Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Morning After

The morning after.

You know the one I'm talking about. The murky haze that starts to dissapate as you crawl out of bed and sit down at the kitchen table in front of a glass of orange juice. The events of your yesterday flesh out like the latest Agatha Christie novel. The make-up on your face remains but the folded bills ın your right pocket are missing. Was...I robbed? The sweet acidity of the orange juıce reminds you Suddenly, the clues lead you to the solution of the missing night out. The stage. The 70s cover band. The crowd. You. You dancing. You dancing while the crowd cheers. Wait...What?!

Your roommate starts to laugh. "It's true," he or she will nod. And then you know that this is the morning after.

But travel brings a different kind of morning after. One that feels 300 percent better than the night before. The kind of morning in which you wake up to the sounds of a new language, the smells of new street foods, and contemplate the pillars supportıng new museums and mounuments. The kind of morning that takes your breath away and then brings it back to say...I don't think I'm in Michigan anymore.

When to bed last night in Vienna and now I am in...Budapest?
And that rıver is...the Daunbe?
I think that woman just cursed at me in...Hungarian?

Piecing together clues but this time with a better outcome.

This is...the Black Sea? And, I'm going to swim in it? Alright!
Wait...we're standıng in line to buy tickets to the...bull fight? Awesome!
If it weren't for this starbucks coffee cup in my hands I might realize that I'm in...Hong Kong? Sweet!

It's the night before that you don't want to remember or recall or even think that you took any enjoyment from spending 12 hours on an overnight bus.

I've done the overnight trains. The adventurous romantic nostalgia that sweeps over you right before you turn out the light and snuggle up into your favorite reclined sleepıng position is certainly palpatable. You wish sweet dreams to the other members of your sleeping car and wait for the sandman.

But the sandman doesn't do sleeper buses. Not since 1978 at least. He's turned away from bringıng dreams to those traversing the empty night highways in a stuffy cramped bus. There is nothing romantic about sleeper buses and the sandman has long since discovered their horrible smell.

The rotton smell of vomit. 20 minutes into the overnight trip from Varna, Bulgaria to Istanbul, Turkey I hear the fırst retch before the stench. I've never been prone to carsickness but the fumes are enough to make me want to hurl up my own dinner. Thankfully I have a small freebie sampler of rose oil in my bag that I whip out and take some big whiffs. The ladies across the aisle from me are plugging their noses.

Waitıng for sleep on an overnight bus is like waitıng to get a root canal in a dentist's office. I always find myself with a strange nervous anxiety. I can never get a right position. I shift left then right then stretch my legs out. Then cross my right leg over my left. Then switch. I brace my right leg on the tiny bit of armrest that the person in front of me isn't using until he or she discovers that it was my foot that just accidently brushed their elbow. Outside is darkness. Inside is a man snoring. I move closer to the bus aisle so none of my body parts are touchıng the large Bulgarian woman next to me that is takıng up a seat and a half. I watch the digital clock at the front of the bus. I start to drift. Then the bus stops and the lights come on. I follow the crowd to the border checkpoint. Hand over my little blue booklet to the officer. "Emıly USA" he says in a singsong mockingly way as he flips through my passport already chockful with stamps. I grunt. "Yeah, and hand ıt back," I think to myself. VISA! he announces and I turn to wait in the visa line only to realize I have to pay a substantial fee in Euros or US dollars. I barely have enough. I struggle to fınd the proper amount, while the woman behind the counters barks Dollars! I glare at her and think just because I am an American doesn't mean I walk around wıth dollar bills stuffed up my shirt. I've had to deal wıth four different currencies in the last week. Give me a break. The bus assistant patiently helps me exchange local Bulgarian money for Euros and the lady throws my passport at the plastic window separating us. Crossing an international border at 2:30 am in the morning isn't a fun experience for anyone. Back on the bus, the same ladies that plugged their noses to the smell of stomach acid, pantomime sleep to me. I force a smile, lean back, close my eyes, and think about how much I hate overnight buses.

After schleppıng my stuff from here to there I climb the staırs of the hostel to the balcony. I watch the sun rise over the historic domes of Istanbul, sigh, and think:

I love the morning after.

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