Likes & Dislikes

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Hungary – Likes&Dislikes by Tom

Likes
1. Sziget, Volt, Balaton Sound… Hungary has emerged as one of the top music festival destinations in Europe – the prices are reasonable, the lineups are generally good, and summers in Hungary are mostly hot and dry
2. Good for anyone looking for something a bit more exotic than the usual Western European holiday destinations, but still with more reliable travel and tourist infrastructure than truly ‘Eastern European’ countries like Romania, Bulgaria or Ukraine
3. There are some truly beautiful cities outside of Budapest, including Eger, Sopron and Pécs, but even the less exciting ones – Győr, Nyíregyháza, Kecskemét – almost always have at least one or two pretty squares in the center where you can stop for an hour, drink a coffee and watch the world go by. That’s as much as some neighboring capitals (looking at you, Bratislava and Bucharest) can boast
4. The puszta around Hortobágy is a landscape like nothing else in Western or Central Europe. Sometimes called a plain, but more like the steppes of Russia and Ukraine – great for birdwatching, and if you happen to see a thunderstorm roll in, it’s an unforgettable experience
5. Compared to its neighbors to the south and east, Hungary is clean and tidy. Fly-tipping is a problem in the countryside, but generally there’s no more litter than in Western Europe, and (unlike in Romania, Bulgaria and the former Yugoslav countries) stray dogs are rare. In general, Hungary is as safe as any country in Europe
6. Thermal baths! The most famous are in Budapest, but the Anna Fürdő in Szeged and Hévíz near Keszthély (the world’s second largest natural thermal lake) are great too. When I heard about thermal baths I wasn’t too keen – it sounded like something exclusively of interest to the elderly – but the minute I sank into one (the size of a swimming pool but the temperature of a hot bath) I was hooked. And they’re even better in winter!
7. Begging and homelessness are relatively rare outside of Budapest, and tourist scams are practically nonexistent. As always, though, be wary of taxi drivers
8. A day trip from Budapest to Lake Balaton is a great idea, especially to the north shore around Balatonfüred and Tihány. The south shore around Siófok is less interesting, but great for kids as the water is warm and shallow, with no waves
9. Hungary’s central location and good transport links make it easy to combine with other countries in the same holiday – a few hours’ drive can take you to Prague, Vienna, ski slopes in the Slovakian mountains or the Adriatic beaches of Croatia
10. Hungary has a rich tradition of folk and food festivals, from the Busójárás in Mohács (just look up pictures) to sausage, wine, beer and dance festivals all across the country. Check a guidebook or tourist information office to see what’s on in the area

Dislikes
1. The language is what makes Hungary unique, but it’s a problem for visitors. Even the most universal (and important) terms are completely unrecognizable here, so ‘restaurant’ is étterem, tobacco shop is dohánybolt, and bar is kocsma. You should be able to manage with just English in Budapest, but in rural areas communication with locals can be difficult
2. The food is great – if you like pork. Vegetarians and vegans won’t starve, even outside Budapest, but be prepared to choose from just one or two (fairly bland) options.
3. Get into a conversation with a local, and the first question they ask is always a puzzled “why did you come here?” Hungary has many good points, but you won’t hear them from Hungarians, who are (as a rule) relentlessly negative about their country. Still, maybe that’s preferable to Serbia, where (as a rule) you’ll hear all about why their country is the greatest in the world
4. Sure, the puszta around Hortobágy is interesting, but practically the whole country is pancake flat, which gets old quickly. Some nearby countries (Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, for example) have much more interesting, diverse landscapes, as well as medieval castles, cathedrals, etc., which are rare in Hungary
5. Hungary is slap bang in the middle of Europe, so it gets all the temperature extremes: freezing, bleak, icy winters and baking hot summers. Not necessarily a bad thing, but come prepared
6. Most Hungarian towns look more or less the same – grid-pattern streets around a pretty central square with one or two nice churches. A main street (always called Kossuth Lajos utca) with the same pizzeria, café, supermarket and hairdressers. Pleasant enough, but if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all (there are exceptions)
7. A lot of young people move to Budapest or abroad, so regional areas (especially villages) often have dwindling, elderly populations, and the atmosphere is depressing
8. Main roads are generally well maintained, but minor roads are often badly potholed, so drive carefully (and try to ignore the Hungarian impatiently tailgating you!)
9. Hungarians are happy to welcome visitors, but service is only average, and you shouldn’t expect the same passionate, exuberant, noisy hospitality you often find in the Balkans and Greece
10. The culinary specialty of southern Hungary is the halászlé, or fish soup, and… Well, let’s just say I’m not a fan. Especially when they make it with ponty (carp). The harcsa (catfish) version usually costs more, but if you’re going to try it then it’s well worth paying the extra.

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Hungary - Zsámbék - village house - r.g. photo

Practicals

Transport

Train travel

Transports of delight (by Alan Durant, December 2020)

The Hungarian railway system is by no means the worst in the world, and having traveled third class in India, I can testify to this. Also, if you’ve ever tried to travel from London to Manchester on a packed train, it throws things into perspective.

In fact, the Hungarian railway system in some places is surprisingly good; then there are the other places. As an example going from Vienna to Budapest is modern and comfortable but as you penetrate further into the darker, less frequented regions of Hungary, you seem to slide back in time to a more robust, not to say, more uncomfortable age, which although having a certain pre-war, (first world war) style, can be more than a little wearing on the soul, physic and patience..

This age was peopled by gay (in the old sense of the word, but not always) Hussars and stoical peasants, and they tended to be made of stern stuff with backsides like leather, due to habitual horse riding or jogging along on farm carts. Backsides that as a consequence, could cope with the stuffing, or lack of, of Hungarian train seats and the splinters of the wooden seats provided for the lower classes. That being as it may, there are interesting and quaint echoes of bygone age parts of the rail system.

The stations in Budapest and other places exude old-world charm, dust, and some, thankfully, unidentifiable smells.. Keleti is the Main railway station in Budapest, but the approach from the Metro is modern, though the angular lines are sometimes broken by decent buskers and dubious beggars, not to mention Syrian refugees hoping to escape to the west.

Entry from the new part of the station to the old is via a set of steps impersonating the North Face of the Eiger. There is a tiny lift cunningly hidden where no one could ever find it if they didn’t know. So, pack lightly or bring a Sherpa. If, however, you approach from ground level, the station is rather impressive in a slightly flea-bitten fashion. After you have gone up into the actual station, found out the ticket office is downstairs, queued at the wrong downstairs window, been treated with disdain by the ticket seller, and gone back up into the station, you can appreciate the grandeur of the building.

Tickets, however, are free for EU citizens over 65, (haha you Brexiteers), but you need a place ticket; for Intercity, it's a nominal amount, but don’t forget, or you will be fined, beaten, and thrown off the train. OK, I made the last two up, but it feels like it.

While waiting for your train, you might indulge yourself in the belle epoch station restaurant. The décor is eclectic and the food excellent (and cheap) nothing quite replicates the pleasure of being greeted with a growl from one of the waiters, reminiscent of a Doberman that hasn’t been fed recently. They may not be the grumpiest waiters in the world, but they are working on it.

On leaving the restaurant, you board your train with your reserved seat ticket. You find your place, but frequently, your place has been double booked. If you are lucky, this can just result in glowering stares followed by shouted insults, the train staff often intervening to suggest filthier expletives that might be used. If you’re really lucky, the whole spectacle can degenerate into a fistfight, hopefully without you taking part. It's a bit like the Wild West, where one person hits someone, then everyone else hits somebody else.

After a while, with you ensconced somewhere, you set off. They don’t blow a whistle or anything for the departure of Hungarian trains, they just wait for when you’re not expecting it, and suddenly you notice you are moving. Don’t forget to look out the window at poor souls sprinting up the platform, on which they had been unwisely having a smoke (illegally), in a vain attempt to be reunited with their loved ones who are on the train.

If you have been wise, you have purchased a first-class ticket. It's a bit hard to tell the difference from a second class, but you have a marginally better chance that the heating or air-con will be working. However, as with so much, there are no guarantees. The heating might work but too often in the height of summer, leading to attempts at mass exodus, fainting, extreme arguments with the train guard, other passengers, and a general melee. There again, there is the interesting alternative of freezing to the metalwork in winter when the heating isn’t on. You may, of course, be lucky, and the temperature, behavior of the other passengers, and level of surliness of the guard all be within acceptable parameters, so if you go on your journey.

Hopefully, you are on an Intercity train, which will get you there all be it pretty slowly but is not as bad as it might be. Some trains are called express, they are not, and there are also ones called fast, they are even slower.

On one occasion, when looking out of the open window of my carriage (no air con on this train) and wondering if it could go any slower and still be classed as moving when I was overtaken by a cow out for an afternoon walk. Don’t make the mistake of getting too comfortable, though. It is not all that unusual to be decanted from your train to another, climbing down high steps from the carriage to the often none existent platform and struggling with your bags across a hinterland to another apparently identical train. Worse than that, you may end up on a bus rattling through the countryside apparently aimlessly until being deposited on another train—such fun.

It is not unknown for trains to just stop and stand there so long that people get out to have picnics by the track. There used in former times be a buffet car where you could sit eating good food and drinking good wine at a reasonable price. There I would be sat in classical elegance, (me not the place), but no more. It was never promoted, and you always got the feeling that they would rather not bother, and now they’ve scrapped it altogether. Shame, in my experience, you can always spend a pleasant hour or two eating and drinking. Slow speeds can, of course, be a plus as you gaze raptly at peasant smallholding as they trundle before your eyes. If you’re lucky, you might even see a Llama or two or an Ostrich (neither native to Hungary).

The stations can be fun as well. At one time, there were people crowding around the trains with baskets selling beer, sandwiches, chicken, and sometimes anything else that wasn’t nailed down. Alas, it has moved on with civilization, which unfortunately can throw out the good with the bad. You may well enjoy Hungarian railways but remember to keep calm something which is not promoted by the Hungarian railway experience.





Hungary - Hungarian patchwork - Krista photo

Hungary - police car in the park place for disabled - a.h. photo

Hungary - Private car entrance sign: My gate is so wide because I drive awkwardly, not to facilitate you comfortable parking. - j.c. photo - j.c. photo

Food

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Hungary - fish paprika stew, pasta, sour cream, cracklings - r.g. photo

Hungary - beef goulash - yes, it is a soup in Hungary, not a stew - r.g. photo

Hungary - The Holy Crown of Hungary (Crown of Saint Stephen) in cake shape - masterwork or blasphemy? - n.k. photo

Shopping

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Hungary - market item - last year's snowman for sale - r.g. photo

Hungary - (sex safe beds (a.k.a. best mattresses for sex) - - w.t. photo

Fun

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Hungary - the beginning of a beautiful friendship - j.c. photo

Public safety

Domestic safety

Hungary- village of Nemesvita - a pub (taproom) named Irritating my wife - r.g photo

Hungary - Austrian tourist - It must not have been good for him/her to be processed. - e.a. photo

Health

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Hungary - a doctor's office - door sign: push - if not opening - pull, and if still not open, go around the building as the entrance is there - j.c. photo

Hungary - Free yoga for beginners: Take a deep breath, bend down, and pick up your dog's shit from the ground. Good health! - m.e. photo

Others

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Hungary - Baranya county - Villánykövesd - row of wine cellars - Krista photo

Hungary - Monor Strázsahegy - wine barrel with philosophy: Life is too short to drink crappy wine - r.g. photo

Background

Hungary - national flag

Destination in brief


Hungary in brief
 
Hungary is located in Central Europe (although Western Europeans tend to label it as an Eastern European country because it used to belong to the Soviet Bloc). Neighbors: Slovakia (north), Ukraine (northeast), Romania (east, southeast), Serbia and Croatia (south), Slovenia (southwest), Austria (west)

Size: 93,030 km² (35,919 mi²) - Hungary is a landlocked country. However, at almost 600 km² (231 mi²), Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Central Europe (so big, in fact, that it's often referred to as the Hungarian Sea), attracts hundreds of thousands of both Hungarian and foreign tourists every summer (July and August especially). Its water is clean and warm and tourist infrastructure well developed.

Capital city: Budapest - 1,7 million (2020) – The Danube cuts through the center of Budapest, separating the hilly Buda on one side of the river and the flatter, more eventful Pest on the other.

Population (in 2020): 9.6 million  - There are about 776,000 Roma (Gipsy) in Hungary, comprising about 8% of the country’s population.
There is a common opinion that Hungarians are the most pessimistic nation in the world, who are never satisfied with their current situation and always find something to complain about.
Hungarians are mightily inventive. Notable inventions include the Rubik's Cube (by sculptor and professor Ernő Rubik in 1974), the krypton electric bulb (by physicist Imre Bródy in 1937), the biro (or ballpoint pen - patented in 1938 by journalist László Bíró), the noiseless match (by János Irinyi in 1836).

Language: Hungarian – it belongs to the Finno-Ugric language group and its closest relatives are Finnish and Estonian (though Hungarians cannot understand Finnish and Estonian at all, and vice versa). Hungarian is among the most challenging languages in the world.

Political system: Parliamentary Republic. Executive power is exercised by the Prime Minister and his government, and not by the Head of State, who has only quite limited powers.
The Hungarian Parliament is the 3rd largest parliament building in the world, with 691 rooms and 20 kilometers of stairs.

Religion: 54% Catholics, 20% Protestant – about 58% of the population do not practice any religion (their practice being mostly limited to being baptized, married in church, and buried).

Most common surname: Nagy (means: Big)

When Hungarians introduce themselves to you, they will say their family name first and then their first name. Also, when this happens, you most likely won’t be able to get what their last name is, not to mention how it is spelled, because spelling is very unintuitive. One could say that even the spelling rules are precisely the opposite of those of the rest of the world.

Hungary ranks 8th in the world for medalists at the Summer Olympic Games.

Currency: Forint (HUF)

Average net monthly salary: about 900 USD (2020)

Safety: Hungary is a very safe tourist destination, Budapest included.

Top tourist attractions:
Budapest (Buda Castle, The Danube, The Daube Bend, Szentendre, Tihany at Lake Balaton, Eger, The Caves of Lillafüred, Sopron, Héviz (spa), Kiskunsag National Park, Hortobágy
Hungary has a lot of natural hot springs and can boast of around 450 public spas and bathhouses.
 


History

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Hungary - street name changes after the end of the Communist era - Sallai Imre was a Communist hero, new name is Saint Amery - k-t.g. photo

Hungary - Arboretum of Vácrátót - Memorial of the soldiers fallen in the two World Wars - the missing part - r.g. photo

Nowadays

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Northeast of Hungary - Mátészalka - Ópályi - shamefully poor Gipsy neighborhood - m.k. photo

People

,, Let's face it, the Hungarians are not the most cheerful people, perhaps because they seem to have a knack for choosing the losing side in almost any argument. They have a tendency to get involved in conflicts, in which they battle heroically and then get beaten.

Famously when besieged by Suliman the magnificent and his Turkish hoards their tactic was to charge out of their fortress in Szigetvár and attack the opposing army. The fact that they were outnumbered hundreds to one was considered an inconsequential fact and unmanly to acknowledged. They all got killed.

They are on their own in the middle of Europe surrounded by Slavs and Germans who, (in their opinion) are completely different from them and, again, mistakenly, with whom they think they have nothing in common.

True, the Hungarian language has been known to make grown men weep when trying to learn it, and is completely different from other European languages, apart from Finnish and Estonian. They like to think of themselves as exceptional, originating from central Asia, and so on as the folk history goes. Their language however does seem to have aided them in extremely poetic and inventive swearing which is a help to anybody. For instance, they say “Horse dick!” (Lófasz!) for bull shit. My favorite is the expression “may God fuck you with a horse's dick”, by the way, they are traditionally horse centric. It gets worse but to safeguard my more delicate readers I will draw a line.

Hungarians are also pessimistic. It,s not just pessimism, pessimism is too gentle a word, it's more an all-pervading sense of doom mixed with disgruntlement, disillusion, and bloody-mindedness, (OK not always all of them).

Hungarians never smile and they’re always unhappy. Again not as unhappy as the Bulgarians, and of course, not all Hungarians fit this stereotype. In real life, Hungarians can be jolly, especially if you accept that extra glass of pálinka that you shouldn’t have.

It is an old stereotype that Hungarians are really afraid of the future. However, in everyday life, it’s probably not true. Lots of foreign people who know Hungarians personally say that they’ve got a good sense of humor. They’re good at self-irony, too – and it can help a lot in the more dicey situations of which they seem to have a knack of finding themselves.

Hungarians like fiery drinks and spicy food and it is reflected in their character. Although modern life has tempered the Hungarian character there is still the possibility of wild music, unbridled dancing, and if you dance with the wrong girl, a punch in the mouth. It's nice to see tradition upheld and you will still see older men standing outside shops drinking miniatures of pálinka at 8 in the morning.

In the past Hungarian food tended to be very heavy on meat and fatty meat at that. This resulted in men, especially in the countryside, nurturing large bellies which they would roll up their T-shirts to display during clement weather. Alas, modern times and the fake norms of American television have reduced the belly as a status symbol and there are few of us left.

Try the Goulash and work on your own creation.

I have heard it said that Hungarians are helpful and it can be true, especially the younger ones. However, they can be bloody-minded, especially in shops, waiters, and so on, though they seem to be slowly evolving a more outward going persona. You could argue, however, better and honest contempt than a fake friendliness. You will soon know if they are unhappy.

To counterbalance the negatives it to be said that Hungarian women are the most beautiful in the world. The advisability or otherwise of getting involved with one or not is something I’m still working on.

Hungarians can be great fun and hard work at the same time. Famously clever and prone to making ill-advised decisions, home of beautiful women, and impressive bellies, wild music, wild dancing, depression, and joy.

(Alan Durant, 2020)

Hungarian humor - Attention! The lift can only be used by four people - I waited two hours before three more people came

Tourist etiquette


,, If you happen to be a woman, don’t expect a Hungarian to shake your hand. If you are with a man they will shake their hand but definitely not yours. If a man shakes your hand he is obviously a member of the metropolitan cosmopolitan elite or, in the opinion of the average peasant, gay.

Hungarians like to party so plenty of chances to get acquainted., weddings, festivals, clubs, put some music on, provide some booze and they’re off. Probably best not to try to keep up.

Don’ts with Hungarians While dancing and drinking don’t be tempted to get into politics. There is unfortunately a section of the Hungarian population that has rather right-wing views so if you have a tendency to say anything sensible or heaven forfend liberal, be sure of your audience first. When someone tries to explain to you that two-thirds of Hungarian land was stolen from them in the 1920 treaty of Trianon just nod and smile and sidle away.

Don’t accidentally say that Hungary’s capital is Bucharest to a Hungarian. They will probably want to murder you. Of course, they do sound awfully similar and, yes, they are located in the same general part of the world but be assured these are two completely different cities. Just in case you missed the Eastern European geography lesson at school, Bucharest is in Romania.

Another point: Hungary is in central Europe, not Eastern. Don’t imagine you know what goulash is like. Also, try and pronounce it gu-y-arsh Finally don’t make jokes about feeling hungry and imagine it's hilarious that it sounds like Hungary, it was never funny.

One of the quickest ways to offend a Hungarian is to claim that Hungarian wine isn’t great. Hungarians are fiercely proud of their wine-growing regions such as Tokaj, Villány, and Eger, and if you say you've had a bad drop, Hungarians will secretly think that perhaps you just don’t know your wines and of course they might be right.  

Pronounce the capital like this: Boo-da-pest (pest as in rascal) and you’re likely to drive many Hungarians nuts. Obviously, Hungarians understand that everyone pronounces cities in their own way, but if you really want to walk in the favor of a Hungarian, say this: Buddah-pesht.

Do’s with Hungarians Try to mention the Hungarian football team who beat England in the match dubbed “the game of the century.” It was in this match, in 1953, that Hungary beat England, in England, 6-3. If you are from the USA and as a consequence don’t know what football is you can look it up in Wiki.

At every opportunity tell Hungarian women how beautiful they are. It's not difficult, they are.

Never refuse a drink. If you’re asked whether you’d like another shot of pálinka, then don’t refuse. When the room starts to move of its own volition you might consider stopping. Hungarians love their pálinka and it’s a drink to be shared. It’s an absolute no-no to refuse a shot of this killer liquid - even if it’s 3 am and you’re on your 4th shot of the fruit brandy.

(Alan Durant, 2020)

Attractions

Translation: This concrete block has importance for the cityscape.- r.k. photo, taken despite indicated prohibition

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Hungary - Kecskemét - Cifra Palace - Art Nouveau style - r.g. photo

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