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Hungary

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Did You Know…?

  • Hungary boasts roughly 1,300 thermal springs.
  • Real goulash is a kind of soup cooked on an open fire.
  • Hungary exports more than 5,500 tons of paprika a year.
  • Hungary’s inflation rate hit 12.95 quadrillion percent in 1946; prices doubled every 15.6 hours.
  • Local names for Hungary are Magyarorszag or, more formally, Magyar Koztarsasag.

Paprika and thermal waters

In Hungary, visitors enjoy an Old World ambience that is reminiscent of Europe before the world wars, but they also speak of the pleasures of the modern nation.

The Hungarians’ forebears originated beyond the Urals. As a result, the populace is culturally different from its neighbors. That means leisure travel in Hungary is spiced a little differently, too.

The Danube bisects the country from north to south, adding its own flavor to a country rich in scenic beauty and history. Speaking of flavors, Hungarian paprika is world-renowned. Mother Nature offers another prized gift, too: a surfeit of thermal springs.

As soon as the so-called eastern Europe opened its doors wide, tourists finally could explore an area that had, for decades, made it hard for overseas visitors to learn much about local lifestyles. For some, it became easier to visit relatives or ancestral towns, as well.

The Iron Curtain countries were never cookie-cutter versions of one another. Hungary was created by the Magyar tribe, which originated in Central Asia, then came to Europe in the ninth century. Today, floating down the Danube, it’s easy to imagine noblemen on horseback hunting in the forests, returning to one of the magnificent palaces on the banks for music and feasting.

Music and drama are important features of Hungarian culture, and almost every city offers nightly performances — from a Bach symphony to Gypsy dancing in a waterfront tavern.

Budapest, the capital (also bisected by the Danube), is one of Europe’s jewels, with spectacular sights, fine restaurants and a wide variety of cultural activities. Most of the important public buildings are designed to face the Danube. Mineral baths are a specialty in Hungary, and Budapest boasts at least 80 thermal springs.

Hungary embraced new economic structures and social freedoms once the Iron Curtain came down in 1989. It is now a member of the European Union.

In the smaller towns and countryside, the old rural lifestyles and customs are much in evidence. As is common with new destinations, the more adventuresome took the lead in exploring Hungary. However, it’s a destination that, as time goes on, lures other personality types, too.

Things to do for Venturers

  • In a country noted for its horsemanship, spend some holiday time on horseback.
  • Sample Hungarian specialties: Palinka is a fiery fruit brandy based on apricots, pears or plums. Unicum is a blend of herbs and spices that Hungarians say aids digestion; put differently, it is Hungary’s answer to marmite, equally lovable — or not.
  • Take a really long walk. Hungary boasts more than 6,800 miles of marked trails for hikers.
  • Canoe on the Tisza River or the Bodrog River.
  • You can schedule a low-cost trip to the dentist.
  • Get close to old ways of life by visiting the Hortobagy National Park, which preserves a vast grassland still used by herdsmen tending horses and cattle; it is the setting for the annual International Horse Days.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Sample local wines. Hungary’s vineyards are found in the volcanic hills to the northeast. Tasters should try those made from the Tokay grape, a specialty.
  • Overeat if you dare. Main meals tend to be hearty and heavy on meat. Soups are a standard part of the mix, too. Try such specialties as goose liver, salami (spicy sausage) and palacsinta (crepes which can be meat-filled).
  • Take riding classes. The country has numerous riding schools for those who want to become more comfortable on horseback.
  • Spend a night or two at Lake Balaton, a resort area that draws from all over the continent in summer. Enjoy water sports and nature walks.
  • Buy a Hungarian rail pass before you leave home and roam the country by first class rail.
  • Attend the autumn Paprika Festival in Kalocsa, Hungary’s paprika capital. Visit the Paprika Museum, then, buy paprika to take home. (Also, the town is among those noted for its embroidery work; go to the Kalocsa Folklore House for a look.)

Things to do for Authentics

  • See parts of Hungary by taking a Danube cruse.
  • Sample Hungary’s fabled thermal springs. Hungary claims enough spa facilities to accommodate 300,000 simultaneously.
  • Attend a concert. Look for those musical events featuring the works of Hungarian composers Franz Liszt, Bela Bartok or Zoltan Kodaly. The music of Bartok and Kodaly was much influenced by Hungarian folk music.
  • Ride the so-called Children’s Railway in Budapest, a narrow-gauge line with a route through the hills on the Buda side of the city. Children up to the age of 14 act as conductors on these rail trips.
  • Shop for traditional Hungarian craft items, including Halas lace, Kalocsa embroidered folk costumes or painted Hungarian pottery that you will hang on your walls at home.
  • Eat goulash, preferably with Gypsy music playing in the background. Also, go for the desserts, which may include for choices strudels, tortes and Gundel pancakes with chocolate rum sauce. Eat them with a strong espresso.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Hungarian National Tourist Office at www.gotohungary.com