Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I'll be wearing a yellow t-shirt on Platform One….

My trip around Eastern Europe was full of highs and lows. The first overnight ferry ride to Holland was bleak and I felt lonely. A boyfriend would have been nice. The daily booking of sleeper trains and leaving my rucksack at the station exhausted me. I was surrounded by jolly happy groups of English and American backpacking friends having fun while I pined for Jacques. However on the sleeper train to East Berlin I met a young German student from Berlin called Viktor who invited me to meet his theatre designer sister, Nina. I ended up staying with their friend, David, and meeting all their family and friends. I experienced the city through their eyes when it had just opened up to Western influences and really felt lucky to have met such kind people.

After Berlin I went to Prague, which seemed very quiet without my Berlin friends to show me around. So after doing the tourist sights and visiting a few museums I left early for Budapest and booked in at a student hostel. Jacques was due to arrive the next day and I tried to find where he could staying but with no luck. The travel agency seemed to have no idea if the train was on its way or if it had ever left Beijing.

Before we left we had made an arrangement to meet. Like a romantic film we had agreed to meet at the main station in Budapest at Platform One at 1 o’clock in the afternoon. I said that I would wear a yellow t-shirt. At midday I went to the busy central Keleti station where I had arrived, and I waited and waited by the platform. By one-thirty I was really bored and wondered if he had stood me up or was still stuck on the train? Jacques however had gone to the station where his train arrived - Nyugati, on the other side of Budapest. We were doomed. Luckily he had the sense to check out stations both while I stayed put in the station café feeling sorry for myself and drinking coffee. He eventually arrived, also dressed in a yellow t-shirt and chinos and looking like a mad explorer, after his week on the train.

We had some great times together in Budapest, feeling rich and eating out in restaurants. We loved Cold Cherry Soup and Goulash and eating cakes at the cafes by the Danube. We walked, talked and visited art galleries and parks. At the end we went to see a concert together. It was Brahms and it made us both feel sleepy. We were sitting behind a beautiful couple, who looked like they had a great life together. I was sure they had a stunning apartment in Budapest overlooking the Danube….I was jealous and wished for some stability and reality in our fairy-tale romance.

In the interval we went out for some fresh air, and with my thoughts on couples I decided to ask him what would happen next and how serious he was. I outlined all the possible options, me live in France, him live in England, we both go somewhere else etc. But my timing was bad, he was very tired (his train-journey was catching up with him) and not really listening, although he looked like he was.

Therefore when I asked him outright ‘So do you love me?’ He replied in English ‘Yes! I like you!’ In retrospect this was a stupid question, as he had spent the whole year declaring his love to me via his letters and gifts. However, Like and Love are not the same verb in English, although if I had cast my mind back fours years I should have remembered that from French at school. How many times did I conjugate the verb aimer? But I took it as a verbal slap in the face and decided it was over. He mumbled something about having to get back for his studies. I found out later that he did actually have an important exam to pass to get on the Masters course so he simply had to get back to Paris, but of course I had no idea at the time. All the train traveling for days on end had made him rather incoherent too.

He accompanied me charmingly to the train station for my last stopover in Vienna and at the last minute hopped on with a bunch of dried flowers. Why dried flowers? Was there a meaning there? Were we dead too? I had no chance to ask as the train began to move…So, due to terrible miscommunication I took off back to London and met someone else.

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