A story of togetherness and the disaster it lead to
About 2.5 years ago I went on a trip to Europe with Kaitlin. I’ve wanted to write a post about that trip since I started this blog but our entire adventure from start to finish was so ridiculous that, until now, I’ve struggled to successfully capture it into words.
It all started on a cold and windy night in January. The year was 2014 and Kaitlin and I had just decided that we would go on a Eurotrip together. (Ok – so I don’t really remember what the weather was like that night, but it was January in Toronto so I’m pretty sure it was just the worst). The decision was made late at night sitting at Sweaty Betty’s over beers.
We got on the topic of travel and quickly came to the conclusion that it was time to go on an adventure together. We then spent all of 10 minutes tossing around some destinations before we settled on our itinerary: Berlin, Prague and Budapest. These were the 3 places that were highest on my European bucket list and conveniently also three cities that Kait was happy to go to again. And that was that.
And I mean really – that was that.
We never once re-thought the plan.
It wasn’t until we were half way through our adventure that I realized how frivolous we’d been at planning our trip. We were sitting in a pub in Vienna (an unplanned overnight we’d managed to squeeze in) drinking beers with a few other travellers when one of them asked how we’d decided on which cities to visit on such a short trip. After a moment of reflection, I was shocked to realize that the only answer I could find for him was “hmm, well actually this whole trip was a grandiose plan we concocted while drunk one night.”
Huh… I mean we’d sorted out the other details and made our whimsical, intoxicated ramblings into reality but never again did we once considered a different itinerary.
And honestly, that’s kind of how the whole trip went. We’re both free spirited, go where the wind blows us, solo kind of travelers. Both in the habit of showing up into a new place with a few nights hostel booked and then just winging it. Planning and research isn’t really our strong points.
For the most part, this lack of planning worked out just fine. Though, on a few occasions it did lead us astray. Like that time we waited until our final day in Prague to visit the beautiful and historic Jewish Quarter and cemetery, but then discovered that everything was closed for the Sabbath (it was Saturday) because we’re idiots. Or when we decided we wanted to be sophisticated and cultured and go to the Prague Ballet and watch Romeo & Juliet but the only seats we could get so last minute were so terribly bad that they were essentially one seat and standing room.
And at one point this happened:
But our biggest planning failure occurred in Hungary on one of our last days. One free-spirited traveler on her own tends to still make good decisions and be cautious enough to avoid getting herself into any unfortunate situations. So 2 free-spirited travelers should be even better, right? Wrong. Putting two of these travelers together is a recipe for disaster! Our togetherness created this false sense of security and invincibility. We were both so confident in our trust that the other would not lead us astray that we both felt we got a free ride and didn’t have to worry about anything. This caused the minimal planning and good decision making that we’d both normally do to fly right out the window. It’s a bit like a small scale Bystander Effect: both assumes the other one has “got this” but actually the proverbial ball has been dropped so completely that its sitting lost in a ravine somewhere…
So anyway, we decided we wanted to get away from Budapest for the day and see a bit more of the Hungarian countryside. To our credit, we did conduct some minimal research that lead us to the city of Ezstergone. We read that we could easily take a train (about 50 minutes) to the city and then there was a fast hydrofoil boat along the Danube that would take us back to Budapest in about an hour and a half. Sounds lovely, right?
So, at 8:10 am we showed up at Nyugati Train Station to buy our ticket only to be advised that there was no such train and that we had to go to another station.
This was the first warning sign and we probably should have listened to it.
But instead, we hustled ourselves over to this other train station only to find, to our surprise, that it wasn’t a train station at all but a bus depot (this was warning sign number 2). We explained to the lady in the ticket booth through a complicated process (she spoke virtually no English) that we wanted to take the train to Ezstergone and eventually she sold us a ticket and stated as she handed them to us “No train. Take bus. Then train.”
The bus took a long time to arrive and an even longer time weaving in and around the country side until eventually it dropped us off at a very deserted looking train station. Almost no one else got off the bus. There was no one on the platform (this was probably warning sign number 3 but at this point we were already all in). Eventually a train did arrive. There was nothing announcing which train it was or where it was going. So we got on.
The train dropped us off at another equally deserted platform in the middle of no where. Feeling stranded and lost, we wandered aimlessly into the parking lot where we saw a large map. Perfect, exactly what we needed! You can imagine are dismay when we got close enough to see that the exact part of the map that we needed had been vandalized and torn away (of course it had).
After some deliberation we decided we had to press on by foot because what else could we possibly do? So turning left, we headed out of the lot and down the street.
It was a long walk. It was very hot. I was very grumpy.
Eventually, signs started to pop up pointing us towards the cathedral (the main sight to be seen) which was a relief. But by this point we were so fed up with the day that neither of us even wanted to be there anymore. We explored anyway. The midday heat was sweltering as we wandered up the hill to the Cathedral and took a loo around the grounds which over looked the Danube and across into Slovakia.
Was it a nice little town? Sure
Was the view gorgeous? It certainly was
Was it worth the ordeal we went through to get there?
Our one consolation prize was that the boat ride back was going to be lovely. When we were ready to leave we asked the lady at the Cathedral shop where we needed to go to catch the boat. The conversation went something like this:
Us: Where do we go to take the fast boat back to Budapest.
Her (very firmly): No boat. Bus to Budapest. (I think we’re up to warning sign number 4 at this point)
Us: No, there’s a fast boat back to Budapest – where do we catch it?
Her: No boat.
And then we left, feeling disgruntled by her lack of knowledge and by the language barrier that seemed to be holding us back from finding the hydrofoil.
In retrospect: when a local looks at you like your a crazy person when you ask about the boat back to Budapest and insists you take the bus, you should probably listen to her….
So what did we do? Went outside and looked down the hilltop where we could see what looked like a pier. Obviously, that’s where we needed to go, so down the hill we went. When we arrived there was a boat waiting for us. Perfect! We are amazing at this! We could see the boat was due to depart within the next 10 minutes so we hastily bought our tickets and got on. I remember (with embarrassment) how incredibly pleased we felt about making it on the boat, and how smug we were for only paying the student rate (the ticket holder had all but insisted).
The boat filled up with locals and kids (this should have also been a warming sign) and then slowly we were off, drifting down the river. It was beautiful, we past Ezstergone Cathedral and then some other castles on hills which were pretty impressive, past kayakers and canoers and areas that look like they’d be beautiful to hike in.
We passed them all.
Much too slowly…
I tried to ignore the slight panic that was rising within me that was silently screaming “this is not the right boat” I shoved it down deep inside.
It’s important to note here that, while I do not actually know what a hydrofoil looks like, it probably doesn’t look like a barge. Wanna know what this boat looked like? You guest it: a barge. Another important note is that there was no actual signage at the pier that indicated that this was a hydrofoil, or that it was even going to Budapest.
The boat boat pulled into one nameless port after another and soon there were only a few other passengers still aboard. The sun started to set. It was at about the 2 hour mark, when it was obvious we were nowhere near Budapest, that I became confident that my fear was actualizing – this was definitely not the fast boat.
Then we past a boat heading in the opposite direction that said “Wien” on it and my heart sank as I realize that there was a good chance this boat might not even be headed to Budapest at all (and we didn’t even have our passports with us!). Unfortunately, by this point, after enduring the boat ride for over 2 hours, going up to one of the crew and inquiring as to where the boat might be headed was not something I was willing to entertain.
Kaitlin and I discussed the situation briefly and then pulled out our tickets (which we hadn’t even bothered to look at before) to see if the word “Budapest” was printed anywhere on them. It wasn’t. The end destination was a place we’d never heard of.
At this point, Kaitlin had had enough and coped with the stress the only way she knew how: by moving to a quite area of the boat and taking a nap. Meanwhile, I sat in slight panic and reflected on our stupidity:
How did we let this happen?
Why had we simply assumed that this boat – the only boat around – was of course magically the exact boat we wanted?
Why had we not paid the lady at the shop any heed?
And most importantly: why had the internet lead us so completely astray!?
About 4 hours later we did start to see some recognizable signs of Budapest. The nightmare day (which should have only involved 2.5 hours of travel) was finally coming to an end. Words cannot describe how eager we were to get off that boat. Quite frankly, when I look back on that day I’m amazed we made it at all!
Later, I did some research and learned 2 important things:
- The train to Ezstergone does exist but was closed that year for track work
- The hydrofoil only runs on weekends. And we went on a Thursday
I hope you enjoyed my story. What was the craziest thing that has ever happened to you while travelling? Let me know in the comments!