Every time I visit a new city, I let it wash over me. I let it fool me. Impress me. In whatever way it wants.
It's a fresh start. For both the city and myself. Our pasts are predetermined. But the present is still untouched. We can choose to be whoever we want to be.
We could follow a new routine. Abandon old habits. Make outlandish food choices. Wear silly hats. Make mistakes. Feel semi-integrated in a new societal structure. Get bored. Or not.
That's the charm of being in a place where no one knows you. Where there is lack of judgment. Where you can shed your old skin like a Moroccan cobra and still be yourself. Liberated. Yet terrified by choices.
Photo Credit: Mona Singh
Living temporary lives
I am a tourist by nature. Some of my best education in life has come in the form of travelling. And reading. And drinking coffee.
All of these pursuits have allowed me to experience life through different perspectives. For instance, living vicariously through a character in a book. Succumbing to absolute anonymity in a new town. Or simply sitting in a café observing the most obscure patterns of human behaviour and condition.
However temporary this arrangement might be, I still think it's incredible to be a tenant to such a host of feelings, encounters, experiences and lives. All in a single lifetime.
I recently spent a week in Budapest. Soaking my sore muscles in thermal baths. Drinking the local Hungarian Fröccs (a blend of wine and soda inducing a poetic buzz). Experiencing the famous ruin bars. Savouring the bouquet of smells at street food markets. Binge-eating. And visiting the most elite cafes of Europe.
Being an idiot
Here's a thing. I am a sucker for walking tours. I like doing all the touristy stuff. Queuing up for the clichéd clubs, cathedrals and museums in any city. That's a perfect way to know what locals like to avoid.
Years of travelling have not made me any less of an idiot. I still get ripped off by cab drivers. I gain holiday weight without an ounce of guilt. And I take lousy pictures that never make it to my Facebook wall.
My real romance with a city begins when I am past the guidebook to-dos and to-sees. And I find the time to wander off aimlessly through the narrow alleys or the bustling boulevards promising nothing but indifference. Rejoicing in the ordinary things that have no historical significance or touristic value.
These are the things that never make it to any list. They are part of the dull landscape of its residents. But for an explorer, they are indeed the fascinating discoveries or bizarre anomalies that travelogues forget to mention.
Photo Credit: Mona Singh
An antique bookshop, a homely café run by a bunch of journalists looking for a place to write or a pop-up garden for the summer months. That to me was Budapest.
Every city has its own pace. Some just take longer to open up. Offering a hesitant handshake in the beginning. While others take you by the hand, pull you closer and give you a tight hug the moment your plane hits the runway.
Budapest took its time. It grew on me with each passing day. Years from now, I may not be able to recount the landmark places I visited there. But the distinct feeling and smell of living a like carefree soul, even if it was for a week, will stay etched in my memory.
And every time someone will bring up Budapest, I'll remember the little quirks:
That I came back home with one leg much browner than the other. For I forgot to wear sun screen on my right leg on the most sunniest day in Budapest.
That my partner took maximum pictures on the day I wore a summer dress back to front.
That I had the best pastrami sandwich at a restaurant I accidentally walked into around the Jewish quarter. I think it was called Mazel Tov.
And that if you want to sleep with a Hungarian man, you must not douse yourself in too much perfume. For he is likely to say: Why are you are so scared of your body smell? Go shower. Then we have sex. (I didn't make that up. I actually read it in a book.)