Unlike so many of the other destinations on our year-long tour through Europe, Budapest was anything but last-minute. In fact, we had planned and scheduled and organized almost our entire autumn around the fact that we would be in Hungary’s capital city. Under normal circumstances this would lead to all sorts of high expectations, but if there is anything I learned over the preceding nine months of nonstop travel, it’s that the main point of any journey is the desire just to go.
So we went. And even in freezing temperatures with a thick gray fog smothering the city daily, Budapest opened itself up for us in ways such that it seemed we’d left Europe entirely and gone somewhere far, far away. For the first time in a long time, a new city felt, well, really new. Like Prague or Paris, gorgeous Art Nouveau buildings in delicate pastel colors dot the city – but a dense black soot mars their façades (one Hungarian girl told me that locals like to think of it as “shabby chic”). Huge doors with intricate wood carvings open into tiny corridors that lead further still into the open courtyards of apartment complexes – hidden gardens that felt like a secret the city was telling me. Classic dishes – seasoned with the deliciously hot Hungarian paprika – are readily available in almost every restaurant, not just in touristy areas with grossly inflated prices. They use their own currency, the forint, rather than the euro. Train tickets are purchased in person rather than online, using ink stamps instead of bar codes, with carbon-copy paper to make doubles. People go to the thermal baths on weekends, where I experienced a feeling of such complete contentedness and extraordinary well-being that it is, perhaps, the best thing I did in all of Europe. Really.
Aside from being delightfully “old-school,” there is a special sort of authenticity to each of these instances, though they might seem insignificant to someone who has never been there. The charm of Budapest and its people lies in their character: this city is downright soulful. All of this, I suppose, lends itself to feeling like I’ve “been somewhere”: after the common, albeit beautiful, Gothic cathedrals that seems to populate every European city and the chain bakeries that can be found in every train station (I’m talking to you, Le Crobag), it felt good to be in a place that seems to have retained some of it natural essence as the march toward global homogenization wears on.
Our guest blogger Jessica, originally from New York City, is currently spending a year traveling across Europe, photographing and blogging about her adventures. Read more about Jessica here