Warning: this is a long one!
After 2 and a half months Sarah comes to visit. We started planning this so long ago, April to be exact. At that point, Budapest seemed a lifetime away. I had so much to do and so much to see and then suddenly I’m sitting in a cafe in Budapest seeing one of my oldest friends walking towards me.
Me and Sarah met when we are about 11 in a climbing competition, since we have done many stupid things together. It is her fault I dreamed up this trip, we are in a competition to see who can visit all the European countries first). When she said she wanted to come out it was when I thought I would be easily hopping from capital to capital. We settled on Budapest and Bratislava, I let her do the planning for this bit.
And now we are in Budapest and she is melting in the heat of mid-summer in central Europe and I find that I’m pretty used to 30 degrees now and we are joking and laughing about how I’m so excited about finding cheddar in a supermarket and everything feels so good.
We get to the apartment and she almost has a meltdown when she can’t get the key to work as it is hot and she is tired and I laugh and take it from her. We get the aircon working and she half climbs into the fridge to cool down. We laugh and I love the feeling of not having to do the introductions with someone new. I have loved everything I’ve done, I’ve met amazing people but 5 days with an old friend feels like a treat.
We get confused over Hungarian currency then cause a queue at the ticket machine for the tram as we can’t work out what tickets to buy. I force her to walk through the city to the supermarket in the heat to buy food and then we go back to the apartment and I cook us dinner and she does the washing up and everything flows.
The next day we do a free walking tour, the guide is obsessed with art nouveau which gets a bit much after a while. We eat lunch in a traditional Hungarian restaurant and find a water misster that sprays you to help you cool down. We sit by a fountain and then head to a bathhouse where we do walking races across the pools which Sarah wins and endurance competitions in the cold pool that I win.
That evening I manage to fuse the lights and the aircon in our room. We laugh and improvise. The next morning Sarah learns I will sleep through everything but my name being said. After breakfast, we head out into the city again and find our way to the musical fountain on Margaret Island and we sit getting splashed watching the water show.
The next day we take a very hot train to Bratislava. It’s 34 degrees outside and there is no aircon only an open window to keep us cool. She does her colouring in and I write my journal and knit. We reach the city and our accommodation and Sarah gets stressed out with a key again. We dump our stuff and then head into the old town for a walking tour. This one is better the guide is really good and we both enjoy it. We find dinner then head back to the apartment for a quiet evening.
The next day we do a city game (a bit like an escape room but running around the city). We enjoy it but there are a few bits that seem to have a got a little lost in translation and we way over complicate it at the start. By the time we finish we are both crazy hungry and so get pancakes followed by icecream and by the time we finish our ‘lunch’ its 5pm. We sit for a while in a square and then head home via the well air-conditioned supermarket where we spend ages hunting unsuccessfully for peanut butter.
We say we will get an early night but instead, I keep us up looking at trains and planning another part of my trip and getting overwhelmed by train timetables and then it’s almost midnight and we need to go to bed. I’m on a train to the High Tatra mountains and Sarah is going home and I can’t believe our time together is over already.
The journey is pretty easy, I each Poprad and take a risk by going to the supermarket before getting the bus but manage to time it perfectly and only have to wait 5 minutes before a bus to Zdiar comes. The driver doesn’t speak English and it’s a little hard to communicate but I manage. I overshoot the stop I want and have to walk 1.5km back to the village. I get an incredibly warm welcome when I reach the hostel and even though I don’t eat Pizza I go out with everyone that evening having cooked and eaten first.
After dinner, everyone sits out on the porch chatting. I plan with Megan and Rachel to go to the Polish lakes the next day. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere and I can’t remember how it comes up but I end up telling Rachel that I’m autistic. A few of us chat about it for a while. Rachel is a psychologist and is researching into autistic girls. There are some teachers there as well and it’s really interesting to talk to them about their experiences and share my own. It’s funny how things work out.
The next day I’m up early to get a bus that ends up not existing. Megan, Rachel and I stand at the bus stop for 45 minutes in the end but we do get to the Slovakian border and from there we walk to the national park on the polish side. It’s busy, it’s a Saturday and this is one of the most famous lakes in the area. The first bit is just on a road, my blood sugars try to go low a few times but I manage to avoid a proper Hypo.
The first lake we reach is so crowded. It’s nice but there are so many people. I find it harder to appreciate nature when it’s that busy. We sit a while and eat a little but then head off for the next part of the walk, this takes us away from the crowds and is much more interesting. It’s a long day but we all enjoy it. On the way back, we meet a Polish lady and her daughter, they have been coming to the area for years but haven’t met any English speakers before. We chat as we walk. We are all tired by this time and so it’s nice to have another conversation.
We say goodbye when we hit the main path back. The three of us try to figure out the best way to get back to the hostel, we have missed the bus we wanted and the next won’t be for a few hours. We walk the 2km back towards the border and try to hitchhike but to no luck. Then a car pulls up in front of us and a familiar face pokes out, it’s our Polish friends and they dive us all the way back to the hostel.
We all shower then head out again. There is a beer festival in the village and everyone else from the hostel is there. It’s not something I would normally go to but the hostel is such a nice place and the people so welcoming that I feel comfortable enough to go with them. I eat and drink tap water while everyone else tastes lots of beer. It’s a little noisy but I enjoy myself. As things start to wind down a band is playing outside and everyone is out there. I go outside too but the noise and vibrations from the music is too much and I return to the shelter of the building.
I see Rachel looking around for me but I can’t go outside to tell her why I disappeared. I feel embarrassed that I can’t be outside. I want to be with the others but I can’t be in that noise. Even though they know I’m autistic it’s still not fun to have to say I can’t join in because of something everyone else enjoys. I think about going home, but I don’t want to go. It’s a situation I have been in a hundred times before, the longing to join in fighting against the overwhelming stimulus that makes me so uncomfortable I have to flee from it.
But people come inside and when I explain Rachel and Megan stay inside with me until it finished and we all go home. I don’t like making people choose between being with me and being in the environment I can’t tolerate but they didn’t seem to mind and they choose me.
The next day I take it easy, sleeping in and eating nice food. I chat with Rachel about her research and manage to do some writing. It’s nice to just sit and relax. There is a thunderstorm in the evening and I sit out on the porch in the pouring rain watching in.
On my last full day in the Tatra’s, I join two Aussie sisters and we do the saddle hike, it’s the one everyone who goes to the (https://www.gingermonkey.eu) does. The scenery is amazing and I’m pretty pleased with myself once I’ve done it. After 4 years of not hiking my fitness isn’t as good as it once was but after my time in Lofoten it’s getting better and I enjoy the feeling of pushing myself.
That evening after dinner it’s movie night and so I settle down to watch slumdog millionaire in the living room. It’s been an amazing 4 days in a part of the world I hadn’t even heard about until it popped up on a Lonely Planet post on Facebook.
I’m sad to leave the next morning but I can’t help but look forward to what the final 2 months of the trip will bring.
And as a reward for getting thought all these words, have some lovely pictures!
I hope you have enjoyed this episode!
The girl with the braid in her hair xxx