After Hours

Budapest: My personal wishing well

There is a church in the castle district where I like to go everyday. A church, or what remains of it. It used to be the church of Mary Magdalene, built in the 13th century. Today it’s just a bunch of rocks and a tower, which was restored only last year. I go there everyday, even if only for a few minutes. It is amazing the sense of peace you can breathe among walls that do not exist anymore. Even if it is open to the public, it has a ghostly feel to it. No one is there. Only me, and sometimes my books. I can’t help wondering who built it and what kind of people used to come here. A church, independently of which religion you belong to, is a place of hope. It is the place where people leave their prayers and wishes, in the hope that they will be granted. I simply love sitting on one of the rocks. It is like I am collecting all the wishes of all those who have been here over the centuries. This is what brings me back every day.

People always ask me why I live in Budapest. People from all over the world dream about Italy, the bel paese (beautiful country) as we call it: the sea, the food, the architecture, the natural landscapes. As well as the good coffee, a friendly mood and beautiful girls. How could I possibly leave this dream behind me, and adventure myself into a “dark, communist land, full of thieves, prostitutes and gypsies” (literally quoting some friends of mine)? Well, all that glitters is not gold, and sometimes uncharted lands are those which offer the most wonderful opportunities.

The first time I heard about Hungary I had to check on Google Maps where it actually was. Aside from studying the Austrian-Hungarian Empire at school and watching the Princess Sissi’s movies every Christmas, I admit I knew very few things about this country. But I was pleasantly surprised. I was still studying at university so the chance to move to another country arrived just in the middle of something I was not thinking to interrupt. I called my parents and I told them: I am moving to Hungary for three months. What? When?, they replied. I am leaving tomorrow.

They weren’t surprised. I often come up with strange ideas, but rarely I see them through. This time, it was maybe just a way out from a routine I was despising or perhaps it was just the right thing to do, so I took this chance.

The first week in Hungary? Most people would say that the first few days in a foreign country are terrible. A house that is not yours, shared with people you don’t know; a language difficult to understand; a uncomfortable pillow and a wardrobe with someone else’s smell.

But I liked it. I liked that my room had someone else’s smell, that told a story other than mine. I loved to live with other guys, cooking together, sharing stories over a glass of wine. I enjoyed speaking a language that no one understood in this country so far away from home: my own. I lived in Rome, in Paris, in London, but Budapest is the only place I could call home.

And three months became three years. The most wonderful things happened over this time. I found my dream job, one I always wanted and for which I sacrificed many things. I found the love of my life, who I never thought would be waiting for me 1,240 km away from where I used to daydream about love. I met new people, made new friends. And I adopted a dog, who makes me laugh everyday.

Then I lost some friends, and I lost interest in some things. When the new routine simply replaces the old one, it seems the adventure is over. I started to think about all the things I left behind. My old life that forgot me. But I didn’t forget it. I didn’t forget my family, my old friends, my old habits. They are all still here, in a heart that had to grow bigger, to make space for new things. Moving to another country can make you lose many things. But I found the most important thing: myself. Budapest taught me how to live on my own and with myself. I learnt how to cook and how to make a washing machine work without calling my mom every day. I learnt how to do the things I like, even if no one else is interested in them. I learnt that my legs can go to museums by themselves, they don’t need another pair of legs to keep them company. I started to enjoy my own company.

So how can I make these lives coexist? Well, I am sure I am not the first expat who has these feelings. And I won’t be the last. Maybe someone else made this wish already. That’s why you can find me every day, there at my wishing well.