Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Looking for the Blue Danube

Today I'm especially pleased to welcome author Amanda Flower to Terry's Place. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the guest scheduled for today was unable to make it, and Amanda stepped in at the last minute, with a post I know you'll enjoy. As writers, we work with words. What happens when they fail to communicate?

And while Amanda is here at Terry's Place, I'm over at "Beyond Her Book", Barbara Vey's Blog at Publisher's Weekly, with an overall view of the Pikes Peak Writers Conference.

The best part of travel is it reduces you to thinking about the basics: food, shelter, and transportation. When you’re standing in the middle of a foreign city alone with a bad map printed off the Internet and zero knowledge of the native language, your everyday worries from back home just seem to melt away.

When I was twenty-five, I got this ridiculous notion in my head that I should travel to Budapest, Hungary alone. I was already in Eastern Europe visiting a friend, and my friend had to work the day of my Hungarian adventure. I didn’t want to waste one minute in Europe by sitting around her apartment when a whole continent was right outside the window.

I took the train from Bratislava to Budapest without incident. I felt confident I knew where I was going. I had a map and a travel guide—what could possibly go wrong? I figured I’d find the Danube River and would be able to follow it on foot to the Castle Hill district where the museums and other tourists would be. Sure, the travel guide told me to use the funicular to get up the hill, but I was a poor twenty-something on a strict budget, willing to hoof-it to save money.

Outside of the train station, I started walking, and I walked, and I walked, and I walked. I got further and further away from the train station and no closer to the river. After walking for a half hour and finding myself not in Castle Hill but in some type of industrial neighborhood, I realized I’d taken a wrong turn somewhere, and knowing my luck, it was the first turn out of the station door.

With limited options, I walked toward the only establishment I recognized. It was a Burger King sitting catty-corner from me in between several huge office buildings. It’s amazing how pervasive American culture can be so soothing overseas. Tacky but comforting all the same.

It was morning, and the fast food joint was all but deserted. A Hungarian teenager was working at the counter. I asked her in English if she knew where the Danube River was. She replied in Hungarian. I shook my head that I didn’t understand her. She shook her head back that she didn’t understand me either.

I asked again. “River? Do you know river?”

The young girl behind the counter was crestfallen that she could not help me. “French fries?” she asked.

Without knowing what else to do, I nodded. “Yes, French fries.” I paid her and took my small fry to a window booth and ate them while mulling over my dilemma. Obviously, trying to navigate the city on foot had been a bad idea.

After polishing off the fries, I retraced my steps back to the train station and found a taxi that drove me to Castle Hill for an exorbitant amount of money. At that point, I didn’t care. My only concern was getting out a situation, which had the potential to go from bad to worse. When I reached Castle Hill, I was relieved to know where I was and where I was going. And yes, eventually I saw the Danube River.

Amanda Flower, cozy mystery author of Maid of Murder, is an avid traveler. She has visited seventeen countries, forty-eight U.S. states, and counting. Learn more at www.amandaflower.com


Mason Canyon said...

Oh what an adventure. Enjoyed the post very much.

Terry, thanks for introducing me to a "new to me" author and a great new book (that I've added to my wish list). BTW, I have an award for you on my blog.

Thoughts in Progress

Debra St. John said...

Quite an adventure...you are very brave.

I did laugh about the Burger King comment. I agree...there is something comforting about being in a foreign place and seeing something so American. I've eaten McDonald's in Spain, France and England!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

It sounds like a great trip...and a big adventure. :)

Mystery Writing is Murder

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

And....didn't we sit next to eat other at the SinC breakfast at Malice?!

Terry Odell said...

Mason - thanks for the award. I'm flattered!

Debra - I'm the opposite. When we traveled, we avoided all the US chains (although I recall stopping in a McDonald's in London to use the restroom). However, being alone, and with a language barrier, I can understand needing that connection.

Amanda Flower said...

Mason and Debra, I'm so glad that you liked the post. It's one of those funny after the fact stories. But most travel stories are like that!

Someday, I will share how I got lost in Rome... I can get lost just about anywhere...

Elizabeth, I did sit next to you at the SinC breakfast. It was so nice to meet you! I'm glad you liked the post too.

Terry Stonecrop said...

This was a funny story. It seems as if anytime we get lost in a new city, it's never in the safest section.

Maryannwrites said...

Really enjoyed the story. Reminded me of the many stories my daughter had to tell after spending 6 weeks in Europe following her HS graduation. She said she was getting a bit homesick when she spotted a McDonald's somewhere in Austria.

Sheila Deeth said...

French fries with those directions. Loved reading this.

Jane Vasarhelyi said...

Amanda, great story! As you know, but not many folks do, Hungarian doesn't have a Latin root and has no relationship to any other language but Finnish (the Hungarians and Finns being of the same ethnic stock). This can make it extremely difficult and frustrating to communicate unless you're with Hungarians conversant in English. I learned this the hard way, accompanying my husband on many trips back to his homeland. Dictionaries are not essential in much of Europe but Hungary is definitely an exception.
To make it worse, they don't even call the Danube the Danube -- is nothing sacred? -- to them it's the Duna.