Győr posed a new problem for me: What do you do when you don’t like where you travelled to?
I’m not in a place to complain—hell, I was in Hungary’s sixth largest city for three days and didn’t really enjoy my time there. Boo hoo. Not a very compelling story. And certainly plenty of people do enjoy their time in Győr—there were enough old adult tourists lounging back in restaurant chairs lining the city streets from dusk until dawn on the daily to fill a substantial portion of one of your classic Floridian one-week Caribbean luxury cruise liners. So my beef with Győr is personal, not objective, and that makes it uninteresting because it was nothing but my own subjective traveler’s taste.
And so we return to the opening question: How does a traveller address his own distaste for his arrived-at destination? I mean, this is one of the end-all-be-all bummers of backpacking and it certainly must plague more people than ungrateful old me, so, I want to take a minute to write about how I “revisited” Győr.
One and a half days in Győr was enough for me. The “city” was so small I walked its entire downtown circumference in under an hour. Mostly everything except restaurants were shut down and empty. (I later learned this was because it was Whit-Sunday and Whit-Monday, major Hungarian holidays. However, on the following business-day Tuesday Győr still didn’t really opened up shop). The river was low and still and sometimes stank to high-heaven. There were areas where the city felt completely empty and perhaps even eery. This is supposed to be a major developing city, and in some ways I can see the truth to that. But to me, the city just felt asleep and not worth wasting my time with. And to make things worse, the day I arrived Győr began experiencing an unprecedented wave of nightly mosquito attacks that got so bad they brought in helicopters to dust the whole city with repellent. Spoiler alert: Nothing changed.
However, after writing 10,000 words reviewing my favorite journeys in the city and looking back through the photos I had taken during my three day stay, I realized I had created plenty of fond memories throughout Győr. They were subtle memories, always off the beaten path, created opportunities rather than duplicated ones. The best involved taking pictures of local oddities I just so happened to stumble upon during my trip.
The greatest-hits list of these attractions include: a travelling book store on a wooden red cart, an abandoned steamboat station on a semi-abandoned island, seemingly endless amounts of century-old statues littered throughout the city, random secret alleyways filled with graffiti, a sculpture of a crocodile, and the coziest little teahouse I could have asked for.
After writing an article for Let’s Go partner Placepass about my affection for these urban odds and ends, I sat back, looked philosophically out the window like they do in movies, and realized that perhaps I did enjoy my time in Győr—just in the most unexpected, fifth-quarter way a traveller can enjoy his time travelling.
When I mentioned earlier that I “revisited” Győr, I’m referring to this exact moment of reflection that caused a paradigm shift in my evaluation of an entire travel experience. Travel is expensive, difficult, and demanding, and in turn we demand that it be rewarding: whether that means educative, relaxing, or indulgent. When my initial impression of Győr—the postcard version I would carry with me and broadcast when people asked “How was that little town… Oh, what’s its name?”—failed to educate me, allow me to relax, or indulge me, I was disconcerted and disappointed. Regretful, even.
What do we do when we don’t like where we traveled to? We change our evaluative paradigm. Even though my experience failed the three-pronged litmus test as demonstrated above, it succeeded with flying colors when put to another test: “Did I discover?”
What I’ve learned about myself, and perhaps about travelling in general, is that there’s always more than education, relaxation, and indulgence. There’s certainly plenty of other ways that travel can be rewarding: a change of aesthetic surroundings is one. But for me, the one beyond the big three that seems to resonate the most is just plain and simple discovery. I like to feel like the first one to see something. That describes a lot of my travler’s philosophy and disdain for larger, more kitschy attractions. Perhaps this sounds horribly blaise and culturally insensitive coming from an affluent white male, but it’s just the truth. And I suspect that on some larger level, we all like to discover. To imagine we’re the one and only one person in the history of time and space to see the sun rise at exactly this spot at exactly this time from exactly this angle. That’s just one more piece of the world we can carry around with us.
So, what do we do when we don’t like where we traveled to? Think about what you’ve discovered. The pictures that only exist in your phone, in your head, in you alone.
Any reasonable person would say bringing six books on a seven week backpacking trip through Hungary, Poland, and Czechia is just asking for a heavier backpack. Fortunately, Luke is a not-very-reasonable person. *clears throat pretentiously* He’d like you to know that six books on hand are the minimum necessary for literary inspiration — He plans on starting the Next Great American novel during his time overseas. (Send apologies to his lower back around week four). When not actively being overambitious about his future career as a *mumbles incoherently*, Luke overcommitts himself to theater, journalism, and debate. Readers should expect Luke’s journey to feature constant references to Shakespeare and David Foster Wallace, an obsession with the cardinal directions, existential angst due to the lack of Thai food in central Europe, and a perfectly European (non)-platonic love for biking. Luke will return to Harvard in the fall as a much more tan (read: sunburnt) sophomore concentrating in Social Studies and Philosophy.