Sunday, August 5, 2007

Budapest: The enlightened rodent

While reading the following entry one may notice something missing compared to the other entries. This text has no accompanying photos. Your first guess to why is probably the correct one. A couple nights ago as I was sleeping someone went through my bag right under my nose and took my camera and mp3 player without my being aware. The mp3 player I don’t really care about and the camera itself isn’t that important, however there were photos on there that cannot be replaced and it is for these photos that I mourn.

The last two weeks have been quite eventful as you might imagine. After spending a few days sleeping on the couch of the apartment in Tricesimo Italy, biking through the hills and eating gelato I decided it was time to be off onto my next adventure. I chose to hike through the Alps of northern Italy into Austria. Adequately preparing myself for such a journey I bought a small camping stove, a cooking pot, rice, hard plastic utensils, and snickers bars, you know the essentials. In Tarvisio (a small town just south of the Austrian border) I bought a hiking map to help plan my route. Wednesday morning I left the small hotel room I had stayed in the previous night and started hiking. After about two hours on my feet I reached the Austrian border and walked right across. From there I took a gorgeous trail following the ridge of the Carnic Alps. Beautiful jagged mountain tops greeted me around corners while I was surrounded by huge pine trees and the songs of birds echoing through the forest. I came across mountain streams of fresh spring water about every hour or so where I could refill my water bottle and refresh myself with a quick splash to the face. During the day I would push myself from sunup to sundown only stopping for a quick rest by a mountain stream or to pick wild raspberries along the trail. When evening came I would set up my tent and write in my journal by the fading light of dusk while waiting for my rice to cook and listening to my growling stomach. For three and a half days I hiked finally arriving in St Jakob, Austria around noon on the fourth day. The afternoon of the third day and the morning of the fourth were very difficult for me. For some reason it seemed that every road I chose led me in the wrong direction. Now I wouldn’t say that I am an expert navigator but I do know how to follow a map and I have a fairly good sense of direction. Even with the map I continually chose wrong routes or missed turn offs having to turn around and make my way back several times. As in the desert of France I was about two thirds of my way to my goal but just could not get there. Even when I had reached the small village just outside of St Jakob it seemed that the roads I chose only led me around in circles. Finally, after hours of mindless wandering I arrived at my destination. I took a trip to the grocery store to buy anything that wasn’t rice then lay in the grass under the afternoon sun relaxing and eating fresh fruit.

From St Jakob I hitchhiked my way to Vienna, Austria to see what the city had in store for me. I made it there with a few hours of daylight left so after calling my parents to let them know I was still alive I took a small tour of the city. I set up camp under a tree in a park and slept quite soundly. The next morning I arose and started wandering around the city taking in the sights and sounds. I walked through the beautiful gardens taking my time to stop and smell the roses, literally. The botanical garden had so many rosebushes each with a unique look and smell. I had no idea so many different kinds of roses existed. After my garden tour I laid in the grass of a nearby park and fell fast asleep. What must have been a few hours passed as when I awoke the shadows of the surrounding buildings and statues were significantly longer. I got up, grabbed my sack and continued on down the road. I entered an area known as the Museum Quarter, a group of more modern buildings where more of the local Viennese hang out. While passing by some benches a large guy with tattoos and a shaved head called out to me and told me to come over. I walked over to him and he started speaking to me with his heavy Australian accent. The man’s name was Dingo, or so people call him, and he has been touring Europe and other places for the last two years performing as a fire breather. I hung out with him for awhile and we were shortly joined by a Hungarian and a Czech whom Dingo had met the previous day. The Czech was a young guy named Roland who had been living on the streets for God knows how long. The Hungarian was a beekeeper whom we called “T” as we couldn’t pronounce his real name. He was also living on the streets of Vienna and new the ins and outs of getting everything for free there. We went to the main square and spent the afternoon watching break dancers, jugglers, and magicians entertain the tourists. That evening T took us to a small park where several other people were gathered. At about 8 o’clock a van pulled up and started serving free hot soup and bread. Although I have volunteered at soup kitchens it is a completely different experience to eat at one, especially one like this. Being surrounded by other homeless people asking for more soup to satisfy their hunger is an incredible experience that not many people would choose to try. It was pretty nice to eat and have live entertainment without paying a cent. That night we slept in the foyer of a museum on leather couches with carved faces looking down on us from the ceiling.

We awoke the following morning to rain and cold outside the foyer. Dingo and I packed our things and caught a bus that afternoon to Bratislava, Slovakia. Dingo was to play drums in a band there on Thursday but we decided to head up early to check out the city. Before going there, had you asked me where Slovakia was I would have replied, “Over there” and pointed my finger in any arbitrary direction. We arrived in Bratislava Monday afternoon to be greeted by an empty city. There were no tourists and most of the locals were on vacation or something because the capital city of Slovakia seemed like a ghost town. We wandered around for a couple hours then decided to get some food. We went to the grocery store and bought fresh vegetables, beans, bread, and drinks for the equivalent of about two euros. Searching for a place to cook with my camping stove out of the wind we walked down an alley and found some unused tables and chairs at the back of a restaurant. People passed by looking at us but no one said anything until the owner of the restaurant came out and started speaking to us in Slovak. Dingo stood up and said he was Australian and that he didn’t understand a word the guy was saying. The man switched to English and told us that we couldn’t stay there because his customers walked past that spot to use the toilet. He helped us move around the corner setting us up with a table and a couple chairs. He left for a minute and came back with a beer for each of us. We talked with him for a time while our food cooked and it turns out that he spent a lot of time in Australia and loves it there. After we finished our meal he invited us out to his front patio for a couple more beers. We drank and talked, Dingo performed a fire show in front of the restaurant, we drank some more and just had a great time that evening. We finally said goodnight and Dingo and I took off to find a place to sleep. We found a small copse of trees where there was no foot traffic as it was by the highway and we figured it’d be a good spot to set up camp. We laid out our sleeping bags and were soon fast asleep. I awoke in the middle of the night to hear the sounds of wrestling near by. I sat up and saw Dingo holding a guy against a tree. The guy was yelling something in Slovak and Dingo was yelling in Aussie, neither understanding the other. I looked at my bag right by my head and noticed it was wide open with many of my things strewn about the place then looked at Dingo’s to see the same of his. The man was emptying his pockets trying to show that he hadn’t taken anything. Dingo searched him and found that he in fact hadn’t. After attempting to tell the man that stealing was wrong and that it wasn’t a good way to go through life he let the guy go, obviously terrified. I searched through my bag and noticed that both my mp3 player and camera were missing. We believe that somebody had come up before this guy, searched through my bag without me hearing, took the electronics, and left before this other guy came up seeing that we were easy targets and tried the same. Obviously he wasn’t as skilled as the other guy because Dingo heard him and woke up right away before he could take anything. We attempted to go back to sleep but I don’t think either of us actually slept at all after that. I woke up the next morning in a pretty bad funk trying to tell myself that it was only “stuff” and things could have been a lot worse. Dingo generously gave me a camera that he had been in possession of for awhile that only needed some slight repair. That morning we decided to go sightseeing at the castle but as much as I tried to enjoy it, it seemed that nothing would sink in at all. While at the castle we met a young Austrian woman traveling on her own so she joined us as we toured the town. As she and Dingo talked the day through about Australia and life ambitions I felt tuned out. I had that sinking feeling of abandonment again and that I was really in need of guidance. After a while things settled down and I moved into a complacent state. Dingo wanted to check out the club where he would be performing so that evening him and I left Tenya (the Austrian) and made our way to the abandoned bunker under the castle that had been renovated into the SubClub.


Upon arrival at the venue we met the only two people there that evening, the bartender and a DJ. They invited us in and the bartender poured us a couple of shots and gave us a few beers. Me, I’m not much of a drinker so by the time we left the SubClub about two hours later I was already feeling pretty pissed. The bartender locked up after us and started walking with us in the direction of the old city. He told us to come with him and led us into downtown Bratislava. We walked into an alley then down some stairs into another bar where he greeted the waitress with a big kiss. We sat up at the bar and he ordered us a round of beers. He offered Dingo and I a shot of some kind of crazy Slovakian drink but I refused as politely as possible. After he and Dingo had a few more shots and the three of us had had about four more beers we stumbled out onto the streets of Bratislava. The bartender said goodbye and pointed us in the right direction to god knows where. Dingo and I, barely conscious, wandered down the streets stumbling with every step until Dingo said, “This looks good”. We were at the corner of an old building right across from the main church. We subsequently passed out on the cobblestones not waking until the sun was beating down on us and tourists were staring at the two drunken hobos in the street. We sat there waving and saying “good morning” as the people in the little tourist tram took pictures of us. Finally the heat and light of the morning sun became unbearable to our aching heads and we moved into the shade of the church outcroppings When I felt up to it I went to the market to pick up some good hangover food and checked my email at the local tourist office. I received an email saying that my friend Sarah, in Budapest, was going to be home for the next couple days and I was welcome to come crash on her couch. After feeding Dingo and myself I told him that I was leaving and that if he was coming to Hungary after the band played he should let me know. I packed up my gear and headed out of town determined to hitch my way the 200 km or 125 miles to Budapest within the next couple hours. After five hours of waiting at freeway entrances and walking down the highway itself I was finally picked up by a Hungarian who spoke fluent English. He brought me all the way to Budapest and I showed up at Sarah’s door late that evening to be greeted by her roommate. I spent the next couple days relaxing with Sarah, her husband Peter, and their roommate Sanyi. Sarah and I went to the market, saw the new Harry Potter movie, went to the library, and saw bits and pieces of the city. I told them about Dingo and how he wanted to come to Budapest. As wonderful as they are they invited him to stay with them as well though they didn’t even know him. Dingo arrived Friday evening and shared a delicious meal with us as it was Peter’s birthday. Sarah left the following morning for America but Sanyi and Peter invited us to stay as long as we want. So here I am with a roof over my head in Budapest reading Sarah’s copy of the final Harry Potter book. The simplest things in life, such as sleeping on a couch, taking a shower, washing clothes, eating a hot meal etc. have become the greatest pleasures. I have now been on the road for over a month but am not close to stopping. I love this life and hope to be able to continue for as long as I want. Thank you for all your prayers and support, it really helps. Until next time, Szia!

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