I first visited Budapest in 2006. It came at a tough point in my life. I had been working for the oil services company for two years at that point. I didn’t have much of a direction for my life. I knew I wasn’t happy and if I didn’t make a change I would perpetuate the unhappiness far into the future.
I had spent all summer offshore in 2006. Let me translate that for you. I was working on an oil rig, a big metal can, in arguably the most oven-like weather in the world. Though other places on earth reach higher absolute temperature values, it is humid in the Persian Gulf. The metal of the rig retains and radiates the heat as well. I remember being on one rig that had a thermometer on the rig floor. It hit 57C (135F). On top of this we had to wear a fire retardant uniform that covered our limbs, a helmet, steel-toe boots, a scuba tank, and gloves.
It was horrible. To make things even worse, we spent 45 days on standby that summer due to lack of wind. All the wells had been drilled and we had done as much work as we could. But we needed at least 5 knot wind speeds to flare the well – letting the well flow into a huge flame so measurements could be taken. The atmosphere was grim and the sense of cabin fever was everywhere.
On August 31, 2006 I was reading a book in my work cabin when I was called down to the office. A helicopter would come that afternoon and pick my team and I up and send us back to town. Another company dropped 3000m/10,000ft of cable in the well and a specialized team would need to come out and retrieve all of it. It’s a lengthy, complicated process and that specialized team needed our room to sleep. We were the first to be sent back because we couldn’t do anything until all that cable was removed.
So, a happy multi-million-dollar mistake for me anyway. I was sent back to town and I had at least 5 days off all of a sudden. It was the end of summer, so Europe sounded like a good place to go. But by this point I had been to most of Western Europe. I wanted to try something a bit further east, so I had Bucharest, Bratislava, and Budapest in my sights. In the end, I chose Budapest because a friend of mine was studying in Hungary and I’d get to see her and one of my aunts is originally Hungarian but fled during the 1956 revolution.
I think I paid $1000 for the plane ticket. It might be the most expensive round trip ticket I’ve ever purchased, actually. But I had to get out of there. I was miserable and this opportunity to leave was a gift.
I checked in to my hostel in Budapest and, by chance, the girl at the reception was a student at Ohio State University, my alma mater. She was taking a quarter off to travel. What are the chances?
I really liked Budapest. The buildings were beautiful, especially the parliament building. The language was totally different, the food was good, it was inexpensive, etc. For breakfast every morning I would go to the central market, which was a one-minute walk from my hostel. I would get some fresh pastries, or even better, freshly made chocolate wafers. When I returned to Budapest in July 2013, one of my first stops was to the central market and the same lady was selling the same fresh wafers. I bought 500g/1lb of them! 🙂 I missed them!
Still, the days I spent in Budapest back in 2006 were nice. But that trip made me realize something quite dire. Before then, the dislike I had for my job was always offset by the traveling I was able to do as a result of having it. But that trip was the first one I took where I came back and the traveling hadn’t erased my disdain for my job. I knew it was time to leave and I did a few months thereafter.
But things couldn’t be more different now in 2013.
I headed to Budapest because I had a good friend there I worked with in Denmark. I found a cheap ticket on Ryanair from Cyprus and I planned to travel overland to Turkey via several Eastern European countries I haven’t been to before.
Despite the initial shock of going from the warm and open Mediterranean culture to the cold and distant Hungarian culture, I found my groove and really enjoyed being back in Budapest. Seeing my friend was a big bonus!
I arrived quite happy and content, similarly unsure how the future will play out. But whereas in 2006 the uncertainty caused me stress and wore me down, I now confidently embrace the uncertainty knowing that the future will happen exactly how it’s supposed to and there is nothing to worry about.
I didn’t have goulash this time, but I did have some great times with my friend, some nice runs in Hungarian suburbia, and some experiences off the tourist trail. Though it was the same body walking down those familiar, historical Budapest streets, the mind controlling it couldn’t be more different.
I don’t know that this new mindset made my experience in Budapest much different. Sure, I noticed unhappy faces much more. But I think the different mindset was more a projection of myself, seeing something familiar with the same eyes, but feeling completely different about what I was seeing and about life in general.