I think you never get to know a city until you’re lost in it.
Being lost is no big deal, as long as you don’t have anywhere in particular to be, and it’s not bitterly cold, and you have cab fare in your pocket as a last resort to get back to familiar ground. Today was perfect getting-lost weather.
All I was trying to do was get to the river, and all I had to do was walk about twenty minutes in a straight line to get there. The only trouble was, I picked the wrong straight line. I would have sworn my driver last night pointed me that way when orienting me to the city, but then, we had to do a few circles and loop-di-loops to get to the sweet little courtyard apartment I rented. It’s like a secret entrance: it looks like a giant window display full of Vans sneakers, but when you wave the little magnetic key fob in front of the keypad thingy, it opens up into a nineteenth century lobby, and then you wind up two flights of marble stairs with wrought-iron railings to get to this tiny, cozy apartment with a sleeping loft. It’s perfect.
So I slept off the jet lag in one fell swoop, and headed out this morning for the river. It was sunny and cold, but with no wind. I walked and walked, thoroughly enjoying every minute of not being able to understand a word spoken around me, or being able to read any of the signs, and being just fine in the world anyway. Eventually I realized I’d been walking too long not to have hit water yet, had I been pointed in the right direction. I’d been paying really close attention to landmarks, though. Because seriously, people, when you’re lost you have to do two things:
1) Stop traipsing blithely ahead.
2) Retrace your steps to the last place about which you were certain.
I figure that puts me in, oh, early 2009 or so.
Wait, sorry, we were talking about my morning in Budapest. So, I retraced my steps, and retraced some more, and got to one point around a huge construction site where all the roads were tangled and I couldn’t see back to where I started. Sigh. I had to get out the map. Damnation. A map is so much harder to read in a language you’ve never seen before.
I finally figured it out. I was about 180 degrees from where I’d intended to go. I was, in fact, almost off my map. I was so far off from where I’d meant to be that I had to scan all over the darn map just to find a road that matched the 27-letter street sign in front of me. Course correction. Backpedaling. Winding shortcut.
Once I was on the right track, though, I was unstoppable. I gadded about. I traipsed. I meandered. I stopped for coffee and a sour cherry pastry, crossed the river, rode the funicular up the castle hill, and admired the view. I took a million pictures, stopped for warm spiced wine and salty teacakes (those are better than they sound,) and wound my way on foot back downhill and across the river again.
It is so, so pleasant being out on foot with only the vaguest of plans. Right now I’m getting warm, and resting, and then heading out for a glass of champagne on a Danube evening cruise. After that, my biggest problem will be whether to have goulash for dinner, or paprikash. That, and having “Blue Danube” stuck in my head.