Perhaps it was a sign that I was getting older and tired of all the irritations associated with travelling but jetting off somewhere no longer held the same luster. The hassle of going through airport security and wishing I could suddenly morph into an octopus and simultaneously take off my belt and coat and out my laptop, phones and plastic bag packed neatly with liquids, while the traveller behind impatiently tuts at me. The chore of booking flights / accommodation and sifting through numerous TripAdvisor review to ensure that a) the hotel isn’t in the middle of nowhere and b) it’s also not some fly-infested dump in a seedy area of town. Then there was the small matter of packing, a task that, rather than helping to build excited anticipation for the little vacation I was about to embark on, somehow seemed to require more effort with each trip.
My wanderlust had faded with age; flitting between destinations on spontaneous trips between assignment deadlines had become less of a frequent thing. But this trip was different to all the ones that had gone before it. This trip reminded me why I loved jetting off on European city breaks whenever the opportunity arose in my undergrad days. As soon as I was on the plane, I felt the excitement of the sensation of the plane gathering speed on the runway again and the moment of take-off into the skies. I felt like a child again, or at least, the young, bright-eyed 18-year old fresher I still saw myself as, and not the 25-year old heading towards a quarter-life crisis that I actually am.
Perhaps my frequent trips had become routine but this time, it was more breaking out of the monotonous routines that I almost felt trapped by. Once I was in Budapest, I was instantly reminded of the joy of travelling. New surroundings, different sensory experiences and connections with people who I would not usually have crossed paths with combined to freshen my outlook on life. Such simple, affording comforts like stuffing my face at the generous breakfast buffet when a boring bowl of porridge would normally pass for breakfast at home and tasting the delights of apple rooibos tea, not to mention vegetables dipped in a chocolate fountain. One of the joys of travelling is also experiencing another culture through their cuisine. We had a memorable dinner in a candlelit restaurant tucking into dishes like salmon, catfish and perch brochette (posh name for a skewer) on soya-flavoured vegetables, while a talented musician happily serenaded our ears with such classics as ‘Hallelujah’ on a Hungarian instrument known as a cimbolam, similar to piano. There’s nothing quite so powerful as the combination of two of the simple pleasures of life, in music and food. It was also nice to hear the local shopping mall blasting out familiar tunes as we walked through it (a bit of Katy Perry, anyone?) - not only a reminder of home but also of the universal, transcendental appeal of music.
Not only was I reminded of the beauty of music but also that of foreign sounds. I found myself occasionally repeating after the station announcer the stops in Hungarian under my breath on the tram, as if it was some involuntary tic (‘O-kuv-veh-ket-so-meg-gal-lo’, ‘Seh-chen-yee-ist-van-teer’ - next stop: Széchenyi István tér) and wishing I had done what I always used to do whenever I packed my bags temporarily for a foreign land, in which I did not speak any of the language, and learn the basics of the lingo. It not only enriches your experience and appreciation of the place you’re visiting but sometimes the locals seem to appreciate it when you make the effort.
Then there were the chance encounters with friendly, interesting people. Walking around with a map trying to look for the connecting number 19 tram stop, a young lady - clearly taking pity on how spatially challenged we both are - approached us and helpfully informed that the number 17 tram stop (which we were practically on) also went in the same direction towards the museum. She happened to be travelling in that direction and so we chatted on the tram. She had recently graduated in Applied Linguistics in Ontario and was on her way to teach English at a school on the outskirts of Budapest. Following a visit to the National Art Gallery on the last day, we also met a gentleman from St. Albans on the bus back to the city centre whose wife worked as a director in supply chain management for Tesco in Budapest. He mentioned that they’ve hosted many friends as visitors in the past year who they’ve been able to put up in free accommodation and we were pleasantly surprised to hear him generously extend this offer to us, 2 strangers he had only just met.
View of parliament building at night
Things I wouldn’t normally have found interesting in certain environments suddenly became fascinating in a different context. History was probably my least favourite subject at school but I became immersed in perusing the lengthy descriptions at the Budapest History Museum and learning about the turbulent history of the city. Budapest actually used to be 2 different cities, with Buda on the western side of the River Danube and Pest on the eastern side, before being united initially as Pest-Buda. They clearly realised that the name didn’t quite roll off the tongue as easily as the city’s current name and the two were thankfully reversed.
This knowledge gave a context to some interesting contrasts that suddenly made themselves known: the sight of bullet holes from the 1956 revolution imprinted on the buildings opposite our hotel, juxtaposed with the peace and serenity of the jacuzzi inside it; the beautiful views and sense of peace within the Citadella fortress, which was meant to be the site of a battlefield; the violent events symbolised by the poignant shoes on the banks of the Danube contrasting with the gentle ebbing and flowing of the river into which innocent people were shot.
The inspirational travel quotes on one of the walls of the breakfast room in our hotel summed up the trip, my favourite being: ‘Travel because you have no idea who you are until you experience yourself through different people and realise how we’re all the same’. The world is such a vast space and travel reinforces the sense of common humanity. I landed back at Manchester Airport feeling renewed, refreshed and ready to resume normal life.
So if you’re stuck in a rut, take the opportunity to jet off and switch off. Visit museums, go on a river cruise and immerse yourself in the wonderful experience and opportunity that is travel. Go on an adventure and you’ll come back feeling rejuvenated. It might just be the mental reset tonic that you were looking for.