“Paris and London are sweet and I’d go there, but they aren’t my number one destinations. Remote islands in Greece were sick, Hungary, Poland, Belgium were all amazing, so go to the big places just to go but if you are centered around those you are doing it wrong.”
One of my friends lived in Italy for a couple of years, and we began discussing where I should go during my time abroad well before I ever hopped on the plane. After he sent me this advice, Budapes(“h”)t, the capital of Hungary, was high on my travel list. Some classmates visited over fall break and raved. Instead of feasting at Sugah Cain, I packed all of my warm clothes and thanked God for my many blessings on a night plane from Rome to Budapest.
As usual, my friend Alea and I endured my rite of entry into any new place by getting thoroughly lost and walking all over the city. As we meandered, we admired the elaborate Art Nouveau facades on both average apartments and bank buildings alike. We also had a blast enjoying the unexpected Christmas spirit here – cold weather, decorative lights, chimney cake (basically fried bread) and mulled wine are a beautiful combination.
|Chimney Cake = yummmm
I will always remember my weekend in Budapest, but it won’t be because of Hero’s Square or the Opera House or the shoe memorial for the Jews of WWII.
|3rd Largest Parliament in the World
I tired of sight-seeing about halfway through the semester, and I have learned that it just isn’t what makes a trip. Rather than the tourist stuff, I will remember my last trip of the semester because of the great people we met there.
As I took my first bite of hearty goulash soup, I heard an American accent ordering at the table adjacent to us. I glanced over to see an attractive young man sitting by himself. If you know me, you know strangers, especially Americans in foreign countries, don’t stay that way for long, and Jonah was no exception. A native of Los Angeles, he works in the entertainment business – writing, acting, singing, producing. He can do it all. He was traveling with his friend, but he had the last day to himself. After lunch, Jonah invited us to continue exploring Budapest with him, and we accepted the offer.
Jonah was a solid six years older than us with a real career, but we spent the whole day together and then met back up for a late dinner. When I think about hanging out with fourteen-year olds, I realize just how big that age gap and lifestyle difference is. His humor is dry, but it’s also witty. Our company may have been unusual for Jonah, but I think he really did enjoy the day with us. I certainly did.
We returned to the hostel to meet a happy blonde chilling in bed with a backpack significantly larger than her small frame. Tess is 18, from Sydney, Australia. After saving up her money for a year, she is now on a gap year, traveling through all of Eastern and Western Europe. I was impressed. She had been backpacking with another friend for a while, but they had parted ways, and she was on her own now. Tess was supposed to leave the next day, but after talking together and planning on breakfast the next morning, she decided to stay another night and spent the whole following day with us. She even motivated me to go on a run with her around the loop on Margaret’s Island, a pinch of land in the middle of the Danube River. She had a kind, peaceful demeanor, and it is obvious Tess is growing up a lot. She went to an all-girl’s private school for six years, and she is over that culture. I think this year of traveling is helping her find her way.
When we returned to the hostel the next night, we were greeted by our fourth roommate. Also from Sydney, Rebecca graduated from Uni, got a big girl PR job for a year, and then set off to backpack the world by herself. She has already been gone for seven months, and has several more months to go. What an experience. I had so many questions for her, all beating around the main question I had cycling through my head – Can I just be you in two years? We shall see what is to come.
In less than a week, both Tess and Rebecca are going to meet up with us back in Perugia before we return home! I am happy to be able to offer my hospitality and show off an authentic medieval Italian town, but I am more excited to already reunite with friends I did not know less than a week ago.
The cool thing about the people we met in Budapest is that you know you automatically have something in common. Jonah, Tess and Rebecca were a little off the tourist track, too. Whatever brought them there, they carry some sense of adventure, the curiosity to explore the less known. The stranger the place, the more different the visitor will be, and the more likely one is to meet other travelers. That formula creates something innate and easily ignited – the potential for great friendship.