As though our plans couldn’t have changed anymore from our original itinerary, we are now on our way to Vienna (followed by a quick stop in Belgrade)! I’m quite excited, as I’ve never been to either. Vienna actually is quite intriguing to me, mostly because I’ve never had a huge desire to go. I know, I know, it’s gorgeous and stylish and amazing, I’m sure, but for whatever reason, it’s just never popped out as a prime backpacking destination to me on the map (probably because it’s not weird or creepy or poor). That said, that’s precisely the reason I’m so excited to check it out! It’s very much carte blanche to me, and there aren’t many places in Europe that hold such a sense of possibility. We are currently leaving Budapest and will be there in about 3 hours.
Oh did we tell you we went to Budapest? Yeah, you should just disregard anything we told you about our original itinerary (more on that in a bit). We did journey into Transylvania as planned though, and it was awesome. I loved it. We stayed in Brasov, a town of about 200,000, and had a blast sightseeing castles, palaces & a beautiful old town. If you’ve never been to Romania, I would definitely recommend checking it out. My guide book put it quite well – “Nowhere defies preconceptions quite like Romania.” That statement is very true. Brasov is actually very similar in atmosphere to cities such as Prague, but with obviously less resources to take care of their gems. If Romania had more money, I believe Brasov would likely be a kind of little brother to Prague.
Anyway, check out Transylvania, but skip over the Romanian capital, Bucharest. You see, Jess and I were supposed to head there for a few days after Brasov, but we heard so many horror stories about it we decided to nix it. First and foremost, we heard the most horrific story EVER IMAGINABLE from this Colorado kid named Sexton (call him Sex – just get over it, we did). Upon arrival in the capital city, Sex was approached by the “police”, who demanded his passport, and also took his rail pass. They then whisked him into a car and took him to an ATM and demanded that he pay the “cab fare” – which was hundreds of US dollars. He wouldn’t get his passport or rail pass back until he paid it, and luckily, the ATM cut him off once he withdrew $350. So he paid them and was then dropped off at a train station on the outskirts of town. He took the first train to Brasov and hung out there for a bit, where he then met us and told us that horror story.
I KNOW. I would have died, cried and then gone home.
However, he managed to keep up the best attitude I’ve ever seen about something so insanely unfortunate and he wouldn’t be deterred. This was great for us though, because as soon as we found out he was gay and a fan of Kristin Wiig, we knew we wanted to stick with this guy. Since he was heading to Budapest next, we tagged along. We then spent the next two days doing literally nothing except going to a very sad drag show, sleeping, quoting lots of SNL skits, sharing our favorite memes and (briefly, but intrepidly) wandering. This was fine to me, since I’ve already been to this city once a couple years ago. We didn’t see one sight, but we really enjoyed our time there and made a great new friend.
Though our time in Budapest was chill, I realized two things. First, I love that city. It’s just awesome. I loved it the first time I went and I loved it even more the second time. It’s such a great combination of Western and Eastern Europe. Boulevards straight out of Paris border some alleys right out of Belarus, and it’s just great. I love the Danube, the architecture, the baths, all of it. It’s definitely a contender for the European city I would most like to live in someday. As it stands, I know nothing about Hungarian culture or the language, but that can change.
More importantly, I realized how much I really miss having gay friends. I mean, I’ve wanted more gay friends for awhile now (and by more, I mean any at all), but after hanging out with Sex for 4 days, I realized exactly why I NEED to get out of Iowa City. Don’t get me wrong, I love the people in my life back in Iowa, but there’s something so great about having friends you can identify with. In the same way that I totally understand why my black friends need black friends, I need to have gay friends (or at least acquaintances). Being a gay man is by far the most significant facet of my identity, much more so than being Hispanic, American or even a young student/world traveler.
In fact, I bet that if I had some gay friends in IC, I probably wouldn’t be so committed to leaving. It’s not that I blame Iowa City itself. I totally acknowledge that Iowa City is a great place for gay people to live, for many reasons. It’s just that somehow, over the last 6 years, my relationship with the gay community has fizzled out. Some of this is my fault, I get that. I could have volunteered with OneIowa, or maybe if I hadn’t deleted my Facebook account, I would still be in touch with some old friends. Perhaps if I hadn’t been in committed relationships for most of college, I’d have more friends and be more involved. With the good comes the bad, and I have absolutely no regrets. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to take control of my life when I’m unhappy with it.
To start with, my roommates in Boston are gay, and I have no idea if we’ll hit it off, but worst case scenario, I can at least feel in touch with who I am again. I guess this might sound ridiculous, but it’s really almost like I’ve forgotten that I’m gay. When I go to the local gay bar in IC, it’s with straight friends. I forget about important gay events like Pride, because they’re not on my radar. This is SO weird for me, because I LOVE being gay. I’ve never understood all the gay men out there that are so concerned with being gay in name only. How people can obsess so much about how they DON’T want to act or talk baffles me. I would rather hang out with the most ridiculous drag queen in full garb then some stuck up gay dude who’s too concerned with his image to be himself, any day.
Anyway I guess my point is that I pretty much embrace anyone and everyone who is also gay. You can be as loud and proud as you want, and it won’t bother me. My philosophy is pretty much that birds of a gay feather should stick together, and if you’re gay and not otherwise an asshole, I probably would love to get to know you and strike up a friendship. So anyway it’s weird that I’ve gotten so divorced from the gay world.
At the very least though, I’m quite happy that things are looking up for the future, both in the short and long term. From Budapest to Vienna to Belgrade to Plovdiv to the Black Sea Coast, we have a little over a week left of this trip, and it’s gonna be quite busy. Who knows? Maybe we’ll end up in Paris.