The wind off the Danube was biting and ancient. It tore downriver, curled around the Parliament and whipped past portraits of battles and kings in Buda Castle before doing a crack the whip through the Chain Bridge. The same way it had for years and decades and centuries and millennia.
At home, we’d all be indoors, warm and oblivious. But here, the cold has us under its spell. We buy warmer hats from street vendors and amble through history. We buy antiques from small stores and fancy ourselves the customers in an Ernst Lubitsch film.
We could go back to the hotel restaurant, but that sounds boring. So we wander in the dark; cold and hungry, down dimly lit side streets and narrow alleys. Finally we come to a place with the right vibe: warm incandescent lighting, a few tables with wooden chairs and checkered table cloths and a bar that ran the length of the room.
We were the only customers, and the staff, at first laconic and perhaps feeling a bit put out, rallied and became warm and gracious. As we thaw ourselves and our eyes adjust we see it is bigger than we thought. There are tables in an alcove beyond the bar and in one dark corner a large, worn, banquette where we imagine counter-revolutionaries plotted against their Soviet masters. But tonight it is just us, and we are relatively happy with our corporate masters, who are paying for this grand adventure disguised as work.
The change in attitude might have been because we were foreigners; three Americans and a Mexican. Or, perhaps because as we peeled off layers, they discovered the beautiful young woman in our little group. Either way, they served hot goulash with warm bread and cold beers from the taps and hovered like mother hens. When we left there were handshakes and hugs with all of us getting the same measure of warmth as our comely colleague.
As we walked back to the hotel through the quiet streets, and back along the Danube, the Palace and the Chain Bridge lit like jewels against the night, we resolved to eat where the locals ate in each city we visited. And so we did, in Worms, and Székesfehérvár, and Strasbourg.
It was a habit we all continued with our other travels around the world. Getting off the beaten path, asking the locals where to go. Or accepting dinner invitations from our international colleagues. Business travel can be harried and brutish, and you can visit a place without ever seeing it. But we made the most of it. I can’t imagine, what my life would be like, if I had conducted all those meetings, all those work sessions, sitting at home in front of a couple of video monitors.
© Glenn R Keller 2022, All Rights Reserved
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