Featured in Panorama: Journal of Intelligent Travel – Summer 2017
In this piece, I write about cruising with seniors, reflect on walking 26 miles in two days across Budapest, and consider how travel changes as we age.
Eső után köpönyeg. — Hungarian expression for “after rain comes raincoat”
Monday, Day One
1. The First Glimpse
When I think back to my trip to Budapest, I think, first, of her street signs. Hungarian street signs look like puzzles of Latin letters spilled out of a bag and rearranged into mouthfuls of consonants, vowels, and lots of extra dots. Signs with words and phrases like artand hataratkelohely, magyarorszag, eloszallas, and vigyazz gepjarrmu-forgalom narrate the city streets on corners, in roundabouts, at crossroads, and on highways. Among these wordy pieces of advice, however, there is one whose single word I could pronounce, whose letters did make some sense to my English-speaking brain: it reads, simply, lassits, punctuated with a single exclamation mark. The sign is simple—it is rectangle-shaped, framed in a red border, black bold text against a white background.
I remember my first glimpse of Budapest this way. If I squint my eyes and look closely through the rain drizzling down the window of my cabin, I can see the road connected to the port filled with buses. I can see that one sign, its single word directing cars and buses to breathe, to hit the brakes, to turn a little more slowly around each corner. Lassits!…slow down. Because the spires of the palaces and castles are covered in the early morning fog, because the rain is so thick and the traffic so heavy, because the view is blocked by so many tour buses, this is the first glimpse I have of one of the most magnificent walking cities in the world.
Now that I think about it, it fits.
2. Inside the Bus
It was early morning, under the pouring rain, when all 189 of us disembarked from the ship for the last time. Some of us exited with speed, some with languor, some with canes, wheelchairs, and the steady arms of sons and daughters. After gathering into groups of 50, we lined up and climbed, one after the other, onto a row of tour buses. For the rest of the morning, our tour went a little something like this: those of us who are able get on, get off, get on, get off. The rest stayed in their seats and marvelled the sights from the windows. Every 20 minutes, our guide, a Hungarian woman named Anita, clicked on her microphone and announced in a lovely lilt that we’d arrived somewhere important and that we should get off the bus, take the pictures, and get back on the bus.
This process wasn’t as easy as it sounds, as safely getting 48 elderly passengers on and off a bus isn’t something that happens quickly. As the last two passengers on the bus, Ryan and I waited each time, and we watched the raindrops pool into bigger raindrops on the window panes while men and women held onto the railing and made their way up and down the bus’s three big steps. As we’d done for the past 12 days, we chatted with our fellow passengers, men and women who are 30, 40 years older than we are, who’ve had more life experience under their belts than I can even imagine. Five stops and four hours later, we circled around the city one last time, sat in traffic on the Elizabeth Bridge, and inched our way up Buda Castle Hill, where the buses planned to drop us off for the next two days.
When we finally arrived at our hotel, I realised that I didn’t know where I’d been, what I’d seen, or even what route we’d taken to get there. I remembered horns beeping, traffic jams, pounding rain, and big rainy drops dissolving the castles and gargoyles into drizzly remnants of the strong, stoic architectural wonders they were. I couldn’t hear Anita as she led us around each stop because my headphones had started shorting out back in Croatia. I couldn’t appreciate the stillness of simply being in a place because I was tired of standing in queues. What kind of travel writing, I wondered, was this going to inspire?
Read the full story in Panorama: Journal of Intelligent Travel.