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Comments and their consequences

Dining out alone one evening lately, I got into conversation with a couple of Canadian tourists who were on a driving holiday through the region. They seemed very impressed with Budapest, so I didn’t feel the need to switch into ambassadorial gear and sing its praises. We agreed that Prague, while interesting, was simply too full of tourists to be enjoyable. And we shared similar impressions of Vienna as an aging dowager who had lost some of her joie de vivre.

They still had two weeks left of their tour and were in the process of planning their route to Zagreb. I’m a pathetic poker player. If a thought registers in my head, it’s clearly visible on my face. I have learned to immediately shift into self-correction mode, and I am getting faster at adjusting the image presented, but if you’re looking at me and paying attention, I’m like an open book. They were looking at me and they were paying attention; they registered and correctly interpreted my ‘Zagreb? Are you mad?’ look.

I had hoped to be let off lightly with a blasé ‘as a city, it just doesn’t do it for me’ but they were obviously looking forward to their visit and my careless reaction had thrown a big wet blanket on their enthusiasm. I had been introduced to them by the restaurant manager as someone who travels extensively and they wanted details.

IMG_1447 (800x600)Zagreb really doesn’t do it for me. I thought it tired, listless, and somewhat jaded. No matter how much I tried to conjure up some of the magic that must have been there back in the days of the Orient Express, I failed miserably. Even saying in the fantastic Esplanade Hotel wasn’t enough to fill the void. I tried to find some contemporary Croatian writers in translation to see what I was missing, but sadly, what I found was far from inspiring. We did walk about, we did explore, and apart from its wonderful cemetery, I can’t remember anything else of note. I’m glad I visited, but I’m in no hurry back.

My Canadian travellers decided that as they’d already booked and paid for their accommodation, they’d press on regardless of the fact that to my mind, a couple of days in Subotica and then on to Belgrade would have been far more interesting and rewarding.

Later that evening, I stopped to reflect on how easily I offer up my unsolicited opinion. Some might find this charming and even a little engaging. But not everyone really needs to know what I think. At least with blogging (and indeed, this column) people can choose whether or not to read what I have to write. But when we’re in conversation – short of telling me to shut up – there’s little you can do but listen or walk away.

I think I might need to revisit the carelessness with which I sometimes venture forth and perhaps take a second or two to give some thought to the consequences of my comments. So, Zagreb mightn’t be up there on my list of places to visit, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t enjoy it. And while Budapest has its drawbacks, if you caught me on a bad day when nothing was going right and life in Outer Mongolia was looking positively attractive in comparison to yet another day in this city, I’d hate to think that my opinion on a given Tuesday might put you off coming to see it for yourself.

This week, I’m left wondering what sort of menu my comments would make if, as Robert Louis Stevenson once said: ‘Everybody, sooner or later, sits down to a banquet of consequences.’

First published in the Budapest Times 26 September 2014

Grateful 33

I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move. So said Robert Louis Stevenson light years ago and methinks the man has a point. I like to drive. My hand is first up when volunteers are sought to drive from A to B. I have fond memories of driving over 300 miles to play 36 holes of golf while living in Valdez, Alaska. When I’m in Ireland and have access to a car, I’d happily spend the time chauffeuring just about anyone. No reason necessary. I had high ambitions as a teen to be a long-distance trucker and crossing the States on Route 66 is on my bucket list.

I like to travel by train.  I can get up, move around, choose whether or not to engage in conversation. Looking out the window is like watching a giant movie screen – no better example of life imitating art. I like to travel by plane, too, and would like it even more if it wasn’t for the baggage-related angst and the heightened sense of loneliness that occasionaly hits when it seems that everyone else is being met off the plane but me.

I wonder though, if the best bit about travel is coming home. Putting my key in the front door. Dumping my bags. Hoping the fridge fairy has been to stock up. Checking on my girls and being glad that they’re all still alive. Making a cuppa. And looking forward to getting between the sheets of my bed.

This week, as so many people the world over face another night on a cardboard mattress wondering when and if they’ll see another cup of coffee,  I give silent and fervent thanks for having some place to come home to. I realise that home is a state of mind  and that part of me still qualifies Ireland as ‘home home’… yet this is serious: I’m actually thinking of a Hungarian Christmas tree this year (and it’s only May!)

(Note: to read the concept behind the Grateful Series – check out Grateful 52)