When travelers meet, it’s easy to throw around invitations like “Look me up if you’re ever in town.”
Isn’t there an unwritten rule behind invitations like that? They are polite to offer to a new acquaintance, but no one takes them seriously. It’s akin to saying “Have a great day.”
When my husband and I received such an invitation from our waiter, Balazs Hatos, during a European cruise on Star Princess, we thanked him. I don’t know if he imagined we’d follow up on it, but we soon did.
Once the cruise ship arrived in Rome, Balazs headed home to Hungary for some well-earned R&R. We had planned an extensive tour of Italy, which I was thrilled to explore. On most of our previous trips to Europe, we had spent a lot of time in Hungary, the land of John’s and my births.
Both of us immigrated to Canada as young adults in 1956, during the Hungarian uprising against the communists. During the decades that followed, the country had always been in our hearts. We spoke Hungarian at home, relished the food and the culture and visited the country as often as we could.
When we travel, we somehow attract fellow Hungarians, and so it was with Balazs. During the 16-day transatlantic cruise crossing, we sat at his table nightly and chatted about the homeland. He was a charming young man and we knew we wanted to stay in touch with him.
Balazs told us how he couldn’t wait to cook for himself when he went home to Kaposvar, as he missed the food of his region. That’s when he said if we were ever in the area, he’d cook us a dinner of lecso, a traditional favorite combining garlicky sausage with hot peppers, onions and paprika. “Just give me an hour’s notice,” Balazs said, “and I’ll make that dish for you.” We thanked him for his invitation and that was that.
After leaving the ship, John and I stayed in Rome for a couple of days before heading to Venice. Next on the itinerary was Lake Como, which was to be followed by a stay in Switzerland. But John couldn’t stop urging that we go to Hungary.
By the time we made it to Venice, I relented. We canceled the rest of our trip and went to Hungary. We stopped for lunch one day, about 100 kilometers from Kaposvar, when John recalled the offer Balazs had made.
I think he was quite pleased to hear that we were actually taking him up on his invitation. Sure enough, we gave him an hour or so, and in that time, Balazs prepared a pot of lecso, sliced a fresh loaf of bread and opened a bottle of wine to breathe.
We had a delicious meal together and spent a few hours chatting and watching videos of our favorite singer, Susan Boyle. John and I have two grown sons, and I think that we kind of fell into a natural relationship with Balazs, who is about their age.
It was a wonderful visit, one that sealed him as a friend forever in our hearts.
Of course, we meaningfully invited him to be a guest in our home in Ontario. We dearly hope that he will one day take us up on our offer. Until then, we keep in touch with Balazs on Facebook and look forward to the chance to sail with him again on Princess Cruises.
Olga and John live in Ontario, Canada near their two sons and three grandchildren. As retirees they enjoy traveling often, particularly with their grandchildren.