Don’t you love when a city surprises you?

On planes, in hostels, randomly on the street.. People love to give you advice about the places they’ve been. I whip out my pen and ever-handy notebook to jot down their suggestions for cities I know I’ll be visiting in the near future. And then- when I’m finally headed to that city- I go back, revisit and research their tips.

Just kidding.

I never look at them again.

It’s an appealing thought though– to take some insider knowledge and use it to enhance your visit. But the truth is, I actively avoid researching places before I go. I like the surprise, the non-bias introduction, the totally blind first date with a city I only know through a mutual friend.

But my preconceived notions always come bouncing out of the nooks and crannies of my mind and form expectations I didn’t even realize I had. It’s as though I have a little ‘Budapest’ folder in my brain where I store every picture I’ve ever seen, story I’ve heard, article I’ve read, fact I’ve learned, tidbit I’ve noted.. they all get filed away in this folder and combine into a supposition (whether I like to admit I have it or not).

My file for Budapest went something like this:

  • Eastern European
  • Big City
  • It used to be Soviet, right?
  • Danube River
  • Heard Good Things
  • That George Ezra song..

…that’s about it.

Not surprisingly (considering I pretty much thought of it as a cool, big, Eastern European city with a river) I associated it with the only other Eastern, riverside city I’d been to.. Prague.

And I’m glad I did.

Because my biggest surprise with Budapest was how entirely different they are. If Prague is dark and buzzing, Budapest is light and leisurely. Prague hides behind a poker face while Budapest lays all its cards on the table.

Budapest isn’t what you expect.

But everything else I’ll let you find out for yourself.