Sunday, August 23, 2009

Budapest, my last night: a guy who hitchhikes with ships, a lost sleeping bag and a lady called Maria...

The following I am writing before I forget, it is out of order like a few of the most recent entries.

And a day in the hot hot sun, walking with my heavy bag (with the 5 or 6 books i had bought or had been given while travelling), meeting a new acquaintance Philip (a hitchhiker from Germany who was trying to flag down enormous freight boats to take him down river to the sea) for a photography exhibition at the extravagantly landscaped museum complex and sculpture park, left me abroad in the city and minus my sleeping bag. I had planned to sleep on the hill above the Gellert hotel, where there is a rocky park and a big statue of a lady, lit at night, holding aloft a wreath, but now my plans had changed. The 90 minute walk down to the museum I retraced and then back again, but for nothing other than seeing the city, which was ideal as I saw a lot. Along the way, somewhere near to the brilliant building that is the opera house, I met a homeless lady. She asked me for some money, but not having any, I gave her a bag of plums which she impishly received, her sly charm melding happily into a quite gracious and genuine smile.
"Thankyou, thankyou,"she said, "My name is Maria, like Virgin!"
She pointed over to a nearby church, where there was a picture of the virgin Mary. I gave her my name.
"Ahh, Thomas More!" she said, "God bless you Thomas More."
She had ways of trying to curry my favour, mainly humour edged doe-eye looks, but I resisted them. As I say I didn't have any money, and as much as I liked her I didn't want to condone her good humoured tactics. So we bid each other good bye. I felt quite sad not to have given her more. She was old and had all her possessions it seemed in a little trolley that she pushed around, and she was surprisingly resilient and good natured for someone who could be forgiven for being bitter and hardened. So I felt sorry for her.
But then I had an idea. I still had half a kilogram of Turkish delight that I had bought in the Balkans. I stopped and with much rummaging plucked it out of my bag. She hadn't ambled very far by then, so I jogged after her and gave her the gift.
"Thomas More!" she said, "Thankyou, God bless you, Thomas More, Ahh, thank you!" She said this while showering me with kisses. She was visibly moved and we talked for a short while, about her husband and son (she pointed upwards to tell me where they were) and about her dislike and distrust of gypsies. Then she wanted top give me something in return.
"A souvenir...let me see"
She wanted to give me a ´souvenir´, so she capered around her trolley and shaping herself uneasily, like Freddie Frinton´s drunk, extracted a packet of peanuts. The packet was already opened and her hands looked very dirty, but I accepted it (later to be put into a bin) and we said good bye to each other. I felt a lot of affinity for her, the way she used charm and humour when she was struggling, something I have found myself doing too.
So I carried on walking. It was good to see this area of eastern Budapest as here there are lots of nice cafes and book shops, statues and little parks in the middle of the streets. And it now being 1am I decided to stay awake in a bar and bought a cup of coffee and started to write all this down.
At 530 the bar shut, so it was a perfect time to be setting off, being able to get out to my hitchhiking position at the motorway petrol station early, walking across the river and to the main road leading west which soon became a motorway. Here I got my first lift and was off to Berlin.

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