the dark alley toward home.