I am sitting on a train from Prague to Berlin as I catch up on journal entries.
The day had arrived-- my first day traveling completely alone in a foreign country. I left with most of the Choir early in the morning and arrived at Heathrow airport. After figuring out where I would check my bag, I said my goodbyes to friends I wouldn’t see for a long time. It was strange to know that after such an anti-climactic goodbye, many of my friends would be venturing into the unknown world of Adulthood-- student-teaching, getting jobs, being married. It was no less difficult to say goodbye to close friends I might see in August.
I sat in a cozy restaurant within the airport for a few hours, delaying my walk through security. I also made sure to buy a dinky little alarm clock, which I would need at my hostels. Hours passed, and I flew to Cologne, Germany, where I waited for another hour or two for my flight to Budapest. On both flights, I was delighted to have my first conversations with folks whose primary language is not English, all of them very kind Germans. (Of course, we spoke in English.) What could have been a very lonely day became a chance to enjoy the kindness of foreigners.
Although I’d never been in a place more different from my home, arriving in Budapest was not as strange as I thought. I must admit, though, that the fact that everything was written and spoken in Hungarian was rather inconvenient. I quickly began to practice the art of asking foreign strangers for help, and before long I had found English speakers who could tell me how to get a taxi and reach my hostel. Piece of cake!
It was about 10:00 or 10:30 when my cab driver stopped across the street from my hostel. It was a wide street with tram tracks in the middle, but there was almost no traffic on that Friday night. I crossed the street with my giant green backpack and found Door #30 tucked away between businesses. I would have missed it if I wasn’t looking. I hit the buzzer next to the words “Caterina Hostel.” I heard a woman’s voice telling me to walk to the top floor, and a bolt snapping backwards to unlock the door.
Behind the door was a damp, wide concrete staircase, with a flight going downstairs into total darkness and one going upward. I climbed four flights, and found a tired-looking woman smiling kindly at me. She welcomed me to the Caterina Hostel, showed me where I could come to make toast and coffee in the morning, and gave me a key to my 8-person mixed dorm room. The place was undecorated but comfortable-- it had a big common room with one little table, two spacious rooms with beds, a kitchen a shower, and a toilet room. The woman, whose name was Anniko, insisted that whenever I go in and out, I must lock the door.
In my dorm room, I met two Mexican guys, Sebastian and Paul, who were a little older than me. We were later joined by Charissa and Ian, a couple of twenty-somethings from New Zealand. All of us sat and talked for a couple of hours, sharing stories and tips from our travels, telling each other about our countries and cultures, and having a good time. I went to bed around 12:30, excited that this hostel’s culture was everything I expected.