On a clear July morning, a few of my closest friends and I left our hotel in Budapest, Hungary, in search of an adventure. We made our way across the Danube River and continued to Castle Hill, where we hunted down the unassuming sign marking the entry to the Labyrinth of Buda Castle. Not knowing what to expect, we excitedly ventured off the cobblestone street and away from the morning sun and descended a narrow staircase enclosed by dark stone walls. The stairway led us to a dimly lit corridor that looked like it came straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. Our eyes had barely adjusted to the darkness when a friendly Hungarian woman greeted us and showed us where to begin our self-guided tour. We cautiously inched our way through the Labyrinth’s maze-like network of tunnels. Hidden speakers emitted creepy sounds that made me want to avoid lingering too long in any one spot. Much to my relief, most of the 24,000 square feet of tunnels was illuminated just enough for us to see the path ahead. One section of the Labyrinth, however, contained no lights at all. The Courage Room, as my guidebook called it, was so dark that my friends and I blindly huddled together, clinging to a handrail to make it through the pitch-black cavern and to the safety and warmth of the Labyrinth’s exit. Looking back on that tour of the Labyrinth, I realize that the attraction was intended to be lighthearted entertainment rather than cultural enlightenment. Even so, it remains one of my favorite memories from our time in Budapest. My experience in the Labyrinth has become a symbol of what I believe is the key to making the most of our travels. Rather than being satisfied with a superficial stop at only the most popular sites, we need to dig beneath the surface and look beyond the façade that is usually presented to tourists. To take a step out of our shell and throw ourselves into a conversation with someone in the town square. To seek out the hidden gems that will make our trip memorable. In this issue of Stowaway, we show you how to find deeper meaning in your excursions away from home. Join residents of Siena, Italy, in a centuries-old tradition involving a horse race and community pride (page 60). Discover how one woman’s immersion in Ukrainian language and culture forever changed her perspective on travel (page 90). Avoid the crowds that swarm Peru’s more popular destinations and get an intimate, real-life look at a picturesque village tucked away in the green hills of Peru (page 14). We hope these articles ignite within you a burning desire to seek out the cultural gems that can be found in every corner of this amazing world. In my opinion, that’s what travel is all about.
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