I have had some amazing opportunities to travel for my job, and I like to write about on here when I can. While so many of us are cooped up in our houses and apartments for the foreseeable future, I thought it would be a good time to look back on some past trips that I never got around to writing about. I’m hoping it might vicariously satisfy some people’s need for a change of scenery. I decided to kick things off with my adventures in Budapest, which I returned from exactly four years ago this week. Given Hungary’s recent and drastic shift towards authoritarianism—a situation that has only grown worse int he COVID-19 crisis—it’s also a bittersweet trip to recall.
The Saddest Dog in the World.
The hardest part of leaving for trips is breaking my dog’s heart. Leaving for Budapest was no different. I captured a good moment of him being sad at me while my suitcase stood packed by the door. Thankfully we had my new roommates dog, Chomsky, to help keep him company. I can’t remember if I read any books or watched any movies on the plane, but I distinctly recall writing in my journal. I had just broken up with my ex of four years, or, as I have since come to see it, he and I finally acknowledged a break-up that had happened a full year earlier. I could make an unending playlist of breakup songs that encompass where my head was at, but “Bedbugs” by The Limousines should do the trick. I was emerging from a years-long grey area, and so I wrote out a list of reasons I didn’t want to work things out. I remember looking down at the clouds while penning three full pages. I’ve gone back and read it several times since. It’s there whenever I need to be reminded me that it’s possible for a relationship to work on paper but utterly fail in practice. People change and grow apart. Sometimes love is not enough to make it stick.
Michael Jackson Memorial Tree.
It was a Monday afternoon by the time I arrived in the city. I never sleep on planes, so I was on something like hour 36 without sleep. I spotted a tree covered in Michael Jackson pictures from the cab and made a mental note to find my way back to it. I took a longer nap than I had intended to, and it was dark out by the time I finally did get out to do some exploring. Even though many of the regular businesses were shuttered for a bank holiday, I was immediately taken by the city. The way it lit up along the Danube and its uneven blend of both old and new architecture. It was a city with stories and scars and character. It was a city brimming with history and yet it was completely new to me. I found a place to eat dinner, discovered that they don’t care much for the Euro in Hungary, and then made my way back to the hotel for some more sleep.
Buda Castle and The Chain Bridge over the Danube.
I began taking long walks to work in the morning, even though the office was just a few blocks from my hotel. This gave me plenty of time to explore. I took pictures of small monuments, Hungarian signage, and bas-relief murals with weird mustaches. I lucked out with some unseasonably warm early spring weather during my trip, and so I took full advantage of it. On my second evening there I hiked up to the Citadella at the top of Gellert Hill. I hadn’t planned on taking a hike, but realized that I might as well go all the way to the top once I was there. The view was stunning, with Buda’s hills on one side of the Danube towering over the flat plains of Pest on the other. I took a selfie that went on to become my profile picture for a long time.
Selfie at the Citadella at the top of Gellert Hill.
I loved the street markets in Budapest. I ate Hungarian Goulash from a bread bowl. I tried rabbit for the first time. I discovered that I genuinely like Palinka so long as I like the fruit that it’s distilled from. I tried lots of new beers. One of my favorite discoveries were these baked sweets they had everywhere in the street markets (pictured below). I never got an official name for them, but the best way I can think to describe them is as marzipan donut holes. I couldn’t get enough of them. I bought some to bring back as gifts but ended up eating them all myself. I’m not sorry about it.
Sweets at the street markets.
Most of my initial exploring was done at night, but I stayed for the full weekend so I could really get to see the city in full. I ended up doing one of those Hop-on/Hop-off bus tours. It was a convenient way to get around and get an idea of which places I wanted to spend more time with. I made friends with Ivan, who was visiting from Bulgaria with some friends. We explored the Buda Castle and the surrounding city. Most of my time had been spent on the Pest side of things, so it was nice getting to see things on the other side of the river. We met up again later for some drinks with another one of his friends, and I got to see some of the gay nightlife and drag scene of Budapest. It was a really wonderful night.
Selfie with Ivan in Buda.
On my second full day, I went to the House of Terror. It is the former headquarters of the Arrow Cross Party (Hungarian Nazi Party) as well as the former home of the State Protection Authority (or AVH, similar to the Soviet Union KGB). Today it is a museum that stands as a powerful reminder of the horrors that took place within its walls. The first part of the museum tour was made up of some pretty standard exhibits, but the most powerful part came when I ended up in a slowly descending elevator. While the elevator moved us down into the basement, a video played describing the crude method of hangings that took place there. I emerged from the elevator into the claustrophobic basement where the prisoners were held and executed. It was almost surreal when I finally reemerged into the sunlight of the warm spring day. The House of Terror certainly earns its name.
Outside the House of Terror.
I spent my last night in Budapest walking around the city. I got some dinner and took a bunch of blurry selfies overlooking the Danube at dusk. I made a note of things I might like to do given more time. My biggest regret was not going to the Manowar themed cafe. If I ever get a chance to go back, that’s on my Day 1 itinerary. I had a racist cab driver on my way to the airport who kept turning what should have been a casual conversation into his unenlightened views on people of color. I was caught off guard but I still didn’t stand for any of that shit and shut him down pretty quickly. I wish I could have done more, and I wish it was more of an insult outside fo the US to not leave a tip. I suppose it was some insight into the oncoming authoritarian slide in Hungary, which has been largely rooted in fear of refugees and immigrants. It was also an unfortunate note to end the trip on.
Evening on the Danube.
In a parallel note, it was during my trip to Hungary that my first Kickster Campaign for Dream Crasher was successfully funded. I remember getting the email notice while out for dinner, which was noontime in New York and early morning for Reed in Seattle. I remember the excitement and relief that it was over and not a complete failure. I went on to table at my first convention just a few weeks after getting back. In many ways, it feels like my life hasn’t slowed down since getting back from this trip. My first morning back in Brooklyn, I woke up cuddled next to my favorite dog and feeling grateful for the life I have.
Welcome back cuddles.