New Years Eve

Monday 31 December

Deja Vu.  I’m in Budapest for a second New Years Eve, the last one coming back in 2008 with my then girlfriend and a bunch of her mates.  Fun times indeed.  Booze and arguments   I’m usually a firm believer in not retracing steps, seeing as many new things as possible, but this was an opportunity to cleanse the city of bad memories and create new ones.  That and friends from the summer camp I worked at last year live locally, and it’s a good base for me to see out the winter and pick up some work.  Odd then that for all the bars in all the city I wind up at the first one I went to with my ex.

I think I probably wrote extensively last year about how this is the most overrated, anti-climatic night of the year.  Well I don’t care if I did, because I’m going to do it again.  A group of randoms I’ve latched onto are wandering around town, trying to find a decent bar and various mates scattered all over the town.  It’s bitterly cold.  Establishments are full.  Prices are high.  I’m getting bored.

After tramping about for an age, I discover that we’re back at a bar I recognise all too well.  It was four years ago, so I’m not really that bothered as at least we’ve found somewhere warm and relatively cheap.  No sooner had we sat down than everyone wants to get up again to march back to the river to watch the fireworks.  I’m left with  another girl as we both can’t be bothered.  A few minutes later someone behind me blows a horn.  There is little commotion.

“Is…is that it?  Is it New Year?”

“Errr, yeah.  Yeah I think it is.  Happy New Year.”

“Right.  Happy New Year.”

An hour or so later and I’ve tried to give her a kiss.  She’s not having any of it.  I’m not sure how I got home, but I think it involved throwing a map at a taxi driver and demanding to be taken to the spot marked ‘X’.  I can honestly say hand on heart, I actually had more fun in 2008.

Happy New Year people.  All the very best to you and yours.   There are 365 days ahead that are going to be much better than this one.

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Goodnight Vienna, good afternoon Budapest

Friday 28 December

So.  Vienna was nice.  I had fun.  Etc.  It’s actually pretty hard to leave, and fairly obvious as to the reasons why, so I won’t insult your intelligence by banging on about how much I wish I could stay a little longer.  I figure it best not to have that pressure, and move over a city.  I’m only a couple of hours down the road anyway, in a place I’ve been to before and need to reclaim from bad memories.  I begin my hitch to Budapest bright and early.

With a bit of luck this will be my last hitchhike for some time, as I fully intend to stay here for as long as possible, pick up some work, maybe teaching English or something in a hostel.  It’s not much fun standing by the side of roads in freezing cold weather, so at the very least I shall be awaiting warmer climes.  This will also afford me the opportunity to try to get off the booze and cigarettes, and back into a shape that doesn’t resemble Jabba the Hutt.  I’ll believe it when I see it.

As far as hitches go, today has been pretty awesome.  I’ve put my bag down against the petrol station wall, and someone has pulled in to pick me up, offering a ride to another services 100k from my destination.  Probably one of my fastest pick ups ever, it bodes well for the day.

As ever with accepting part-way rides, there is a risk of being abandoned in the middle of nowhere with not a sniff of a chance to get out.  At least on the edge of a city you have the option of returning to some kind of base to try again later.  This is looking like one such problematic occasion.  There is very little traffic at the truck stop, and those that pass are not biting.  The wind is though, and I cut a lonely figure at the end of the concourse, umbrella up to shield the bluster and light rain.  As ever with these locations, I decide to return up to the service station to recuperate, sink a coffee and get second wind.

I have this little technique whereby I huff and puff my way in, breathe a little too heavily and generally make it look like I’ve had one hell-of-a-day, and could do with a change of luck.  I then melodramatically dump down my gear in an over-showy demonstration of the exhausted.  People turn with confused stares as to why a backpacker is at a service station.  My entrance has achieved its objective.  Finally I place down my cardboard hitch sign displaying my required destination, before looking around expectantly.  It has never worked.

After something horribly salty and stodgy (I remember Hungary not particularly known for its culinary excellence), I’m back down at the entrance to the motorway.  It’s not long before a young couple have slowed, and to my utter delight they can take me all the way to the city.  An actor and a musician, it’s people like this I long for as a hitchhiker, with experience of it themselves, and firm believers in the celebration of the free spirit.  The journey passes with flowing conversation, and before long I find myself staring at door, holding a small bit of paper on which I believe to be my friends Budapest address.  I lean against the flat buzzer, and wait for a response.

 

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Merry Christmas

Tuesday 25 December

So I’ve been updating my face book status with ridiculously cynical and bitter comments.  I realise I’ve turned into Scrooge.  I’m lying on my bed, alone in a hostel room opening presents vicariously through other people around the world.  I’m pleased to see a humourous T-shirt.  Someone else had been given tickets to New York.  A further has a remote control speed boat.  I’m currently online to a friend in the states who is telling me what she’s received as she unwraps each gift.     I’ve not opened a present for two years, so this goes someway to sharing the joy of Christmas.   Now don’t get me wrong dear readers, this isn’t a whine for sympathy. I’ve just decided to set the record straight and wax lyrical about this time of year.  Perhaps I am not short of redemption and I can save my soul.

I always felt that Christmas Eve is the best night in the calendar.  Apart from Halloween, my birthday and the opening fixtures in the Barclay’s Premier League.  You can feel something special in the air.  It really is magical.  I have a tradition every 24th December, in that I walk the streets of wheresoever I am singing The Pogues’ Fairy Tale In New York.  It makes me feel alive, loved, romantic, lost, lonely, hopeful, emotional and happy.  The list is not exhaustive.  Wandering foggy Vienna last night alone, but not alone, was pretty special.  You are all in my thoughts, and my parents were with me.

So the fun begins in earnest today and the wait is over.  Personally I prefer giving to receiving.  Take that how you will.  Buying the perfect gift months in advance and the anxious, excruciating wait to that point the recipient opens it, with the most wonderful expression on their face…well…life doesn’t get much better than that.

Enjoy the Turkey dinner.  Enjoy the burnt carrots.  Enjoy raiding the booze cabinet for the last of the sherry, and enjoy the afternoon sleep.  Most of all enjoy each others company, and I wish everyone who is still reading my ravings a very merry Christmas, and all the best for the New Year.  As far as they go, 2012 wasn’t a bad one was it?  Let’s see what’s around the corner.

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It just isn’t the same anymore

Sunday 23 December

Don’t read this post if you’re of a sourly, depressed disposition, or if you’re so hard-core Christmas you’ve been covered your house with fairy lights and made them flash in-sync with Band Aid.  It’s the 23rd of December and I’m lying in a hostel room on my own.  I haven’t been Christmas shopping, and I’ve not wrapped one gift, placed one sparkly bauble on a tree branch, or eaten a mince-pie.  The latter due to the fact that mince pies are rotten.  I’ve not sent one card, heard one carol, or watched one festive movie.  In short, dear readers, Christmas just isn’t the same anymore.

Of course this is partially to do with traveling, but more so the fact that for 30 odd years we’ve had a tradition with the family.  My dad is meant to over-cook the carrots.  Mum is meant to fall asleep after the Queens speech.  My sister is meant to rattle her gifts under the tree every day for three weeks in advance.  I’m meant to pretend like I’m not bothered about it all, but inside I’m bouncing like an excited child snorting sugar.  The brass band under the street lamp.  The glow of the window fairy lights.  Putting stupid antlers on the dog and seeing how long before he shook them off.  Pulling a cracker.  It’s all gone.  Apart from the pulling a cracker bit; I did that the other day, but alas the joke was on me.

It makes me think about what we take for granted, and those who are truly lonely this Christmas.  Growing up we think we have it all, and perhaps some of us do, but spare some thought to consider how the other half are living.  A couple of years ago I invited a homeless man into my home around Christmas time.  Granted I’d had a skin-full, but I was never not in control of the situation.  After talking for a few hours, I was on the sauce, he was drinking tea, we  played some guitar, and talked about why and how he was where he was in life.  He told me about his gambling problems and that once he’d had everything; a family, a girlfriend, a good job, a stable income and a roof over his head.  Then he lost it all.  There by the grace of god go you and I.  He commented that he could use a guitar like mine to busk for food, so as he left in the morning I gave it to him.  He needed it more than I did.

I feel that sometimes karma falls on deaf ears, and perhaps it maybe doesn’t exist at all.  Nonetheless, and undeterred, I’m going to see what I can do on the streets of Vienna these coming days.  I’ve decided to leave just after the festivities, as I’m not sure how successful a Christmas Eve hitch would be, and I’ll aim to be in Budapest to see in the New Year.  I don’t have a family here to sit down to a meal with, but perhaps I can find someone who doesn’t either, and they just might be very grateful for a turkey and stuffing sandwich.

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It’s the end of the world as we know it…come back to mine…?

Saturday 22 December

OK so the past couple of weeks have been…unusual.  I’ve taken the liberty of leaving out the finer details and omitting some names and places to protect certain individuals who will remain shadowy players in this debauchery.  Actually it’s not all that bad really, apart from walking in on friends to see his naked arse pounding away at her spread-eagled frame, getting thrown out of a hostel for calling a Nazi staff member ‘bitchy’, smashing my laptop screen again, a birthday-come-Christmas market ‘pub’ crawl that just ended up in a pub, and potentially meeting the woman of my dreams.  Or maybe several of them.  In short, it is time to leave Vienna.

I’ve been frequenting The Travel Shack, which is something of a notorious travelers bar lying a mere stones throw from my hostel.  It’s dingy, it’s crazy, it has a pool table and the bar staff are a riot.  None of this pretentious pish.  After some regular wild nights,  two hundred yards up the road is the aptly named ‘Mozart’s’, which continues to serve beer and good food until silly o’clock.  It is here I’ve learned the oh-so-valuable life lesson of flicking the cap of a Jager bottle off your nose after you’ve downed it.  Vital knowledge indeed.

On one such occasion I’ve been particularly hammered and decided it was a good idea to go home with the only option left.  Not so much beer goggles as beer blindness.  Back to the hostel we stumble, only as we’re lying down and I’m stark naked (easy to do when removing the kilt) she’s suddenly started to “feel uncomfortable” and she’s bolted out the door.  I’m actually not too bothered, as it’s a bullet dodged if you ask me, and I reach for my laptop to watch some quality lesbian mud wrestling.  Only thing is, she’s sat down right on top of it and smashed the screen.  Raging isn’t the word.

Sticking around to await the arrival of the replacement part has had its merits.  I’ve met some pretty cool folk in this city and had some memorable times.  Shouts out to friends and staff at the bar, two sweet-as-a-nut Aussie girls (I know right?!) and a fellow cynical, bitter and misanthropic travel writer.  None more so however than a certain young lady who shall remain anonymous, who I ran into shortly before the end of the world.  If that had happened come Friday morning, I probably would have died a very happy man.  Now unfortunately I cannot go into detail regarding the nature of what has happened over the past few days, but for the first time in my life I’m going to let my head rule my heart.  I will be once again standing, thumb out, by the side of a road on Christmas Eve in an attempt to make it to Budapest.  I’ll wear a Santa hat to maximise my chances of goodwill towards men.  Of course when I’m starring in my own Jihad video in a basement in the Middle East I might have certain regrets, but for now let’s just say cheerio, and thank you for making me believe I could actually get a 10.

 

 

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