The past couple of weeks have flown by. The last month, really, has come and gone before I could even realize how quickly the time was passing. With the impending return home, I found myself grasping on to the tiniest details, doing my best to cement them to memory: the view on the walk home, the hill behind my apartments, the smell of my favorite bakery. Even the sound of the Danish language was something I knew I probably wouldn’t hear again for awhile, so I clung to each syllable and tried to memorize the simple words and phrases I have learned. Sometimes you realize it’s the smallest things that you want to remember the most.
I was also fortunate enough to go on a couple trips before heading back to Arizona: Budapest, Hungary and Reykjavik, Iceland. I couldn’t have chosen two more dissimilar cities to end my European adventure, but I enjoyed both for different reasons.
Before visiting, I didn’t know that either side of the Danube were historically separate cities: Buda and Pest (hence the name Budapest.) Our accommodation (found through Airbnb, which I highly recommend) was centrally located in Pest, in an older apartment building with a creaky front gate. The apartment was owned by an extremely friendly young Hungarian couple who shared their home with us for the 4 nights that we stayed — a wonderful reprieve from the hostels that I had become so accustomed to. There was a real shower, a real kitchen with a fridge AND a stove.
Hungary is very affordable. Although this isn’t the only reason I enjoyed Budapest, it definitely played a large factor in our ability to make this trip possible. I rarely ate at restaurants while in Denmark, simply because I couldn’t afford it. A decent meal could easily be between $12 and $15. Of course, while in Budapest, we frequented the grocery store for breakfast and lunch items, but we were definitely more willing to treat ourselves to meals out. Hungarian food was delicious, rich and came in servings more fitting for a family than one person.
Budapest was a beautiful city to walk through. The Danube is traversed by several bridges– the most famous being the Chain Bridge which leads to a dramatic incline on which Buda castle perches. I was fascinated by the diverse architecture of the city; it had obviously been demolished and rebuilt several times (it has seen its fair share of invasions). My favorite buildings were several of the apartments in an early 20th century art-deco style, but contrasted with the more modern buildings that were often painted in bright colors. Then, of course, there’s the famous Hungarian Parliament building that really can’t be described as emitting any sort of architectural style, but is an impressive and elaborate combination of several. It has earned its place on almost all postcards depicting the city.
On our last night in the city, we decided to check out the famed “ruin pub.” I really had no idea what to expect, but I was totally blown away. The one we chose to go to, Szimpla, was the original ruin pub in Budapest, and led to an explosion of pubs built with a similar DIY / communitarian aesthetic. Although there are several in the city, this one must have been hard to match in impressiveness. The pub, which housed a wine, beer and cocktails bar, along with several stages and cozy rooms for socializing, was built into a dilapidated warehouse. Sections of the ceiling were missing, but covered with vibrant tapestries and curtains. Colorful lights and mismatched vintage furniture lent to the eccentric atmosphere. Jeremy commented how it looked as if the Apocalypse had occurred, and the pub had been built with anything that was left over. Sadly, it was too dark to take any pictures, but I won’t forget the experience for a long time.
I knew I had to stop in Iceland on my way home. There was no way I could not take advantage of the airline Icelandair’s offer of a layover of up to 7 days with no additional airfare fee. So, after packing up my apartment in Aalborg and saying my last goodbyes to Denmark — a bittersweet experience — I flew over to Reykjavik for some last minute adventuring before I returned home.
I have to say, if you’re doing some solo traveling, Iceland is a wonderful place to do so. Reykjavik is a rather quiet city in comparison to other European capitals, but is quite possibly the most stunning I’ve seen, with its edges cozied up to the Esja volcanic range. I found myself just enjoying the view in quiet contemplation. After completing a semester abroad, away from home, it was a good place to gather my thoughts and begin adjusting to the big changes that are to come.
KEX hostel, recommended to me by a friend, was truly great place to see Iceland from. It was very comfortable, with a lively sitting room and restaurant/bar. The staff was helpful and the travelers were equally as friendly. Here’s the thing– people don’t really come to Iceland for Reykjavik, but come for the incredible nature that surrounds the city. There were several who were staying at the hostel for one night before embarking on elaborate camping and hiking adventures. I couldn’t help but be a bit envious as I listened in on their excited planning and mapping.
Of course, I had to also get out of the city for a short while. On the first day, I went on a bus tour to the Golden Circle, which takes you to all the major destinations — Geysir, Gulfoss waterfall, and Pingvellir National Park — all of which are worth seeing, of course. The particular tour that I went on also stopped at a local tomato greenhouse where we learned how fresh produce is grown and distributed in Iceland. The greenhouse is almost entirely heated by steam from pipes deep in the ground, as are almost all the homes in Iceland.
Iceland is definitely the most unusual place I have visited. It has a completely unique landscape that varies from snowcapped mountain ranges, to fields of wildflowers, to dark lava formations that look like they’re straight out of a science fiction movie. Everywhere I turned I was met with more impossible beauty; I couldn’t believe I had found myself on this strange island in the middle of the Atlantic. How could a landscape be so diverse, yet every corner containing something eliciting awe? My curiosity piqued, I resisted the urge to ditch the tour group and wander endlessly.
While in Reykjavik, I found myself stressing about souvenirs. Which is the silliest thing to stress about, and even more silly while in Iceland. I kept anxiously searching for the perfect item to bring home, to commemorate my time abroad. There’s a plethora of expensive trinket shops in the center of Reykjavik, and I spent a couple hours just worrying over what to buy. After buying a couple smaller things as gifts I suddenly realized what a destructive cycle of impulse and disappointment I had found myself in. There was no better way to escape the mist of consumerism than to step into the chilly arctic air, take a deep breath and appreciate what I was surrounded by in that moment, which was something more valuable than anything I could have bought at a store.