In the last 10 years, Bronson and I have traversed 16 countries, countless cities and most of the states we actually care to visit. We always travel lightly, so any time we’re flying, we take a carry-on backpack. If it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t go. I’m 100% impatient, well maybe now I’m like only 96% impatient, so waiting for my luggage to come off a conveyor belt and risking damaging anything that might be in it, or worse, losing the luggage altogether just isn’t an option for me. Bronson really could care less, he’s much more relaxed and likes to go with the flow, for the most part. We decided when we had our son that every trip overseas would be a trip just for us. To keep our marriage interesting, fun and happy. To leave behind the worry about our responsibilities as parents and just be able to enjoy each other’s company. Any parent knows how difficult it is raising children, especially when you’re working full time and don’t always get to be a stay at home parent.
We always travel on a budget. We (I) look for the best deals, best times to travel, events and festivals among the many other numerous things we might like to check out. I never make a full itinerary because I did that once when I was 21 and the entire time, I was limited in checking out all the things I wanted to see because I was on a tight schedule right down to each minute. It was a complete disaster.
What I’ve found during since then and during these travels, is that it’s not the things you plan to do that you remember. It’s all the shit in between that you just can’t imagine happening. Those make for great stories when you get home, but when you’re in the throws of traveling abroad where nobody speaks your language and you don’t speak theirs and it seems like everything is falling apart, it’s those things that you look back on afterward and can finally laugh about all the stupid things you did that put you in that situation.
For example, Bronson and I were in Budapest (they pronounce it Budapesht), and we had been there a few days, rented an airbnb, steps away from any of the restaurants you could think of. Everywhere you turned, there was a Turkish kebab place to get food. Cheap, easy and delicious. I equate the Turkish food to be the equivalent of American’s Mexican food. It’s a staple in most diets over there when you’re not cooking. While we were wandering around checking out the city, we came across a ticket booth selling wrist bands to a festival called the Sziget festival. It was the biggest musical festival in the world, yet we’d never heard of it. The cost??? $20 USD per person for the whole day or $100 USD for the entire 7 days with a private Yurt and shower. 7 DJ stages, 5 live band stages, a small circus and a Cirque de Soleil style show. The show is held on an island in the middle of the Danube river and unless you have a wristband, you cannot cross the bridge, unless of course, you’re one of the very few residents that live there. We got to this festival and there was a ropes course, an adult size waterslide (you even had to wear a helmet because you were going so fast most people flew off the catchment at the end of the slide), street performers everywhere, all the food and memorabilia you could think of. They didn’t allow drugs of any kind (which was nice, not walking around smelling everyone smoking pot and talking to people high as kites) but they also didn’t take cash or credit cards. In order for you to pay for items, you had to stop at the entrance booth and get a card. You told the vendor how much you wanted to put on the card and that was the only source of money they would allow. After an entire day of spending time checking out bands we’ve never even heard of (there were over 400 over the course of the week), we took a train back to the heart of the city, and sat next to this young woman, obviously drunk and nearly falling out of her seat. The train stopped and Bronson and I hurriedly rushed off the train because we knew she was going to puke. No sooner than we stepped off the train, the woman threw up every ounce of alcohol she’d consumed that day. Phew, dodged that bullet.
The next day we decided to leave for Zagreb, Croatia. We woke up checked out more of the hot springs and architecture and planned to catch the sleeper train to Zagreb. We went to the train station where everything was in Hungarian, Slavic or German, none of which we speak. Enter google translate. Thank GOD for that app. We were able to get on a train that was headed west to Zagreb, but there were stops along the way where we would have to transfer. There was no air conditioning on these trains and Hungary was experiencing the hottest summer on record. Temperatures reached into the 43 degree celsius, which is around 108 degrees. You could open the windows but even with the train in motion, the air was so still, the interior of the train stayed stifling hot. We get through 2 stops and on the 3rd stop we disembark and switch trains. (It was a 5 hour train ride in the relentless, smoldering heat).
When we got to the end of the 4th stop we should have been in Croatia. I kept looking out of the windows and I had mapped out the train route and knew the lake we’d be passing should be to our north side. I kept looking as the lake was NOT on the north side, it was on our South side, which for obvious reasons made me weary. The train conductor came over the speaker and said this was the last stop for all trains for the night. WHAT?????? What do you mean the last train? We got off the train, the lights in the station went out and it was nearly 11:00pm. The next thing we heard was silence, then crickets. Not another sound to be heard. We exit the train station and look around, we’re in a town called Tapolca. All we can see is a steeple from the train station and not another soul around. It was as if the people that were on that train scattered like cockroaches once the train stopped.
We grab our gear and cut through people’s farms and these zig-zagging side streets until we came to the center of town. There is one pizza place open and we are famished. We’re in the wrong city, in the wrong country and without a place to stay. I still would have been fine sleeping on the bench at the train station, but Bronson wouldn’t let me unless there was no other option. I get wifi at the pizza place and look up places to stay. I book a hostel which was about 3 miles from where we were. The pizza delivery guy offered us a ride to the hostel and when we tried to give him money for going above and beyond for us, he declined to take it. He drives away and I knock on the hostel door and notice this huge sign that says “check in by 9:00pm, no in and out privileges.” Are you kidding me?????? Then why was I able to book it?
There were only 3 places to stay, the one I booked but couldn’t get in to because it was too late, another hostel that was already full and a luxurious hotel 4 miles from us. I immediately book the room, and spent over $200 USD on it. We walk the 4 miles up hill (there’s no transportation in this town unless you hitch a ride with someone) because there’s nobody to get a ride from. We make it to the hotel and we decide that if we’re paying the money, we were going to get every penny worth. We had to wash our clothes in the bathtub and hang them on the balcony to dry, hoping we didn’t lose any of our clothes. We finally washed the day off of us and retired to bed just after midnight. The next morning, we decided we would eat at their free breakfast buffet and swim in the pool until check out time while our clothes still dried on the balcony.
Back at the train station that afternoon, I asked one of the ladies at the ticket counter (she spoke English), which train to take to get to Zagreb. She pointed to a train and we got on it. I left my purse and backpack on the train while Bronson stayed in the cabin and I asked 2 other workers if we were going the correct way. I had my phone for my trusty google translate and all 3 of them told me that we had taken the wrong train to get there in the first place and that we needed to be on the other side of the lake (which I already knew). They did give us hope though because they had another train that circled the lake with a transfer station on that southern side. Little did I know, Bronson had gotten off the train with our bags but didn’t grab my purse and suddenly the train carrying my purse with all my identification and passport was on its way back to the Delhi station in Budapest without me. Holy crap, what was I going to do?
I always carry copies of my passport with me in my backpack just for purposes like this, but trying to cross the border without the actual passport wasn’t going to happen. After 2 hours, we had to get back on the train for the 5 hour journey back to Budapest. The people at the train station were kind enough to call the train conductor and have their ticket collectors actually collect my purse for safe keeping until we got back to Budapest where I could pick it up at the police station. Problem was, we got back and the police station didn’t actually have possession of my purse. It was in a secured storage area next to the police station that had just closed not 5 minutes before we got there.
Yep, of course, because if it wasn’t for bad luck I wouldn’t have any. I begged and pleaded my case with the man walking out of that storage area. He was kind enough to get my purse if I could show him identification. Ummm, are you joking? All of my identification is in that purse, my wallet and passport. As politely as I can be, I say “No I don’t have any identification to show you, it’s all in that purse.” I describe the purse, while I desperately search my backpack for the copy of my passport I always keep. He comes out of the back with my purse, gets into my wallet and pulls out my ID, puts it up to my face, smiles at me and returns my purse. I look through it and everything is in there including the cash. But now we’re back in Budapest and we should be in an entirely different country by now.
Now we have another problem. It’s nearly midnight and we had no place to stay, again. I would have been fine sleeping on a bench at the train station because by this time I was pissed, exhausted, argumentative and downright bitchy. All voice of reason had escaped me. I search the Booking.com website for any hotels near me for the night and found one for $89 USD for the evening. By the time I booked it, it literally turned 12:01 am and the price jumped from $89 to $240 USD. I was losing my fucking mind.
Bronson and I are standing out in front of this hotel yelling at each other, obviously distressed because I didn’t want to pay that much money and there was nothing else around except the benches in the train station. As we’re in the middle of a screaming match in the middle of the hotel parking lot a man comes out of nowhere and says “It looks like you guys could use a drink. Come on, I know the hotel staff and the bar just closed, but I have a great bottle of Polish Vodka but it seems you guys could use it more than me.” At that point I was ready to be anywhere that Bronson wasn’t because having him there trying to to reason and be logical was met with a disdain I’d never felt before. He hadn’t helped plan any of this, he hadn’t even offered to look up places to stay, so while I sat doing all the leg work, having the worst day of the entire vacation, he’s trying to tell me to calm down… Don’t ever do that.
We joined this man at the empty bar, he negotiated the price down with the front desk to take over $100 USD off the price of the room. He went to his room, grabbed the vodka and some glasses from behind the bar counter and poured 3 glasses. Turns out, this man was from Chicago and one of the performers at the Sziget festival who plays there every year. He and I sat at the bar while Bronson talked to one of the other band members and I unloaded about the last 2 days which led us back to where we were. We finished off our glasses of vodka and just talking to someone that wasn’t Bronson helped me return to my normal composed but crazy self.