Chapter 14: Betcha Thought This Thing Would Never End, Huh?

Saturday the 21st, we spent a little more time shopping around Cluj, and picked up some ceramics, crystal and such. Still no eclipse stuff to be had, however.

Finally, in the afternoon, we loaded up all our gear one last time and headed back to the Cluj train station to catch the 3:55 to Budapest. Everyone was pretty much exhausted, but overall, happy. The trip had had its rocky moments, but things had generally worked out well.

The company assembled at Cluj train station
Photo by Some Guy

Goodbyyyye, crazy Americans...
Our last view of Lucy, Didina, and Radu from the train
I think at this point, Radu is thinking, "never again. I don't care how much
they pay me, never again..."
Photo by Pam Bloxham

Night train to Budapest. Sounds like a spy novel.
David and Pam get some shuteye.

We spent some time on the train looking out the window at the Transylvanian countryside slipping past, and eventually settled down for the trip. The border crossing was a bit more relaxed, and in a few hours, we were rolling though the Hungarian night.

At about 10:45 that night, we got back into Budapest, and got a cab back to the Astoria. Pam and I had changed our reservation when we left the first time, and now we had a room in the back, off the street. The sight of real beds in a real hotel room very nearly brought tears to my eyes. Oddly enough, I had a sudden disgusting urge to push two chairs together and throw a sheet over them...

Sunday morning, we came downstairs to the Astoria's marvelous breakfast buffet. I was all choked up. I mean, the coffee was already made, everything. It was refreshing to eat food that hadn't been outside my window the night before keeping me awake.

The weather had cooled off considerably in Budapest, which made everything seem even nicer. For our final day, we hopped the train to the nearby town of Szentendre, a famous shopping locale. The city center is filled with quaint shops and cafes, and we spent the day divesting ourselves of the last of our money.

A sculpture in a park near the Szentendre train station.

Some whimsical shop signs in Szentendre

Hungarian peppers drying on a rack

And then it was back to Budapest for our last night of vacation. In all the time we'd spent at the Astoria, every time we rode in the elevator, I'd noticed the menu of the hotel's dining room posted in the car. A lot of the food sounded really good, so for our last night's meal, I suggested we stay in and eat there.

Wow! Good call.. This was easily one of the best meals of my entire life. The Astoria's dining room simply reeks of Old World elegance, with red velvet on the walls and silver covers on the dishes. We had a tough time deciding what looked best on the menu, and ended up having exotic dishes like wild boar and pheasant. The entrees were sublime, the desserts were a crime. A couple of us had a frozen peach-thing for dessert. This was peach ice cream sculpted into the form of a peach. It was so well constructed, and tasted so good, it actually took us a couple minutes to figure out if it was ice cream or actually a real frozen peach. There was even a little stem made of chocolate. **contended sigh** After weeks of rustic living, I was finally in my element.

Welllll, after something like that, the only direction you can go is down. Monday, August 23, our flight left wayyy too early in the morning, and we dragged our weary butts outta bed and headed off down to the airport. We did the layover in Hamburg again, but it was much cooler there this time. Nuts. If only the eclipse had taken place a couple weeks later, we would have missed most of that nasty weather.

After an entirely unremarkable flight halfway around the world, we finally descended back into the ugly reality of LA and our real lives. The last thing you want to do after a long, exhausting trip is go through all the hassle you have to go through at the end of a long, exhausting trip. It took us something like an hour to get through customs and get our bags, but finally, I staggered through the doors of the terminal and out into the LA afternoon. The hot weather had apparently followed me home.

When I got to the shuttle bus stop and checked with their person there, I found that they weren't expecting me until sometime that night. Nevertheless, an empty shuttle soon pulled up, and I got in, extremely relieved to be the only passenger. We crawled through the horrific traffic of the LA airport towards the exit and home...and then the driver took the turnoff to go back to the terminal. We made another stop, and picked up another person. Grumble. We crawled on...and stopped for another person. Grrrr. And we kept on going around the big loop and stopping, until the tiny little bus was jammed full. The last stop we made was to pick up a family with two screaming babies. Awwww, crap. Just shoot me NOW...

We crept slowly through the back streets of the San Fernando Valley, in 37-degree-plus heat (yes, centigrade, not Fahrenheit), dropping off people one by one. The screaming baby family was the last one off before me, of course, and some two hours after boarding the bus, I was finally deposited on the corner by my apartment.

And so it goes. The solar system keeps spinning, and we're now planning the next eclipse trip, Zimbabwe, June 21, 2001. Africa. Oh goody...instead of meeting animals I'm going to have for dinner, I'm going to meet animals that want me for dinner...

Stay tuned.

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