Europe | Budapest (or, that time I slept on a bus for a weekend, pt. 2)

march 2015 // canon 5d // budapest 

After several hours on the bus, driving from Vienna, we arrived in Budapest past midnight, the huge tour bus rattling down tiny streets. Instead of going to bed, as we should have, we headed to the atm and then for a slice of pizza, clutching a new currency in our hands that was colorful and unfamiliar. 

The next day started with a bus tour, as we’d been promised—however, that part of the day is a little shady, because I had trained myself at this point to immediately fall asleep whenever I got on a bus, so I think I slept through a lot of it. After an hour or two, however, we were let off, now for a guided tour, which my friends and I promptly escaped from after 45 minutes of shuffling from building to building. We raced down the hill, looking for something to eat, and strolled through a neighborhood, which made me the happiest girl in the world, because my favorite thing to do when traveling is to find a neighborhood and see how people live in whichever city I’m exploring, you know? How do they keep their gardens, and do they hang their laundry, and where is the nearest school—what’s behind the facade of monuments and gift shops? 

Budapest was grand, like Prague—I think a lot of people, in some ways, interchange the two cities—but different. Not as well kept. Buildings were a little dirtier, peeling paint, plenty of Soviet-Bloc style type. But it may have been (and I’m not sure, because this is a toughie) even a little grander, full of fancy parks and huge monuments. Prague was quaint, but Budapest didn’t use that label at all; it was a little wilder than that. 

After beers and goulash, we stopped at the Holocaust memorial, iron cast shoes marching along the banks of the Danube, a sober reminder that made us stand quietly in awe, goosebumps prickling up and down my arms. 

Over the course of the day, I kept marveling at the concept that I was seeing places that my parents or grandparents, had they been traveling, could have never seen at my age—something that I revisited, again and again, in Berlin and Prague and every other city once cloaked by communism. Twenty, thirty years ago, no average American could have dreamed of strolling beside the Parliment building, or hiking up the hill to see the castle. But here we were—here I was. 

The rest of the day was a blur—a strange night on a boat cruise, 30 terrifying minutes of wandering the city lost without a map, and then back to the hostel to dissect boys and the things they said—and then, that morning, back on the bus, headed for Bratislava, the last destination on our whirlwind trip. 

Despite only being there for a hot second, Budapest holds a special place in my heart because it was the cornerstone (if you will) to a trip that I took with a lot of my friends. And while, at the time I wasn’t a huge supporter of traveling in a group of 15 people everywhere, it’s something I look back at fondly. How lucky was I to have 15 or 20 people to travel with, after all? I hard-core bonded with some people in particular (cough, cough, Kate), stayed in a hostel room with a slanted ceiling, four boys (and another girl) and plenty of bad puns, all while exploring a beautiful, falling-down, grand old lady of a city. Not bad, am I right?

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