I took myself on a two week long date

I set out to visit two countries: Austria and Hungary, mostly because in my mind, these places seemed like perfect destinations to completely immerse oneself in history and art. I was hoping that in the process, whatever undesirable feelings I was harbouring would be overpowered, perhaps even silenced, by the grandeur of a bygone empire. And so, I decided to take myself on a two week long date — in Europe.

The intent was to get lost in imperishable works of art, to escape reality through antiquity, to spend time in my own company while looking at beautiful architecture, and somehow get to the bottom of my unresolved emotional state of affairs. And as much as this trip was as antithetic to a glamorous getaway, the experience of taking myself on a two week long date was imperative.

My first night in Vienna I decided that the best way to fight mild insomnia was to drink a whole bottle of wine before bed. (If anyone has a better remedy I would love to hear it, if not, no judgements are allowed). I headed off to the local general store and picked up a bottle of the only label I recognized on the shelf — a 2013 Woodbridge. Because let’s be real, after a long flight not many would be left with a burning sense of adventure to gamble with wine choices. And so, I poured myself a glass of familiarity and began to write.

Somehow my mind equated my circumstances (drinking wine alone in Europe and writing) with a perfect getaway — a paragon, consisting of undeniable feeling of freedom and independence. In actuality however, all I did was pick a random place in Europe, rent a clean apartment in a very unassuming neighbourhood, buy a bottle of (what I really really wished was better) white wine, and get into a brief not so sober battle with a washing machine.

Side note: it wasn’t just any washing machine — it was a European-make washing machine. Anyone who has ever traveled to Europe will know the true complexity of these small, super efficient, quiet and perfectly assembled pieces of metal. But after punching, jumping and spilling wine everywhere, I will inform you that I managed to figure it out. I was hoping that in a similar fashion I would eventually figure out my own inner process as well.

Washers aside, let’s go back to why I decided to take myself on this extremely long date, because contrary to what you may think, it wasn’t my interest in foreign washers that has brought me to Europe.

The first few days in Vienna were spent on running around the city in search of new sights, tastes, and sounds…aka not much “me” time. Mid week I took off to see a part of Austria by train and spend a day in Salzburg. Yet again, I was anxious, restless, and overly curious to not miss anything, resulting in zero moments of personal reflection. By the end of that week a voice inside my head kept saying “slow down, take a breath”, but I didn’t listen. No matter how many times I reminded myself that this was “me” time and that I had to focus on what I was feeling, I proceeded to chase after novelty in fear of missing out on even the smallest of things. I was escaping instead of letting go. I was ignoring myself. I was being a shit date to myself.

So there I was, packing my mornings to the fullest in order to escape instead of self-reflect. I managed to make a couple of weak attempts at contemplating life in-between bites of sachertorte while sitting at a majestic 19th century Viennese cafe, but that was as far as I have gotten to enjoying my own company.

My time was filled with an intense exploration of palaces during the day and walks through the night market in the evenings in search of answers in shape of various Austrian foods. I was looking for comfort in small delicious pieces of frankfurter, praying that maybe they would tell me why I have been feeling so empty lately. But alas, no food was talking back to me, and I was left with zero answers and instead gaining five pounds.

On the last day in Vienna my body decided to shut down from over-exhaustion (and quite possibly from over indulging in Austrian sweets), forcing me to listen to the warning signs and honour what I set out to do in the first place — take care of myself. I knew exactly where to go.

After treating myself to dinner I was off to the Wurstelprater amusement park. Walking through the winding paths I suddenly noticed that my feet started to slow down and it was first time I truly acknowledged that I was alone. There was a very real, loud question on my mind: if I couldn’t enjoy my own company, how could I expect anyone else to? I made it my mission to pull off the perfect date.

I ended up taking a ride on the Wiener Riesenrad Ferris wheel looking over the city, bought myself ice-cream, and entertained myself by watching others fail miserably at bumper cars. Somewhere among floating cotton candy, neon lights and carnival music I finally felt like I was onto something. I took myself out, and to my surprise, ended up having a good time.

I was hoping to further perfect my self-dating techniques at my next destination — Budapest.

Budapest has recently become a favourite destination for many, and I wanted to see what the buzz was all about. I have arrived at a crazy time — Hungary advanced to the next round of the UEFA games and the streets got completely engulfed with supporters who were aggressively chanting while lighting red and green pyrotechnics, waving Hungarian flags, blocking traffic on major streets, and consuming an insane amount of beer. I found shelter walking down a quiet side street away from the noise, letting frail shelled buildings guide me back to my apartment.

I think in a way Budapest is experiencing a renaissance, an outburst of: culinary experimentation, nightlife, art, music, bohemian lifestyle. At the same time however, the city does not let you forget about its painful past, reminding its visitors via popular ruin bars, decrepit architectural landscapes and continuous soviet era memorabilia scattered throughout the city, serving as decoration in restaurants, coffee shops, working spaces and popular tourist spots. The city houses copious amounts of brightly lit cafes and dark basement bars — there is something here for everyone.

I have spent the week exploring the city — uncovering its bruises, listening to its stories. Somehow we were a perfect match, I saw my own reflection in its beaten up facades. We had a lot to talk about it seemed. The city brought out all the imperfections that were suppressed in my mind and forced me to acknowledge each and every little conflict I had no resolution for.

I fought the urge to buy a ticket to escape, I did not appreciate the city poking at my deepest insecurities. Just as I thought I have found peace, it threw me against a wall and I found myself more lost than ever. I did not want to go on any more dates with myself, scared to confront my feelings, I wanted to take shelter. But knowing that nothing good ever happens from curling up in a ball waiting for the storm to pass, I grabbed my heels and decided to march on.

A little tipsy from drinking half a bottle of a beautiful red Hungarian wine I made my way through the evening city. I was an observer in the truest form — admiring the romance from afar without the feeling of jealousy that would otherwise take over. For the first time in many years I felt like I was capable of appreciating my own company. I liked that I fought the feeling of despair, I admired that I didn’t quit, and that I gave myself a chance. I may not have gotten everything I was expecting to get, but I got one very valuable thing that I have been missing — hope. Hope that with work, patience and self compassion I wouldn’t have to fly across the ocean to try and win myself over…