Tuesday, May 28, 2002

"Pommes Frites und Brot," Juliette said to the waitress. French fries and bread. A meager meal, from a nutritional perspective, but it would fill our stomachs.

"Nein," the waitress responded suspiciously, and explained in German that we couldn't order side dishes without a main course.

"Aber, alles mit Fleisch," Juliette said -- the menu of the Austrian pub was filled with different kinds of sausages; being vegetarian was a good excuse for us to avoid an expensive meal.

"Wir haben kein Brot," she replied curtly -- she'd allow us the fries, but claimed to be out of bread; I guess they'd served the last of it to our neighbors. "Und du?" she asked Matthieu, sitting next to us at the table.

He ordered a hot chocolate. Originally he'd invited us for a beer, but I guess he didn't want to drink alone.

"Sometimes we play these kinds of games while traveling," I began, hoping to explain our funny behavior.

"Like in the States," Juliette interjected, "when we said we'd spend no money on food for two weeks."

"So now we spend only what we can make," I said, indicating the small pile of coins on the table in front of me. Playing didgeridoo on the street hadn't exactly grossed a king's ransom, but it had given us the confidence to consider this new game. "It's a lot more fun to play a game than to pretend you're poor," I continued, "and the less you spend, the longer you travel."

Mattheiu had spent some time traveling in Australia, camping and sleeping in his car, so I suppose he could relate. He'd wandered by while I was busking, and stopped to chat. Playing on the street was not only a way to make some food money, but also a good way to meet people.

Juliette told me about a man who looked terribly sad, "like he had contemplated suicide many times," who walked by while I was playing and then stood in the shadows listening for a while. Finally he returned to drop some coins into the hat. Juliette gave him a big smile. He wandered away slowly, returning after a few minutes to listen again. It seemed like maybe we'd been able to offer this man something, perhaps a brief respite from his depression. I suppose, if there is any such thing, this is the real reason for playing music, for traveling, even for living: to help raise someone's spirit, if just a little bit.

After finishing our food at the pub and saying farewell to Mattheiu, we donned our backpacks and set out to find a place to sleep. We'd spend the previous evening in Munich in Juliette's father's five-star hotel room, so this promised to be a classic riches to rags transition, as we looked for a suitable spot to pull out our sleeping bags. We'd taken the short train ride from Munich in Germany across the border to Salzburg, Austria. Salzburg is perhaps most well known as Mozart's birthplace ("Birthday House," says Juliette) but it also provides a castle on a hilltop, which is surrounded by a forest park. Here, with a romantic view of the city lights, we made our beds in nature.

The previous night in Munich had brought so much rain that the roads were flooded -- one car had driven too fast into an underpass, not realizing that the water was nearly as high as the roof. The weather was better this evening -- only late the next morning did a smattering of pregnant drops begin to fall, by which time we were up and ready for the new day -- though we did have a waterproof bivuac bag just in case.

After breakfast we walked to the freeway onramp. The first car to stop was a police car, but they gave us no trouble. Finally the fourth car that stopped was going in our direction, but only as far as the first rest stop, six kilometers away. Doesn't sound too great, but actually it was; rest stops in Europe are like turnpike stops in the States -- they have gas stations, restaurants, and sometimes even playgrounds and hotels. It's easy to get a ride because everyone's going your direction and they're already stopped. We got a ride to Mondsee ("Moon Lake"), had a picnic and watched the swans preen themselves below the foothills of the Alps. Our next ride took us all the way to Vienna, including a short tour downtown.

A few years ago, driving my big green van through Arizona, I was introduced to a concept called manifestation, by a yogini traveler named Kari. The idea is that by holding very strongly in your mind a particular goal, you actually help to create that idea in reality. It sounds pretty mystical/new-age, and perhaps it is, but there's also a pretty reasonable psychological basis for it. The state of our mind tends to affect very dramatically our perception of the world; when we're hungry, for example, everywhere we look we see potential sources of food. By consciously influencing our state of mind to focus on an intention, the mind naturally finds ways to acheive its goal. This is manifestation.

The entire trip so far had been a result of this process of intention manifesting as reality; we manifested food money, a nice bed in nature, and a visit to Mondsee on the way to Vienna. We didn't manage to manifest a hike along the Danube, but it wasn't so important for us. Now, as evening approached in Vienna, we wanted a place to sleep where we wouldn't be disturbed in the night. And while we're at it, why not somewhere with some protection from the wind, as Juliette was feeling a little under the weather. We'd scouted a park earlier that looked good for sleeping, but on returning around midnight we noticed an unusual number of men milling about, occasionally going into or out of the bushes. I guess we'd found Vienna's cruising park, hardly what we;d had in mind when we'd visualized a private place to sleep. We abandoned that park to discover a series of large white tents in the square in front of Vienna's stately town hall. It looked like they'd been used for vendors selling drinks at a fair, but now all were empty. Thus, we found ourselves camping in Vienna.

In the morning, we broke camp and sat in the sun in the neighboring park. As if on cue, just then the crew arrived to take down all the tents -- nice of them to wait until we'd woken up!

Breakfast at a cafe, augmented by our neighbors who ordered too much. Busking in a tunnel, and unsuccessfully in South Station (Sudbahnhof).

Sopron is the first town after crossing the border from Austria to Hungary. Most people speak a little German in addition to Hungarian, since nobody outside of Hungary bothers to learn Hungarian -- unlike most European languages, it has no close relatives. Sopron isn't a typical travel destination except for Austrians who want cheap dental work.

Juliette and I arrived by train in the evening, too late for our bus out of town. We settled in for a night at the bench at the bus station.

"Hello, what are you doing here?" asked a man with an accent and a gun. It took me a moment to realize he and his two cohorts were in uniform -- each wore a black vest and a pistol.

"We're waiting for the bus to Balaton Lake," Juliette told him, "at 5:50 in the morning."

"We are security," he said flatly. "It's okay with me if you stay here, but if big boss says no, I'm sorry but you must go."

Big Boss. Our unseen nemesis, controller of our destiny, the big Hungarian cheese. How to win the favor of this enigmatic character who held our evening's rest in the Big Boss palm of his Big Boss hand?

Juliette was quick to come up with a theory.

"I bet if we look uncomfortable they'll let us stay," she revealed.

It was a simple statement, lexically and logically, and yet subtly beyond my comprehension.

"Uh," I stuttered, trying to express my confusion, "but if we're uncomfortable, why would we want to stay?" Then I remembered a difference between us: she could sleep nearly everywhere, whereas I tended to be a little more restricted in my sleeping positions, having trouble resting without at least approaching horizontal.

We compromised by both sleeping on the same bench in one sleeping bag. This must have looked sufficiently uncomfortable, because they let us sleep until 4:20.

Balaton Lake is one of Hungary's main natural attractions. It doesn't have much of a beach, so the lakeside hotels tend to build their own waterfront, with lawns leading to the water's edge. As we weren't staying in a hotel, we just asked if we could "look around." Four hours of relaxing and a nice sunburn later (I guess I hadn't gotten enough sleep on the bench the night before), we'd had enough "looking around" and took the last train to Budapest.

Juliette's father is a businessman. He works for a German telecom company which sends him to various countries for years at a time -- France, the Phillipines, Vietnam, and now Hungary. He's lived in Budapest for nearly four years, with his girlfriend and two small children. They'd only planned to stay two years, so they never learned the language. Kathy, the four-year-old, understands English but only speaks German. During the four days Juliette and I stayed with them in Budapest, Kathy taught me some German and I taught her how to "skin the cat" as we say in English -- that's where she climbs up my legs and flips over backwards. She calls it "Ameissen!" which means "ants" -- that's how she escapes from them. Once she hugged my knees and said, "Mein Kumpalchen," or "My little buddy." Can you imagine anything cuter?

I didn't try to count, but it must have been at least twenty or thirty times. He was spinning on his head, faster and faster as he lowly straightened his legs in the air. Meanwhile, another guy began shuffling his feet to the hip hop music, then inverted his body into an awkward stall balancing on his arms. The rest of the group watched and waited for their turn to practice their moves. Some of the moves looked familiar to me, like the propeller, with both legs spinning in the air, and the backspin, while others were new. Breakdancing is alive and kicking in the spray-painted pedestrian tunnels of Budapest.

One day walking in Budapest we met a pair of travelers in a park. They both had deep tans and all their gear with them, including food for their dog.

"We walked from Czech," Phillip told us when we asked about their travels. His hair was thinning under his dreadlocks, but I guess he was just under 30. Each carried a guitar, and the woman also carried a doumbek and fire clubs, with which they earned enough money to travel on.

"Why do you walk instead of hitch?" I asked, curious what their intention was.

"Because we want to," he replied easily. Fair enough; some people bicycle, some take trains, these two walk. They looked weathered but not beaten -- bright eyes and calm smiles. "We spend so much time in the countryside," he continued, "coming to such a big city is a shock." They were looking in a Hungarian dictionary to figure out how to buy kerosine for the fire performance. For their style of travel, it seemed, going to a big city is going to work. We had no comforts to offer them, being houseguests ourselves, so we wished them well and said adieu.