Is there serendipity? Is there such a thing as a coincidence? What’s going on, anyway?
Yesterday (Tuesday) I booked a flight back to the States on LOT, the Polish airline. It was such a good deal.
An airport car picked me up promptly at 7 this morning (Wednesday) on a surprisingly cold morning: more like March in New England than May. The sky was gray and we drove along the Danube for the longest time and it was quite pretty in all its grayness, the castles, the rocks, the water, the ramparts. I thought that there are a lot of places where a tourist can have her picture taken in Budapest, but the city hadn’t grabbed me as I thought it was going to. But then I hadn’t been part of the city, either, being stuck for most of my stay at the keyboard searching for apartments, temporary housing, or airline flights.
At the airport I got into the checkin line and the person (apparently an employee of the airport, not the airline) said “you don’t have a ticket” and he and his cohort got online with the LOT representative and they talked back and forth, and I trudged upstairs to the representative’s office and she looked things up online and saw that indeed, I had a confirmation number, “but that’s not a ticket,” she said and asked “did I get a ticket number?”
Well, I didn’t. The LOT website leaves many things to be desired, one of them being the communication of what’s taking place during the purchase process. I had a confirmation number, they had my money, and there was nothing she could do. She claimed she didn’t work for LOT.
So I did what I do best in those kinds of situations: my brain freezes. I don’t know where all my blood goes, but it’s not to the cerebellum or the cerebral cortex. I asked if internet was available and the not very kind, not very helpful lady said “no,” her intonation implying that I was at fault for instigating this whole situation.
But there was internet capability gratis courtesy of Air Canada. So I emailed my son to tell him of the snafu, then Max, LOT, PayPal, United Airlines (I had a flight from Chicago to Portland that needed to be changed) – LOT was only getting me to Chicago. Then I started searching for flights. I found one via Aeroflot, the Russian airline, that would get me to Chicago: it was twice as much as the Polish airline, but sometimes that’s worth something. Then my free two hours were gone as I was in the middle of the booking.
So the only thing to do was find another free wifi spot and the only place I knew I could park myself for any length of time was with the Sri Chinmoy folks at Madal, the coffee house folks who had been kind enough to help me on Saturday. That meant riding a bus and the underground back to the city, the first such trips I’d taken. I’d walked everywhere previously. In a way very different from my other days in the city, I suddenly felt a pulse of the city. There were no monuments, no centuries-old buildings, no eras of architecture. Just people on their way home, on their way to school, on their way to work, while others had nowhere to go. It reminded me of New York, of London, of Chicago, of Paris: cities with extensive underground worlds whose stone walls and tunnels feel like the late 19th and early 20th century never quite left.
Before going into Madal I bought a small flowering plant as a gift for the staff. They gave me a coffee … and the dynamics of our interactions changed. We saw one another differently, I was more than a customer. I set to work, found a flight on Norwegian Airshuttle, booked it through Cheapoair. Norwegian is one of those airlines that charges a la carte, so I wanted to upgrade my ticket to include meals and baggage, which Cheapo’s site didn’t allow. When I contacted customer support at Norwegian, they said because I’d purchased my tickets through a travel agency, I’d received the travel agent package or some such thing that included all those items that I thought I’d have to pay extra for. So, the whole LOT episode ended up causing me better people relations and better stuff although I have a 20-hour layover in Stockholm.
Then I needed a place to stay the night in Budapest so I called Anita and Attila, the folks who own the first apartment in which I stayed, the dark cavern with a skylight that only saw sun at high noon. It was available and I walked there dragging my two roller bags, suddenly aware of the energy and activity along the Nagykorut, the Grand Boulevard, aware of the energy of daily life in one of the world’s great cities
When Anita and I met up, we got to talking and she told me about the apartment they have for long-term rental in Kerület XIV (kerülets are to Budapest what arrondisements are to Paris or Lyon and boroughs are to New York). They’ll be remodeling it during June and July and it will be just the thing for me.
When I first met them I asked if they or their friends had any apartments for long-term rental, and they’d said no. But by circling back to Anita and getting to know her, and her, me, something had changed. We talked in a different way, we talked about names and families. We’ll write, she’ll send me photos. Now I had a potential rental. Being offered for less money than I would have paid given my previous methods.