3 Days Alone in Budapest
Day 1 — I don’t want to be here.
That was what I told myself all day. I was exhausted from my 4am trek to CDG Airport, still suffering with leftover drunkness from three hours prior, and irritated at the fact that I couldn’t check in to my hostel until 3pm.
One plane and bus ride later, I found myself on the metro dying to arrive at my destination where I was greeted with unfriendly and curious stares. It was then that I realized I was the only person of color on this entire train. Oh boy, I thought to myself, this is going to be fun. After escaping the metro, I ran out into the streets expecting to be embraced with rays of sunshine, but was instead faced with grey skies and pouring rain. It was also way too cold for me to be wearing sandals and my feet were uncomfortably wet. I trudged to the hostel to drop off my backpack and went in search for some food.
Traveling alone is intimidating and I hate having to ask people if they speak English; it makes me feel elitist and uncultured. I kept asking myself what I was doing here. It didn’t help that it was 70 degrees back in Paris and my friends were having a nice picnic at the park under the sun and that Budapest didn’t seem so friendly in the rain. Finally, after 40 minutes of aimlessly walking around, I mustered up the courage to go into a restaurant and sit down. It was a hummus restaurant in a weirdly modern part of town.
As I was eating, I became fully aware that I was alone. Being alone made me feel awake and so did the cold.
After lunch, I attempted to find a warm place to read a book but all the coffee shops in the quarter seemed to be too full to make space for me so I had to get a coffee togo. At this point, I just felt hopelessly homesick for Paris, and the only source of warmth was from the coffee in my hands. I decided to go back to the hostel and wait to check in.
The clock ticked slowly and the minute hand was more hesitant to move than usual. Two hours passed by until I was finally able to go into my room. I was feeling a little sick and decided to allow myself to take a well-deserved nap; it was probably the best decision I made all day. Waking up from the nap an hour later, I felt ready to take on the world.
I marched out into the city and headed towards the river. It had stopped raining, and all of a sudden, the city became irresistible. I stumbled upon an open air market filled with food, crafts, live music, tourists, and locals alike. It was filled with so much soul and spirit. I felt my stomach growl. I ordered a hungarian dish that I couldn’t pronounce and sat down at a wooden bench, stuffing my face with the mystery meat. It was really fucking delicious. Happy and warm, I was no longer afraid.
I was excited to be alone in Budapest.
Day 2 — The world is mine.
I woke up early and headed out to The Fat Fairy Cafe for some waffles and coffee. There, I started to read my new book, Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, which set the tone for my entire trip. Today was wild. Today was about conquering fears, space, time — and the most challenging of all — my mind. After breakfast, I headed up to the Liberty Statue. The hike was harder than I’d like to admit; my baguette lifestyle is really catching up to me. But when I got to the top, I saw the most breathtaking view of the city and forgot about the cramp in my knee and the lack of oxygen in my lungs.
I couldn’t keep my eyes off of the view even for one second, but when I did, I noticed something interesting. This city seems to be sprinkled with couples and lovers on every corner, and the top of the statue was no different. This couple sitting on the bench behind me caught my eye. They were staring intensely into each others eyes and whispering softly into each others ears. They were inlove.
Must be nice, I thought to myself. I turned back around to face the skyline. I thought about how amazing it was to be present in that moment and to be alive and well. Right now I have myself and I have this — this view, this city, this world, this liberty. I have the courage to actively make choices for myself and choosing to be happy. I have the privilege of traveling alone and having these private moments of peace with the earth and with humanity. Just me and the world. At this moment in time. That is more than enough.
Content with myself and the lesson I learned that early morning, I continued with my day. I decided to take a stroll through the suburban hills behind the Citadium and the Castle. It was a beautiful Saturday morning with birds chirping, children playing, families setting up camp at the local park getting ready for the soccer games. It is strange how I am in a country where people look so different, speak so differently, yet Saturday mornings still sounded the same. We must not be so different after all then, I thought. We feel happy about the same things, pained by the same things. We all want to be safe, to be happy, to be loved, and to love — deeply. All of a sudden, I didn’t feel alone anymore.
As I continued down a flight of yellow brick stairs, which now I am convinced was part of someone’s backyard (oops), I came across an open green field. There were a small group of gentlemen holding long wooden sticks in their hands. I couldn’t tell if they were dancing or if it was a sort of martial arts, but their slow, careful movements perfectly controled with every breath reminded me of the grandparents that used to do Taichi at the park next to my childhood home in Shanghai. The thought of this made me smile even more. Next to them, two small boys accompanied by two older ones were running on the field; kite-flyers, they were.
One of the older boys yelled something in Hungarian that I didn’t understand and the others replied with laughter. I laughed too.
The rest of the day consisted of the Buda Castle, a nice lunch, Fisherman’s Bastion, a charming conversation with an old Hungarian man, dinner with a new friend I met at the hostel, and more reading. I walked up along the Buda side until Margret Island until I got tired and walked down the Pest side to go back to the hostel. For more details on the day, please consult my diary and check out my vsco: vsco.co/van-ity
My day ended with this quote from The Alchemist:
“If I can learn to understand this language without words, I can learn to understand the world.”
In that moment, that was exactly how I felt. Connected. Small. But significant at the same time. This day was a liberating journey I didn’t even know I needed. And after today, I am feeling more powerful and present than ever.
Day 3 — A city has many layers; I only know but one.
Hungover from the happiness and confidence I felt the day before, I decided to take it easy. I walked to Mathias church without realizing that it was indeed Sunday, and that on Sunday people go to church. Even touristy churches. So the obvious next best thing was to chill at the Cat Cafe next door where I dwelled with my cat-friends and my coffee until my allergies won over me.
I walked by a small antiques market, in one of those classic covered hallways like the Passage des Panoramas in Paris. I was able to find some gems (because treat yo self and your friends) and had a nice conversation with a lady about her antiques collection. I continued on my way to the famous thermal baths all the way across town where I was meeting a friend that I had met at the hostel the night before.
The baths were interesting. It was beautiful but I didn’t understand why people would voluntarily bathe with other people. The luke warm water just didn’t seem sanitary to me.
The people were interesting too. The men were wearing tiny speedos, with everything — beer belly and all — just chillin and hanging loose, while the women would immediately cover up right as they got out of the water. The women were clearly in way better shape than the men yet they were more uncomfortable about their own bodies. This wasn’t news to me, but this observation painted a clear picture of the existing problems with female body-shaming. My friend had noticed this too. As I got out of the water, I caught myself sucking in my stomach. I shook my head, a little shocked by this subconscious muscle memory, and decided to let it go.
Budapest is even more magical at night and it almost hurts to stare for too long. That night, I said my final goodbye to the city because my flight was early the next morning. A city has many layers, many sentiments, each experienced and felt in unique ways by different individuals. It was beautiful to think about. Photographers gathered on the banks with their cameras and tripods. Tourists gathered around the dock with their selfie sticks and smart phones. Lovers took up the benches, admiring each other and the city lights together.
A young man walked by the trashcan, found himself a half-dranken bottle of wine, and continued on his way. A woman in uniform picked up trash by the foot of the bridge, sweeping and cleaning from one end to another. An older gentleman tuned his instrument by the river.
And I, I sat on the edge of the shore quietly observing, careful not to disturb this picture.
I saw this quote in my RA’s room my freshman year,
The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it to be.
And I never forgot about it.
The thing with traveling alone is that you are constantly reminded of how alone you are. But as a result, you are also more conscious of the moments that pass by. You experience these moments with a new clarity that is as exhilarating as it is fulfilling. I finally understood what it meant to live whole-heartedly and what how to follow the advice of that quote I saw in Shannon’s room.
Time is a black hole when you are traveling; seconds, minutes, and moments, memories, they are all the same. Moments, even the sweetest ones, will eventually fade. But if you’re lucky, in the most supernatural and unpredictable ways, you may encounter a familiar and triggering sound, scent, scene, and those sweet seconds of your life will come flooding back to you. And one could hope that you would feel the same serenity as you felt the first time around.
The end. For now.