Water. I need water. And aspirin.
Where’s my phone?
Where are my clothes?
Buried by my feet, I turn the volume off my iPhone as friends in central time zone buzz me updates about their Friday night escapades. Their check-in spurred a flashback from last night’s pub crawl in Budapest. What did we do again? We talked academia with tall-dark-and-handsome Israelites, sipped on neon green “Shreks”, and I sweat off the alcohol by dancing in a cavernous club with a curly haired boy.
“Was he cute?” I asked my friend Julie.
“No.” She responded bluntly.
I scan my naked body, looking for any extra bruises from the previous night. The palm-length curve of blue on my elbow continues to darken from Wednesday night’s failed attempt to climb up an already occupied top bunk.
Jesus, Jenny. Put your clothes back on without any of the male hostel-mates noticing your dysfunctional state.
I brew an espresso in the community room to contemplate life while waiting for Julie to revive before heading out to Market Hall.
Our deteriorating symptoms alleviate slightly while walking through lavish synagogs and modern sculptures in the Jewish District. As we head south souvenir vendors and outdoor dining line the streets, gravitating tourists toward Market Hall. Once inside the 10,000 square-meter market, we bypass the butchers to scope out a remedy for our ill state. Buying a pineapple juice for 700 forints (2.50 USD), I let the vitamins infuse. Along the perimeter we find endless options of paprika and goose liver, and quickly decide to head upstairs for a hot meal.
We swim through crowds swarming the food, digging our elbows through the sea of hungry tourists. I finally find an open counter.
“Sausage and potatoes please” I ask clearly.
“Sausage!? Which sausage?” The man exclaims.
I point nervously.
“Also, the peas and carrots” I add.
“No… Vegetables!” He exclaims.
“That’s it? Done? Pay?” He points to the cash register, frowning.
I struggle by stagnant patrons while the man looks at me behind the counter impatiently.
Thank goodness, for I carried the exact change in my purse. I pay and burst out of the madness and onto a community table.
As I shovel away, I encourage Julie to touch her plate. We both have had issues with digestion since arriving to Europe a few days ago, but the poor girl ate but one bite of her lunch before deciding to return to the hostel to nap. I kiss her forehead, coo “feel better” in a baby voice, and cross Liberty Bridge to venture off on my own.
I snap scenery of the infamous Gellért Hotel to my left and boundaries of City Pest on my right. A glimpse of the Szabadág Szobor (Liberty Statue) that shines on top of Gellért Hill, overlooking the East. I clutch my canvas bag tightly and climb north for the view.
And a view it is. Pest rests peacefully behind the trafficked Dunabe River. Blue skies, pastel buildings, and ornate statues expand in the horizon. I spy every highlight listed in my tourist map from my vantage point. Though alone, the city provides superb company.
I descend down to the Gellért Statue before grazing along the Danube until hitting the Parliament. Checking my watch, I decide to pick up wifi and check in with Julie. She headed out half an hour ago, so I respond to meet her at the Vörösmarty Square near our hostel and an adjacent cafe to soak up internet. I rest my swollen feet at a fountain, listening to a trumpeter cover classics during the sunny afternoon. An hour passes and Julie responds she wandered off to Margitsziget, or Margaret Island, another 45 minute walk away.
The stroll allows me to pass Parliament. The majestic white spires surmount the Renaissance Revival façade so vastly, humbling my minuscule existence. I continue on until I reach the Margaret bridge which connects to the island. The pedestrianized strip of land splits the Dunabe, creating a green oasis for families and lovers to relax. Teenagers fly past on skateboards around a landscaped roundabout, which stands before a musical fountain. While playing “Pretty Woman”, water shoots and spins above flashing lights for a comely audience. Hiding behind the show sits Julie and her newfound friends of blended English-speaking nationalities.
Our company had been traveling for nearly a year, picking up work and hopping countries for weeks at a time. Their courage and curiosity inspired me, and I confessed my admiration when we split for dinner. “You will see the world, and marry a rich man” said the Australian woman in her late 20s, smiling through a fresh face and beaming eyes.
Julie and I ate slowly inside the park, reviewing our plans for the evening. Our tickets for the Szechenyi Spa Party issued for 10:30pm, and time was burning. We caught the tram, picked up wine and RedBull, changed into our bikinis and prepared for an experience.
Just a few kilometers Northeast of the hostel, the spa reflected pink and blue lights. After tapping up a payment card and sliding on locker wristbands, we peeked our head into the venue we heard so much about. At 10:45, the spa stood still, waiting for eerily for all who enter. I snapped pictures of the desolate pool and headed toward the lockers to stow away our valuables while listening to veterans rave about the event. What have we gotten ourselves into?
I check my hair, because I was moments from full submersion. I check my body, because I had spent a week drinking and indulging. And I shake Julie, “We’re here!”
A dozen people lingered in the baths, another dozen around the inflated deck-side bar. Immediately, an Englishman swept Julie off her feet with the words, “so do you do Crossfit?”
That’s cool. I’ll make friends with the large older men occupying the baths while you flirt… Luckily, more peers started arriving by my second vodka RedBull and I conversed with whoever spoke English. By midnight the baths flooded with patrons. Girls in creative cut-out onesies and the ubiquitous bachelor party surrounded me. Under a sailor hat, a man explained it was a “Stag Party”, for his soon-to-be-married mate. I took his hat while dancing with the devil, swimming dangerously around nearly nude bodies.
The music expedited the night, and by 3AM bodies started drying off and catching cabs. I unwillingly followed along, explaining to drivers that their rate had quadrupled in the past five hours. “Get out!” The drivers screamed. Luckily I found some newly made friends to split the surged fare.
With the midnight oil burning, I refused to waste away my last night in Budapest. I didn’t want to leave the friendly staff at the Big Fish Hostel, I didn’t want to return to the prices and exchange rates in Italy. I am falling in love with this city, and nothing else compares.
Suppose it’s better to have loved and lost than never loved at all.