During high school, I was in an English hand bell group and my sophomore year we went to Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia. It was my first time in Europe and I loved it. We weren’t in Prague for very long and I decided to include it on this trip to get a better sense of the city. The idea to go to Budapest came from the song Budapest by George Ezra. Something about his deep, sultry voice singing about being miles from Budapest got me hook, line, and sinker.
It’s the beginning of another travel day for me and a week since I flew out of Boston. I’ve already been to two cities and I’m currently headed a third and the first country I’ve not been to. So far, the biggest thing I’ve had to remember how to do is speak simple English. English is becoming a common traveling language but for so many people, it’s a second language. Which means I get to use simpler words while speaking more slowly.
The other day I was looking at the hostels I’m staying in along the way and realized that one of them is listed as “Property no longer available” on Hostelworld (the site I’ve been using to find/book all of my hostels). I googled it and did find the property but not having it Hostelworld bothered me. So I had a decision to make. I sent out a quick email to address provided me and hoped that they’d get back to me within the day. They didn’t so I decided to make some changes. Yesterday morning I spent reworking my itinerary so that it would work well and fit with my calendar and Eurail pass. And I made it work! Somehow. There were some moments where panic was slowly reaching its way up my throat, threatening to constrict me. It really had to do with having to change so much and the worry that I’ll make a mistake. Which brought up the concern that maybe I’ve bitten off way to much by taking four months and maybe I should have taken several shorter trips. All in good time, some frantic writing to try and get the panic out of my fingers, and I became more calm and reassured about the trip.
Copenhagen: I had a good trip across the Atlantic and easily got through customs to find my bag and an avocado sandwich from Joe & the Juice (so good!). I took the metro from the airport to the center of Copenhagen then walked towards my hostel. The nice thing about having a phone that still works here is having maps which makes finding my way much easier. In the evening, I met with a friend from when I was at Vejlefjordskolen and we walked around Copenhagen. I ended up getting a blister or two but it was good to catch up. The next day, I headed to Malmö, Sweden to meet with another friend from my grade school days. She came to Sweden to go to school and is currently still living there, trying to learn Swedish. She was kind enough to invite me to her apartment where her boyfriend cooked dinner and showed me pictures from their recent trip up to Northern Sweden to hike. After dinner, we drove over to Lund, where the university they both attended is located and we walked around for a bit. The next day, I spent walking around Copenhagen. I stopped by the Little Mermaid, walked by the palace, to where some river boat tours leave that I had seen on my last trip to Copenhagen. I wandered into one of the center squares, got another sandwich from Joe & the Juice and people watched. I worked my way to the Copenhagen Central station to activate my Eurail pass and make reservations for the next mornings trains and timed myself getting to my hostel. I left early the next morning and made it just in time to the train. I met several people on the train and we had some good conversations about traveling and where we were headed next.
Prague: Ah, Prague. In high school on bell tour, we went to Prague so my first day, I walked towards the St. Charles Bridge because I remember wanting to spend time on the other side of it, close to the castle. I had forgotten how hilly Prague is! So many hills! I walked up towards the Prague Palace to get a fabulous view of the city and to get a breeze. After finding food, I walked towards the older part of town and got this treat that is basically a breaded cone with filling. I got chocolate and ice cream in mine and it was so good!! Once I got back to my hostel, I worked on writing about the previous few days and started talking with some of the people around me. Eventually one of the guys I met, Jonah, came upstairs with a couple other guys and they started playing a card game and after a bit, I joined in and had so much fun! The next morning, I reworked my itinerary and eventually walked down into the city to get lunch, salad with goat cheese (it was fantastic!) then cake and coffee from a small café I had found the day before. I spent the evening packing up my area and making sure I was ready for leaving today.
Now I’m on a train to Budapest…Wahoo!
I wish I could tell you what the secret is to eating alone. Quite frankly, I haven’t mastered the art after several years of doing it. Most likely due, in part, to the simple fact that when I do eat alone, I go to the run-of-the-mill fast food joints and avoid anything that seems to fancy. Even when traveling alone, I frequented coffee shops that sell food as a side thought or the local fast-food type Italian place.
I’m sitting in a cafe on Hanover street in the North End of Boston. Florentine Cafe. It took about ten minutes of walking back and forth in front of several other cafe’s before walking into this one. Why didn’t I go in the others? A combo of how much they cost and being terrified of the people watching me. I stared at the menu for what felt like another five minutes but was probably less than a minute. I walked in.
“There’s no hostess. F***. What do I do?” I glanced with uncertainty to the guys at the bar. “Here to eat?” “Yeah.” “How many?” Oh that semi-dreaded question. “Just one,” I managed, holding my index finger to my lips. “Ok. You can pick a table.” “Oh, now I gotta choose.” I choose a table at the wall, furthest from the door with a good view of the rest of the cafe. My server, a tall, well-built gentleman with a soft accent, brings my menu and asks if I want something to drink, filling the glass on the table with water. “Water’s fine.” He drops off a basket of bread and a bottle of olive oil with garlic, rosemary and what looks like pepper. I order penne with grilled eggplant and some sort of cheese and nibble on the bread while I wait, tearing bits off to dip in the oil. All the while, I feel hyper-aware of the glances in my direction, questioning the fact that I’m alone.
Normally I avoid eggplant. It’s one of those foods that lives in my weird texture category. There’s only been one time I’ve eaten eggplant and enjoyed it. It was a Greek restaurant, Taverna Hellas, in Vejle, Denmark along the walking street. They have a veggie platter with an assortment of food from grape leaves to salad. And the eggplant! It was fried to a crisp in paper-thin circles with bread crumbs clinging to the sides. It was beautiful.
My server deposits my plate in front of my. “Cheese?” He asks, a spoon full of parmesan poised over a small bowl. There were already several pieces of cheese in the dish. “Yes, please.”
I stopped noticing the questioning glances.
Penne was cooked to perfection. Eggplant was just the right size. Just enough tomato sauce. And cheese. I eat slowly, enjoying each bite. The slightly smokey flavor of the eggplant. The mild finish of the cheese.
I’ve lived my life searching for meaning in a way that wouldn’t bring attention to me or what I’m doing. I watch others from the shadows and do things in such a way that doesn’t bring attention. Coupled with society saying that lunch dates are meant for best friends or parents, being able to accept the message and not let it stop me from the enjoyment of the pleasure alone is often a feat. Maybe that is the secret. The quiet acceptance of things or messages that are and choosing not to let those define our individuality or ability.
Whether or not I’ve found the secret to eating alone, Florentine Cafe on Hanover Street is where I start my journey.