Love at Second Sight – Budapest

by Yaska Sahara

I am currently in Budapest. As of the publishing of this post, it is my seventh out of ten full days in the city. I have already come to love Budapest, and I am certain I will find more to love in the coming days and will make many memories before I leave.

But this post is about how sometimes, even if it is just for a few hours, or even minutes, you don’t feel the excitement you want to feel when you’re going somewhere new. When I got to Budapest, I wasn’t upset, but I was just not feeling the excitement I expected to. I was a bit grumpy maybe. The streets weren’t what I imagined, the grand total of the two people I’d spoken to weren’t what I expected, I was sleep-deprived, I wanted to write but I also didn’t want to, it was freezing… Standard stuff we feel, but things we don’t want to feel on a holiday, or at least we aren’t supposed to.

I usually do a long post on a place sometime after leaving. This is for a multitude of reasons. I tend to feel more secure in having had time to collect my thoughts, compare and evaluate experiences I’ve had rather than write about every little thing in too much detail. It takes time; thinking about how to structure it all (my thoughts and paragraphs), what to include, what not to include, how to write in a way that makes sense to someone that isn’t me, checking and other small things that add up.

But I thought in this instance it actually makes sense for me to write with the freshest perspective possible. After my trip is complete, I think my memory of the initial glumness I felt will be almost gone, or covered with great memories. But why exactly was I feeling glum?

Well, to be honest, I’m not exactly sure myself. But it was so poignant that I know I must find a way to at least articulate it somewhat. So, this trip was quite spontaneous. I booked it in the first week of January because I had Airbnb credit. While some people in my family argued that I could have waited and used the credit with more planning and security, I stubbornly decided to go somewhere. For context, this time is a resit period for my University course. I was confident I’d passed my exams so I booked it without getting my results. (And I did pass thank god!) Had I been more cautious, despite my confidence that I would pass, I could have just relaxed in the Netherlands and then gone on a holiday with the credit later in the year. But I decided to go now. So both outcomes would have been fine. Just because something happens one way, doesn’t always mean it is the best way or not.

I knew I wanted to go somewhere but I had no clue where. Just that it would be silly not to use this credit to have a good trip. Solo trips are an addiction for me at this point. I was looking up cheaper, not so ‘mainstream’ destinations. I’d been thinking of Vilnius, but even though the city itself was cheap, flights were not. Then Hungary came up, I did some searching and boom, I got a return flight for under 100 euros while paying roughly just 12 euros for space to myself. I was going to be here for far longer than the average tourist but it was cheaper that way and I would really get to see the city.

I had all of two weeks to search a bit, learn some Hungarian words with the app drops and to just mentally prepare myself for my first solo travel experience without concrete competence in the host language and without any local support.

So the day to leave arrived and I got up at the lovely hour of 4:30 am, walked 20 mins on an empty street, which I liked but the cold and fatigue was not pleasant, then took the train and forgot to scan my transport pass on the way out so had to walk back and do it, then I couldn’t find space in the overhead lockers… A morning of small uneasy moments.

Then when I arrived in Budapest, the lady at the desk for Budapest transport passes was quite direct and seemingly rude. When I asked if I needed a pass since I was in central Pest, (For those who do not know the city is divided into Buda and Pest with the River Danube in between) maybe I could mostly walk, she simply replied, stone-faced, ‘It’s not a village’, not smiling at all. In my head, I was very annoyed, thinking ‘I flipping know that’. It takes getting used to but it is the Hungarian way. From what I’ve heard their logic is, ‘I’m not smiling unless I have a genuine reason to’. And I have definitely seen as much.

Then on the bus, I remember looking at the snowy fields and thinking, ‘This is Hungary, oh my god’. I thought so again when I saw signs in Hungarian, but without excitement. Then when I changed to the metro and finally got out of the metro station of Ferenciek tere, I did finally feel a brief sort of rush. Like, ‘Wow this is a grand street.’ But I also felt a little disappointed. It wasn’t like the pictures. This is ridiculous of me because usually I am extremely aware of that and don’t expect the postcards scenes in reality. I think Budapest is quite chilled and while a very cultured and dignified city, it doesn’t feel the need to look fancy in every spot 24/7.

When I got to my Airbnb and sat by its indoor fireplace, I was not really in the mood to leave. I pondered for ages, thinking I could just sleep or pass time online. But I needed food and sure I had a lot of time but I knew I had to force myself out of this slump. So I went out. It was brief but it was magical despite the cold, despite my fatigue, despite the lack of a predefined sort of fanciness, I loved it. I realised how central in Pest I was, near the Dohány Synagogue, near the Basilica, the Central market…  I felt awesome vibes that you feel in such a metropolis, unique, cool, cultured yet down to earth, touristy but still many locals, enough for me to hear Hungarian words. I even said ‘Bocsánat’ (Bochanot), meaning ‘Excuse me’ in Hungarian, at one point when I bumped into someone, having learned it before I came. Such a small interaction made me feel more comfortable and more excited. I remembered the word! 

I think part of my glumness was that I didn’t know much about Hungary, apart from it having a cool reputation and its unique language, so I didn’t feel as in the know, as motived to go and do or experience specific things. I suppose, sometimes we just have one of those days and one of those days happens to be while you are on holiday. I’ve learnt that you really just have to push yourself through such days and emotions or maybe give yourself a bit of time. Know that once you venture out, you will feel the travel high, even if you don’t fall in love with the place you are in, you can still like it and enjoy the discovery, the wonder… so don’t let it go to waste over something so minor. I also learnt that no matter how free of preconceived notions I think I am, I shouldn’t fool myself, these can sometimes become something for one to lean on when tired. These can be difficult to shake off, so having an awareness and a willingness to adjust can help. It is indeed a lesson in knowing oneself and learning from new situations.

Also, I realised one must bear in mind how the history of a place affects how it is and how you may see it. On my second day, my friend came to join me for a few days. She motivated me and gave me some of her smiles. I told her how I had felt the day before and how it was so crazy that I had even had the slightest negative feeling. She agreed that it isn’t easy and then proceeded to talk about how Hungary’s history of communism could explain some of the ways it thinks of itself and presents itself. She said that in her experience countries with such a past sometimes look a particular way, going back to the point about predefined fanciness. Also, a generation growing up under communism and then adjusting to a new system can leave its imprints on people and landscapes. Obviously, this may not be the case and I am not saying there are direct links; just that these considerations are worth pondering over and keeping in mind.

Maybe some cities deserve a second chance. See them for what they are, from different angles, from a less superficial view. If you have experienced what I have, doing so may help shake off that underwhelming glumness with great ease.

I fell in love with Budapest, at second sight! For you, it may be at first sight. Regardless, it is a city definitely worth a visit, though perhaps on a stronger budget than mine!

More Budapest posts on the way soon, caving, labyrinths and more musings!

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