Travel Diaries:The Dusk
How have you been? I hope you enjoyed the recent festivities and are preparing for more to come. And in the recent festival of lights that went by,I hope that we made an attempt to overcome the fundamental darkness in all our lives; because,we can.We do not need to overcome fast, we just need to overcome. For a change, I have been convinced and not confused about something in life and I am grateful for that. It feels light, for a change and I am enjoying this interlude.
It is wedding season. One of my friends got engaged and the other got married. I had been looking forward to attending all their functions but, my health kept me from going out. While I have never been a fan of glamour, glitz and gung-ho in weddings, I wanted to see some of it in their functions. Probably,to amuse myself, a little, seeing how extravagant one night can get. But I think this was a poetic justice served to me by the power-that-be to cast me away from indulging in amusement at what people consider to be one of the momentous days of their lives.So while I stayed at home, wrapped in my sheets,I was reminded of a very sweet and a simple wedding in Prague - of a couple posing for a shoot, with a few friends and family, before they headed to the Church to take their vows.I felt that their smiles and happiness were enough to complete their union.Rest was just a formality.
Prague had more to it, than just this,but I will come to it later. Before Prague, we stopped at Budapest and the horrific realization from my last letter happened here. After waking up in Vienna, we realized that the tickets that we had booked for Euro rail to Budapest were to be collected from Hungary. While this may sound odd, in retrospect, I believe, such a thing made sense for people who were on their return journeys to Hungary from anywhere, where they would have already collected their return tickets too before leaving Hungary.Whisking away all memories from the previous night, we made a dash to catch a bus to Budapest. Phew!
There is a unique appeal to Budapest, with its weathered and washed down buildings and streets abounding with cable wires hanging low. It would give you an Old Delhi semblance for a moment, but for the blond haired people scattered across the landscape. Finding a taxi there was a task, something extremely odd as compared to what we had seen so far. There is caveat associated with the usage of taxis in Budapest by the Hungarian Police. It is recommended to call an established Taxi Company when in need of a cab, because of issues relating to quality, cost and a certain degree of risk associated with the independent cab drivers.We checked into our hostel which was recommended to us by our receptionist from Berlin’s hostel and although a little cramped for space in the beginning, we made fond memories because of the people we met and the friends we made there.That hostel gave us a window to interface with many a cultures and ideologies sitting late in the night, chatting and discussing with people from near and from far, about things relevant and not so relevant. We made friends with a Brazilian girl and went out for dinner followed by a walk to the Chain bridge and back.
Back at the hostel, I got into talking with the caretaker there who apart from guiding us with the map and advising us on certain dos and don’ts, was enthralled by how comfortable we were with speaking in English, especially when it was not our native tongue and more specifically because people in Europe, especially in Budapest, are not well conversant in English at all. But, more than that, she was intrigued with the fact that we were from India, a land where her father had sought refuge in a saint, never to return back to his home.I could see sadness in her eyes,a curiosity questioning the mysterious charm that India beholds enough to take her father away from her for good. She expressed her desire to visit India one day. I smiled and promised to play a host if and when she comes there.
We went for a free walking tour the following day and were fascinated to know that Hungarians are the only European people who are Asian in origin. Originally Magyars, their genetic contributions diluted over the centuries when interspersed with European tribes.Out of Old Buda, Buda and Pest, which makes the city of Budapest, the Castle district in Buda is a sight to behold. With its crooked streets following the shape of the hill, the district because of its elevation gives an all embracing, panoramic view of the Danube. There are some good cafes and restaurants lining the streets. And, I am sure you remember the-must-have-crepes near the Buda castle you had mentioned to me once?Well, I found that place too.
Nightlife in the ruin pubs forms a defining attribute of Budapest.With psychedelic interiors, worn-out and abandoned furniture, hipsters and a retro look, the culture of ruin pubs took off in the 21st century. They are majorly focussed in the Jewish quarters in the seventh district and hence were close to where our hostel was. After sampling some Hungarian Palinka, we indulged in pub hopping and often ran into our hostel mates. This was also the night, when one of my friends injured her knee, although I would not like to delve into those details here. Back at our hostel, we felt incredibly hungry and wanted to have some food at 2 in the morning, when my caretaker friend came as a saviour ,logged in one of the home delivery sites and helped us order food.
Next, we headed to Prague, our favourite and the most cherished destination for reasons that I cannot begin to explain. We had a 6 hour long haul in the train where I sat leaning by the window pane, writing sometimes and thinking the other. We reached Prague by evening and snacked at one of the most appetizing and fulfilling place right adjacent to our hotel.
You, of all the people, have known how Prague had always been in my bucket list and how I had always wanted to visit it; the excitement and the euphoria at just the sheer idea of being there. I was always sceptical that my frenzy would jinx it, as it always does. However this time, my reality did not fail my imagination. A walk to the Charles Bridge from Old Town Square at night, with a cool breeze across your face and an ethereal music from violin filling the air, while standing on top of Vltava river with reflections as if lit by a hundred thousand lanterns, made everything look so surreal and so much in love. I thought of you. I wished you were there, and my words would not have had to struggle to do justice to what I felt when I felt it.
The next day, we went to tour the city, though it is different thing that my friend and I got separated from our third friend and our tour group because we were too engrossed getting ourselves clicked with painted humans at the Square. Soon we were able to catch our group and secretly wished that our third friend had not noticed our brief absence. Our tour guide made us come closer to the folk lore and some interesting traditions and legends abounding the Bohemian city. Of particular interest was one where the women are spanked with a whip in order to keep her fertility during the whole next year. The spanked woman then gives a coloured egg, invites the man to eat and drink as a sign of her gratitude. So much for customs, it made me smile.We visited the Old New synagogue which is the oldest active synagogue; the Powder Gate and a must-see, the famous Astronomical clock. Every hour, on the hour, a crowd gathers to watch the Astronomical Clock in action. On our way back, we also attended the Prague festival briefly.
That night I was tired and I did not want to party at all. But, life happens, when you least expect it to. And it happened for me in Prague. I went to the party to give company to my friend and, ended up having some good company for myself; not just for that day, but for the rest of our days in Prague. There had been an unsettling feeling gnawing its way to me since before I left for Europe, a feeling of anxiety, of wistfulness,and of uncertainty.Well, let's just say that the company ebbed those feelings for a while. And might I add, it added a little serendipity into our lives again. Yes, serendipity,that is all I can say for now. It is funny how we express least the sentiments that touch us the most.
Being at the end of the trip and tired by now,I skipped another tour the following day and instead walked arbitrarily in the streets, attended the concert inside an old Church, collected some souvenirs for people back home and hogged on the Chimney cakes, a finger licking dessert of Central Europe. By the night, we walked to the Charles bridge again. Among the many statues lining the bridge, there is one of John of Nepomuk. Tradition says that if you rub the bronze plaque on the statue you will return to Prague, one day. With some difficulty, we found that statue.We walked further to the Lesser Town, sat on a bench there, trying to sink in the fun we had had and the fact that we were to leave soon.
We had been planning this trip since long. And just like all good things, this journey was also coming to an end. And just like all good things, it was leaving behind something beautiful. Memories, and a change of perspective. Because, and I have learnt this from you, that both these things help one stay solvent in times of crisis.Thank you for coming this far with me. I hope every someone like me ,finds a someone like you. They say, what you seek is seeking you. Maybe, I will meet you one day. I hope you would want to me too that day.