Wednesday, 18 September 2002

A Bolivian Girl in Budapest

You know, travelling is a lonely business.

Sure, sometimes you have great times and you meet great people.

But unless you're travelling with a friend, you can often end up wandering the streets of new cities by yourself and you can't help but feel a little lonely and a little lost.

And then somebody comes along who makes you realise how just amazing travelling really is...

Hi. It's me again.

I'm writing to you from my favourite little hostel in the world, the Museum Guest House in Budapest, where Pixie is still politely laughing at my jokes and Monica is still asking if I want a massage.

I've been back in Budapest for two days now after catching a train from Cluj-Napoca in Transylvania. My last hour in Cluj was a disaster. Awful! I cringe as I write about it. Let me explain...

You might remember from my last blog entry that I went to Romania to take part in a voluntary project. After the project was cancelled and the volunteers left, the head of the hosting organisation said that I could spend the week staying in his office.

I had a bed to sleep in and I also had full use of the office computer. When I wasn't in an Internet cafe until the early hours, I would use the office computer to chat to people on the local chat site.

Anyway. It was my last hour in Cluj and I was bored, so I decided to look at some pornography on the computer of my organisation.

I don't often look at pornography, but I'm male and in my twenties, so I think looking at pictures of naked women is my God-given right!

So, I was looking at various sites and various girls and then, suddenly, lots of little windows started to appear and as quickly as I closed one, another one appeared. Before I knew it, the computer was full of these little windows and I couldn't get rid of them!

Somehow I had managed to overload the computer of a voluntary organisation in Romania with pornography. And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't shift it. I tried turning the computer on and off. Deleting files. Everything. And it gets worse!

In trying to delete these windows, I managed, somehow, to add about twenty or so internet porn sites to the list of favourites for the organisation. And then, worse than that, I also managed to change the home page to a porn site too! Oh! My! God!

How I did that I don't know. They just came out of nowhere. And some of them had some REALLY awful names. I dread to think about what was on them.

So I was sitting at the computer, horrified, feeling numb, looking at a photo of a woman sticking a cucumber where the sun don't shine, when Adrian, the head of the organisation, walked in. Before he had a chance to look at the screen, I clicked a window and got to the Yahoo site, where I pretended to write an email.

He sat next to me (this was at five o'clock in the morning - a few hours earlier we had been at a nightclub together) and waited for me to finish so he could check his emails. I sat there, writing this email to no-one, hoping he would fall asleep.

Eventually he did and I slipped quietly out of the office and made a rush for a train that would take me to Budapest. I left a note for Adrian, offering my sincere apologies, and as yet I haven't heard anything back. I'm not sure if this is a good sign...

And that was my final, disastrous hour in Cluj-Napoca. The two days I have spent in Budapest since then have been much better. No misadventures with pornography!

Yesterday I explored a huge cave network under Budapest. There was about twenty of us, travellers from all over the world. We spent about 3 hours squeezing through the smallest gaps imaginable!

There was one in particular - appropriately called "the sandwich" - where you couldn't even move your head as you tried to squeeze through. It was insane - but great!

After exploring the caves I went to the cinema and watched The Sum of all Fears. It was crap. I fell asleep. At one point in the film a nuclear device is detonated in the US (a premonition) and this woke me up. I saw cars flying towards me and for a brief moment forgot I was at the cinema. That was scary! But the film was still crap.

But I think that, out of all of the memories I take home with me from Budapest, there is one memory that will stand out in years to come. And that one, single memory is a couple of hours I spent with a beautiful American-Bolivian girl named Teresa. We both arrived in Budapest from Cluj-Napoca on the same day but on different trains.

We were both tired and Teresa had to catch another train the next morning at 7am. And yet, despite this, we ended up walking the streets of Budapest together until five o'clock in the morning.

I think Teresa just wanted to see Budapest because she was only here for one day. But as for me...I just wanted to spend time with her. I knew I would never see her again. We were just ships passing in the night, travellers heading to different destinations.

And yet...already I find myself missing her. I don't often connect with people but when I do it's something wonderful. I told Teresa that travelling is not so much about seeing new places and trying new things, it's more about meeting people, and this is true.

The days I spent in Cluj-Napoca were not memorable because I never met anyone who really touched my heart. And yet Teresa, without knowing it, has managed to do that and in doing so she has made these days in Budapest special and unique.

I will remember this time in Hungary. I will remember the caves, the Museum Guest House and the capital. But, more than anything, I will remember a sweet Bolivian girl called Teresa.

She passed through my life in a heartbeat and yet she has left an impression that will last for a lifetime...

And now it is time for this Wandering Englishman to say goodbye. Belarus awaits. My train to Minsk leaves in just a few short hours.

Remember to wrap up warm and stay well.

So, goodbye my friends, goodbye Budapest.

And goodbye Teresa.

Love always.

From the memory box of a Professional Englishman.

PS May 2008: I never did hear from Teresa again. She returned to the US and quickly forgot about her travels and the friends she had made. I will never forget her though, and this blog entry will always serve as a reminder of that sweet night we spent together six years ago, when I was younger and the world was younger, too.

Thursday, 12 September 2002

Chasing Dracula in Cluj-Napoca


It's me.

When I was a teenager I was a big fan of a TV show about a fictional town in America called Twin Peaks.

It was a strange town, full of weird and wonderful characters like the Log Lady and Agent Cooper and visited by evil spirits that possessed many of the locals. I watched Twin Peaks every week and for a while I was obsessed. But in all the time that I spent watching the show, I never thought that I would end up visiting a town like Twin Peaks...

Welcome to Cluj-Napoca in Transylvania.

I'm exaggerating, of course. Cluj, the second largest city in Romania, is really nothing like Twin Peaks. But it's still a weird and wonderful place.

I have never before set foot in a city with so many flags. They decorate every street here. The mayor is a bit of a right-wing nut and he's taken his love of Romania to the extreme. Even the benches have been painted in the three colours of the Romanian flag. And the traffic cones. The litter bins. The police cars....

Romania, though never a part of the Soviet Union, still looks very Soviet and the cars, buses and monuments here are very similar to those you can find on the streets of Belarus and the Ukraine.

To tell the truth, I don't really like the people, though my opinion of Romania and the Romanian people is changing daily.

Some people have been kind and I've collected many new email addresses. Cluj is a very nice city and I would recommend it. The girls are also very pretty.

But this is not the welcome that I received from the people of Belarus. I've spent the last week thinking about the people I met there. People like Michele, Tanya, Olga and, especially, that wonderful girl I fell in love with...Katja Hrinkevich.

Here in Romania, walking the streets of Cluj in my expensive clothes and with my British accent, I do get the impression that many people look at me like I'm a meal ticket. And many people here have told me that the locals just want to know me for my euros.

So anyway. I mentioned last time that I was coming here to meet some mysterious strangers. Those strangers were a group of international volunteers I had arranged to meet here. We were coming to Transylvania to learn how to make pottery.

Unfortunately, I was a few days late and when I arrived I discovered that the volunteers had decided to abandon the project and go travelling. It seems that there English wasn't so good and they didn't understand the meaning of the word "pottery"! Eh?

This means that I have come to Romania for nothing. Am I pissed? You bet! But still, it has given me the opportunity to meet some new people and to see a place that I would never otherwise have visited.

I've also had some rather unique experiences.

On the train from Budapest to Cluj I met a girl in her twenties who spoke good English. She was travelling to another city in Romania. We spent some hours together and ended up playing a game where we used a pen and bits of paper to ask each other questions.

These soon became questions of a very sexual nature and as the journey continued we both started to get rather excited and rather hot.

Nothing actually happened, because I'm far too shy to have something with a stranger on a train - I prefer to get to know a person much better before doing the shaky-monkey-wild-and-bumpy - but it was an interesting experience nonetheless.

So. What else have I done in the past week? I visited a Chinese restaurant and sampled frogs legs for the first time. (I wanted to try shark and octopus but they were out). I went to an art museum with a girl called Dana and later watched Stuart Little 2 with her.

I met two pleasant girls at a restaurant and enjoyed speaking to them very much. I sampled some of the nicest milk shakes I've ever had in my life. I also went to a nightclub with two people.

During the past days I've come to the conclusion that Romanians are vampires. They really are a night people. Many places - clubs, cafes, shops, bars, supermarkets - are open 24 hours.

I've become addicted to a local chat site and have spent lots of time in Internet cafes. I've been visiting one particular Internet cafe until 6am and each night at around 3am the owner tells me he's going to sleep and I should wake him before I leave. Odd!

It was my plan to visit Brasov to pay my respects to Count Dracula before I left but my money is running low and so I've decided instead to return to Budapest and then to head to Minsk. In fact, I'll be boarding a train for Budapest in just a few hours time.

So, these have been good days in Cluj-Napoca. Not great days, but good days. I'm glad that I finally got the chance to visit Romania - it's been an ambition of mine for a long time. And although I do feel a little disappointed, I will one day return to this country.

And now I have to go. I have people to do and things to see.

I will write to you once again from Budapest.

The adventure continues...

From the memory box of a Professional Englishman.

PS: A big hello and a message of love to my family: My Mum and my sister Emma and my brothers David and Mark. xxxxx

Saturday, 7 September 2002

Beating the Beggar in Budapest


How are you?

I'm writing to you from Budapest, the capital of Hungary. I arrived here yesterday after a 36-hour coach journey from York.

I'm in Budapest for just a few more hours and then I catch a train to Cluj-Napoca in Romania where I'll be meeting five strangers. I'll spend ten days in Cluj and then head back to Budapest before setting off on 18 September for that country I know so well - Belarus!

I could tell you why I'm meeting four strangers in Cluj-Napoca tomorrow. I could even tell you what I'm doing in Budapest today. But then, of course, I would have to kill you. So, for the time being at least, it will have to remain a closely guarded secret...

What I can tell you is that I love Budapest and I have really missed the people of Eastern Europe. It's funny, but Budapest is very similar in many ways to Minsk in Belarus, with an identical Metro system and lots of beautiful faces and friendly young people.

Last night I stayed in a funny little hostel called the Museum Guest House. It's where I'm writing to you from now. It cost me 2,500 Hungarian forintz to stay here which is about six pounds.

The Museum Guest House has got to be the smallest hostel I've ever seen! It has just a few beds here and there, a couple of settees and some mattresses strewn across the floor. I think that this is the closest that you can come to actually paying to be homeless!

I was treated to an all over body massage this morning! I had to strip down to my underpants in front of a room full of strangers - which was rather interesting - but it was well worth it!

The massage was very nice, very relaxing - and I'm not just saying that because the woman who gave it to me might one day read this entry! The massage set me back 2,100 forintz.

Unfortunately, my all over body massage didn't include the two parts of my body that I wanted massaged most! But never mind. Someone else will do that for me!

On the subject of naked bodies, I awoke in the early hours last night to find that all of the people in my room had decided on the spur of the moment to have an orgy. They were all naked and in various positions, some of which just didn't seem possible.

It was very interesting to watch and - oh. Wait. That didn't happen. It was just a fantasy I had while enjoying my massage. Oh! The fine line between fantasy and reality becomes ever more blurred!

It was lovely to sleep in a bed last night after spending 36 hours curled into a ball and trying to sleep on the seat of a Eurolines coach.

The only thing about sleeping in a dormitory is that it makes indulging in a man's favourite hobby a real problem, especially when you're sleeping on the top of a bunk-bed and the slightest, smallest movement sends vibrations through the whole bed!

Ha ha! Oh, come on! Don't look so shocked! It's perfectly natural and just about everybody does it from time to time. Even YOU!

Soooo. Anyways. Leaving York was sad. After spending eleven months as a resident of York, it was sad for me to leave that magical little city behind.

I've never before lived in a city where I've made so many friends and met so many decent people. True, I did meet some bastards, but the people who became my friends were great. And, as each one left, I met somebody else who became my friend.

So, a big mention to all my York friends:

Urko, Roberto, Cesar, Andrew, David Shakespeare, Dana, a little boy called Jake who I met when he was a patient at York hospital, Chris, Shaun, Eileen and, finally, a huge mention to the sweetest girl I've met in years, Kimberley Dryden!

I only met Kimberley just a few weeks before I left York and yet she quickly became one of the best friends I have ever made. She is wonderful, pretty, sweet, extremely fragile, delicate, sensitive and utterly unaware that she possesses all of these qualities.

I have truly never met anyone that I feel so protective towards. Kimberly is not well and, to be painfully honest, she may not be alive in a few years' time. I have only been away from her for three days and already I am worrying about her.

I will never forget her or any of the friends I made in York. I will always look back upon my days in that city as days of wonder, filled with magic, laughter and romance, where I was able to enjoy the sort of life that I was deprived of in my early youth.

So, it's a sweet goodbye to York. For now...

And it's goodbye from me, too. Romania awaits. I have to buy my ticket for the overnight train that will take me to new cities, new people and new situations. I just hope that I can find somewhere to sleep on the train other than a squeaky bunk-bed!

Thanks for reading this. Take care.

From the memory box of a Professional Englishman.

About Me

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London, ENGLAND, United Kingdom
This is me. Read a few entries and they will tell you more about me than I can fit into these few paragraphs. Many of these entries started their lives as mass emails. That was before I discovered blogs. Thanks for stopping by and thanks for visiting my blog and reading about my life. Both a work in progress.