Category Archives: Travel

Writing letters all of their days – Travel Tale

Up until then they were just two older men meeting for dinner. Then they ordered desert!

I was tempted, as one of the deserts looked particularly elaborate. I had to ask them what it was. That was the start of our conversation.

Beneath the canapé of the restaurant with candle lights dancing in table top lanterns, the waiter presented me with the delicious Hungarian delight. The gentlemen saluted me as I dipped my spoon into the chocolate dreamy folds of cake.

 

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Budapest

 

Now we were in unison, enjoying treats and absorbing the magic of lapsing twilight into deeper night time sky. I settled back in my seat for a moment, observing the city passersby and raised my eyes to the roof tops of stately buildings. I had found rest after my hours of walking and deciphering of maps and streets, this moment felt like my reward.

‘Is it your first time to Budapest?’ He addressed me in English but German was his first language. His friend smiled at me. ‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘And you travel alone?’ he enquired. ‘I’m going to a wedding in a Slovakia in a few days,’ I added. They both seemed very pleased with this response and as we had now moved to coffees they saluted me again.

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The Danube

Our tables were close enough for comfortable communication although, I had to pay close attention because the other gentleman spoke with a French accent and his English was not as coherent as that of his German friend.

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Budapest

They enquired about my homeland of Ireland, saying that they had visited some years ago and had enjoyed the beautiful landscape. Ireland had been in the news a lot that week, as the American President had paid a stately visit. The German man being, more chatty, made a reference to our famous USA visitor. I told him my tale of how I had seen Barak Obama twice in one day, as his car drove past and he had waved at me both times!

And I couldn’t stop myself from telling the story about his ‘stately tank of a car’ getting stuck in the hollow of the Embassy gates in Dublin and how they had to get a crane to lift it out. As we erupted into laughter, so too did the diners at the next tables. They were American!

Car Budapest

Budapest – Wild Star Landing

I decided it was time to find out more about my new friends. Their story touched my heart. Here we had two men in their seventies who had maintained a friendship since they were schoolboys. One grew up in Germany and the other in France. And how their friendship grew? They were pen-pals!

It was explained to me that this was an initiative instigated between schools after World War 2 with the intention of establishing good relations between future generations of the two countries. What a genius idea! As young boys they had shared their stories with each other, letter by letter, each building a sense of what life was like for the other. I imagined how it must have been so exciting receiving those letters and how their imaginations must have been set alight.

 

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Budapest – Wild Star Landing

 

There was thoughtfulness between them as they recounted their story in turns. They both had families of their own now, all grown up and there were grandchildren too. Throughout all the other events of life they had maintained this special bond.

In later years, they decided that every year they would meet in a European city and spend a few days together, which is how I found myself sitting next to them on this very night. Such a story warranted an additional salute. We continued our conversations while enjoying a nightcap of red wine.

Car Budapest

Budapest – Wild Star Landing

They wanted to know about my friends who were to be married and my plans for getting to Slovakia. I thanked them for sharing their story which was so inspiring.

People seldom write letters anymore. My mother writes them to her friends in sympathy when they have lost someone close. I recalled how, as back-packers in Australia in the 90’s, fellow travellers sometimes sent each other letters to say ‘I made it home’ or ‘it was lovely to meet you’, even if the meeting was just for one day. This was before things like email and mobile phones were all the rage. I still have a stash of those letters saved, promising myself I’ll read them when I’m 80 or if I ever get incapacitated.

It was time to say goodnight. We paid our bills and walked together to the train station. We embraced, kissing each other from side to side, then waved goodbye.

And that was my first night in Budapest.

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Budapest – Wild Star Landing

This article is dedicated to a group of twitter pals of mine who instigated a chat around the topic of letter writing. I remembered this story and a few of our group made me promise to share it once I added the story to my blog. I hope you enjoyed the tale.

Do leave a comment to let me know if you still write letters or have some stashed away too. Or maybe you had a special trip to Budapest too?

© Caroline Cunningham

Inca Trail – To Do Or Not To Do? – Journey In Peru

Deciding to travel to Peru from Ireland or Europe can be a big deal especially as the price of the flight is often quite staggering and especially so during peak season. The lure of Machu Picchu, now a World Wonder and famous UNESCO heritage site of the lost Inca civilisation, captures the imagination to the extent that travellers often sign up for the Inca Trail that leads there without ever having done this type of thing before.

There are some important factors to consider before signing up to undertake some days of trekking in Peru. Firstly, I will outline, I have been to Peru twice and have even lived quite close to the Inca Trail but have not done the hike itself. I had my own reasons for this.

Two important factors to consider are, your fitness level and your adjustment to being at higher altitude than usual.

If you excersise a lot, have good stamina, are used to hiking, especially for long durations then possibly you will be more equipped for spending a couple of days of hiking the Inca Trail. If you have not experienced the thrill of hiking in hills and mountains why not join a group in your local area, who are skilled in guiding you and see if you enjoy the experience. Your expensive holiday should definitely be one that you fully enjoy.

If you have already lived in high altitude environments then you will know your bodies adjustment and reaction to this. If you have not experienced being at high altitude it is very important to educate yourself on the symptoms and effects that can occur. You really don’t know until you go, how this will effect you. It has no bearing on age or fitness level.

Machu Picchu (2430m asl) is actually at a much lower altitude level than cities such as Cuzco and Puno for example. It is best to acclimatise slowly by spending a few days in high altitude before attempting hiking treks that take you further away from access to medical care.

Always heed the signs of altitude sickness and report to your guide if travelling in a group. Guides should be trained in health and safety. Tour companies usually have these saftey guidelines well out-lined for their clients.

Peru is an amazing country with so much to offer. Machu Picchu may be its crowning glory for tourists but there is so much more to discover such as the Amazon area, Lake Titicaca and its floating reed islands and Uros civilisation, Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley, Cuzco City once the capital of the Incas and Arequipa’s volcanoes and architecture.

Floating Reed Islands and Uros People on Lake Titicaca

Floating Reed Islands and Uros People on Lake Titicaca

Many people travel solo and do the back-packer thing which can be less luxurious and less expensive, while many others take advantage of an organised tour which take you much more quickly around the vast circuit of treasures in a shorter space of time.

Arequipa Peru Volcano

Arequipa Peru Volcano

Trekking and hiking can be a lot of fun and brings a sense of achievement and opportunity for bonding with fellow trekkers. Whatever you decide, be safe, be well and choose the option that will make your travel experience the most enjoyable for you.

If you do consider trekking the Inca Trail have some consideration for the ones dedicated to carrying your back-pack. This is a service that is provided for travellers within tour groups. I have spoken with one young man who did this work for a while before he studied for the hospitality industry. His recollection of carrying the heavy back-packs of travellers was not the most joyous. So put yourself in the shoes of others and pack as lightly as possible.

Enjoy your trip. If you have enjoyed my blog and this post and found it particularly useful why not repay me by sharing the post or leaving a comment.

© Caroline Cunningham – Author of Wild Star Landing and Journey In Peru

 

Coffee on Chatham Row

A warm sunny day in Ireland is by now a rare and excitable event. On one of these rare days I took to the streets and headed straight to town to mingle with the masses of giddy Irish rooted folk. All my business attended to by noon I settled in a sunny spot outside the Metro on Chatham Row which is becoming a favourite haunt of mine for coffee and their famous Tuscan Bean Soup!!

I squeezed into a vacant chair and faced outwards at the busy street with passers-by, vans and cars grooving along and the sun beaming down on me with the right amount of shading from the overhead canopy.

The coffee tasted delicious. I don’t take sugar anymore but I do absorb the flavours of the sights and sounds that accompany my sipping. Large men sipping tiny cups of coffee conjured amusing images of Gulliver and his travels, while beardy Irish blokes tried their best to nonchalantly discuss the latest art venture that they’d been seconded to.  A quiet sort just randomly checking his crossword eventually decided he had cracked it and moved along. The talk from table to table invariably drifted to ‘Spain’, sure I am going there myself next week! ‘Chico!’ ‘Omar Shariff & Lanzarote!’ Yes these vibes go well with coffee in the rare Dublin Irish sunshine.

Cars and vans rolled slowly by awaiting their turn to take the nearby corner. A friendly beep signalled my neighbour to turn and exchange cheeky grins of familiarity with the driver who is probably also thinking of Spain.

‘When we are on the beach, remind me that I have something to tell you,’ one of my favourite Aunts had said on the phone when booking our flights a few nights ago. ‘Can you repeat that line once more?’ I asked her as the reality began to sink in. ‘When we are on the beach………..aahh! Good coffee!

Gentle Men

GENTLE MEN

It wasn’t a particularly long queue, but judging by the meanderings of the ladies ahead of me it could take a while before I would be smelling coffee with my friends, who already had been served. 

I resumed a patient manner and gazed beyond the ladies as they distracted over lemon slices and rocky roads. 

It was then I caught his eye. A kindly gentleman stood calmly waiting for his order to be prepared.  I smiled and he winked in acknowledgement.  

At last the ladies made their choices and payments and it was my turn. ‘Cappuccino please,’ said I. The kindly gentleman received his order just then. Two fine glasses of lattes complete with saucers and spoons. It looked tricky. ‘Would you like a tray?’ I asked him, seeing he had none. ‘That would be lovely,’ he replied. I fetched the tray and as he prepared to leave the counter he turned to me. ‘You are an angel, a real one,’ he said to me. ‘I don’t know about that,’ I replied a little surprised by the extent of his gratitude. ‘Oh, yes, you are!’ he confirmed, ‘you just don’t know it.’ 

There was something very comforting about the way he said it. As I reached the table where my friends were sitting, I looked across and saw the gentleman with his pals. ‘This is how angels recognise each other,’ I thought, as I considered the warm exchange.

Coffee was good and needed as it was a particularly wet day. Standing in the bus queue later, laden with bags, did not seem so unfortunate having been infused with coffee and the company of angels. 

The bus was packed on arrival but there was standing room for many more. I piled on with my bags of study books and art utensils finding a not so comfortable standing spot squeezed between other bodies. 

One stop later a seat became available towards the rear of the bus. I counted to five and since the other standing passengers made no move I set my sights on claiming it. 

An elderly gentleman was sitting there at the window. He was dressed quite elegantly with a hat and overcoat. Just as I approached he leaned sideways a little. ‘Do you want to get out?’ I asked him. ‘No, I was waiting for you,’ he replied a little twinkle-eyed and with kindly smile. ‘Well, it worked out well for both of us so,’ I replied with amusement.  

The fact that he did not proceed with further conversation added to the affection of his remark. I was aware of his silent company and I noticed how his left hand had a little shake, a reminder of the conditions that people sometimes have to live with. He appeared to be at peace with his condition and this too was in some way comforting to me.

My stop approached and as I gathered my belongings he turned to say goodbye, I returned the gesture and bid him a good day. 

I made my way towards the front of the bus and as I stood amongst the passengers waiting to disembark, I noticed something very different this time round. 

The bus glided slowly and gently to the stop. There was no need to brace or hang on tightly to the rails. As the doors opened, I made my way towards the steps saying ‘thank you’ to the driver as many passengers in Ireland do. I halted and turning to the bus driver I remarked, ‘you’re a very good driver!’ He looked surprised but uttered, ‘Thanks!’ and added, ‘ I appreciate that.’

I considered the gentility of men as I reached my home, thinking of how powerful and special the effects can be. Here’s to the gentility of men and thank you for extending your gentility to me.

©Caroline Cunningham 15th March 2013