The First Week in Budapest

It is hard moving of course; I already knew it would be difficult before I had even settled on the place. Already, I can admit that there are lots of things I miss about Turkey, and I’m sure it’ll take some time before I stop referring to Istanbul as “back home.” I’m sure there are many things I won’t even realize I’m missing until later, but most of all, right now I miss the familiarity; the way I knew how things worked in Istanbul, and now I’ve got to start all over again and learn this entirely new place. People often don’t mention the hardest part about moving to a new place; that it’s the simple things are the most difficult. It’s not the culture or the money, or finding a job, but the small things you take for granted. In Istanbul I knew how to pay my phone bill, and what to do when I ran out of data. I knew how to order food online, and call a taxi. I had my bank accounts and internet banking FINALLY set up so I didn’t have to bother going into the bank. I knew the metro lines by heart, and using the ferries felt like second nature. I knew the people on my street, and knew the Turkish words for the things I need at the grocery store. There are so many things you take for granted when you get to know a place. So it’s the small things that make starting over hard. Sure, I pick things up quickly, but I’ll be honest, sometimes I just can’t help thinking, why did I leave when finally everything had just started making sense? After almost two years of struggling with so many of those small things in Istanbul, I finally had a good thing going; and here I’ve gone and left it all to start the struggle all over again.

However, despite the difficulty of moving and the occasional nostalgia I have for home, I am feeling generally pretty optimistic about this move. I have been in Budapest for approximately one week now, and am certainly not regretting the move yet. Having lived in Turkey for the last two years, I am finding Budapest to be a breath of fresh air. The atmosphere here is worlds away from Turkey; people here seem fun and outgoing, the city is both lively and relaxed in a way that Istanbul isn’t, and I just feel so much more comfortable here. Not that I didn’t feel comfortable in Istanbul, because as I’ve just described, after struggling with all those small things, I did arrive at a place where living in Istanbul was easy for me. However, a week after touchdown, I certainly didn’t feel as comfortable there as I do now here.

The first thing that I noticed is that I’m not noticed. For the first time in two years, I don’t feel eyes following me down the street or looking me up and down in judgement or even curiosity. While this wasn’t always the case in Istanbul, I generally felt some heavy stares at least once a day. Here though, I don’t feel that I stand out as a foreigner; nobody would know until I open my mouth to speak, and even when I do, nobody cares that I’m speaking English. Nobody cares that I’m not covering my hair or my arms, or wearing a mildly low cut shirt. Perhaps this sounds strange, but I realized that while I lived in Turkey, I would periodically find myself self-consciously pulling up my shirt to cover my cleavage, or pulling my skirt down to cover more while I was walking down the street. I didn’t do this consciously, I only noticed a few months ago that I was even doing this, and I’m not sure when it started. Maybe that’s not normal and it’s just me, or maybe it’s where I lived, which was quite a conservative neighborhood, in which I was often one of or the only uncovered woman, but living in Istanbul certainly affected the way I dress and the way I carry myself in public. However, since I’ve been here, it’s like an immense pressure has been released and I can finally walk down a street without a mild case of paranoia.

The other thing I noticed right off the bat is the drinking. Of course, having moved from a Muslim country, and having lived prior to that in another Muslim country, I had forgotten how relaxed things are in Europe and how normal drinking is. Where I come from, drinking is natural, and it’s a normal thing to have a beer after work or with your dinner on a day to day basis; in Istanbul this was certainly not the case. I can certainly understand and respect that, but it certainly takes away from the atmosphere of a place. Here, it’s as though the whole city is a beer garden, people are out having drinks on the grass in the parks, on the steps of the buildings, and on the boats. There are bars everywhere, and parties all the time, and nobody seems to care if it’s past 5 o’clock or not when they order a beer. It’s just so relaxing, comparing with the very conservative attitudes in Turkey. Of course you CAN get a beer in Istanbul, in a great many places; but it’s just never been, or will ever be, a drinking culture. This is in probably many ways a good thing, but it certainly doesn’t have the fun, carefree atmosphere that is abundant here.

Something I think I will love here is how small it is. I’m sorry to say, to any who think this is a big city, it isn’t. Istanbul is massive, and in comparison, many cities look small, and this one seems especially small and quaint, made all the smaller by the easy network of trams, metros and buses. It is so incredibly easy to get around this city. There are no traffic jams (or none that I’ve noticed yet), the metros and trams run often, and if you don’t know the public transit yet, you can walk literally everywhere you’d like to in under an hour. Personally, I love walking in a new city, and I’ve found that it is so easy to do here. There are no hills, staircases, or huge highways you can’t cross, and I haven’t felt uncomfortable walking alone anywhere at any time. Everywhere is easy to get to for a pedestrian here, and with the help of google maps, it’s small enough and organized well enough that you won’t be lost easily.

These may be the first things I noticed here, but there are many more things that make me think this will be a great place to live. The diversity in people, as well as cuisine, is certainly a change I’m loving; I finally live somewhere that has Chinese food, sushi, Indian food and Mexican food on the same street. I have had no problem with communication so far; everyone seems to know at least some basic English, which is a huge and very welcome change after Istanbul. There is a long and colorful history in this city that I can’t wait to learn about, as well as some pretty interesting recent World War/post World War history. I look forward to checking out all the sites, and museums that this beautiful city has to offer. And perhaps most importantly, the Hungarian culture seems so rich and vibrant that I can’t wait to learn more and see more of this new home of mine. So while moving can be hard and seems like a bit of a struggle at times, I think it is always worth it, and in this case, might not be so difficult this time.