a man on a bicycle in Mezöberény

Posted: five/16/2019 | May perhaps 16th, 2019

Seth Kugel is the former Frugal Traveler columnist for the New York Instances and author of the new Rediscovering Travel: A Guide for the Globally Curious, from which this is adapted. I’ve recognized him for years and our travel philosophy dovetails a lot. I study his book final year and believed “If I have been ever to create a book on the state of the travel market, this is the book I would create!” It is a wonderful book and currently, Seth excerpted component of the book for us!

Stenciled in white block letters on a dreary cement wall in Mezöberény, a tidy but fraying town of twelve thousand in the hyperbolically named Good Hungarian Plain, appeared the word:


Hours earlier, in the overcast predawn hours of a nippy January day, I had stumbled off the Bucharest-to-Budapest train to see what it would be like to commit the weekend in the opposite of a tourist location. Mezöberény was not just absent from guidebooks — it did not have a single restaurant, hotel, or activity listed on TripAdvisor, some thing that can’t be mentioned for Mbabara, Uganda, or Dalanzadgad, Mongolia. I did have some information on the town, although, thanks to its municipal site: resident József Halász had lately celebrated his ninetieth birthday.

Or that is what Google Translate told me. Hungarian is a Uralic language, much more closely connected to the output you could possibly get falling asleep on a keyboard than to English or German or French. That tends to make even fundamental comprehension a challenge, as I identified as quickly as I rushed from the train to the station’s restrooms and faced the urgent require to opt for amongst two doors: FÉRFI and NÖI. The authorities had apparently saved a handful of forints by not splurging on stick-figure indicators.

The day had been born cold and gray and stayed that way as I walked by way of the town, gradually finding my bearings, intrigued by the pre-war, pre-Communist houses and the much more than occasional bike rider — there have been just about much more bikes than automobiles — who waved hello. But then a winter drizzle took up, causing an abrupt decline in the quantity of cyclists even as the quantity of wandering American guests held steady at a single. To me, a travel day that turns rainy is like a piece of chocolate I’ve dropped on the floor: it is drastically significantly less attractive, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to throw it away.

It was in the very first minutes of rain that I came across that stenciled sign on an otherwise residential street. Beyond the wall, down a cracking, now puddle-pocked driveway, have been a dozen or so plastic barrels lined up like nuclear-waste drums. Beyond them, possibly a hundred feet from exactly where I stood, was a a single-story L-shaped developing. What was this location? Nicely, SZESZFÖZDE, apparently. But what was that?

In the old days (say, 2009), I would have pulled out an English-Hungarian phrase book or pocket dictionary, but as an alternative, I activated international roaming on my telephone, cautiously spelled out S-Z-E-S- Z-F-O-Z-D-E, and tapped Go.

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Szeszföde distillery in Mezöberény, Hungary

The significantly less-than-lightning speed of Good Hungarian Plain mobile service supplied a dramatic pause. And then came my answer:


You do not say.

I would have guessed PRIVATE House possibly, or DANGER—STAY OUT, or Thoughts YOUR Personal Small business, YOU MEDDLING FOREIGNER! But a distillery? A wave of adrenaline washed down my torso as my lips curled into a dumb-luck smile.

Two rather gruff-searching males emerged from the door, the older a single smoking a cigarette and wearing a sweater and perform-stained trousers that recommended Warsaw Pact 1986 much more than contemporary-day European Union. I waved to them, pointed to the bulky Canon 7D hanging from my neck, and then to the developing. Old-college Google Translate.

They waved me in and gave me a tour.

Inside the ancient but completely functioning distillery, the males let me take photographs as they gave me a vaguely intelligible lesson by means of pointing, expressive appears, and smartphone-translated Hungarian, on how pálinka — Hungarian fruit brandy — was produced.

These barrels I had observed outdoors, it turned out, have been complete of fermenting pear and grape and apple juices. Inside, it was distilled somehow by way of a looping and tangled program of pipes operating out of tin tanks up and along the walls. It looked like the laboratory of a mad scientist with a penchant for tacky linoleum flooring.

As they led me about, I engaged in that most intrinsic of travel activities: attempting to see the globe from the vantage point of somebody utterly various from me. What was their life like? Had they traveled? Who have been their parents and grandparents? The language barrier that did not let them to answer did not cease me from questioning.

Right after soaking in each and every rusty detail and each and every glint of pride in the men’s tired eyes, I typed, “Come check out me in New York” into Google Translate — laughs all about — then headed back onto the drizzly streets of Mezöberény, utterly elated.

What was so wonderful about this moment? Confident, the szeszfözde was a neat tiny story for buddies, and in my case, worth a handful of paragraphs in the newspaper. But wasn’t it just a grimy organization creating neighborhood hooch in a town that even most Hungarians would classify as the middle of nowhere?

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

It was a wonderful moment mainly because I found it. Not an earth-shattering discovery in the sense of a remedy for AIDS or a previously unknown species of poison-spitting neon frog the size of a pinky nail. But it was 100 % unexpected, 100 % genuine, and 100 % mine.

Discovery employed to be the lifeblood of travel, at least for these of us who shun tour-bus groups and all-inclusive resorts. We employed to leave house understanding fairly tiny about our location — maybe with some highlighted guidebook pages denoting main attractions and neighborhood tipping etiquette, a list of suggestions culled from nicely-traveled buddies, or articles copied and pasted into a Word document. For the ambitious, possibly a notional really feel for the neighborhood history or culture gleaned pre-trip from a historical novel.

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Beyond that, we have been on our personal.

Paper guidebooks frozen in time helped us along, as did pamphlets and paper maps from tourist facts booths and suggestions from a hotel concierge. Earlier this century, Google searches in world wide web cafés also lent a hand. But otherwise, there was no selection: You decided what to do with your personal eyes and ears, by wandering, by initiating human-to-human speak to. Suggestions came from hearing fellow travelers’ stories more than hostel or (non-Air) B&ampB breakfasts, getting into a shop to ask directions and ending up in a conversation with the owner, or catching a whiff of fresh bread or sizzling chilies and following your nose.

Of course, all that nevertheless occurs currently — but only if you actually go out of your way to make it occur. Not only is practically each and every location in the globe documented to inside an inch of its life but that documentation — which comes dressed as each truth and opinion — is overwhelmingly and right away out there, thanks to pervasive technologies. That is wonderful for quite a few points in life — health-related facts, how-to videos, shorter commutes. But do not we travel to break our routine? To expertise the unexpected? To let the globe delight us?

If we do, we have a funny way of displaying it. We pore more than on-line evaluations for weeks, strategy days down to the half hour, and then let GPS and the collected wisdom of the unwise lead us blindly. We imply nicely — no a single desires to have a romantic dinner go incorrect or to get lost and miss out on a “must-see attraction” or to danger chaos by failing to retain the little ones entertained for 3 minutes.

But is not that just a digital version of the old-fashioned group tour? Nicely, just about, except that on the bus tour, you in fact get to meet the individual whose guidance you are taking.

1 of my most ironclad guidelines of travel is this: the quantity of guests a location receives is inversely connected to how good locals are to these guests. Mezöberény, as far as I knew, had received precisely no foreign vacationers ever. It was the anti-Paris, and this distillery the anti-Louvre.

People today who inhabit the nevertheless-plentiful tourist-free of charge swaths of the planet have a tendency to be not only just nicer but much more curious. They say a bear in the wild is just as scared of you as you are of it. I say individuals in areas exactly where outsiders hardly ever go are just as curious about guests as guests are about them. The query is not why the distillery workers invited me — a camera-toting, gibberish-speaking stranger — in for a tour, it is why wouldn’t they? If it have been me, I’d be considering: “What is this odd foreigner performing outdoors our szeszfözde with a camera? Wait till I inform the little ones! And by the way, is not it about time we took a break?”

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Much more importantly, is it probable that stumbling upon a dank distillery could possibly be just as thrilling as a tour of a single of the world’s wonderful monuments? Did the surge of emotion I felt when the word distillery popped onto my screen match what I felt when I very first glanced up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?

In all probability not, even though I bear in mind the distillery moment pretty precisely and barely recall what I felt at the Sistine Chapel. Why? Mainly because even though Michelangelo’s prophets and sibyls and biblical re-creations are various trillion occasions lovelier than rusty pipes in a concrete developing reeking of fermented fruit, I had observed them prior to in pictures, heard professors speak about them, and study other travelers’ accounts as I sought the finest occasions to prevent crowds.

That is why I think it is time we rediscover travel and recognize the worth of what an overdocumented globe has taken away: the delight of creating points occur on your personal.


Rediscovering Travel: A Guide for the Globally CuriousSeth is the former Frugal Traveler columnist for the New York Instances and author of the new Rediscovering Travel: A Guide for the Globally Curious, from which this is adapted.

In this book, Kugel challenges the contemporary travel market with a determination to reignite humanity’s age-old sense of adventure that has practically been vanquished in this spontaneity-obliterating digital age. You can buy the book at Amazon and give it a study.

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