I never viewed Eastern Europe as a place to visit. I had completely different plans for my six months in Italy. Now, I couldn’t even tell you what they were. I visited 12 countries in six months. Some people visit that in a lifetime, some in a single month. My visits were never long enough, never full. I lived in Northern Italy and I don’t think I made a dent in what Italy has to offer.
And I was a travelling baby! I packed too much and spent too much. I ran around looking for cheap thrills too much.
But Budapest. This was love.
This was a city I could see myself returning to, over and over again, and never tiring of the views, of the people, of the weight gain.
It was beautiful. Rolling hills on one side. Cobblestone streets on the other. Gigantic, gorgeous, delicate, intricate bridges separating them. A Parliament that conveyed beauty, power, history, pain, joy. A breathtaking site. Clear blue skies. A flowing river.
We met, by accident. My friends and I had planned to attend a bar crawl, not realizing that the one we had chosen was not running that night. No problem, we went to the next one, meeting outside the Burger King. I was wearing a strapless blue dress, short, with pockets. It’s ripped now, but I can’t bear to throw it away. It’s in a box of memories in my closet.
I have, what is now known to be called, resting-bitch face. For some reason, I was less than impressed by the crowd for the pub crawl. My friends took me aside and said we would leave if we didn’t enjoy ourselves. Our first bar was a tiny thing. I don’t remember much, but that I had to descend stairs to get to it. And something about trying the national shot: unicum. I thought it was awful. We stumbled out to the next bar. I think this is where we started chatting.
I remember speaking to my friend’s dad, telling him that it was ok, this guy was Canadian. No worries on that front. He laughed, equal parts amusement at my comments; another part surprise that we were calling our parents. We held hands as we drank screwdrivers from our guide’s backpack to the next bar. Budapest is famous for these ruin pubs, pubs that are built in abandoned buildings in the Jewish quarter. I’ve googled bars, trying to remember the exact name. I am almost certain it was Instant, large bird statues hanging from the ceiling, slightly more expensive drinks, the most wonderful sign in the bathroom.
It’s where we shared our first kiss, drunk off some pear beer. It was in the middle of the bar. My friends were on the right, his friend was sitting on a stool to my left.
We left for another bar, holding hands down the street, sharing travel stories and personal lives – he was a student, off to some program in Asia. I was a student at an Italian university, trying to explore as much as I could. He spoke an Eastern European language (yes, I know which one it was), I spoke French.
We stumbled to the next bar. It had a taco stand inside of it, with ping pong tables and fooseball tables. The centre was open, roof-less. There was a bit of a drizzle. We separated that night. Somehow I found my way to the bar to order a gin and tonic. You were already there. We kissed, and danced and held hands and in that instant, I never wanted to let you go.
We made an interesting four-some; me with you, my friend and her boyfriend. We took turns taking photos with statues and laughing into the wind. You opened the heavy, brown door of the hostel and walked us across the tile floors. The lobby led into a courtyard, and a statue of Jesus. We giggled among our sins and ran up the stairs.
I was already so infatuated with Budapest, lusting over its market, its history. You pushed me out of shell.
I admit I remembered how to spell your name. My friend asked her sister who went to your university if she knew you. My best friend added you on Facebook. I imagined our lives a million different ways. I would move to you. You would move to me. We would move away together.
These days, you inhabit my Facebook, a distant memory. But you remain intertwined with the real thing I fell in love with. Budapest. Eastern Europe. Hills and markets and paprika. Ice cream cones and pear beer. Goulash. Travel. The ones that come to mind every time I cook something with that red spice. The ones that I pause to think about when I come across my Hungarian cookbook.