While this blog was created with the intention of providing insight into my cadet training, I would be remiss if I did not also include the unique opportunities afforded to me – like extending the abroad program an extra week in order to explore Eastern Europe on my own terms.
When presented with 1/3 of a continent, how does one choose where to go? Blindly.
My overnight train (honestly, the best I have slept all summer) brought me to Budapest-Keleti station in the early morning, where I found myself suddenly sweating – but not due to the thirty degree temperature difference from Krakow. My first two hours in Hungary were spent in Starbucks – spare me your criticisms – frantically trying to communicate with my bank over incredibly public and unsecured wifi. I would have returned to Poland, the land of authorized ATM transactions, except that I couldn’t buy the ticket.
In hindsight, my frantic efforts were comical and maybe even deserved. But eventually, my debit card pulled through and I began my sunny trek into town with 7,000 Forint in my pocket. (The Starbucks latte cost 1,550, for reference.)
Refreshed after the chaos of the morning, I left my Airbnb with minimal direction – my knowledge of Budapest limited to a highly-rated central market and thermal baths located throughout the city. The ambient environment led me away from the latter, so I made my way towards the Danube with little to no expectations.
I could not have planned it more perfectly (had I actually tried), because the moment I laid eyes on the river I was forever changed. Not one to display excessive emotion, I actually squealed at the beauty of it all as I took in the view – and promptly raced my way onto the bridge.
Like a bug to a light, it took no more than a split second to decide that I needed to be on top of that mountain – and so I started my ascent. 50 minutes later, having been sidetracked into paying for an audio tour of a cave church (which cost less than half of my latte, in all fairness), I reached the statue on top of the mountain. Breathless from both the hike and the view, I could do nothing but stare out at my surroundings – across the river, Pest sprawled as far as the eye could see, with little to no perceivable layout or design. Around me, Buda was equally magnificent – Buda Castle, and beyond it (or so I later learned) Fisherman’s Bastion were perched at a similar elevation.
I was in love – and with only a loose understanding of the language, people and exchange rates – I had just discovered my new favorite city on Earth. My two days in Budapest rival any other adventure thus far. Once again, the size of our little world (and of Eastern Europe, apparently) brought a friend to explore with my second day in town.
This post is being written as I make my way North into Alaska. Forgive any delays incurred – I’m told service in the Behring Sea can be spotty.