I always wanted to go to Budapest.
Somehow I knew that I’d make it there someday. I’ve learned to not be impatient with all of my many dream destinations. A life of travel is a life of surprise and so it’s best to dream hard but then to accept the places that come our way.
Lucky for me, Hungary finally arrived in my path, midway on my journey around the world.
Now business travel is quite different from going on vacation or embarking on some adventure expedition. In Budapest, there was someone there to greet me at the airport, with my name written in black marker on a piece of paper. Hotel arrangements had been made in advance, a schedule awaited me in my room.
Also, I had to work. That’s the thing about business trips. You may be traveling to the most incredible places, but you are there to work, and when your work is like mine, that means sitting at a desk indoors, which is exactly how I spent my first day in Budapest.
I spent my second day in Budapest at a conference. It began at seven o’clock in the morning, and I left the conference hall at 8 o’clock at night. 48 hours had passed with me in Budapest and I had only seen the 3 or 4 blocks between my hotel and the conference theater. Such is the reality and “romance” of business travel.
But then Day 3 arrived, and there was only a Day 3 because I decided that I wanted there to be one. This is what all business travelers need to remember. Always work in a Day 3, because if you don’t, then you will travel without ever really traveling.
Like all conferences, I met many wonderful people and made so many new friends. They all kindly offered to show me their city and insisted that I see this one thing or that other thing. My wonderful readers also made many suggestions about all the glories of Budapest and those sites that I just couldn’t miss, no matter what.
But I didn’t listen this time. No offense, of course. But I find that if I only have one day in a city, it’s best not to follow anybody’s advice at all. One day is never enough time to sightsee and those who try always end up exhausted. I did not want Budapest to exhaust me. I only wanted to get to know her a little better. Thus I politely refused any offers for help, I left my big camera in my hotel and I head out onto the city streets with only my phone in hand.
From dawn until dusk, I walked the streets, up and down, stopping lots, and taking random turns down narrow corners. Immediately, it was the buildings of Budapest that amazed me, for I have never seen such an abundance of authentic art nouveau and modernist architecture, and all of it so colorful.
Thus I wandered, sans guidebook, not knowing what any of the buildings were called, or when the exact year they were built. I merely explored the very rich and artistic streets of Hungary’s capital, liking the city more and more with every new block.
Eventually I crossed the river — the mighty Blue Danube — although the river wasn’t exactly blue when I saw it. More of a gray-green color, but still inspiring when you think about where it comes from and where it ends up.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Crossing the Danube put me in the city of Buda, which felt newer and quieter than what I had seen in Pest. I continued to walk through blocks of ornate masonry until I came to a church, where an autumn wedding party had just exited. I never learned the bride and groom’s names, but for about ninety seconds, our lives crossed. This is the great surprise and blessing of unplanned travel. Crossing paths with strangers:
Indeed, not only did I find Budapest to be extremely romantic, but I also found it to be filled with romance. Everywhere I looked, there were couples kissing, caressing or merely staring into one each others’ eyes. As evening fell, I crossed back into Pest on the Liberty Bridge where couples were gathering to watch the sky change colors. More romance ensued in this very romantic setting.
Admittedly, walking around all alone in a foreign city when everyone else seems to be so in love and so coupled makes one feel a little lonely and homesick and desperate, but it’s one of the more important emotional souvenirs I picked up in Hungary’s capital. There is much history in this place, I know, and a lot more to it than just nice architecture and couples kissing — but these were my first impressions gathered in the few free hours I had during my business trip to Budapest.
And I will remember them far better than any famous sites pointed out by any tour guide, no matter how well-intentioned and learned they might be.