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Budapest in Winter

Budapest in Winter

BUDAPEST, Hungary- Budapest in winter: stone cold, dour faced, medieval. I would not know where I was if it were not for my map that says Budapest across the top. I must remind myself that I have been here before. In the warm breezes and bright light of summer.

I rode an old bone shaker bicycle down from the Czech Republic and entered the city on its western flanks, and promptly got really lost in the Buda hills. Upon recovering my bearings, I found the hostel where Bicycle Luke offered to put me up for a night or two. I then dug into the city, made friends, and tried to write a story.

All three were flops.

Budapest bridge in winter

I realized that I did not like this place very much, that my circle of friends were drunks who did not really care for anyone, and that, simply put, any story written about rich kids could not really be very interesting.

I entered a Budapest that had just become a Euro-backpacker’s Mecca, I had entered a Budapest that was just thrown headlong upon the tourist map. The city was full of picture takers, beer drinkers, souvenir buyers, and young kids looking for nothing but a good time. The city’s hostel count went from a dozen to over a hundred in only a single year. The tourists were called, and they arrived in force. I picked up some work in a couple of hostels and set into finding a story in this modern monstrosity of contemporary travel.

What I found was all out debauchery.

“What do you want to do in Budapest?” I once heard a Hungarian hostel owner ask a spray faced English boy.

“I want to find debauchery,” the boy cleverly answered.

As it came to be written, debauchery, directly translated into Hungarian, means sexually abnormal. The hostel owner looked upon the boy as if he were a bit queer, but this term sums up the backpacker of Budapest well.


Sex, booze, late nights, and sex was the calling mantra of the hostel dweller here. Young kids from all over the West diverged upon Budapest to find debauchery. I thought I could find a story.

I dug in, and only found that it is difficult to weave an interesting tale out of calico thread. I could not find a story written about rich kids as being very interesting. For all of the sex, drinking, and apparent good times that were going on in the hostels of Budapest, I could not find any depth to it. There simply was no struggle.

And a story without struggle is no story at all.

After a month of note taking I packed it all in and rode my bicycle to Lake Balaton, where I sat in the woods by myself reading the Koran and thinking much simpler thoughts.

I then returned to Budapest in time to take a flight back to the USA to finish my undergraduate degree in New York City. I did this, and now I am, again, back in Budapest. This is almost the last place on earth that I want to be. Too many fallow memories, too many embarrassing attempts at story making, too much time spent in the world of the designed non-fiction. It is a good thing for me that Budapest looks nothing like it did in the summertime. I can hardly recognize this place.

I returned to the Loft Hostel to check in on my old friends Kaitie and Cliff. They were a couple of real friends from New Hampshire. I arrived a day late though, as Cliff had departed back to the States with a broken heart. I found that Kaitie had broken up with him. The bicycle that I left with Cliff was also stolen two weeks after I left Hungary. Kamila the kilometer killa – my old traveling bicycle – had the bolts of its chains cut and is gone for good. I miss that bicycle. I miss Cliff, too. I miss the pipe talk and the stale wine.

I do not miss living in hostels though. I really cannot stand these places. I think I have found the hatred that only a man who fails at writing a story can have for his subject. I hate hostels.

Budapest in winter: cold streets, cold memories.

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Filed under: Eastern Europe, Europe, Hungary, Weather

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 80 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3161 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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