Early Monday morning, Pat and I crawled out of bed in anticipation of our 5:30 taxi pickup to the Budapest airport. As Pat took his shower, I read a blog comment from a friend – a quote from Lao Tzu, “A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving……. and they don’t take much with them!” (He admitted to making up that last bit).
I read the comment to Pat and laughed, “I guess we shouldn’t worry if we get home or not.” When we arrived at the Budapest airport, we learned our flight was delayed two hours, so I repeated the quote. Then the agent informed us they had no means to get us to Austin that day. “We booked you on the same flight tomorrow.” And I repeated it once more.
Generally, when plans go awry, I move into hyper-panic mode, simultaneously irritating and effective. Yet Monday, I entered a zen like trance, reminding myself that no one cared if we made it to Austin on time. On the plane to London, we speculated where we might eat; our favorite place in Chinatown or an Indian place on King’s Cross. What luck?! A 24 hour delay!!
The British Airways agent at Heathrow handed us a fist full of vouchers; meals, transportation and hotel accommodations. At the hotel, I asked the woman who checked us in where we could catch the metro or bus stop to the city. “You’ll need to return to Heathrow and take the tube.” Suddenly, London felt less appealing.
“Is there anything nearby? A pub perhaps?”
“Harmondsworth is a short walk down the footpath that runs next to the hotel. There are a few pubs there.”
We set off to a tiny village at the end of the runway of one of the busiest airports in the world. On our way, we passed a school where the kids ran about screaming and laughing in their matching navy blue skirts and burgundy shirts. A man walked his dogs across a sporting field, and we stopped to talk. He told us of two pubs in the village; one immediately on the left the other on the right and pointed us on our way.
At regular intervals, we shouted to be heard over the roar of an airplane.
We cut down a narrow, brick lane which opened onto a grassy triangle. There, as promised, we found two classically English pubs; The Five Bells and The Crown. Their names evoked a Dickens novel.
The Five Bells didn’t serve food, so our choice was made. We entered The Crown to find a young man behind the bar. He was tall and thin with bookish glasses, and when he smiled to greet us he revealed a mouthful of perfectly English teeth. I was immediately smitten. “We stop serving in ten minutes, but don’t worry, I won’t throw you out.”
We ordered basic pub food; fried fish with peas, french fries, and then doused everything in malt vinegar. While we ate, the bartender, Steven, joined us. We talked about his Chilean wife who lives in the United States, “We’ve been separated for a year, but hope to get back together. We are going to Chile next week and then to Peru to hike Machu Picchu.”
Pat and I shared our plans to be continuous travelers, “We aren’t rich, we need to do this on the cheap.” “That’s the only way to ever really know a country though, right?” he replied. Steven, it turned out, was well traveled and a lively conversationalist.
We lingered as long as possible before paying the bill and heading out to explore; a church on the hill, the old cemetery surrounding it, and an ancient barn (Pat read it was from the 15th century, but that seems impossible, right?). As the sun started to set, we headed back cold and tired to our hotel.
“That was a perfect day.” I told Pat. “Maybe Tzo is right.” After all, what is life but a series of voyages, be they real or virtual. Joy needs to be gleaned from the trip itself not the promise of some eventuality.
Generally, I tell people I love to go places, but I hate to travel. The act of moving from point to point is agonizing. Yet, Steven and his stories in a classic English pub may have changed that perspective.
Twenty four hours later than planned, we arrived in Austin, Texas. We will be here for a month and then, the journey continues. Right now, I have no idea where it’s going to lead, but that’s OK. I’m starting to believe that is the fun part.
Categories: Places we've been