Tag Archives: Friendship

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

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Baby Steps Out Of The Corner – A Story of Peru

Imagine not one but three pairs of eyes shining their loving rays of sunshine back at you. I stood in the doorway of the Coffee Tree Cafe soaking up this splendid wave of energy. Without effort or invitation I was reflecting three smiling faces, beaming from ear to ear. I stepped through the doorway to greet my new friends. Nabila, whom I had met for the first time just a few hours ago in Casa Della Abuelo Hotel, introduced me to her travelling companion, Liz. ‘And this is Steve,’ she added. The three had got talking to each other while having coffee. Steve, also from the States of USA, was travelling solo and had just arrived in Ollantaytambo from Machu Picchu.

Ollantaytambo, Peru

Ollantaytambo, Peru

After three weeks of grappling with a new language, my Spanish was slowly improving but not enough to convey much detail. My new Peruvian friends in this Sacred Valley town, were patient with me, but I was very much a baby amongst them and definitely ‘in the corner’ in many ways.
This was ‘baby’ stepping out of the corner into centre stage. English gushed from me, so much to say and to appreciative listeners. If you know that bond that exists between friends from an earlier part of your life, which ignites instantly once you are together again, this was the feeling I had in that moment of meeting these wonderful souls, except we had never been connected previously in this lifetime of my earth existence.
A plan was set in place without hesitation. Pizza and Pisco were involved in the plot. Off we set and since I was considered by my new friends to be the ‘local’ amongst them, I got to choose the venues. Tonight I was going to be a real tourist, so we ate our ‘stone-oven-fired’ pizza while listening to Pan Pipe music and sampling Peruvian ‘Tacama’ Red Wine and Pisco Sour.

Friends in Ollantaytambo Peru

Friends in Ollantaytambo Peru

We were abuzz with conversation. My new friends were such interesting people. Liz and Nabila both worked in education, researching the ways in which children learn in order to develop better strategies for teaching them. They both seemed highly motivated and passionate about their work, we discussed the ways the world could benefit from such advancements. I was intrigued by Nabila’s story of how her family had moved to America when she was little, leaving her war-torn homeland of Afghanistan behind.

Steve, who also had Peruvian background, told us about his work as an orthopaedic doctor. He had journeyed to Peru with a team of doctors from America for the purpose of providing voluntary medical assistance and surgery in areas where people cannot afford medical care. Having spent some weeks in this role, he was spending his final week enjoying a vacation before return home to U.S.A.
I was in awe of my new friends, inspired and feeling grateful to have the company of such

Quechua Bar Ollantaytambo, Peru

Quechua Bar Ollantaytambo, Peru

magnificent minds and hearts. Naturally they asked me about my story. ‘What brought you to this place?’ Nabila asked. The answer I had rehearsed for the inquisitive café customers came tripping out more shyly this time. ‘I wrote a novel,’ I replied as the three of them listened attentively. ‘I visited Peru last year on a holiday,’ I added, explaining how this first visit had inspired a story. ‘I wrote continuously, morning to night for five months until I had completed it, my first novel.’

I looked at them, wondering what they might think of this. I half apologised for not having made more effort to do ‘worldly-good’ deeds as they had been doing. Steve was the first to reassure me, ‘I wish I could write a novel!’ he remarked.

Quechua Bar Ollantaytambo, Peru

Quechua Bar Ollantaytambo, Peru

The laughter and fun continued and our next stop was the Quechua Bar in the direction of the craft market and Fortaleza. You will know this bar if you visit Ollantaytambo. It’s the one that is playing the Bob Marley music and the Spanish version of U2’s ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.’ The dogs in the deserted streets followed us home. Since my accommodation was on the far side of town, the guys walked me there first. Steve was leaving early in the morning so I wished him well on his journey. Liz and Nabila were toying with the idea of staying an extra day, so we had swapped mobile numbers in order to make plans.

Friendships in Ollantaytambo Peru

Friendships in Ollantaytambo Peru

That was my ‘wildest’ party night in Ollantaytambo town during my nine weeks there and the best friendships formed with any touristic visitors to the town during my stay. Only in more recent times did I discover that Steve’s trip to Peru that July was even more significant than he had revealed that night. He had been responsible for making a miracle happen. At least it was a miracle for the young Peruvian boy who received a prosthetic limb. Steve had responded to a plea for help which could have gone unheard. It seemed impossible to him at first but he got support of his colleagues and arranged for the artificial limb to be made especially for the boy, whose family could never have afforded this. During this trip to Peru, Steve had personally delivered and fitted the limb to the young boy, transforming his life forever.

Salutations to you Steve! And to Liz and Nabila, thank you for being there!

© Caroline Cunningham Wild Star Landing Author

 

This Day Was Waiting For My Arrival – Life In A Peruvian Town

I can’t remember if I felt any different that Sunday morning as I dressed in the amber-hued sunlight which warmed my rustic bedroom but a significant day and night lay ahead of me. I had spent three weeks now in Ollantaytambo, a rural country town in the heart of Peru’s Sacred Valley.

Irish Womans Journey in Peru

Irish Womans Journey in Peru

A humble neighbour of the magnificent Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo is, in its own right, a world heritage site which has earned the title of ‘Living Inca Museum’. Hence folk the world over gather here, mostly on a short stay en route to Machu Picchu. I had decided to claim it for longer, if the locals would have me. So far, so good, I was learning Spanish and making some improvement and now my new friends at Coffee Tree Restaurant were also teaching me Quechua (the language of the Incas, which is a first language of many people in this area)
It was one of those extra special days as I was about to find out. I had no conscious plan of my own but over in the square waiting for my arrival was a sequence of events that would play out perfectly. I would never forget the moments that were about to unfold nor the people I was about to befriend.

Plaza De Armas Ollantaytambo, Peru.

Plaza De Armas Ollantaytambo, Peru.

Crossing Plaza De Armas (main square) I spotted my friend Alex waving to me from the bench outside his Coffee Tree Restaurant. I went to say hello. He introduced me to his friend sitting next to him. ‘Hola Henry!’ I understood from Alex that Henry was the owner of a new Hostel/Hotel in town. To be honest I didn’t understand every single word but Henry seemed like a friendly fellow and most polite. There and then he invited me to come to see his new hotel.

Casa Del Abuelo, Ollantaytambo, PeruAt Hostal La Casa Del Abuelo I met Catty, Henry’s wife and their new born baby, little Michaela, the sweetest thing you ever saw bundled in soft pink clothing. ‘Caroline, you want tea?’ Catty enquired. Henry already had the tea prepared. Catty carried on attending to her baby girl while Henry busied himself about the place. We chatted as best we could with our broken languages. Both Catty and Henry were keen to learn English and they offered that we might help each other with this exchange. I was invited to visit any time.

 

 
Just then a guest came from the stairway into the reception area where we were seated. She was speaking Spanish but her accent was unusual and her voice quite distinctive. She wanted to find out about the area, having just arrived by bus from Machu Picchu. It didn’t take long to figure out that we were both English speaking. As Nabila and I introduced ourselves it seemed certain that we were headed for adventure. Invisible threads had been woven into this scene, drawing like minds and hearts together for the purpose of merriment and good cheer. I drew a map on the back of a napkin indicating the highlights of the town and making sure to advise her of my Ollantaytambo friends whom she should visit and give custom to.
Nabila and I arranged to meet at the Coffee Tree after 5pm and Liz her companion would also be joining us. Meanwhile, Catty had decided that I should join her and Henry for lunch along with their cousin André who was visiting from Lima. In many Irish homes, a guest will realise that refusal of the invitation to eat or drink is a wasted exercise, after the third insistence it is better to accept the offer. It seems the Peruvian’s and Irish have some common traits. In those first few hours of this family’s company I have to say I was touched by their kindness and acceptance of me.

Chancha in Peru a Tasty Snack - An Irish Woman's Journey in Peru

Chancha in Peru a Tasty Snack – An Irish Woman’s Journey in Peru

Eventually all the dishes had been added to the table, a round cake of soft cheese and some bread pans as I was already accustomed to. In addition there was cancha, Peruvian fried and salted corn, and I was served a bowl of stew with pieces of tasty goat meat. There was plenty to go around lots of conversation too.

My ability to converse was still a little stifled but I was forced to try harder to communicate. My new friend Henry, who to this day I am so fond of, is a most inquisitive fellow, who never tires in his eagerness to learn not just the English language but about life outside Peru. He had a natural curiosity and conversations could take many twists and turns. I would end up telling him things about Ireland such as the story of how we got the Shamrock as our emblem or about Fionn Mac Cumhaill and The Salmon of Knowledge….In Spanish!!!
Later I looked at my watch. It was time to meet my other new friends…….the Americans. This was just the start of the adventure. I thanked my new Peruvian friends and promised to visit soon. With an extra spring in my step I made my way towards Plaza De Armas.

Copyright Caroline Cunningham Author of Wild Star Landing