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When did Hungary begin to feel like home?

Honestly, when I left.

And then even more so when I returned.

We always remember things more fondly after a bit of space, I think. When I lived in Budapest and was dealing with Central European culture on a daily basis it was easy to feel bogged down and annoyed. I absolutely adored the city and my international family that formed around me during my two years in Budapest, but Hungarian culture itself was always a struggle for me.

Budapest the city was my “home” when I lived there, I did call it that, but it was only because of my support system there that I felt this way. The metropolitan area was home because that’s where my friends, international family, church community, fellow volunteers, etc. were located. In an abstract sense it was my home, but not in the practical sense. Despite living there for so long, it didn’t physically feel like my own until after I left.

Spending some time away was exactly what I needed to fall in love with the city all over again. After being gone for around eight months, returning to Budapest felt like slipping back into my favorite worn-in lounge clothes after running errands the whole day – it was oh so comfortable and incredibly familiar. I stepped off the plane and already had forints (the Hungarian currency) in my pocket along with a few spare public transit tickets (left over that I found at the bottom of a purse) and I was off to the city, no map needed. I instinctively recalled the Hungarian I had learned during my time there and weaved through the crowds easily with my luggage as I headed downtown to my apartment for the week.

My ten days there felt like coming home in a way that I never could have anticipated. I knew that I felt comfortable in the city when I was living there, but upon my return I realized just how well I knew the area and thus how self-sufficient I could be.

I easily remembered all the public transit routes, knew the best times to visit all the tourist traps to get good photos and avoid large crowds, which rooftop bar to visit for the best sunset vibes, etc.

Living in Budapest for two years is the longest I’ve ever spent in one place during my adult life. It is the city that I know best and the place that has molded both me and my life calling in unexpected and intense ways.

When I visit the city now, I am able to pick and choose my activities so that I’m surrounded by my favorite places and people – fully able to experience the city without being dragged down by the day-to-day stresses of actually living there.

I’m planning a trip back in the fall, one last visit to see my international family before I move back to the US, and I can’t wait. Budapest is a city of all questions and no answers, and honestly I love that about it.