While I've not travelled extensively, I do love it. A fan of the Rick Steves approach to travel, when we go overseas we choose to stay at small family run hotels in the city center, and occasionally we shop for dinner at the local grocery store instead of going out to a restaurant. Other ideas I've gained from reading Rick Steves' travel guides are that it's better to spend your money on experiences rather than on high priced hotels or tour groups that insulate you from the local experiences, and if possible, save daylight for sightseeing rather than travel.
Portions of my poem, "Sleeping on the Train," were based on our experience travelling from Prague to Budapest. Saving our daytime for touring Budapest, we boarded a train at 10:00 p.m. at the Prague station. Unlike anything you might envision from Hercule Poirot's ride on the Orient Express, these sleeper compartments were a small spartan room with a window, bunk beds against one wall, a corner wash basin and a small closet behind a curtain. Comfortable enough to sleep—nothing more.
When we settled into our compartment, the porter came to tell us and an American couple in the cabin next to us what to expect as we travelled through the night. He told us to always keep the door locked since there are gypsies who sometimes make it on to the train and steal from the rooms. He also said since we'd be crossing into Slovakia we should expect the border guards to knock on the door during the night to check our passports. Eyes wide, the woman in the next cabin asked how she would know if it was the gypsies or the border guards at her door. Without hesitating, the porter responded, "Don't worry, ma'am. If it is the gypsies, you won't hear them."
At 2:30, we heard fast, loud knocking at the door. I jumped from the bed to find the light switch. Eyes struggling to adjust to the sudden light, I unlocked the door as the knocking continued. There were two guards, one with a small computer hooked up to a platform that hung at his stomach by a strap around his neck, and another guard behind him with a machine gun pointed toward the floor. They entered the room as I fumbled, half asleep, to get my passport. One guard put our information into his computer while the other one looked around the room. He used the tip of his gun to suddenly push back the closet curtain as if he expected someone to be hiding in the closet. Satisfied that no one was there, he backed out into the hallway while the other guard finished with our passports. It was a full half hour before my heart stopped racing.
I had a fitful night of sleep after that, so by 6 a.m., I sat at the window to watch the sun rise as we made our way into the areas surrounding Budapest. The small rectangular cement and cinder block houses looked so different from those I grew up with in Northeast Minneapolis. When I looked more closely, I saw laundry hanging on the line behind the house, a vegetable garden plot in the corner of the fenced yard, and flower pots placed in front of the house, an attempt to soften the harshness of the cement. While the houses may have looked different, daily life looked the same there in the outskirts of Budapest as they had in Northeast Minneapolis.
Travel brings light to the fact that any small change in my parents' and grandparents' past could have changed where I grew up, what language I spoke, and which childhood home still visits my dreams. Each time I travel, I see myself living any number of possible lives. That is why I choose to travel.
Train Station at Night, Courtesy of Pixaby, Creative Commons License
Hungarian Countryside, Courtesy of morgueFile, Creative Commons License
Gail Wawrzyniak is a North Carolina writer bringing together her love of art, history and writing.