Last week I posted a card I sent from Beijing to my paternal grandma days before I boarded the Trans-Mongolian. The five and a half day train ride took me to Moscow. From there, I traveled by train to Budapest and then on to Prague before flying home to Chicago by way of New York.
In this postcard, I wrote:
I’m in Budapest now. It is so beautiful! There are so many wonderful, little streets with tempting shops that sell all sorts of Hungarian crafts. The prices are not too cheap, though. I really enjoyed Moscow! Unfortunately, while I was on the train from Beijing to Moscow, two girls in my room caught colds. When I arrived in Moscow, I almost had no voice. My cold is getting better everyday, though. I will go to Prague on the 21st and then stay for 5 days before returning to the US! The next time you hear from me, I’ll be in the US!
I love shopping when I travel, but some countries I visited that summer didn’t have much. In Vietnam I had an ao dai tailored and in Cambodia I bought a couple of temple rubbings, similar to the ones my mom bought there 25 years earlier. But in China there was little to buy apart from the chinoiserie in the Friendship Stores (and I’d already bought plenty of that on previous trips) and in Moscow it was like pulling teeth to have someone wait on me at Gum. I bought a set of matryoshka dolls on Arbat Street and lots of brown bread.
So when I arrived in Budapest and found myself surrounded by these craft stores, I went crazy. For five days, I perused the ceramic dolls, paprika tins, and Hungarian peasant blouses as if it was my first time shopping. In 1991 there were no ATMs where I went after I left Hong Kong. So by the time I reached Hungary, I didn’t have a lot of cash left.
In the end, I bought some paprika for gifts and a little ceramic doll. As much as I loved Budapest with the beautiful hills and the peaceful river, I was anxious to get to Prague and for some naive reason thought I’d see the same things in Prague.
The greatest lesson I’ve learned in all these years of traveling is that when you see something you want, don’t assume you’ll see it again. So if you want it, buy it. Budapest was probably one of the best shopping cities I visited that summer. I wished I’d bought more there.