Budapest: Diesel and Petrol

Who would have guessed that, having left it idly snoozing on the shelf of forgotten dreams for close to two years, I would ever have enough confidence (that I may be accidentally mistaking for arrogance) to look back at my clumsy old blog posts and, reeling with sheer visceral adrenaline from thrill-a-minute stories of the time I went bowling in Ukraine or said the wrong form of “thank you” to a 7/11 worker in Japan, thought I should dust off my laptop, flex my fingers and give it another go.

Hello darkness, my old friend

And what better place than here, what better time than now? I can actually answer both of those honestly: a better place is probably somewhere that isn’t the back row of a Ryanair flight where I am squashed into the corner by a proportionally challenged Hungarian woman who appears to need help translating the Daily Mail’s sudoku game despite it being comprised entirely of numbers, and a better time, it goes without saying, is any one that isn’t 7am.

Today Kate and I fly to Budapest for a few days before snaking our way through to Zagreb, Ljubljana, Lake Bled and Trieste before flying home. I’ll admit that due to other commitments and the small window we were afforded for travel by the Easter holiday, our timeframe was somewhat limited for cramming that all in so we’ll be entering and leaving cities before you can say “mi a lényeg az életben?”

And already we’re off to a flying start for the blog as I was held up at Stansted Airport (as if that isn’t bad enough) by a security guard who logged “traces of chemicals” on my luggage after three goes over with that magical swab wand thing.

After him and a few other people started scurrying around and pointing ominously at me from across the concourse, I started to grow fractionally worried. When he came back over I asked what was up, to which he responded with the chemical remark. I asked him what kind of chemicals, and, poring over a roll of receipt paper that had just printed out of a sort of futuristic anti-terrorism machine, said “hmm… diesel and petrol.”

And as if having a girlfriend who works for the police and frequently tells me I have “almost certainly” been watched remotely by counter-terrorism forces due to having to look up ISIS movements online for work, the security guard looked me up and down following his assessment, scribbled my name onto a form, paused for a moment and said “… alright. You can go.”

But yes, the blog returns! And ho ho ho, this time you poor souls who have decided to come back for another round will be subjected to a big difference since the time I bored you all to tears with my last outing.

If I come across as an arrogant tosser throughout this new series of entries, it’s because I, ya boi Hidden Gabe, against all odds and for reasons that shall likely remain a mystery until I’m in a morgue, am now an award-nominated blogger. Yes that’s right, in perhaps the most uncool turn of events imaginable, in August last year my mum, in a classic motherly fashion, pushed me to submit a piece of my choice from my blog to the AITO Travel Awards, and what happened next was a little surprising to say the least.

Upon asking her why on Earth I would put myself through the shame of coming bottom of a ranking of the 500+ blogs that were likely to be submitted, she said: “Well I just remembered that really funny post where you were climbing over that wall in India and then fell off and landed on your face.”

Thanks mum.

“That post is not very well written though,” was my response, to which she shot back with “… yeah maybe actually.” A more damning yet predictable indictment I could not have wished for.

Alright everyone stay calm and nobody will notice we’re here

Nevertheless, after a few whiskies one night I decided that I would try submitting one because what’s the harm, right? I chose one called Dnipropetrovsk: Runaway Train, a concise but slightly over-earnest snapshot of travelling through the gargantuan, perplexing wilderness of eastern Ukraine, somehow drawing blood from a stone by wrangling unnecessary emotion out stories involving drinking warm Staropramen on a train served by a woman called Gollum yet omitting details of how I also managed to make the entire nation of Palestine cringe by absentmindedly greeting some Christians from Ramallah with a hearty “Shalom”.

I read the piece again, made a few tiny adjustments and submitted it. To six separate categories. Including ones it didn’t meet the criteria for. Go big or go home, that’s what I say.

Skip forward to October and I get an email from AITO with the subject header “Re: Re: Fwd: AITO Travel awards invitation”, followed by a worrisome, stark question – “Gabriel could you possibly let us know if you are able to attend next week?”

Suddenly it hit me – all those emails about some travel awards thing I had for some reason been dismissing as primitive spam were actually a first class ticket straight to the biggest of big times. I quickly scrambled back to track down the earliest one, discovering to my horror that almost a month previously I had been told I was nominated for Travel Blogger of the Year and given an invitation to the ceremony. No longer would my rambling words mean nothing. No longer would I be casting blog posts callously into the abyss. Now I would be casting them into the abyss with a little metaphorical gold sticker on them.

In all seriousness, I’m not quite sure why my post made the shortlist of six, and was stunned when they told me there had been over 400 submissions to that category. I mean, I do like that post or else I wouldn’t have chosen it, but… really?

First off, my piece was the wrong length for that category. Second, I was nominated as a travel blogger of the year despite my piece being published over a year before the ceremony. And third… I dunno, it’s hard to explain.

I suppose in a world where the majority of travel writing and blogging has morphed into a feel-good cascade of inspiration porn about finding your inner self and claiming enlightenment through embracing other cultures while wiping self-congratulatory tears from your own keyboard as you type, mine felt like a bit of an interloper; a shonky, hastily cobbled together bit of prose about how ugly Dnipropetrovsk is and how trying to sleep on a hot train didn’t do much for me.

However to say that all blogs are like this would do a great disservice to the other shortlisted nominees – their pieces were informative and quirky in way that mine could never hope to emulate. And of course I didn’t win. Or come in the top three. Out of six nominees.

So stay tuned as I – in all likelihood – fail miserably to secure a nomination for next year.