This past vacation, I had the chance to visit Budapest three different times. Once at the beginning, once in the middle, and once at the end before we flew home. It was interesting how each time I went gave me a different experience, and I wanted to use that as a place to discuss how little things can make us each have entirely different impressions of a place or event.
First, a description of each visit.
Denisa and I stayed in Budapest together when I arrived in the country. She’d left the kids with her mom, and we had two days to explore the city on our own. (Well, more like one day, seeing as how on the first, I was still very jet lagged.) We stayed in one of the nicest hotels in the city. (Easy to do, when the city is fairly inexpensive. I think our hotel was about $150 a night.) It had a wonderful breakfast included each morning, air conditioning, modern facilities, and was very conveniently placed.
We spent our time going to different restaurants and exploring the city, walking 10 miles the one full day we were there. We had dinner at a lovely Hungarian restaurant with live music. We tried different ice cream shops and food trucks. It was an adventure, and tons of fun. Budapest seemed quite safe, friendly, and modern.
On our second visit, we were with our kids, and we met up with my sister and her family. 13 of us in all. We stayed in an apartment that was also close to downtown. It was fairly modern, if spartan. It had air conditioning, but the building itself had seen better days. (One of my nieces was startled by a rat running down the stairs as she was heading back one day.) No elevator, and it was quite a hike to get to our rooms. (Three flights of stairs, and then my own room was another two flights up.)
We spent our days going to actual places. Visited Parliament (gorgeous!), cathedrals, and parks. Budapest still felt safe and friendly, and the kids all had a great time. It was much more hectic than when it had just been Denisa and I, but that was to be expected.
On our third trip, we stayed one night, right before we left on an early flight in the morning. The apartment was downtown, but it was in a building that was poorly lit and in bad condition. The “air conditioning” advertised was in reality two old fans. The room was sweltering at night, and I couldn’t stand up in the shower (the ceiling was too low). It took a half hour for us to check in.
The city felt much colder, somehow. Darker. Less safe. We still had a good time, but really only when we went back to the places we’d been before.
If I’d gone to Budapest only one time, my experience of the city might have been very different, depending on where I’d stayed and what I’d seen and who I’d seen it with. But it was the same city, each time. I kept asking the kids what their favorite city was. Vienna came up a lot, and I think a fair bit of that had to do with the fact that our first night there was perfect. Beautiful apartment. A subway ride into the heart of town, where we saw Stephansdom and then walked to the old Rathaus, where there was a food and film festival going on. We ate under the stars and watched opera on the big screen. It was fantastic food and great atmosphere.
A vacation isn’t just where you go. It’s who you go with. What you eat. Where you stay. What you do. It’s the weather. Your health. The other people you meet. A few bad or great experiences one way or another can really skew the whole experience. In the future, I think I’ll be more ready to spend a bit more money to ensure good accommodations, as having a solid home base makes a huge difference. Our first two places were great. The third . . . not so much.
I remember seeing Dublin. We stayed way outside the city in a chain hotel, taking the bus thirty minutes in each time we wanted to see anything. I’m glad I’m at the point where I can spend more to be able to have a better experience, but it’s important to remember that this extends beyond vacation and into everyday life. The way we experience our towns and our jobs can be heavily influenced by what we can afford (or not afford) to do. Where we can afford to live. What we can afford to eat.
If someone ever tells you about the experiences they’re having in a place or with a person, never dismiss them because they conflict with what you’ve seen or done. Remember how complex everything can be, and listen.
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