Rediscovering the Misplaced Artwork of Journey

a man on a bicycle in Mezöberény
Posted: 5/16/2019 | Might 16th, 2019

Seth Kugel is the previous Frugal Traveler columnist for the New York Instances and creator of the brand new Rediscovering Journey: A Information for the Globally Curious, from which that is tailored. I’ve recognized him for years and our journey philosophy dovetails quite a bit. I learn his ebook final 12 months and thought “If I had been ever to jot down a ebook on the state of the journey trade, that is the ebook I’d write!” It’s a terrific ebook and right this moment, Seth excerpted a part of the ebook for us!

Stenciled in white block letters on a dreary cement wall in Mezöberény, a tidy however fraying city of twelve thousand within the hyperbolically named Nice Hungarian Plain, appeared the phrase:


Hours earlier, within the overcast predawn hours of a nippy January day, I had stumbled off the Bucharest-to-Budapest prepare to see what it might be prefer to spend the weekend within the reverse of a vacationer vacation spot. Mezöberény was not simply absent from guidebooks — it didn’t have a single restaurant, resort, or exercise listed on TripAdvisor, one thing that can not be stated for Mbabara, Uganda, or Dalanzadgad, Mongolia. I did have some information in town, although, because of its municipal web site: resident József Halász had just lately celebrated his ninetieth birthday.

Or that’s what Google Translate advised me. Hungarian is a Uralic language, extra intently associated to the output you would possibly get falling asleep on a keyboard than to English or German or French. That makes even fundamental comprehension a problem, as I discovered as quickly as I rushed from the prepare to the station’s restrooms and confronted the pressing want to decide on between two doorways: FÉRFI and NÖI. The authorities had apparently saved a number of forints by not splurging on stick-figure indicators.

The day had been born chilly and grey and stayed that method as I walked via the city, slowly getting my bearings, intrigued by the pre-war, pre-Communist properties and the greater than occasional bike rider — there have been nearly extra bikes than vehicles — who waved good day. However then a winter drizzle took up, inflicting an abrupt decline within the variety of cyclists even because the variety of wandering American guests held regular at one. To me, a journey day that turns wet is sort of a piece of chocolate I’ve dropped on the ground: it’s considerably much less interesting, however I’ll be damned if I’m going to throw it away.

It was within the first minutes of rain that I got here throughout that stenciled signal on an in any other case residential road. Past the wall, down a cracking, now puddle-pocked driveway, had been a dozen or so plastic barrels lined up like nuclear-waste drums. Past them, perhaps 100 ft from the place I stood, was a one-story L-shaped constructing. What was this place? Effectively, SZESZFÖZDE, apparently. However what was that?

Within the previous days (say, 2009), I’d have pulled out an English-Hungarian phrase ebook or pocket dictionary, however as a substitute, I activated worldwide roaming on my telephone, fastidiously spelled out S-Z-E-S- Z-F-O-Z-D-E, and tapped Go.

Szeszföde distillery in Mezöberény, Hungary

The less-than-lightning velocity of Nice Hungarian Plain cellular service offered a dramatic pause. After which got here my reply:


You don’t say.

I’d have guessed PRIVATE PROPERTY perhaps, or DANGER—STAY OUT, or MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS, YOU MEDDLING FOREIGNER! However a distillery? A wave of adrenaline washed down my torso as my lips curled right into a dumb-luck smile.

Two quite gruff-looking males emerged from the door, the older one smoking a cigarette and carrying a sweater and work-stained trousers that prompt Warsaw Pact 1986 greater than modern-day European Union. I waved to them, pointed to the cumbersome Canon 7D hanging from my neck, after which to the constructing. Previous-school Google Translate.

They waved me in and gave me a tour.

Inside the traditional however totally functioning distillery, the lads let me take footage as they gave me a vaguely intelligible lesson by way of pointing, expressive appears to be like, and smartphone-translated Hungarian, on how pálinka — Hungarian fruit brandy — was made.

These barrels I had seen exterior, it turned out, had been filled with fermenting pear and grape and apple juices. Inside, it was distilled one way or the other via a looping and tangled system of pipes working out of tin tanks up and alongside the partitions. It appeared just like the laboratory of a mad scientist with a penchant for cheesy linoleum flooring.

As they led me round, I engaged in that almost all intrinsic of journey actions: making an attempt to see the world from the vantage level of somebody completely totally different from me. What was their life like? Had they traveled? Who had been their dad and mom and grandparents? The language barrier that didn’t enable them to reply didn’t cease me from questioning.

After soaking in each rusty element and each glint of satisfaction within the males’s drained eyes, I typed, “Come go to me in New York” into Google Translate — laughs throughout — then headed again onto the drizzly streets of Mezöberény, completely elated.

What was so nice about this second? Positive, the szeszfözde was a neat little story for buddies, and in my case, value a number of paragraphs within the newspaper. However wasn’t it only a dirty enterprise making native hooch in a city that even most Hungarians would classify as the center of nowhere?

a man smokes a cigarette at the Szeszföde distillery in Mezöberény, Hungary

It was a terrific second as a result of I found it. Not an earth-shattering discovery within the sense of a remedy for AIDS or a beforehand unknown species of poison-spitting neon frog the dimensions of a pinky nail. Nevertheless it was 100 % surprising, 100 % actual, and 100 % mine.

Discovery was the lifeblood of journey, no less than for these of us who shun tour-bus teams and all-inclusive resorts. We used to depart house figuring out comparatively little about our vacation spot — maybe with some highlighted guidebook pages denoting main sights and native tipping etiquette, a listing of suggestions culled from well-traveled buddies, or articles copied and pasted right into a Phrase doc. For the formidable, perhaps a notional really feel for the native historical past or tradition gleaned pre-trip from a historic novel.

Past that, we had been on our personal.

Paper guidebooks frozen in time helped us alongside, as did pamphlets and paper maps from vacationer data cubicles and suggestions from a resort concierge. Earlier this century, Google searches in web cafés additionally lent a hand. However in any other case, there was no alternative: You determined what to do with your personal eyes and ears, by wandering, by initiating human-to-human contact. Suggestions got here from listening to fellow vacationers’ tales over hostel or (non-Air) B&B breakfasts, getting into a store to ask instructions and ending up in a dialog with the proprietor, or catching a whiff of recent bread or scorching chilies and following your nostril.

After all, all that also occurs right this moment — however provided that you actually exit of your option to make it occur. Not solely is sort of each place on the earth documented to inside an inch of its life however that documentation — which comes dressed as each reality and opinion — is overwhelmingly and instantly out there, because of pervasive know-how. That’s nice for a lot of matters in life — medical data, how-to movies, shorter commutes. However don’t we journey to interrupt our routine? To expertise the surprising? To let the world delight us?

If we do, we have now a humorous method of displaying it. We pore over on-line opinions for weeks, plan days right down to the half hour, after which let GPS and the collected knowledge of the unwise lead us blindly. We imply nicely — nobody desires to have a romantic dinner go incorrect or to get misplaced and miss out on a “must-see attraction” or to threat chaos by failing to maintain the children entertained for 3 minutes.

However isn’t that only a digital model of the old style group tour? Effectively, nearly, besides that on the bus tour, you truly get to fulfill the individual whose recommendation you’re taking.

Certainly one of my most ironclad guidelines of journey is that this: the variety of guests a spot receives is inversely associated to how good locals are to these guests. Mezöberény, so far as I knew, had acquired exactly no international vacationers ever. It was the anti-Paris, and this distillery the anti-Louvre.

Individuals who inhabit the still-plentiful tourist-free swaths of the planet are typically not solely simply nicer however extra curious. They are saying a bear within the wild is simply as frightened of you as you’re of it. I say folks in locations the place outsiders not often go are simply as interested by guests as guests are about them. The query isn’t why the distillery employees invited me — a camera-toting, gibberish-talking stranger — in for a tour, it’s why wouldn’t they? If it had been me, I’d be pondering: “What is that this odd foreigner doing exterior our szeszfözde with a digicam? Wait until I inform the children! And by the way in which, isn’t it about time we took a break?”

Extra importantly, is it attainable that stumbling upon a dank distillery is perhaps simply as thrilling as a tour of one of many world’s nice monuments? Did the surge of emotion I felt when the phrase distillery popped onto my display screen match what I felt after I first glanced up on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?

In all probability not, though I bear in mind the distillery second fairly exactly and barely recall what I felt on the Sistine Chapel. Why? As a result of though Michelangelo’s prophets and sibyls and biblical re-creations are a number of trillion occasions lovelier than rusty pipes in a concrete constructing reeking of fermented fruit, I had seen them earlier than in photographs, heard professors speak about them, and skim different vacationers’ accounts as I sought the perfect occasions to keep away from crowds.

That’s why I consider it’s time we rediscover journey and acknowledge the worth of what an overdocumented world has taken away: the delight of creating matters occur by yourself.


Rediscovering Travel: A Guide for the Globally CuriousSeth is the previous Frugal Traveler columnist for the New York Instances and creator of the brand new Rediscovering Journey: A Information for the Globally Curious, from which that is tailored.

On this ebook, Kugel challenges the fashionable journey trade with a dedication to reignite humanity’s age-old sense of journey that has nearly been vanquished on this spontaneity-obliterating digital age. You should buy the ebook at Amazon and provides it a learn.

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