jack russell and the old cow

On the Citadel hill in Budapest, Hungary
On Citadel hill, Budapest, Hungary

A few autumns ago, my friend and I took a motorcycle-trip-turned-road-trip (because both bikes mysteriously broke down within the first 20 minutes, probably the Motorcycle God’s way of hinting at something) around the western tip of Lake Superior, from Grand Marais, Minnesota to Copper Harbor, Michigan. Aside from the stunning beauty of the most superior of the Greatest Lakes in America, we noticed something else, something sort of eerie. (See what I did there?)

Liberty Bridge, Budapest
Liberty Bridge, Budapest

As we pulled off at historical landmarkers, or made tiny hikes unveiling picturesque photo ops, we couldn’t help but notice we were at least 30 years younger than anyone else we encountered during these roadside stops, whether it be in the greasy spoons or marveling the beauty of the Superior horizon. Aside from the fact these folks were sleeping in campers or roadside motels, and we were driving my truck through barely-there paths in the woods, or behind vacant lakeside homes for sale and pitching a tent on the best piece of land we could find (squatting at its finest), turns out, we were on the ultimate retirement holiday.

And I loved it. These folks and I clearly had a lot in common.

Chain Bridge, Budapest
Chain Bridge, Budapest

I should note that I struggle with the “What’s my age again?” identity dilemma when I travel (and when I don’t). A lot of people love to experience a new place by partying till dawn, sleeping all day, wake up, repeat. But more often than not, I find myself rising with my Oldies but Goodies, wandering the ancient town centers, soaking up history, getting a little tipsy on local beer or wine, strolling the streets until dusk, before calling it at night when dark falls, retiring to my home in the City of the Day to edit my photos, read, write, or binge on The Walking Dead. (On strong recommendation of my sister who spent the past few years in total bewilderment, wondering why I haven’t started watching yet. I’m not addicted. I did it for her. Honest.)

Parliament by day
Parliament by day

And for the most part, I am totally satisfied with my travel ways. But when I walk the streets in the morning, I notice the all too familiar stale smell of beer, the party trash, the misplaced stragglers stumbling home, and can’t help but wonder what I missed out on the night before. I guess it’s less feeling like I’m missing out, more feeling guilty, because if I don’t experience the night life, am I really experiencing the city in its entirety? Leaving stones unturned? Only getting to know Dr. Jekyll and not Mr. Hyde?

Parliament by night
Parliament by night

Sure, I partied until eight in the morning Berlin style, went vodka for vodka with my new Polish friends in Wrocław (ugh, I am not a vodka drinker, despite my Polish heritage), and over-indulged in Amsterdam, but this is exception behavior. Most of the time I am content to enjoy the day out and enjoy the night in. And this pattern suits me as a solo traveler.

Plane flying directly into the sunset, over the Parliament, Budapest
Plane flying directly into the sunset (that’s why it’s orange), over the Parliament, Budapest

But when my friends American Sara and Scottish David came to visit during the Kraków to Budapest leg of my see-the-world adventure, my identity crisis got real. I remember counting down the days before their arrival, so excited to have real friends to share this transient life. Here they were, two free passes to get out there and enjoy whatever is better with numbers, get jiggy with it, party till the cows came home. Unfortunately by that time, I was already deep in big ‘ole biddy mode. I was the cow, and I was already home.

Sunset view from St. Stephen's Basilica, Budapest
Sunset view from St. Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest

So what now? Do I hide the old cow on my shoulder, who starts making meaningful glances at her watch when the clock strikes 9pm? Or do I embrace her? And how do you hide a cow, anyway? They’re huge. Ooooor, do I turn to the Jack Russell Terrier on my other shoulder, the one I keep forgetting to let out to pee? He could use a walk.

Plenty of time, Budapest
Plenty of time, Budapest

I mean, I may be on an extended holiday, but they only had nine days. I’ve spent months wandering aimlessly in and out of coffee shops, wine bars and pubs, some shitty, some amazing, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s just me I have to satisfy. Traveling with others is more difficult. I mean, everyone has to say what they want to do out loud, agree on things, be conscious of other people’s wants and needs, try to figure out if people are being real, or just lying to be nice and agreeable. It’s exhausting, really.

Matthias Church, Budapest
Matthias Church, Budapest

Luckily Sara has tasted retirement and still has a strong streak running through her, and David, well, David’s from Scotland. Pretty much every night began something like, “Weeeelllll, it doesn’t matter much to me, if you want to, I could be convinced…” Together, they were the perfect compromise of holiday drinking, eating local cuisine, random exploring, and binge-watching season two of American Horror Story, so it all worked out.

And the Old Cow and Jack Russell lived in harmony.

(Thanks for the adventures, AS&SD.)

Sun setting over the Elisabeth Bridge, Budapest
Sun setting over the Elisabeth Bridge, Budapest

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