in the blaring sounds of live music, beer soaked bar scenes and late night debauchery only to retreat and recline in the luxuries of her downtown flat before waking up the next day to do it all over again. It’s been a hectic pace, but we relish the rush of life in the heart of the city and it wouldn’t have been the same without our lovely host. She’s taken in two strangers with nothing but a tale and some trust, thanks to couch surfing, and in a short span of time we’ve grown to be close friends. So close in fact, she’s invited us to her hometown of Esztergom to stay with her family in their rural villa. We wake up early to pack our things and say farewell to her flat and her cat, a sweet Siamese with the old soul of a Buddhist and the curious eyes of a child. A short walk to the train station, three five dollar tickets and one sleepy ride across the countryside and we arrive amidst the slow rolling golden hills of northern Hungary - pastoral and peaceful. It’s around noon when we walk in the door, and her mom already has four pots simmering on the stove
and wine glasses at the ready. The smell of homemade goulash smacks us in the face the minute we step foot inside, and our stomachs growl in anticipation. I immediately see the resemblance between mother and daughter. Overwhelming generosity, a warm welcoming smile, dark sultry looks and the insatiable urge to care for others. She sits us down with a flourish of her hands, pours us palinka shots to whet our appetites and proceeds to lay out dish after dish of delicious home cooked food. We couldn’t be happier - welcomed into her home with open arms and genuine Hungarian hospitality. After stuffing our faces with seconds and thirds, and enjoying a couple libations with our new surrogate mother, we set off into the hot country sun to wander the quaint village and see what it had to offer. One of the oldest towns in Hungary, Esztergom was the former capital, the site of their first king’s crowning and home to one of the largest basilica’s in the world. Surveying this colossal monstrosity from inside and out, both experiences were just overwhelming. We had to crane our necks just to see the peaks of the highest dome, and standing inside at the center of its hollowed belly, space just seemed to expand endlessly in every direction with gilded saints and epic mosaics dancing frozen echoed scenes against the walls. It was hard to impress us after seeing all that Budapest had to offer in the ancient steeples and gothic towers, but the sheer scale of this thing just boggled the mind and left us speechless. We climbed the long, painful, spiraled
staircase as far up as it would take us and emerged at the top, bathed in sunlight and caught in the lofty breeze hundreds of feet above the earth. Walking around the bell tower and gazing at the city from a bird’s eye view gave us a whole new perspective and appreciation for this beautiful little village town she calls home. The red roofed buildings dotted the landscape, broken only by the lush greenery of well tended gardens and trees - everything perfectly framed like an old oil painting bordered on all sides by the gentle winding blue Danube. After our tour of the church and leisurely stroll around the surrounding city, we went home to find yet another surprise. Earlier that day Kitti mentioned we might have the privilege of visiting her father’s wine cellar at their guesthouse a few kilometers out of town. Our excitement was only trumped by our shock that having such a thing wasn’t even considered abnormal for the residents of this sleepy little village. We loaded the car with an impromptu picnic of local meats, cheeses, fresh baked bread, chili peppers and tomatoes, and breezed down the dusty country road to the hundred-
year old building. It was a lovely refurbished wooden home, and the first thing that greeted you as you stepped foot inside was a stairwell framed by a deep green painted door with black iron fixtures in the French Bordeaux style. Past the doors and down the stone steps was a musky arched cellar made out of bricks that revealed the true age of this place, and lining each dark wine-stained wall were various casks of size and variety, each marked with a simple abbreviation for the contents inside. We uncorked a few, tried maybe four or five vintages, even one sauvignon blanc that was still in the process of fermentation, making it extra sweet, and by the end of it all we were taught a little bit more about the wine making process, feeling a bit tipsy and totally happy. Dinner on their garden patio was filled with delicious food, lighthearted laughs, tales of our travels and deep conversation about how it’s changed us these past months - all expertly translated by Kitti. By the end of the meal, even though I don’t speak the language, I felt like I was so in tune with the thoughts of these generous people and the topics of conversation that
I found myself hearing their emotions and intent through the words and gestures, and often repeating in English exactly what was just said in Hungarian, much to our host's delighted shock and amusement. We ate and drank late into the evening and retired back home to more laughter and the sharing of some embarrassing childhood photos. As we lay down to rest in their huge oak accented den, I realize this place truly feels like home. Yet again, I’m completely astounded at the generosity, kindheartedness and genuine care and compassion that we’ve been shown by complete strangers, and I count my blessings one last time before drifting off to sleep with a peaceful smile on my face and true warmth in my heart.
I'm a true Hungarian. I don’t know what it is or how it happened, maybe some lost lineage somewhere deep down the European family tree, but the language comes without thought or effort, the food smells like home and the warmth and spirit of the people resonates with me on some unstruck chord. These past few days in Budapest have been incredible. Spending time with Kitti, exploring the city on foot, soaking up the storied architecture and gorgeous sights during the day and delving deep into the heart of its raucous underground all night. We’ve tasted the city life