I let my fingers run nervously over the wooden railing in the arrival hall. My boyfriend has landed forty minutes after me and now I am staring at the doors of the custom area with a hypnotic smile. My heart is a henhouse. I need to go to the bathroom badly, but I can't leave here now. It's been two months since we have seen each other. Airports. The most wonderful and most hated places in a long-distance relationship. Then I see him. I almost tear down a pole in front of me as I run towards him. Some moments in life are so magical that they almost don't seem real. We're bouncing around like bimbos and I feel like I'm on cocaine.
Then we ride into the city center while my boyfriend tries to read the names of the train stations we pass.
"You have a really cute American accent!" I say.
He is rolling his eyes. "I am really trying hard to make an effort here!" he answers sternly.
Oh, I see. I decide to shut up for a few minutes so I can not to insult even more people that day.
The next morning we are on the way to the Old Town of Vienna. It's colder than a penguin's butt. I point at St. Stephen's Cathedral with a frozen finger. My boyfriend is impressed by the colorful shingles. He also asks why a huge Coca Cola poster is hanging on the scaffolding.
"For real! Eastern Europe is also no longer what it used to be!" I comment very seriously.
We miss out on the famous touristy horse rides and walk to the Hofburg. There I hold the map so much upside-down that we see the entire area approximately seven times from all directions before we finally escape with icy feet into the butterfly house. Luckily it is also open in the winter time. Next to the entrance there is a glass box with a long row of pupae. Just as we look, a new butterfly is born. Fascinating! Large brown butterflies float through the hall, which appear to be blue like the sky when their wings are open.
In the evening we roam around the Christmas market at Karlskirche, which is one of my favourite places in Vienna. The winding columns on the left and right of the cathedral create an almost oriental atmosphere.
"We should have mulled wine here," I decide. My boyfriend is still struggling with the German word "Glühwein", when I already ordered two cups. One with real mulled wine and one with punch for kids.
There is nothing comparable to the Christmas markets in Europe when you look at the USA. Many travelers from all over the world come to Austria, Germany and Switzerland at this time of year - just for the markets. My boyfriend is almost ecstatic about the wooden huts, the music and the arts and crafts.
I start to see the scenery through his eyes and for the first time in years I don't see "just another Christmas market". What a wonderful experience!
After the first sip, he also finds that mulled wine basically tastes like shit and children's punch is much sweeter and tastier. After I tell him that I am sometimes getting tipsy from a relatively little amount of alcohol, he wants to foist the mulled wine on me. „ Then I'll pick you up and take you back to the hotel. Ho ho ho," he says, imitating a hilarious Texas accent.
I look at him for quite a while without a blink. „ Well, that definitely wouldn't happen otherwise!" I say.
Then we laugh so hard that the other people in the tent think we are completely drunk.
We travel from Vienna to Budapest in about two hours on an Austrian train. Traveling by train in Europe is fabulously easy and far cheaper than a trip by car - if you book your trains early enough and want to see mostly big cities. They are very well connected by fast trains and make your trip very comfortable and convenient. The countryside on the other hand is hard to reach by public transport.
The white elegance of Vienna transforms into golden-brown old world charm. Our host opens the metallic ornate door to our apartment. The walls are dark red. A huge chandelier hangs from the stucco and the ceilings are so high that I almost need binoculars. When we are alone, I put on some music from our favorite road trip playlist and we dance across the worn out parquet in our humungous living room. I love Budapest even before I have seen one bit.
And there is much to see. Cute huts with fake snow roofs are scattered all across the colourful mosaic square in front of St. Stephen's Cathedral (yes, really - they have one too!). We browse through wood art and talk about how to decorate our future house. From there we walk down to the Danube, which lies like behind a transparent curtain of mist.
The wide river pushes its way through the middle of the city, gray and mighty. It is dividing it into Buda and Pest. No, it's not one of my stupid jokes. And besides, we're now really in Eastern Europe.
I am enchanted by the atmosphere. On one side of the Danube, the castle fortress is piled up with colourful church towers. On the other hand, it takes your breath away: The huge white parliament building with the red roofs rises like the palace of a pale Ice Princess. I have seen many cities and places in Europe - but this building with its fragile massiveness stands totally out. „Wow," I say quietly. „That's why I always wanted to go to Budapest."
We just stand there and watch it for a while. The symmetry. The beauty.
We are back in the evening. The crescent moon shines over the now dark blue shimmering Danube, which is broken into a thousand diamonds in the shadow of the street lights by passing ships .
"There are so many beautiful places in the world," I say softly.
My boyfriend puts his arms around me. „ And we will see them all."
Not huge but very moving: There is a memorial and piece of art right at the bottom of the parliament. It is called „Shoes on the banks of the Danube". Rusty and very real-looking single shoes lie randomly scattered along the edge of the promenade that's leading to the water. In between candles, roses and a heart-shaped balloon that flutters silently back and forth.
The monument stands for the murdered Jews in the Second World War, who were shot here and then pushed into the river after they had to take off their shoes.
It's cold in this place. Not only because it is December in Budapest. People. What people do to other people. It sometimes is so incomprehensible that words slip into the water like the dead bodies of the victims. Reading about history is important. Feeling history where it happened is even more important. What you have felt once won't let you go again.
The last evening we spend in our favourite coffee house - Café Zsivágó. The hands of the clocks seem to have crumbled to dust on those two floors. Countless small yellow shining lamps, red carpets with patterns, chairs and tables made of dark wood with different design. Ancient radios, fine porcelain, crocheted tablecloths. And simply the best hot chocolate in the universe.
We have already been here twice for breakfast and ordered caviar. Just because. Because we can. And it was damn good.
But at 8 pm we're more in the mood for red wine.
"Let's order what they call the Hungarian Wine here," my boyfriend suggests. Who could have known that they simply mix wine and soda half and half! We sit in a dark corner in baroque armchairs and look at each other. "I'm going to order some real wine very soon," I say sarcastically. My boyfriend is nodding. We smile. I put my legs on his knees and then we just look into the dim light of the old light beside us.
In March we were on a road trip across Europe that took us to Amsterdam, Brussels and Copenhagen. You can find more about this trip in my travel diary.