Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Pest > Buda > Pest > NYC

By Pauly
New York City

Here's a story about my last day in Budapest...

On Sunday morning around the to 8am hour, I cleared out dozens of empty beer bottles left over from the party. I aired out the apartment and the brisk air chilled the room and eradicated the smokey leftovers from a long evening of spliffs and cigarettes. It was finally time for sleep. I crashed for a couple of hours. Might have been my best sleep in Budapest. I probably had less than 20 over the week. I could have slept a bit longer but forced myself to wake up and write.

I wandered downstairs to Vamhaz street and was taken aback at the isolation of my neighborhood. Almost empty for a Sunday late morning. Quiet. The Burger King was open and empty. I wandered around the corner to the cafe. I ordered a ham and cheese panini (which was bad) and drank orange juice (which was food). I walked across the Szabadsag bridge into Buda. It was hot. Over 65 degrees and I slid my jacket off my torso. I slung it over my shoulder and smoked a spliff on the bridge. Within minutes, I stepped foot on the other side of the river in Buda. I was at the southern part of Gellert-Hegy (Gellert Hill) which included the Citadella. The top of the hill included breathtaking views of the cities below and the Danube winding its way through the land.

I made my way along a path to Rock Kapolna or the Rock Church that was carved out inside the massive mini-mountain. The church was empty aside from a couple of tourists. I sat down in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary which seemed to be illuminated from all angles by a warm glow. I glanced at the rugged ceiling. Rock. All around us. A church carved inside the rock. Pews. Bibles. Altar. Candles. My eyes focused at a massive crucifix that hung over the altar with Jesus impaled on the wood structure. It was almost life size and the face wailed in agony.

Flashbacks bombarded me about my upbringing. Dozen years in Catholic grammar school. The Jesuits in high school. The nuns. The priests. All those Sunday mornings as an altar boy. I tried to recall the last time I was inside a church. Barcelona last year with Nicky? There was a church around the corner from out flat in El Born. No wait, it was the famous La Sagrada Familia by Gaudi. Spain and churches seem to go together. I never expected to be in a church in Hungary. On a Sunday of all days.

I tried to remember the last time I was inside a church on a Sunday. I couldn't. When was the last time I even went to regular Sunday mass? Sure, there might have been a random Christmas mass but I'm not an avid churchgoer, or even an occasional one. I stopped going when I stopped being an altar boy after the 8th grade ended and I headed to high school. The Jesuits forced us into the church on Park Avenue during high school for various ceremonies. Aside from weddings and funerals and 9/11 memorial services, churches are not usually on my list of places to visit.

I sat in the rock chapel. It was musty and hot. I sweated profusely and had a brief conversation. I talked towards the crucifix over the altar. Perhaps I was talking to myself or the higher being, whether it's God or not. Who knows? The conversation was brief. For months and years, I have been on a journey of self-discovery. I have done a lot of soul searching particularity over the last couple of month. I was in search of answers and some sort of clues to elevating myself to the next level. I had always hoped that the next stop on my rigorous travel itinerary would lead me to a moment of clarity or inspiration. That necessarily did not happen. Rather, it was a confession of sorts but more of a clarification of forgiveness. I had not to a formal confession to a priest in over a decade. Maybe two? That's a lot of sinning. A lot of intense Catholic guilt clogged up my intestines. Old school confessional look like toilet stalls for a reason. You take a immoral dump and the penance that the priest gives you is a piece of toilet paper to wipe your ass clean.

I said my piece... I know that I'm a fuck up and made plenty of mistakes, too many to count. But in the end, it's all about forgiveness and compassion. A little of Jesus and a little of Buddha. I made promise to myself that I'll do a better job improving my karma over the next few months. That will be one of the many objectives as I formulate a plan for the next 3-6 months.

For a moment, I stopped sweating. I left the church with a semblance of inner peace. It didn't come without a price. Forgiveness isn't free. I slipped a donation in the box and even gave a bum in front of the rock church a couple of forints.

I decided to walk up to the top of the Citadel. There were numerous paths... some conventional and others off the main route. As like most of my life, I opted for the path less traveled and avoided the main pathway that was cluttered with tourists from all over the world. I mean, we all end up at the same destination. I'd just rather take an alternative route, see something different, and get a little lost along the way. It's a lot more interesting and a heck of a lot more original. That decision to wander around set the tone for the rest of the day as I actively chose to get lost and wander the hills and streets of Buda.

I made my way to a graffiti ridden wall. I paused for a second, wiped the sweat from my bald spot, and snapped a photo. A small kid wandered up to me with a Gatorade bottle that was filled with water. He could have been seven or eight and spoke in Hungarian. He stopped bothering me as soon as I said, "Sprechen sie Deutsches?" I guess he didn't like Germans. I was left alone to take photos and wander.

I sat down on a bench right after a steep climb up a wooden stepway. I was winded. All those cigarettes and spliffs killed my lungs. I wiped a stream of sweat from my forehead and realized that we were really high up on the hill. I could see the Danube raging below but the Citadel was still a bit farther of a hike. I wasn't on a set schedule. I jotted down some notes and wrote for a bit while I caught my breath.

The Citadel was packed with tourists. A couple of buses arrived and people trickled off each bus. Some headed for the souvenir carts others stood in odd places and took photos. I waited my turn to snap a couple of pics of the Danube. I realized that thousands if not millions of people have stood in the same spot and snapped the same fuckin' photo of the Danube below. In fact, I recently saw one that a friend took. In fact, two friends took a very similar pic when I checked out their Budapest photo galleries shortly before my visit.

I wandered away from the herd and took off down another side path that was empty. I quickly found myself surround by trees. I walked for a couple of minutes before I saw anyone else. An elderly couple passed by me. I stopped and looked up at all the tall trees. A breeze whipped through and the golden leaves began to flutter down from the brittle branches. It was snowing shades of yellow as leaves gently wafted down and all around. I took my time and walked down from the massive hill. I got lost again and didn't care. I took more photos and stopped occasionally to jot down a note or two.

I found myself at the edge of the Erzsebet bridge. I almost considered crossing but realized that I liked the vibe of Buda more than Pest. I stayed in Buda and wandered along that side of the Danube. I felt very fortunate to have a leisurely Sunday stroll along the Danube. A tinge of loneliness fell over me. I usually have that during solitary moments of cool because there were plenty of times I thought about how certain friends or Nicky or Derek would enjoy the things I saw or the places I had been. At the same time, I thought about everyone who was in Budapest covering the assignment with me who were on planes at the exact moment and heading back to their homes in different countries. I was lucky because I had that extra day to enjoy the sites of Buda instead of rushing out.

I made my way to Moszkva Terrace and sat at an outdoor cafe. It was filled mainly with tourists. I wrote a bit. Inside near the bar, a TV aired the NYC marathon on the EuroSport channel. I lost time and realized that it was mid-afternoon. The sun would be going down soon. I was tired from all the walking and fatigued from late night parties two evenings in a row. I said good-bye to Buda and walked over to Margaret Island in the middle of the Danube. After a quick tour of that area, I grabbed the tram back into Pest. I knew it would be taking me near where I lived but didn't know exactly where. I didn't bring my guidebook with me. I had a detailed street map but it didn't have tram lines. I decided to wing it.

I love riding the trams in Amsterdam and I did the same in Pest. I cranked up my iPod and I watched people and checked out streets that I had never seen before let alone knew existed. I got off one stop earlier than I should have. That was fine. I wandered through the Jewish quarter until I found my neighborhood.

I went upstairs and took a long hot shower. I let the day sink in. Wandering a city that I had never been before. It's one of my favorite things to do in life. There are so many more I'd like to see. Such little time. Maybe I'll get to explore more in the upcoming months.

I did my football picks and took a nap. I woke up an hour later when I was bit by something on the elbow. Mosquito? Spider? I wandered outside and grabbed a plate of chicken paprika. I thought about finding a bar that aired football games but decided against it. I had to clean up the apartment. I had to pack. I could have wandered around some more, but I wanted to spent my last evening writing with the windows open. I had a ton of work to catch up on, but that would have to wait until I returned to the States. Work will always be there, but I probably will never set foot in Hungary or Budapest ever again. I tapped into the vibe. The source. Finally. And I didn't want to let those waters of inspiration run dry. Maybe they would follow me for the rest of my journey. Sometimes, I lose it and wonder when it will ever pop up again. That's why I keep moving forward until I stumble upon another pool.

I stayed up as long as I could and fell asleep for a couple of minutes sitting at my laptop. My fingers were too tired and making too many keystroke mistakes. I decided to stop and take a shower. The sun was up. I was out of cigarettes and vitamins. I finished packing and began to upload photos. The door bell rang. It was my ride to the airport. I went down to the Hungarian woman who was my landlady. She did not speak English and only Hungarian and German. I figured out that she wanted to know if I made any long distance calls. I told her, "Nein." She gave me my deposit back and I left the building.

My driver got me to the airport in less than twenty minutes. The check-in line took longer than I wanted. Immigration and security were a breeze. I exchanged the rest of my forints. I ate a croissant and an iced tea. I realized that I wouldn't get back to NYC until Monday night and that the only meal I'd get would be from Delta. I made a bee-line for the cafe and bought a chicken/cheddar cheese cibatta sandwich.

My flight was not packed... about 80% full. There was a baby nearby that cried at the beginning but kept quiet the rest of the flight. There was a group of women sitting behind me. Americans. From upstate New York. Loud. They wouldn't shut up. About thirty of them. A few sat in the front of the plane so there was always a steady stream of old ladies walking back into my section. I popped two Xannies. Whenever I'd drift off to sleep, I'd get elbowed by one of the ladies as they constantly walked back and forth.

The Bose headphones could not drown out their incessant chatter. I nearly punched one of them out when they were filling out custom forms.

"How do you spell scarves?" one shrieked. "Is it with an F or with a V-E?

She repeated that phrase every five seconds for twenty minutes straight.

Delta did not have that hip individual entertainment center and TV in front of you like KLM, JetBlue, and Quantas. I was forced to watch Get Smart again. I fell asleep in the theatre when I sawGet Smart the first time with Nicky in the summer. It wasn't a very good flick. I watched the end of it when I flew to Amsterdam and I had to sit through it on my flight to Budapest and again on the way home. They also showed a bad Brendan Fraser flick (I think it was called Journey to the Center of the Earth) and Mama Mia. The old ladies would not shut up about Mama Mia. I was out of drugs and thin on patience. The flight could not get back to America sooner.

The meal was blah. Rubbery lasagna. The dessert was some sort of carrot cake. I drank a lot of ginger ale and they handed out a slice of pizza and ice cream as a snack before we landed.

Immigration and customs went quick. My bag was one of the last appear. I wandered outside to the taxi line. It was a clusterfuck. The portly lady running the line had no clue how to do things. Poorly organized. She had people stand in a line the wrong way, so people could walk out of the baggage claim area and cut to the front which added to the confusion. She assigned me a cab that was an SUV when there were three parties with four or more people standing behind me. That was the last SUV in line. I offered to take the smaller sedan that pulled up behind the SUV. I walked over to that cab and she screamed at me as I opened the door. She refused to let me take that one and tried to close the door. She was pissed that I was trying to quash what little power she held.

There were a few regular cabs in line behind me. I did the logical thing and offered up the bigger cab for the family of four behind me. More space since they had a ton of luggage. Basically, that's her job to do and she wasn't doing it. I opted for the smaller cab to help out a bit. The family understood what I was trying to do. The woman who worked at JFK? Not one fuckin' clue.

My cabbie from the Sudan laughed when I slid in as she still screamed at me. We arranged a flat fee as the driver pulled from the curve. I asked him to drive fast and I got what I wanted. The guy drove like a maniac and I fastened my seat belt. He even drove on the shoulder in a few places. It took almost an hour for the entire trip but it could have been two hours in that ugly rush hour traffic. I gave him a huge tip.

I wandered upstairs. I had a small pile of mail. I opened up my backpack and unloaded my gear. In less than 44 hours, I'd be returning to JFK to fly to the west coast. In that brief amount of time, I had a ton of shit to do before I took off on my next journey.

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