Sunday, January 20, 2013

Budapest By Land And Water

At some point in the last 6 days the desperate, all consuming homesickness I felt from the moment I got up on Tuesday morning seems to have faded. Not left, not at all, but definitely subsided. So now instead of feeling lost and wanting to cry all the time, I'm just occasionally blindsided by a constricted chest and a feeling akin, I would assume, to that of being hit in the stomach. Usually it happens when I'm alone and not doing anything, or when things don't seem to be working to plan. I'll have these moments when I feel way out of my depth and worry that I was wrong and that I'm not as strong as I thought, not strong enough to do this. And I'll want nothing more than to go to the airport and take the next plane back to London. But eventually I'll remember that I wanted this, and that things always work out for me, and that you can't feel too sorry for yourself when you're standing in the snow looking at this:

I knew leaving London would be hard, and the amazing send off that some of my closest friends gave me made it even harder (I cried openly and sporadically from the moment I got on the coach to the moment my plane landed and I had to suck it up enough to find my hostel). I knew it would suck, and that's why I decided to start in Budapest. 

The first time I went to Berlin I met an Australian girl who had just got off the night train from Budapest, and she raved so much about the hostel she had stayed in that the name stuck in my mind. Knowing that I would be likely to sit around and feel sorry for myself if I wasn't constantly distracted I booked 5 nights at Carpe Noctem, and found myself in the most ridiculous, fun, amazing hostel I've ever stayed in. It reminded me of being back in my uni dorm, not least because you're never really sure whether even the staff know what's really going on. The hostel itself is tiny, 22 beds, and located in the topmost flat of a heritage listed residential building. Because it's so small you have no choice but to become friendly with everyone staying there. And in terms of distraction, it delivered with panache.

I had heard wonderful things about Budapest from everyone who had been there, but I was desperately under-prepared. On my first full day in the city I found myself several miles underground, army crawling through century-old caves with a bunch of Australians. I hiked up the tallest hill in Budapest (twice, in fact, because the first time was in the evening in heavy snow, and I needed to make sure I got 'my life is more exciting than yours' pictures). I spent hours lazing in traditional Hungarian baths, and drank pots of tea with my new roomies at a tea house that was basically a giant labyrinth of pillows and mirrors. And the people I met were absolutely wonderful. At one point I had tea with three of the people I was staying with. When one of the guys left to get his train he quietly paid the entire bill and left without saying a word. It's simple little moments like that which restore my faith in humanity.

And of course I drank. Carpe Noctem is one of four party hostels in Budapest, and every night there is a different, alcohol-related activity. I pub-crawled through the Jewish quarter and visited an amazing bar voted as one of the top 5 in the world, but my favourite (read: messiest) night was far and away the booze cruise. Whoever thought putting 100-odd young travelers on a ship, giving them each a bottle of champagne, cruising down the Danube and then letting them loose in a club was a good idea was definitely a genius. Or at least that's what I was probably thinking while accidentally co-ordering 8 beers with yet another Australian I'd befriended in my room. And in the morning I felt like an idiot for a total of about 30 minutes before I realised every single person in my hostel had been at least as ridiculous as I had.

To be honest I keep swinging wildly between feeling like king of the world (Example text conversation between me and my Soulmate #1: Me: There's a chair in this bar made out of an old bathtub. Her: You are literally the luckiest bitch on the planet right now I swear), and completely freaking out about my total inability to plan my life (Example text conversation between me and my Soulmate #2: Me: Can I come home now? I hate everyone, even in Europe). When I was leaving London I felt like I had a red and silver bracelet, a napkin with 'I love you' written on it in 8 languages, and that was about it. Vague promises about Brooklyn apartments and Vegas weddings are all well and good but life tends to get in the way. Still, on my way home from my last night out in London I met a very drunk man, who told me that his ex-boyfriend/love of his life had called him out of the blue that night after 7 years apart. In his words, "You seem like a strong bird, and you just never know what might happen."