Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. After more than two years and even more cancelled flights – it was time for me to take a short holiday.
A lot has changed since I last set foot on an aircraft to put some miles on my soul. The UK left the EU, England reached the final of a major tournament for the first time since 1966 and, of course, the coronavirus pandemic changed the way we go about our lives.
In an ideal world I would have traveled to India, the Peak District as well as a California for a wedding over the past 18 months. But, for obvious reasons none of that could happen.
As a result I really held back planning any holidays for 2021. It was a lot of faff sorting out refunds for flights that I wanted some degree of certainty before I went about booking anything else. Plus I didn’t want COVID restrictions to impact where I was going and what I was doing. For example, I didn’t want to go abroad only to have to book a two hour time slot in a pub and things like that.
The idea of Budapest blossomed from one of the few good things to come from the pandemic – West Ham’s success. For anyone who is unaware, West Ham finished sixth in the Premier League last season. In doing so they qualified for the Europa League which means, for a lifelong fan of the club, a EUROPEAN TOUR!!
COVID had a say in my travel plans AGAIN
West Ham were drawn into a group with Dynamo Zagreb from Croatia, Genk from Belgium and Rapid Wien from Austria. When these European football competitions are drawn flights from London to those destinations instantly skyrocket. For example, return flights to Vienna when West Ham were in town cost £250. Conversely, Budapest is a two and a half hour train journey from Vienna and those flights cost us £20. Which is why we decided to fly there.
West Ham had a flying start to this Europa League campaign. Winning three and drawing one of their first four games. Meaning they could secure top of the group status with a win against Rapid Wien, the game we planned to travel to in Austria.
Sadly, due to a minority of fans behaviour at one of the European fixtures the club was punished with a stadium ban for the game we wanted to go to. At this moment in time we were stuck with a bit of a dilemma. Do we still go to Vienna and watch the game in a pub? Assuming some fans would still travel.
But ultimately, for a number of reasons including crowd safety and Austria’s updated coronavirus restrictions, we decided to accept defeat for that part of the trip and stay in Budapest for two nights. In the end it didn’t really matter what we decided because Austria was in a complete lockdown again by the time we were due to visit.
The Ice Bath
Anyone who has followed this blog for a little while will know I have incorporated the Wim Hof method into my day-to-day. For those of you who haven’t and are unaware, the Wim Hof method is a wellbeing practice involving deep breathing and cold exposure (I opt for cold showers). You can read about my first 30 days of the Wim Hof method by clicking here.
One of the go-to things to do in Budapest is the thermal spas and pools. There are a number to choose from and they are absolutely huge. Most of which have both outdoor and indoor facilities. There are pools set at 40 degrees, some in the 30s and some in the 20s. They also had lanes to practice swimming. I recently announced on social media my desire to take part in the Cork Ironman in 2023. For which the first part of the triathlon is a 2.4 mile swim. I would honestly say I haven’t swam in close to four years. I managed to swim 100 metres but that is being generous, I was shaking and ached for a while after, so a long way to go until I’m Ironman ready.
The thing that instantly jumped out at me was by the outdoor pool – the ice bath.
Despite adding a cold portion to my daily showers for almost a year I’ve never had an ice-bath. After reading the Wim Hof Method book as well as reading articles about professional athletes who use them (Cristiano Ronaldo and Andy Murray to name a few) I was fully aware of the health benefits. It’s just I could never be bothered to buy the required amount of ice to turn my bath into an ice bath.
However, in Budapest, it was right there in front of me. After warming myself up in the sauna I set my Garmin to two minutes and climbed in. That went down a treat so I set the timer for another two minutes, and then another two. At that point I knew I had ten minutes in my locker so set the timer for another four minutes to see me through. I never in a million years thought that my first ice bath would last ten minutes. I felt amazing afterwards. Truly incredible.
Shoes on the Danube
There’s a lot of World War Two history in parts of Europe. I certainly should have seen more during my travels around the continent. So far I’ve been to Anne Frank’s house in The Netherlands and things high on my list are Aushwitz in Poland and Normandy in France.
In Budapest they have a small but extremely emotional monument called ‘Shoes on the Danube’ which pays tribute to those killed during World War Two.
The monument is made of cast-iron shoes to represent where the victims were ordered to remove their shoes before being shot and killed, their bodies falling into the river below and floating away.
I always find things like this highly emotional. Although it’s not WWII related I found it very hard to keep my emotions in check at the 9/11 memorial and museum in New York.
When I visit these places I take a handful of pictures before turning the camera off and taking it in, usually in silence. Things like what happened there in what is, in the grand scheme of things, still a recent piece of history.
I think it’s very important to remember what happened at these places. I do think the current generation are incredibly out of touch with the historical significance these places hold. There weren’t many others present while I was at the monument yet far too many people were taking selfies. I’m not sure when I’ll next visit somewhere with historical significance but it’s something I want to do more of.
Travels going forward
I loved my short break in Budapest. Other things I did were have beers at some of the ruin bars and visit a two storey karaoke bar.
It felt so good to be back doing something that has brought me so much joy over the years. Although it’s naturally different due to COVID. Passenger locator forms, vaccine passports and day two lateral flow tests (Which cost more than my flights…).
It’s worth noting that my travels were always going to be different since I stopped backpacking in 2017. Obviously a global pandemic wasn’t what I was expecting in that sense. But what I mean is, I have a lot more commitments now. Meaning I can’t exactly pick up my backpack and fly away for months on end.
I have annual leave to contend with and bills that need paying every month. Although the idea of backpacking ever again is completely off the table that doesn’t mean the traveling stops. The travelling never stops. There would have to be a series of events and a compelling argument that made it obvious that going on another backpacking trip was the right thing. Plus – I want to try other things.
This trip to Budapest served as a warm reminder that I can still travel freely and whenever I want. Well, whenever COVID restrictions allow. And I can’t wait to go away again.
I don’t have any other holidays booked as yet. But that doesn’t mean the ideas aren’t there. In fact, this trip has already potentially blossomed another.
West Ham beat Rapid Wien 2-0, meaning they are through to the last 16 of the Europa League. I watched the game in a Sports Bar in Budapest surrounded by West Ham fans who had the same idea as the group I travelled with.
Being in the last sixteen means there is at least one more European away day to put in my 2022 Taylor Swift calendar. The draw for the next round isn’t until February but I will certainly be keeping my eyes peeled.
2021 London Marathon
I RAN THE LONDON MARATHON FOR MIND!
You can still donate until November 30th 2021. If you wish to do so you can by clicking the links below.
Fundraising Page: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/JordanCamp
My blog post about the event
Mind Website: https://www.mind.org.uk