|Area||total: 93,030 sq km |
water: 690 sq km
land: 92,340 sq km
|Population||10,075,034 (July 2002 est.)|
|Language||Hungarian 98.2%, other 1.8%|
|Religion||Roman Catholic 67.5%, Calvinist 20%, Lutheran 5%, atheist and other 7.5%|
|Time Zone||UTC +1|
Hungary (Magyarorsz�g) is a country in Central Europe. Member of the European Union since 1 May 2004. The country offers many diverse destinations: relatively low mountains in the north-west, the Great Plain in the east, lakes and rivers of all sorts, and many beautiful small villages and hidden gems of cities. Top this off with Hungary's great accessibility in the middle of Europe, a vibrant culture and economy, and you get a destination absolutely not worth missing if you're in the region.
- Budapest — the capital
- Eger — famous for its wines, especially Bull's Blood (Bikav�r)
- Kecskem�t a town famous for its vibrant music scene
- Ko"szeg — near the Austrian border and famous for the defeat of the Turks by Jurisics Mikl�s
- Miskolc — with the unique cave bath in Miskolc-Tapolca
- P�cs — a pleasant university town known for its champagne
- Lake Balaton — the major lake of Hungary and the biggest lake in Central Europe.
- Tokaj — a famous wine village
The country is not very different from most other European countries: you can expect to find safe food and water, good safety and generally political stability. Hungary doesn't attract terrorists and keeps drug and crime levels moderate.
Some people think that this country is "red" (communist), some other think it's the "country of gypsies". It isn't. Hungary had probably the softest socialist regime, and in its last 20-30 years there wasn't much "redness" in the country apart from the Russians, who left the country a bit late, around 1992. Since then the country has elected governments, and it is considered a market economy. Recent years have even seen a conservative backlash. In some areas there is a significant Roma population ("gypsy" is considered a slur for these people) which reaches 5% according to some census. However, Hungary has been ethnically diverse since its inception, and while over 90% of the population are ethnically Hungarian, pockets of ethnic and cultural Slovaks, Romanians, Germans and others dot the country. Due to the frequent border shifts in Eastern European history, many ethnic and cultural Hungarians live in bordering countries, as well.
Hungary is now a part of the European Union, which means that entering from other member countries (Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia) has become easier, while a rather more thorough check awaits those entering from elsewhere (Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Croatia). Citizens of most countries are free to enter with passport for normal travel, usual length of stay is 30 days without any additional permit.
Hungary's international airports are Budapest Ferihegy Airport (http://www.bud.hu/index.nfo?tPath=/english) in Budapest and Debrecen. The Hungarian national carrier is Austria, Croatia, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Ukraine.
There are also direct trains from countries slightly further afield: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia and even Switzerland.
On Serbia you shouldn't be surpirsed when there in the bus a collection is being held for a donation to the border-guards, to let the bus pass faster. This is also known as bribing.
It is possible to enter Hungary by international shipping lines on Danube (Duna) or Tisza rivers.
Hungary presently has no scheduled domestic flights. As Budapest lies in the center of the country and pretty much any point can be reached within three hours by train or bus, there isn't much need for them either. However there are many oppourtunities for people with a valid pilot's licence to rent a plane and explore by air.
The Hungarian national train company is Budapest. This is caused by history because half of the once complete train system went to the neighbor countries after World War I. If none of the start or endpoint is Budapest, expect to travel for a long time often with change in Budapest.
Intercity (IC) trains are the fastest, and they're well maintained and cleaned. They link the major cities with Budapest. For theese trains usually you pay 520 (= 2 EUR) extra fee independently from the distance which includes a reservation (not in international ICs, ECs). In some cases the extra charge can be lower.
Other train lines usually are not that fast, and not always cleaned up to the high standards, and often vandalised (mostly in Budapest region) however quality standards are considerable raising. During summer period trains linking Balaton to Budapest are sometimes overcrowded. Pricing depends only on the distance. Compared to the majority of Western European ticket prices, Hungary's IC trains are amongst the cheapest with an excellent record of speed and comfort. In almost all cases they also have a restaurant car.
Young people (under 26 years) may travel with 33 % reduction at the weekends (Friday afternoon included). Child (under 6 years) and citizens from EU countries over 65 years can travel free except on InterCity trains where the extra fee must be paid.
M�V has a useful online schedule and pricing site called Elvira (http://www.elvira.hu/elvira.dll/index?LANGUAGE=2).
It is possible to buy EuroDomino pass for Hungary with which you can travel free during up to 8 days. However buying ticket for each journey is seem to be much cheaper in most of the cases.
Bus lines often are more complete than train lines, the prices and the speed is quite similar. Buses are often clean but they're not always in top quality: many lines don't have (working) air conditioning in the summer (sometimes the central information can help you knowing that beforehand).
There are several companies that provide coach services. Most of them belong to the Vol�n (http://www.volan.hu/) conglomerate. You can search for connections at http://www.menetrendek.hu/cgi-bin/menetrend/html.cgi .
These are not used very often (since Hungary has limited amount of waterways). There are some ferries on Danube and Tisza but you're advised to avoid them due to the undetermined working hours. You can trust the ferry on Lake Balaton, though, for a modest price.
Roads of Hungary are in good shape, and usually you can travel by using a map and the road signs.
Highways are not free, but there are no other toll roads or tunnels.
Don't count on Western European travel times though: if you travel by normal roads the speed limit is 90 km/h between cities and 50 km/h inside, which slows you to the average around 60km/h. Roads often have high traffic (especially main roads like #8 to the west, #6 to the south and #4 to the east).
When you cross the country from the west to the east (or vice versa), take into account that there are only a few bridges crossing the Danube outside Budapest. There are some ferries available though.
There is a fast growing highway network in Hungary. Each highway starts at Budapest.
- M0 - ring around Budapest. Some sections under construction!
- M1 - connection to Gyo"r and Austria (west)
- M2 - connection to V�c, planned to reach the border to Slovakia by 2015 (north)
- M3/M30/M35 - connection to Miskolc, planned to reach Debrecen and Ny�regyh�za in 2006 (east)
- M4 - Planned, will provide connection to Romania via Szolnok by the year 2015 (east)
- M44 - Planned, will provide connection between the M5 at Kecskem�t and the Romanian border via B�k�scsaba (east)
- M5 - connection to Szeged, via Kecskem�t, planned to reach Serbia and Montenegro in 2006 (south-east)
- M6/M56 - Under construction! Planned to reach Duna�jv�ros in 2006, P�cs in 2007 (south)
- M7 - connection to Lake Balaton, planned to reach Croatia and Slovenia in 2007 (south-west)
- M8/M9 - Planned, will cross the country east-west by 2015
A single vignette is required to use all highways, except for M0, which is free. Vignettes can be purchased at filling stations and at �AK (State Motorway Management Co.) offices. A 4-day vignette for a passenger car costs HUF 1460 (~EUR 6) during summertime. See Hungarian (Magyar) is unrelated to any European language other than Finnish, Estonian, and the far northern S�mi — it belongs to the Finno-Ugric language group, so cheating with high school Romance or Germanic languages isn't possible here. On the plus side, Hungarian is written with the familiar Latin alphabet, with the addition of some accented characters (O"o"U"u", which are the same sound as ���� but longer, plus �����, which are long vowels).
In the west of the country many people understand German, and English is usually handled with more or less success. The younger population usually speaks either English, German, French or some other major language. While the entire population took mandatory Russian language classes under the socialist system, very few bothered to keep up with their studies after the Iron Curtain fell, and attempts to use Russian may meet an icy reception. Have no fears though if visiting the major tourist areas in Hungary as these regions (Budapest and Balaton) will, in almost all cases, be very familiar with both English and German.
It must also be said that any effort made by a visitor to use Hungarian will be welcomed. So it is worth trying to pick up a few basic phrases to make your visit more pleasant.
Hungary has several Budapest, including the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andr�ssy Avenue
The unit of Hungarian currency is known as the Forint (HUF), the Hungarian "cent" (fill�r) is long since obsolete. Bills come in 20000, 10000, 5000, 2000, 1000, 500 and 200 HUF denominations, coins are 100 (two colored, similar to �2), 50, 20, 10, 5, 2, 1 HUF. The exchange rate is approximately 250 HUF = �1.
A lunch in Budapest is from 1000 to 8000 HUF per person, and half or third of that outside Budapest (Chinese fast food menu is around 500 HUF). You can use major credit cards (EuroCard, Visa) in major shops and larger restaurants, but never expect that without checking first. Small places cannot afford to handle cards. ATMs are available even in small cities, the coverage is good.
Hungarians are quite proud of their cuisine (Magyar konyha), and most of the time not without a reason. Food are usually spicy (but not hot by general standards), and it's rather tasty than healthy — many dishes are prepared with lard or deep-fried. The national spice is paprika, made from ground sweet bell peppers and which actually has some flavor when fresh. The national dish is, of course, goulash, but Hungarians call the thick paprika-laden stew known as goulash elsewhere by the term p�rk�lt and reserve the term guly�s for a lighter paprika-flavored soup.
Less well known in the rest of the world are csirke paprik�s, chicken in paprika sauce, and hal�szl�, paprika fish soup often made from carp. Goose is also quite popular in Hungary. While tourists gorge on goose liver (libam�j), still cheap by Western standards, probably the most common dish is s�lt libacomb, roast goose leg. Stuffed (t�lt�tt) vegetables of all kinds are also popular, and Hungarian pancakes (palacsinta), both savoury and sweet, are a treat. Common snacks include kolb�sz, a Hungarianized version of the Polish kielbasa sausage, and l�ngos, deep-fried dough with a variety of toppings.
A Hungarian meal is almost always — even at breakfast — accompanied by Hungarian pickles called savany�s�g, literally "sourness". These are often dubbed sal�ta on menus, so order a vitamin sal�ta if you want fresh veggies. Starch is most often served as potatoes, rice or dumplings (galuska or nokedli), the primary Hungarian contribution in this field being an unusual type of small couscous-like pasta called tarhonya.
In major cities and next to the highways you also can find restaurants of the major international chains such as KFC, McDonald's, Burger King, Subway or Pizza Hut.
Vegetarians will have a tough time in Hungary and strict vegans will starve to death. Budapest is not a problem, as there is a wide variety of restaurants to choose from, but in an ordinary Hungarian restaurant the non-meat mains on the menu are pretty much limited to r�ntott sajt (fried cheese) and gombafejek r�ntva (fried mushrooms).
However, in recent years, italian food as become a lot more popular, so as long as you don't mind a pasta heavy diet as a vegetarian you will find a wider choice.
If one self-caters from supermarkets or local shops and markets, however, the selection of fruits and vegetables is quite good, especially in summer.
Hungary has several famous vine regions, most known are Eger, Badacsony, Szeksz�rd. Prices are reasonable.
- Egri Bikav�r (Bull's Blood of Eger) is a strong red Hungarian wine which supposedly saved a clever Hungarian girl from her fate with a Turkish sultan. During the time of the Turkish occupation, it is said a young girl was summoned to become a member of the local sultan's harem. Not wanting this fate for his daughter, her father gave her a bottle of Egri Bikav�r to take to the sultan. He told her to tell the ruler it was bull's blood, and would make him invincible. The sultan, being Muslim, was unaccustomed to alcohol, and proceeded to pass out, leaving the daughter unharmed. That's a story - but in real life, be careful with Egri Bikav�r. It's excellent, but strong stuff!
- Tokaj is known for its sweet dessert wines (Tokaji asz�), which acquire their distinctive taste from grapes infected by the "noble rot" Botrytis cinerea. The favorite tipple of aristocracy, past fans of Tokaji include Louis XIV (who called Tokaj as "The king of the wines, the wine of the kings"), Beethoven, Napoleon III and Peter the Great — which is still reflected in the steep pricing of the best varieties. Almost uniquely among white wines, tokaj keeps very well for long periods.
In Hungarian, p�linka denotes any strong brandy-like liquor distilled from fruit, wine, corn or pretty much anything. Perhaps the best known is barackp�linka, made from apricots and "szilvap�linka" made from plums, many Hungarians make this at legal distillation plants with apricots and plums that they have grown that year, this will be served from wine bottles, medicine bottles and anything without the original label, this drink is not for the feint hearted, if you are a beginner stick to the "Zwack" Kosher or other similar mass produced version.
- Unicum is a strong digestif made from a secret mix of over 40 herbs. It comes in a round-shaped bottles and has a very strong and unusual taste. Try it at your own risk.
Hungarian beer is average compared to other Central European countries like Germany and the Czech Republic as it has long been a wine culture. The most common beers are Dreher, Borsodi, Soproni �szok and Arany �szok, available in the styles vil�gos (lager) and barna (brown). Imported beers like Pilsner Urquell and Budweiser (the Czech variety) are widely available in bars and markets for not much more than the ubiquitous Hungarian brands which cost about 200 Forints at a store and 300-500 at a bar.
Cafe culture is alive and well in Hungary, although it may never recover the romance of its turn-of-the-century intellectual heyday. The coffee is strong and espresso-based, and one drink will buy you hours of time at the table.
Hungarians usually do not drink much tea and most of them will use tea bags for making it. They will probably drink it with sugar and lemon juice. The situation is getting better and there are already several tea houses, mainly in Budapest and some bigger cities where people can buy several types of loose tea. As it is quite fashionable to spend time in a tea house, more and more people will be able to serve good tea even at home. Be aware though that tea in not drunk with milk in Hungary and asking for it will earn you some surprised looks. The best teas to go for are the herbal and fruit varities.
In a restaurant, cafe or confectionery however you will probably not find very good teas.
Prices vary greatly. For the cheapest room in a youth hostel in Budapest expect to pay between 10 and 12 Euros.
It would be very inadvisable for an individual to seek (legal) employment in Hungary because of the complexity, cost and time involved. Most foreign workers in Hungary have received their visas and other necessary documents through the company they are employed by. It is hoped, however, that the joining of Hungary to the EU will force a reduction in the amount of red tape involved.
Many students (usually on a gap year) enjoy working as second language teachers at one of Budapest's many language schools. Be advised that a qualification is required (ESL/TEFL/TESOL)and that experience is preferred.
Watch your baggage and pockets, especially when you travel by public transports. In large cities (especially Budapest) avoid walking in the night outside main, well-lit roads. There is the danger of pickpockets, and some even slash bags on crowded buses and trains.
Beware of money changers that operate in the train stations, these guys normally stand alone nearby an official money changing booth offering their services. These independent money changers are a throw back from Hungary's old times, their rates are not favourable and their service is still illegal, stick to the main offices in the shopping centres or better still a large bank or exchange office. Also be aware: it's not the first exchange rate that's the best - on large train stations you can pop into exchange offices offering an unabashedly low exchange rate (keep in mind that 1 EUR = ~250 HUF).
Food and water is almost always safe.
Private health care providers are good quality but relatively expensive and limited in scope. Public health care is free for qualifying (insured) people but cheap in quality, inefficient and often corrupt. The country joined the EU, so basic coverage is present for EU citizens, but check before entering the country how far are you insured and what you have to pay for. Do not expect that the local doctor knows the EU rules, prepare to provide info. The infamous E-111 forms are required from EU citizens applying for free treatment under this regulation. You'll need a single E-111 copy for each case, so bring more copies with you if you're cautious or expect to need medical help more than once.
Pharmacies are everywhere, you may expect high prices (compared to local incomes) but good pharmaceutical coverage. The only problem might be communicating with the pharmacist as most of them speak only Hungarian. Even some rusty Latin might come handy quite unexpectedly.
- stub and needs your attention. Plunge forward and help it grow!