Budapest or Bust!

Left Rijeka, Croatia, at 5:35 yesterday morning for Budapest. I spent the night at the Botel Marina, a converted ship permanently moored in the port, and had dinner at same. Clerk and waitress both spoke excellent English and the chef was from South Carolina. He’d met a Croatian woman, married her and moved to Rijeka. They’re staying because the health benefits are wonderful–and free! But he told me they’ll move back to America later. The clerk arranged for a taxi so I didn’t have to walk to the depot in the rain and dark. Traffic lights and streetlights reflected in the rain-slick roads could have been an Impressionist painting. Yet even in the rain and the darkness, birds knew dawn was near and sang greetings to a new day. And so onto the train.

Eleven hours later, butt-sore, famished, and exhausted, I got off in Budapest, Hungary. ( I could make a really bad pun about the country and my condition but I’ll refrain.) There was no restaurant or bar car on the train and I hadn’t had time to buy water or food. Still had a partial loaf of bread and packets of jelly from the Italian breakfast box of two days prior, plus almonds and cranberries, and some dried figs. Yet eating without water to wash them down didn’t work too well. We finally stopped for 11 minutes at a rural station so I ran to the WC (water closet/toilet), used the facilities, and filled my plastic water bottle with tap water.

One of my missions today is to buy a couple of bottles of water and some pastries to take with tomorrow. The trip is only 5 hours but I’m not takin’ any chances. Eating only a few ounces in 23 hours isn’t my idea of a good time. Makes me real damn grouchy. Which I hate. Which I’m not going to do again, thank you very much.

And so the journey continues.

The Loneliness of Language

If you know me you know I love to talk, yet I’ve been pretty much silent since I left the expats in St. Jean Cap Ferrat, not for lack of trying but for lack of knowing any Balkan language. I’ve found desk clerks and servers who speak some or excellent English, but one can’t hang out forever and chat when they have work to do. The closest I came to a conversation was when two forty-something Croatian women sat in my train compartment when we left Villach, Austria. They spoke Croat and German, so I dusted off my high school  Deutsch (Thanks, Mr. Witt!) and we had a brief basic conversation, in which they found I was from Colorado and had sisters in Denver and California, plus a nephew and great-nephew in Grand Junction, that it’s not always sunny in California, and that I love to travel alone. Then I had to change trains for Rijeka (Ree–YAY–kuh).

So here I sit in overcast Budapest having found an adequate hotel, thanks to a Burger Bar employee who spoke enough English to understand I needed a place to stay and a Hungarian woman who used her phone to find the Hotel Griff after he told her what I wanted. Later I’ll take a bus to the city center. I hope to find a bookstore that sells novels and crosswords in English. It’s hard to take my iPad in its metal keyboard case to bed.

A day of not traveling is a great thing. Tomorrow, off to Transylvania: Timisoara, Romania. Only 5 hours on the train instead of yesteray’s 11 hours. And then who knows where?


So itinerary changed after hours of planning with paper and pencil last night because I don’t feel like changing trains umpteen times in the middle of the night. No visit to Split, Croatia. From Rijeka (please don’t ask me to pronounce it!) to Zagreb, then on to Budapest for a couple of days. I’ll be in a primarily Muslim country on Easter so might have a chance of finding lodging. Holy Week in mostly Catholic countries is scary, from what I’ve heard: no rooms, all shops and stores closed on Easter, including restaurants and groceries. I have food in my day pack and will make sure I have something to eat all along the route, not only because of Easter but because train food is mediocre and expensive. Cost me $13 for a microwaved cheeseburger and a bottle of water on the trip down from Paris.

A big boo-boo on my train pass, which can’t be changed. So either the conductor will toss me off the train or will ignore me. It’s a fairly local mistake so maybe I’ll get away with it. Keep fingers and other body parts crossed.


Strange and Wonderful

Strange things I’ve seen and done: 

Soldiers patrolling malls with assault weapons as the ready; police outside a church on Palm Sunday, weapons at the ready; water taps that turn opposite and are mounted on the side of the faucet; toilets that flush with a push button on the tank, a pull button on the top of the tank, or a palm-sized plate set in the wall; using hair conditioner instead of body lotion in an early morning after little sleep (my arm hairs were soft, silky, and didn’t tangle when I combed them); a train strike that left flyers walking to Charles de Gaulle airport but didn’t affect my high-speed train to the south of France; people who never smile; navigating the Paris metro and train stations; dogs in restaurants.

Wonderful things I’ve seen and done:

A Mediterranean sunrise; the Royal palace in Monte Carlo; Marie’s family!; a three-hour lunch in an Italian restaurant where we didn’t order. The staff just brought course after course and somehow my wine glass never was empty; Sitting with Manu and Livia, planning my rail route to Transylvania, being surrounded by palms,  hyacinths, wisteria, orchids, OMG all the spring I thought I would miss by being here instead of in my own yard; meeting intelligent world travelers and being asked, “What do you think of the Second Amendment?” “Are there a lot of churches in Grand Junction?”; people who accepted me immediately–and who speak English! Tomorrow off to Italy and the Balkans to see if I can make myself understood, get to the right trains, find places to eat and sleep, and a beer or two.

Adventures take the oddest turns. That’s what makes them adventures.

Oh, Paris!

Day two in Paris. Much better than day one, which was a nightmare, one of those days where if it could go wrong it did. Over two hour getting out of Charles de Gaulle airport–only 4 minutes of that was getting through Customs (I have my first visa stamp in my passport!). The rest was being sent from one ticket office to another, finding out my Eurail pass won’t work until tomorrow, and then deciding that the platform that says “All trains to Paris” had to be the one I wanted. Serenaded by two rappers with portable audio systems strapped to wheelies–at decibels that put the 747 I flew in on to shame. Then they had the nerve to ask the lady with her fingers in her ears (moi) for a tip. Hours more finding how to get to my B&B outside of Paris to the west. And more such adventures. The Eiffel Tower’s revolving beam is lovely at night as I watch from my 30th floor window.

So on to Day two. Navigating the Metro system was much better, and I got to St. Germain de Pres with ease. Stood wondering where Les Deux Magots (the Two Treasures, not worms) was. Walked around the ice cream stand and voila! Lingered over a lunch of Croque Monsier–ham and cheese sandwich to the uninitiated– a cup of tea and finally a pastry with chocolate inside. The restaurant hasn’t changed from the art nouveau style it wore when Hemingway and other literary not-yet-stars got drunk and fed there in the 1920s. Vases of calla lilies lent an air of spring. Rich mahogany paneling and furniture warmed the room. A winding staircase led down to Les toilettes: new fixtures but all else could have been lifted from a ’20s movie set. Made me want to stay longer!

Directions to Shakespeare and Company book store, founded around 1913 and still in the family, led me up boulevards and down rues, from the Seine to the Sorbonne, into stationery stores and around beggars and kiosks inviting me to buy postcards for a euro each, or sometimes 10 for three euros. I resisted. Found the bookstore way back where the directions led me astray. If I’d walked half a block farther at first I would have found it. OMG! I was in heaven. Tiny rooms and narrow passages, shelves and tables overflowing with books in English, stairways leading to reading rooms. And over the door to the children’s room, a quote: “Why do you think I’m mad?” Asked Alice. “Because otherwise, ” answered the Cat, “you wouldn’t be here.”

Which describes Paris to a T. One must be mad to visit without speaking much French, to come during the coldest spring the locals can remember, to walk until her feet quietly scream, yet carry her to places she would never have seen. As she walked along the Seine under gray skies that defied any sense of direction from the sun, she blurted, “I’m in F***ing Paris! On the Left Bank! Looking at Notre Dame!” And she forgave herself for venturing off on a trip that so far had left her frazzled and weary and (if she may say it) extremely pissed off.

Paris is more multicultural than anyone from a small town, or even a fairly large city in certain states, can even imagine. Black faces outnumber paler ones, hijabs cover a goodly portion of women, and beggars sit and huddle with battered styro coffee cups holding a few coins, or come up to you and whisper for alms. English, Arabic, and a host of other tongues mingle with French. Everyone hurries except tourists and the infirm. Which is a good way to avoid having pockets picked–so far a, so good. Churches everywhere, construction even more prevalent. A whirlwind of energy, until the Metro or the bus or the train. Then no one speaks, makes eye contact, even seems to be on this planet. After hours on my feet, bombarded by sight and sound and scent, I’m happy to become a zombie.

An interesting sidelight: the Parisians pronounce Charles de Gaulle’s last name the same way we pronounce a creature who rises from the grave and feed on flesh. Hint:  It isn’t zombie.

And so to bed, to move on to Nice tomorrow–if the rail strike is over. Hmmm. My thumbing days might not be over!