I suppose I ought to finish detailing this trip, especially before I forget it. At my age, the memory just isn’t what it used to be.
After the closing Mass with the Holy Father, how could WYD possibly top itself? Simple: it couldn’t. It was over. The location of the next gathering – Panama – had been announced, and now it was time to go home and change the world. The problem facing us was actually getting home.
As I’ve mentioned, Kraków is a city of only about 900,000 people, and WYD dropped an estimated 2.7 million into the city. The airport is not at all large. It has 5, maybe 6 baggage claims; a small-ish terminal, and only one runway, which is not super long. Long story short, it can’t handle a lot of flights, nor could it handle substituting larger planes for the normal ones that fly into there. So flying out of Kraków would probably not be our best option. And in fact, our travel agent had planned accordingly: we were booked out of another city. I was just surprised as to which one.
Budapest, of course, is the capital of Hungary, and is allegedly one of the more beautiful cities in Central Europe…but it’s not exactly close to Kraków. In fact, there’s another entire country between Poland and Hungary – Slovakia. But what was done, was done – we were flying out of Budapest, so we had to get there. Once again, we were up early – would we ever get a break – and on to the busses. This time, though, was a little more stressful, because we had to be sure we had everything with us. We were leaving Poland for good. We had one final breakfast at the hotel, and then it was time to hit the road. We were tired and kind of sad to be going, and the day matched our moods perfectly: It was gray and rainy as we left. Needless to say, the bus was pretty quiet as we started down the road: most if us chose to go back to sleep. (Full disclosure: I had my noise-cancelling headphones on; that bus was going to be quiet anyway.)
There was some concern we would have to stop at the border for outbound passport control, but that wasn’t an issue. The Polish-Slovakian border was open for those of us exiting Poland; it was only closed for people coming into Poland. We stopped anyway at a gas station shortly before the border to get snacks and drinks and to convert our remaining Polish zloty into euros or dollars. The break woke everyone back up, and the busses got a little rowdier. We had acquired a new tour guide that morning, but it was pretty evident that once we crossed the border into Slovakia, she didn’t have much to tell us. Thankfully, someone had a DVD copy of the movie Karol, on the life of Saint Pope John Paul II, so we got that going and the bus quieted a bit.
We never got to finish the movie, so I’ll need to get a copy of it later. Besides, I was pretty distracted the entire time by what was outside my window. Even when it was gray and rainy, it was pretty awesome. We were initially traveling through the foothills of the Tautra mountains, and it was beautiful. As we entered Slovakia, the sun began to emerge, and the terrain started to level out, and we started to go through a more agrarian area. I think what made the drive more scenic was the simple fact that we weren’t on some kind of a super-highway. And maybe that was for the best. I mean, I-70 will get to you to Columbus pretty quickly, but it’s boring. US-40 will take longer, but you at least see some stuff. This drive was like the latter and not the former. I enjoyed it.
Eventually – and it took most of the day – we arrived in Budapest and acquired a local tour guide. He was really good, in that he knew a lot of stuff and was able to communicate it well, but I think he was pretty exasperated with our group simply for arriving so late and not staying very long. I shared his frustration, because Budapest really IS a beautiful city and has a complex and fascinating history. I think, to do the city any kind of Justice, you need a good three days to take it in. We had only a few hours.
We ended our tour at a local church, which was gracious enough to let us have Mass there. The parish priest showed up to are sure we could find everything we needed, which led to some comedy in the sacristy: he didn’t speak any English, and we didn’t speak any Hungarian. A combination of pointing, hand gestures, and Latin made it work. After Mass, we went to our new hotel, dropped our bags, and had one last dinner together as a group. the food was good, but there were no traditional Hungarian dishes being offered. Probably not easily done when trying to feed a group of just over 100 people, especially a group that was running late, but still. I couldn’t get to bed early enough, because the next morning would, once again, come early.