Difference between revisions of "Hungary"
Revision as of 10:44, 9 February 2005
Hungary (Magyarország) 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 all 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.
The country is not very different from most of the european countries: you may expect 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, but finally, around 1992. Since then the country has elected governments, and the economy is based on the laws of marketing (and miracles). In some areas there is a significant gypsy population (some census say around 5%), this surely doesn't count as "all of them".
Hungary is now a part of the European Union, meaning less formalities when entering from other member countries but a rather more thorough check if entering from elsewhere. Citizens of most countries are free to enter with passport for normal travel, usual length of stay is 30 days without any additional permit.
When driving into Hungary, ensure that the border crossing on the route you choose allows the passage of foreigners; a number of smaller crossings are only open to local residents. Also some smaller crossings close in the afternoon for the night.
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.
The Hungarian national train company is MÁV. The train network is star-shaped, fanning out from the centre at 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 long time.
Intercity (IC) trains are the fastest, and they're well maintained and cleaned (so you pay more). Other trainlines usually are not that fast, and not always cleaned up to the high standards, and often vandalised. Prices are similar to bus lines.
MÁV has a useful online schedule and pricing site called Elvira.
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).
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 with 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 have often high traffic (especially main roads like #8 to the west, #6 to the south and #4 to the east).
Take into account that there are only a few bridges crossing the Danube outside Budapest. There are some ferries available though.
There are 4 highways, each of them starts from Budapest:
The metro and tram system in Budapest are easy to negotiate, but the language is not. Hungarian (Magyar) is unrelated to any European language other than Finnish, Estonian, and the far north Sámi &mdash it belongs to the Finno-Ugric language group, so no cheating with high school Romance or Germanic languages here. On the plus side, Hungarian is written with the familiar Latin alphabet, with the addition of some accented characters (ŐőŰű, which are the same sound as ÖöÜü but longer, plus áéíóú, which are long vowels).
In the west of the country many people understand German, and English is usually handled with more or less success. Younger population usually speaks either English, German, French or some other major language.
The unit of Hungarian currency is known as the Forint (HUF), the Hungarian "cent" (fillér) is long since obsolete. Bills come in 20000, 10000, 5000, 2000, 1000, 500 and 200 HUF denominations, coins are 200 (very rare, some actually have silver content), 100 (two colored, usually forged with (Italian) lire or other similar colored, often worthless coins), 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 pörkölt and reserve the term gulyás for a lighter paprika-flavored soup.
Less well known in the rest of the world are csirke paprikás, chicken in paprika sauce, and halászlé, paprika fish soup often made from carp. Goose is also quite popular in Hungary. While tourists gorge on goose liver (libamáj), still cheap by Western standards, probably the most common dish is sült libacomb, roast goose leg. Stuffed (töltött) vegetables of all kinds are also popular, and Hungarian pancakes (palacsinta), both savoury and sweet, are a treat. Common snacks include kolbász, a Hungarianized version of the Polish kielbasa sausage, and lángos, deep-fried dough with a variety of toppings.
A Hungarian meal is almost always — even at breakfast — accompanied by Hungarian pickles called savanyúság, literally "sourness". These are often dubbed saláta on menus, so order a vitamin saláta if you want fresh veggies. Starch is most often served as potatoes, rice or dumplings (galuska), the primary Hungarian contribution in this field being an unusual type of small couscous-like pasta called tarhonya.
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 rántott sajt (fried cheese) and gombafejek rántva (fried mushrooms).
In Hungarian, pálinka denotes any strong brandy-like liquor distilled from fruit, wine, corn or pretty much anything. Perhaps the best known is barackpálinka, made from apricots.
Hungarian Beer is superb, among the best in the world. The most common beers are Dreher and Borsodi which both produce beers in the styles vilagos (lager) and barna (brown).
Hungarians usually do not drink tea unless they're sick and don't expect they'll know how to make a decent tea.
Prices vary greatly. For the cheapest room in a youth hostel in Budapest expect to pay between 10 and 12 Euros.
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.
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.