[Editor’s Note: Though you’ll notice that Lauren wrote this prior to her travels, we’re posting it after her trip, so we can include Lauren’s photographs from Vienna and Budapest.]
There are few things I enjoy more than visiting a new city. The new sites, smells, flavors, and languages all give me an electric feeling. I buzz with excitement. I love the blank canvas that is an unexplored city.
But, if I had to choose something I love more than my first time in a city, I would say the time leading up to getting there. The time spent learning as much as I possibly can about that city, finding any travel writing people have done about it, figuring out where I’m going to stay, what I want to see, what kinds of food I will get to try. I love the anticipation it builds, and also the background knowledge it helps me to have of the places I visit. When I haven’t yet been to a place, everything is completely open to my imagination and what I can find online or in a book. I don’t yet know how suffocatingly hot it gets in the middle of the afternoon, or how the fish market smells, or how beautifully green the parks really are. I don’t know for sure how much I will or will not like the place.
In less than a week, I will be heading off on a five-day trip to Vienna and Budapest. I have never been to either city, the list of people I know who have been is pretty short. So I’ve had to turn to other resources for what to do/see/expect while I’m there.
I first got the idea for this trip in the European history class I am currently taken. I’ve never taken European history before (small town public school problem, I suppose), so this was my first real introduction to the pre-World War I Austro-Hungarian empire. We didn’t talk about the culture of the place at all, but the fact that this region of the world—which I had never thought that much about before—had once ruled so much of it. I decided I had to see it for myself. So I booked a couple of plane tickets and one bus ticket and started to plan my trip. I got in touch with the few people I know who’ve been there and heard everything they had to say, and then I took to the Internet.
Travel essays are a traveler’s best friend. It was easy enough to find writing on Vienna. “Return to Vienna: Who Says You Can’t Go Home Again,” by Janna Graber is my favorite so far about that city. The way she describes the culture, and the way Vienna became her home while she was there, has filled me with an ache to experience the same things. I won’t have the time she did, but who knows, maybe I will feel something similar?
Budapest, on the other hand, was a lot harder to find essays about. It took a piece published in The Telegraph, for me to find anything that wasn’t a tourist guide to the city. “Just Back: Check Mate in Budapest,” by Ally Gale is a short blurb that won The Telegraph’s travel writing competition back in May of 2015. In less than 500 words, Gale paints a short, vivid picture of the tiniest piece of Hungarian society. Even though her essay tells nothing of the culture of Budapest, it makes me want to do nothing more than sit at the train station and see if someone will invite me to a game of chess. Her story could have taken place in any city, but now it is inextricably linked to Budapest and it has flavored the way I look at the city, and the way I will explore it.
With those essays stuck in my head, and a few Wikipedia searches on what to eat and see saved on my phone, I’m ready to go and explore. Maybe I’ll even add to the limited travel writing on Budapest.
Editorial Assistant Lauren Wilson is a junior at Concordia College, double-majoring in English writing and global studies. After study abroad experiences to Scotland, England, and France, she’s pursuing her interests in travel writing. She’s spending her junior year abroad: Fall 2015 in India, Spring 2016 in Ireland, and Summer 2016 in Australia. She will be posting monthly about being a writer-in-progress abroad.