I am looking at a glass menagerie inside of an old lady’s home in the borderlands of Hungary. I am thinking about my life up to here. Glass menageries live a tenuous existence until that fateful day when they are smashed into a zillion pieces. As such is a man’s life.
When trying and strong effort are no longer good enough, when you realize that the thing you are running from is that which stares back at you in the mirror, where can you go?
Across another border? Yeah, why not?
I went over to the international bus terminal in Budapest resolute to get out of Hungary. It was clearly time to be moving on – to anywhere. Budapest was worn out for both Chaya and myself, we really needed a new horizon. Hungary seems to be an alright country for the Hungarians, but I fear that a traveler could pass through it very quickly without finding much to get stuck on. I found some subsistence work in Budapest last summer, and I feel as if I have absorbed the place up to the point of over-saturation.
View from the private room at the old lady’s home in Szeged, Hungary of a church.
So Chaya and I got on the fastest bus we could find and rode down to the Hungarian border with Serbia and Romania at Szeged. We were a touch unsure of what route we would travel: through Romania to Bulgaria and Turkey, or through the Balkans. We arrived in Szeged at around three thirty in the afternoon, and decided to stay the night in order get a quick start early the next morning for either border.
I had previously boasted to Chaya that a traveler can get a list of cheap accommodation options from the Tourist Information offices that are all over Hungary, so we made way to the nearest one in Szeged. We were given the hotel price list by a grumpy young woman with black permed hair. It is beyond me why someone with a grumpy disposition would ever think of working a job in which they had to interact with foreigners on a daily basis, but this is a phenomenon all over the world. The grumpy woman behind the counter handed me the accommodation information sheet with a grumpy jerk of her wrist. I took it with a smile.
But my facial expression was about to quickly change, as a quick survey of the price list reveled that there was not a hotel on the sheet that offered a two person room for under $50. My jaw dropped, Chaya cringed. I felt like an ass.
“Well,” I began trying to justify my prior boast that we could get information on affordable accommodation at the tourist information office, “I suppose the last time I was in Hungary I was riding a bicycle and camping every night or trading for a free bed in hostels.”
I realized then that I did not ever need to pay to stay anywhere in Hungary the last time I was there. Chaya and I were now stuck at the border with a cold night on the horizon. I seldom travel with a guidebook, and Chaya knows that, in travel, few things really needs to be arranged in advance. So we were unprepared for this unplanned stop on the Hungarian/ Serbian, Romanian border. I had no idea that accommodation in Hungary could be so expensive. I resolved myself with the knowledge that even if we did have a guidebook it probably would not have listed this city on the nowhere end of Hungary and, it has become my opinion, that Lonely Planet now thinks that $40- $50 for a hotel room in Europe is cheap.
$40- $50 for a night of accommodation anywhere in the world is not cheap.
I pushed the grumpy young woman for more information on cheaper accommodation. After much prodding she admitted that I may be able to stay in a private room of someone’s house. So we went over to a tour agency that books these private rooms. Another grumpy young woman with a pseudo-pretty diamond-edged angular face and bulging eyes told me that there was only one room available for a one night stay. And that it would cost an outrageous price. I argued with the funny faced woman over the price, left the office in disgust, and found myself in a cold, dark street with Chaya . . . pregnant, cold, and just wanting to find shelter.
I looked at Chaya, thought of the baby in her belly, and the worn out look on her face.
We took the private room in someone’s home for an outrageous price.
After I angrily handed over three times the amount of money that such accommodation should have cost, we went to find the house that we would be staying at. We located it without difficulty, and were greeted by an old Hungarian woman who smiled big and squeaked as she spoke. There was not a common language between any of us, but the lady seemed genuinely happy to have us in her home. She seemed unable to stop smiling, squeaking, and welcoming us to her home. She showed us to our room. It was decorated like an old person’s room with an incredible glass menagerie stretching all the way down one wall, a small TV propped up on a rolly table in the middle of the floor, and paintings of little kids peeing and pulling their pants down.
It is really curious to me why old people the world over seem to like decorating their homes in pictures of little kids with their pants falling down.
Upon entering the old person room, both Chaya and I began laughing and forgot about the excess of money that we had paid to sleep there. I then watched Obama’s inauguration over the old lady’s shoulder in her living room, which prompted the old lady’s old husband to lead me away into my room to show me that there was a TV in the center of the floor.
Chaya and I laughed, and then spent a night fully closed up tight in an old lady’s home in the borderlands of Hungary.
Market in Szeged, Hungary on the border of Serbia and Romania.