The phrase “getting lost” can convey so many different emotions. It can mean joy and freedom, frustration and confusion, even fear and panic.
Something we both knew from previous travel is that leaving home, especially to go to foreign lands, generally means spending a lot of time getting lost. In the past two-plus weeks since we left home, John and I have taken four flights, travelling through four different airports, have driven rental cars in two countries, taken four bus trips, and one train ride. I would wager that at least 20% of the nearly 100 miles we have walked since leaving home have been to figure out where to go or how to get un-lost. And, in my mind, being lost goes beyond being physically lost, it also includes trying to order off a menu in a foreign language or how to navigate a public transportation system in a new city. Even my cellphone I have used for the past three-plus years seems foreign to me now, regularly sending helpful messages in Portuguese since it runs on a SIM card purchased in Portugal.
On Monday we took an evening flight from Marseille/Provence to Vienna with the plan to take a train to go on the Budapest. Leaving our hotel on Tuesday morning, we asked the desk clerk how to get to Vienna’s Central Train Station. She pointed out the tram stop just outside the hotel and instructed us to take tram 18 to Hauptbahnof. From there, we were on a pace of being lost that lasted most of the rest of the day. Here is a partial diary of being lost and confused.
Getting on the tram, we couldn’t figure out how to pay, so we rode without a ticket and, fortunately, didn’t get caught, which would have meant a substantial fine. I had set my phone GPS to Hauptbahnof, but when the GPS blue dot aligned with the red dot representing the train station, there was nothing we could see that looked remotely like a train station. What the helpful desk clerk had not told us is that the Hauptbahnof was a block away from the stop, that nothing near the stop looked like a train station, and that this route took us in the back entrance of the station which was not well marked. We assumed the next stop was the correct one. The tram started up and we and watched as the blue dot moved farther away from the red dot. By the time we sorted everything out, the tram had started us again, putting us two stops away from the train station. Fortunately, it was a beautiful day for a walk. We made our way back to the area of the train station. We backtracked, then wandered a little, and eventually just followed other people with luggage and found our way to the station.
Next, we had to figure out train schedules and tickets, which can be purchased from a machine or from a person. I had had an incident in Vienna five years ago in which I had overpaid using the machine, which took months to sort out on the back side to obtain a refund. So I was reluctant to use the machine again. But the in-person line was long and the time was short for the next train, so we bought a ticket from the kiosk.
Then, we had to find the right track, make our way to the track, and watch to make sure nothing changed. Soon enough, the train pulled in, we found seats and put away our things. Just as John was going on about how much he prefers train travel to air travel, how much easier it is and how much more comfortable it is, a couple came along and informed us that we were sitting in their seats. Our tickets had no seat assignments, so why did theirs? It turns out that it is possible to book specific seats if buying in advance. We found another place to sit. What I still don’t understand is how we were supposed to know that the seat we had chosen had already been reserved.
Two and a half hours later, we rolled into the Budapest Central Station. What followed was, basically, a reverse of all of the challenges we had in the first half of the day moving through the Budapest subway system and then finding our hotel, with the added twist of now being in Hungary where the currency is not the Euro but Forint. We managed to get from point A to point B, in this case, from the hotel in Vienna to the hotel in Budapest, but at a cost of a lot of energy expended making this happen.
It is for this reason that so many people, especially people in their fifties and older, simply sign up for a tour. It’s very understandable when you consider how many of us have mobility or health issues, or simply don’t have the patience or stamina for getting through one challenge after the next.
At the end of today, John and I will deliver ourselves into the hands of a cruise director on the Avalon Passion. He and his staff will take care of every detail for the next week, transporting us on the Danube from Budapest to Bucharest with stops at ports along the way. John and I will unpack once, and when mealtime arrives, we will simply show up. We will be entertained and pampered. We won’t have to worry about car rentals, airport schedules, or which bus to board. Is this the way we always want to travel? No, it isn’t, but at this point, taking a break from the endless decisions, judgement calls, and just plain getting lost sounds great.
It is said that not all who wander are lost. I would say that, if we are being honest, most of us who wander reckon that getting lost a lot comes with the territory.