Apologies for the late update!
In East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, a town with a population of ~16,000, you need a car to get anywhere, community events are huge ordeals, and nightlife isn’t really a thing. Growing up, I certainly didn’t have a problem with this; I wasn’t itching to throw myself out into the world, accustomed to the stability of suburbia. It wasn’t until the end of high school that I decided to take a huge step out of my comfort zone: I chose a college an hour car ride away from home, in a slightly larger town.
I arrived in Budapest expecting I would have more opportunities than in the states. I would be forced into an environment where I didn’t understand the language nor culture, exposed to many different activities, foods, people. And so not availability, but time, would be the limiting factor in how I defined my life in the city. All of this has been true. I’ve discovered that I can do almost anything here, making whatever I decide to invest the time in – for a generic example, one specific event out of a vast array of options – speak deeply to who I am.
Budapest has a population of ~1.8 million and is considered one of the densest cities in the EU. City life is squeezed into a small area, made accessible by an efficient public transport network of buses, metro, trams, trolleys, railway lines, and sometimes even boats. From my apartment, I could take the 83 trolley and visit a thermal bath across the Danube River in 20 minutes, and then the 4/6 tram to a Christmas festival at the Central Market Hall in 6. Or I could take the 62/28 tram to a theater and watch an opera in 15. I could do a lot of things in a short amount of time. Growing up in E.L., I could not, and in consequence, I developed an idealization of activities I’d heard others enjoy or which I’d seen on TV but had never actually experienced. Here, I’m able to quickly get an accurate depiction of these activities, whether it results in disillusionment or satisfaction, and I think this freedom allows me to better identify what I want out of life, what I find is worthy of my limited time.
As an example, I got my first taste of partying in a nightclub here. I thought it would be intense yet fun, as what you’d think a young person’s nightlife should be. Given the group, it can almost certainly be enjoyable, but despite a desire to have an outgoing personality and wanting to be that energetic person out on the dance floor, I learned I can only withstand a certain amount of strangers, flashing lights and strange noises before it becomes too much, and in the end I would rather be doing less intense activities.
What did live up to its hype was hot chocolate. Here, I’ve found the comfort in holding a warm drink and sitting in a quiet cafe, talking about whatever with people I know and fawning over all kinds of chocolate. I would say I’ve invested much more time in chocolate runs than party runs in Budapest, and if given the choice, I would 95% of the time (depending on the context) choose a quiet environment over a loud one, because one relaxes me and give me the ability to freely explore my thoughts while the other tends to make me closed off and hyper-aware of my surroundings.
(These are the are some of the prime hot chocolate spots in the city.)
For a few other examples, I’ve learned that walks along the Danube with a companion are a ton more relaxing than a meal at a place where waiters are dressed to a T, or that I love going to thermal baths and submerging myself in a cycle of ice-cold and then seriously hot water because it’s refreshing and personally therapeutic.
It’s important to note that money is a crucial reason I’m able to discover more about my preferences through usually inaccessible experiences. I can not only get to things, but I can also pay for them.
Currently, 1 USD = 267 HUF. (At one point this was 1 = 290.)
That’s really good. That’s like a normal chocolate bar costs less than a dollar good, or a salmon meal at a classy restaurant costs $11 good. I can get a ticket to the Budapest Symphony Orchestra and discover music that resonates with me or makes me want to fall asleep for just $14. It’s so strange, to not have to think about money now, because that was not the norm growing up. My parents worked and worked long hours, and my family saved constantly. Price tags defined how we lived, and when they went away for me, it felt like a new world had opened up. I still aim to buy groceries that are on sale, but I can get the more expensive hot chocolate flavor without feeling guilty. This is what I picture it feels like when someone doesn’t have an issue with money – only with how to spend it – and it’s a feeling I didn’t fully understand until now when I have the funds but limited time.
In Budapest, I have the opportunity to pinpoint the experiences and interactions that I want in my life, which is rare for the US towns and cities I’ve resided in. I wanted to note down this unique way I can find myself in the city, without the factors of availability and money, since that will be gone once I head back home, to a small campus and pricy food places.