There are so many places that influenced me in my life. Shanghai might be the most recent part of my development, but I’m keen enough to claim that Budapest was the true beginning of my story. It was and is one of the place I would always return to and people I always want to return to, whenever possible, live there.
About 12 years ago I got a chance, that changed my perspective of the world and my life. I was in senior highschool and back then I was a nerdy guy, still changing from my mother’s boy to an independent young man. Half a year after changing from junior to senior highschool I got an offer I couldn’t refuse… the principal of my school asked me what I thought about either skipping a year or going abroad for some time. He still couldn’t say for how long, but he told me there were first steps towards an students exchange program with a school in Budapest and each school would finance the stay of the other school’s students in their guest country. It took a while and a huge argument to convince my parents, but just some months later I was on a plane, my first flight ever, going to Hungary.
It was the first time I was abroad without anyone taking care of me. Sure I’ve been to some summer camps as a child, but this wasn’t the same. Also I wasn’t on my own, since some others from my school were with me, but we were totally responsible for ourselves. For the first time in my life I was abroad in another country with a language I didn’t speak and not knowing any locals. All I knew about Budapest was what I learned as a child, when I was on holidays with my parents, or during summer camp at the Balaton.
We were free to do what we thought might be best and since noone of us spoke Hungarian fluently, we only had to go to those lessons which were tought in English, which weren’t much. Thus we had lot’s of free time to explore the city and enjoy the perks of being an unattended teenager.
I don’t really remember in detail how I met her, but I guess she was in one of my classes, together with her best friend. We must have exchanged our e-mail adresses, since we started chatting online in the afternoons. I was an insecure and nerdy boy, but I started flirting with her until I sat next to her in lesson and one day took her hand. I asked her later if she had ever been at Mátyás-Templom or Halászbástya at sunset or at night. I had seen it at day, but a friend from the dormitory I lived in told me it’s even more beautiful when it’s dark outside. I was about to have my first date ever and the next evening we met at the entrance of our school near Szent Imre Ter. I wanted to impress her, being a gentleman and brought her a rose.
We took the HÈV to Boraros Tèr and we took the tram to Kossuth Lajos Tèr to walk over Szechenyi Lanchìd and crossed the Danube. There is a cog railway going up to the Royal Palace at the other end of the bridge, but since it was February and already dark it was closed. That’s why we followed a path and stairs my friend showed me a couple of days before. We walked through the Palace Gardens, passed the palace and the National Gallery. It took a while until we arrived at Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion and I had to admit that I had underestimated the cold. We walked up the bastion and enjoyed the view for a couple of minutes. We saw the lights of Pest and looked at each other until we kissed. I knew too little about women and relationships to let it become a great or lengthy love story, but it was the beginning of my first boy meets girl story ever.
I came back to Budapest again and again… next summer I returned with a friend from school, with whom I had made that awesome experience of being an exchange student, some ears later I showed some friends and colleagues around, when we decided to go on a trip together. I also came back whenever I needed a break from some stressful period at University.
In the summer after the student’s exchange I had a quite long walk, or you might even call it a hike in Obuda. We started from Szabadszàg Hìd to pass Gèllert Györgyfürdö and walk up to the Citadella, and to the Statue of Szent Gèllert. We walked to Matyàs Templom and went down to Szechenyi Lanchìd to cross the river, walk along the Danube and get some food at the market hall (Nagy Vásárcsarnok). But neither this walking tour, nor seeing Szent Istvàn Templom and the Parliament was as nice as meeting our Hungarian friend, who had spent the last evening of our exchange with us.
We had met by chance that night, we knew him from school and since he wasn’t in a hurry to get home he joined us to have some drinks in a bar at Szent Imre Tèr in Csepel, a part of Budapest that barely any tourist will ever see. We didn’t want to spend the last night in Budapest packing and thinking about the great time we had. My girlfriend didn`t live far from there, but she was packing, since she was one of the Hungarian exchange students who would join us on our flight back home the next day. We decided to have somee drinks in a small bar right next to HÈV stop. We sat there talked and drank. yM friend nda I had already learned some Hungarian and we tried to order our drinks, which was easier than we thought. We were lucky noone checked our IDs. We were under 18 and shouldn’t even have been in this bar. We drank beer and Barack Pàlinka, apricot spirit, until our classmate had to go home with the last bus. My friend and I walked back to our dormitory and tried to get a sober on fresh air.
Half a year later, when we met our classmate again he invited us to his family’s house in Szigetszentmiklòs. His parents had already prepared a huge pot of Gulyàs before they left the house to leave it to us youngsters. We made a fire in the garden, set up a tripod and cooked the soup over the open fire, which is a Hungarian style barbecue. Our host was really proud since he got his driving licence a while ago and even had a car which he wanted to show us. We went to the garage and he presented us his white Trabant P601 DeLuxe. He left us for a some minutes to go to his uncle and get some homemade, you might say moonshined, Palinkà. He also brought his Hookah to the garden, and we sat under the trees, eating, drinking, smoking and talking until it was time get on the last bus back to the city, but our friend didn’t let us go before he gave each of us two plastic bottles of moonshined Baràck Palinkà. I’ve never been as nervous about customs officers at the airport as I was with two litres of moonshine in my luggage…
About four or five years later I was working as a waiter and some of my colleagues and I became quite good friends. When I told them I haven’t been to Budapest in quite a while they said they would like to join me. Since we were all travelling on a budget I booked train tickets via Vienna and a hostel that wasn’t too far from Keleti Train Station.
I was basically my friends’ guide in this city, that I got to know quite well in the recent years. I knew which HÈV, bus and tram to take to get whereever we wanted to go and could show them all the major sights they wanted to see. It was weird to be a guide in a city that wasn’t my home, at least not anymore, but still so familiar and so full of memories. I convinced the others that we should do something special, I wanted to do something I hadn’t done before in Budapest. That’s why I convinced them that it’s a great idea to go caving in the Budai Mountains. It wasn’t much of a problem to find a guided tour and a bus that would take us to were the entrance to the caves was and we really had a ball. It was awesome to climb, crawl and jump in this dark, cold and wet subterranian world, but it was also Kind of exhausting… especially if you have to lie on your belly in a horizontal cleft in the rocks because a corpulent Brit was stuck in front of you and it was so narrow that there was no way to crawl backwards.
After this trip we really wanted to have a shower and because of my inconvinient situation in the cave I felt like havig some drinks. We went out with a crowd from the hostel, who had already bought the beer and booze to pregame before going out on a pub crawl. The best pub, bar or Club, however you want to call it was Szimpla Kèrt a ruin bar in the historic centre of Pest. The atmosphere there was awesome, the building’d beauty of was even enhanced by the fact that it was basically a ruin, only modernized where it counted, like the bars and the toilets. But the rest, even the furniture looked like it was collected over a time of at least five decades. There were dancefloors in old living rooms, with wallpapers from the the 50s slowly falling from the bricks, there was a chandelier in the entrance area reminding of the beginning of the 20th century. We partied with the crowd talked to the guys from our hostels and flirted with the girls. We weren’t only with tourists from Autralia, Canada and Peru, even two old friends from my days as an exchange student decided to join us.
I guess it’s totally normal to take a break after a day like this and what’s better to relax than a day at a thermal bath? When the others asked me which bath I prefer it was clear, that I recommended the Szenchenyi Györgyfürdö. I love how old and young People, locals and foreigners, come there to enjoy the hot and healthy thermal water. Some elderly men brought a floating chessboard and played in the pool and guys and girls were floating around in the the salty basin, turning their faces to the sun. After going inside to enjoy the steam baths and differently temperated pools we decided we wanted to get a massage, too. After a day like this you’re just so relaxed, that all you can do is to lie or sit around in bliss. Fortunately I showed my friends Hösök Tér, the Museums next to it, the entrance of the Zoo, Vajdahunyad Vára and the adjacent park before we went inside. When we got on the historic Metro Line M1 to go back to the hostel, all we wanted to do was to eat and sleep.
That’s exactly what my friends did, but even though I was tired I had other plans. I wanted to meet one more friend from years ago. She was my ex-girlfriend’s best friend back in high School and some months ago we started texting again on Facebook. We met at a bar and talked about the old days, about what had changed since then, how our lifes went on in the last years and about our plans for the next years. We started talking about the fact, that both of the girls wanted me back then when we went to the same school and she asked me why I decided in the way I did. I couldn’t really say why, things just happened that way. When she proposed to go to a club to dance I didn’t refuse and we enjoyed another drink and the music, only us two, two old friends who could have been more when we were teenagers if Things had been just slightly different. Just like I did it after the first date with my ex-girlfriend I brought her to the HÈV, which would take her home.
I came back to Budapest again and again, but over the years I lost contact to almost everyone, partly because that’s just how life is, partly it was my fault, but I still consider Budapest the place were I changed from a boy to an independent, young man and I still think of the people I met there as good old friends.