How to Celebrate a Solo Birthday in the Midst of a Global Pandemic
The night here is a true dark. It is so quiet and eerie that the end of each breath brings about gratified peace and welcomed relief. In Csákberény — a quaint and picturesque Hungarian village an hour drive outside of Budapest, the nights are cool, and the darkness has a releasing effect that lays you bare. The lush and verdant days reveal a dotted landscape as far as the eyes can see, and each inhalation is a sweet escape.
Spending my birthdays alone has become a cherished tradition. In 2016, the year it started, I booked a few days in a thermal spa in Ischia, followed by a few days in Sorrento. I had agonized over this decision for weeks; however, I was familiar with the area having worked in Sorrento for a few months back in 2004, so it was the perfect place to start this tradition.
I had never taken a solo vacation and had always spent my birthdays with friends and family, so I was nervous about my impulsive decision and I was worried and that I would be bored and lonely. To allay my worries, I booked multiple tours of the region over the next five days, and every night I treated myself to a fabulous meal. I didn’t have much company, but I was surprisingly never lonely — whether it was the attentive waitstaff, the curious couple surprised to see a Black woman dining alone, or for the most part, just my books and my thoughts. I had invitations aplenty, and sometimes if I was in the mood, I treated them to my company by having a drink or two.
Upon returning to Budapest, I was amazed that what began as a way to alleviate the dreaded pressure of another birthday celebration had turned out so well. It was my second year in Budapest, and by that time, I had friends who I now know would have been happy to celebrate my birthday with me. However, my irrational brain deduced that by going away, I would take the pressure of planning a celebration off their shoulders. Crazy, I know, but the giver in me was (is still) unwilling to take even when it is freely given.
A habit born out of insecurity has since become a bolstering and validating act of self-love and self-care. Since then, I have taken other solo birthday trips across Europe, including one to Malta and a month-long French language holiday in Montpellier, France, which included a quick jaunt to Corsica for another quietly adventurous birthday celebration.
By the time summer arrived, life in Budapest had seemingly returned to normal. While there were cases, the country had been spared from the ravages of the pandemic; restaurants, clubs, and parks had re-opened and were overflowing with people desperate for some semblance of normalcy. The streets that were empty a few months ago were bustling with cars, scooters, and bicycles. The borders had re-opened, and the lockdown ended, and we were free to move around the country, and travel within the European Union was possible.
Despite the resumption of flights to preferred destinations, my unwillingness to get on a plane forced me to look for getaway options within the borders of Hungary. This is how I discovered the joys of Catherine’s Cottages. Lovingly nestled in the village of Csákberény, the Cottages have become my go-to destination and self-care routine during my forced exile in Hungary.
In July, to celebrate my birthday, I booked a long weekend at the Cottages. I immediately recognized that this would be a different type of birthday celebration. First, it wasn’t a hotel (despite having all the amenities of one), and while there were other guests in the cottages scattered around the property, I had no plans to mingle. Furthermore, because of the pandemic, I had no dinner outings or excursion planned — I would be entirely on my own.
I don’t drive, so I was pleasantly surprised when Lili, the stalwart general manager, quickly and efficiently arranged to pick me up from my apartment in Budapest for the quick ride to Csákberény. The Cottages are quaint, rustic, and fully equipped for a quiet and restful stay. Everything feels specially curated for your enjoyment, from the charming dishware from the local potter to the lavender bath products procured from the surrounding fields. In the middle of the property, there is a communal pool perfect for languishing the hot summer days away. If it is cool enough at night (which it was in July on my first visit), the efficient old fashioned fireplace, decorative and functional, creates a relaxing ambiance perfectly suited to enjoy the starry nights.
Night here is a true dark. It is so quiet and eerie that the end of each breath brings about gratified peace and wondrous relief.
Catherine, the proprietor, adds to the welcoming atmosphere of the Cottages. Each cottage is stamped with her design aesthetic, uniquely curated with an air of familiarity that resonates and offers all the comforts of home. During the days, I enjoyed long walks to the nearby village, hiked, swam, drank, laid in the hammock, and just allowed myself to be meaningfully unproductive and enjoy the lush and quiet landscape.
A habit that was borne out of insecurity has become a bolstering and validating act of self-love and self-care.
In September, I returned to the Cottages for another restful stay, and I have plans for one last visit in October before nesting for the winter. Despite the joys of “discovering” a new treasured vacation spot, I miss home. I have not been home since last November, and this is the longest I have gone without seeing my family in all my years. However, I am grateful that I could get away, that I traveled, and that I got the opportunity to celebrate my birthday the way I have always done.