Difference between revisions of "Hungary"
Revision as of 09:13, 18 January 2009
Hungary (Magyarország)  is a country in Central Europe. Member of the European Union and Schengen. 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 (including Balaton - the largest lake in Central Europe), and many beautiful small villages and hidden gems of cities. Top this off with Hungary's great accessibility in the middle of Europe, a vivid culture and economy, and you get a destination absolutely not worth missing if you're in the region.
Following a Celtic (after c. 450 BC) and a Roman (9 BC - c. 4th century) period, the foundation of Hungary was laid in the late Ninth Century by the Magyar chieftain Árpád, whose great grandson István ascended to the throne with a crown sent from Rome in 1000. The Kingdom of Hungary existed with minor interruptions for more than 900 years, and at various points was regarded as one of the cultural centers of Europe. It was succeeded by a Communist era (1945-1989) during which Hungary gained widespread international attention regarding the Revolution of 1956 and the seminal move of opening its border with Austria in 1989, thus accelerating the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. The present form of government is Parliamentary Republic (1989-). Hungary's current goal is to become a developed country by IMF standards, having became already developed by most traditional measures, including GDP and Human Development Index (world ranking 36th and rising).
Hungary is one of the 15 most popular tourist destinations in the world, with a capital regarded as one of the most beautiful in the world . Despite its relatively small size, the country is home to numerous World Heritage Sites, UNESCO Biosphere reserves, the second largest thermal lake in the world (Lake Hévíz), the largest lake in Central Europe (Lake Balaton), and the largest natural grassland in Europe (Hortobágy). In terms of buildings, Hungary is home to the largest synagogue in Europe (Great Synagogue), the largest medicinal bath in Europe (Széchenyi Medicinal Bath), the third largest church in Europe (Esztergom Basilica), the second largest territorial abbey in the world (Pannonhalma Archabbey), the second largest Baroque castle in the world (Gödöllő), and the largest Early Christian Necropolis outside Italy (Pécs).
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.
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, over 2 million ethnic and cultural Hungarians live in bordering countries, as well.
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Temperatures in Hungary vary from -20°C to 39°C through the year. Distribution and frequency of rainfall are unpredictable due to the continental clime of the country. Heavy storms are frequent after hot summer days, and so do more days long still rainfalls in the Autumn. The western part of the country usually receives more rain than the eastern part, and severe droughts may occur in summertime. Weather conditions in the Great Plain can be especially harsh, with hot summers, cold winters, and scant rainfall.
Hungary has joined the Schengen agreement, which means that you can enter on a European Union Schengen visa and there are no longer any ID/passport controls on the EU borders. Citizens of Croatia can enter the country by showing their identity card. Citizens of the US, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Venezuela and New Zealand, are free to enter without a visa. The usual length of stay is 90 days without any additional permit.
Hungary's international airports are Budapest Ferihegy Airport  in Budapest, Airport Debrecen  in Debrecen (non operating in winter 2008-2009) and FlyBalaton Airport  in Sármellék (non operating in winter 2008-2009). The Hungarian national carrier is Malév (Hungarian Airlines) . There are also several low cost carriers operating to Budapest: for example Ryanair , Wizzair , Easyjet , Germanwings .
Air Europa  operates a daily fly from Madrid and is a good choice from Latin America with stop in Madrid.
There are direct connections to Hungary from:
You can search for international train connections at official schedule site  of MÁV, national train company.
To enter the country, ensure that your International Motor Insurance Card is valid for Hungary(H) along with the Vehicle Registration and a Power of Attorney from the owner if the car is not yours. The border guards are very strict about allowing cars through without these documents.
The Hungarian border control is very strict and thorough. They will not hesitate to conduct a full vehicle search if necessary.
Entry from non-Schengen countries can take quite a long time, in particular in the summer months on the weekends when EU-Nationals are returning north along the E75 corridor from Belgrade, Serbia. The wait lines to get through the border have been as long as 7 km with a wait time of up to 6 hours. Alternative border points in Hungary or Croatia can be used to by-pass.
When driving into Hungary, ensure that the border crossing on the route you choose allows the passage of foreigners. Also some smaller crossings close in the afternoon for the night. It is also required to buy a vignette for driving on highways. Domestic (Budapest) car hire:  and International car rental supplier: .
Several international bus lines go in or through Hungary. You can find timetables and book tickets on the homepage of Volánbusz , which is the national bus company and also the local Eurolines representation. On the southern border with Serbia you shouldn't be surprised when there in the bus a collection is being held for a donation to the border-guards, to let the bus pass faster.
It is possible to enter Hungary by international shipping lines on Danube (Duna) or Tisza rivers. There is a scheduled hydrofoil service on the Danube to and from Vienna and Bratislava daily between early April and early November operated by Mahart. 
Hungary presently has no regular 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 scheduled domestic flights.
However there are many opportunities for people with a valid pilot's license to rent a plane and explore by air.
The train network is star-shaped (hub-and-spoke), 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 neither the starting or ending point is Budapest, expect to travel for a long time often with change in Budapest.
Intercity (IC) trains are the fastest, and they're up-to-date, well maintained and cleaned. They link the major cities with Budapest. For these trains usually you pay 550 Forints (= 2 EUR) extra fee independently from the distance which includes a seat reservation (not in international ICs, ECs). In some cases the extra charge can be lower. 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. At the weekends many students use these IC trains to commute between Budapest and other cities, so an early advance booking is recommended on Friday afternoons for the trains leaving Budapest and on Sunday evenings for trains towards Budapest. Working with a notebook is generally safe, unless it's heavy overcrowded.
Other train lines usually are not that fast, and not always cleaned up to the high standards (even in the 1st class), and often vandalised (mostly in Budapest region) however quality standards are considerably raising. During summer period trains linking Balaton to Budapest are sometimes overcrowded. Pricing depends only on the distance and on the car class. Cash desks assume 2nd class by default for non-IC trains (at least in Budapest for English speakers), so if you didn't catch your IC, consider asking 1st class, paying small extra for much more comfort. When in the train, keep in mind that there are smoking and non-smoking cars--check a sign over a door inside a car.
Young people (under 26 years) may travel with 33% reduction at the weekends (Friday afternoon included). Children (under 6 years) and retired (citizens from EU countries over 65 years) can travel free except on InterCity trains where the extra fee (reservation) must be paid.
It is possible to buy Inter Rail pass for Hungary. Check whether buying tickets for each journey is cheaper.
There are some ferries on Danube and Tisza but their undetermined working hours make them non-recommended. You can trust the ferry on Lake Balaton, though, for a modest price.
Most roads in Hungary are two lane apart from modern motorways. Main roads are mostly in good shape, however cracks, potholes and bumpy roads are common on minor roads and in major cities though they are constantly being repaired. Usually you can travel by using a map and the road signs.
Expressways are not free, but there are no other toll roads or tunnels.
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). On highways, travel is the same as in Germany, and on the inside lane it is very common to have someone speed by you.
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.
It is a legal requirement to drive with headlights on, even during the day -- a requirement that is becoming more common across the EU.
Hungary has a policy of zero tolerance for driving under the influence of alcohol. If you are caught driving even after only having a couple of units of alcohol you are most likely to be arrested.
There is a fast growing highway network in Hungary (1,480 km in total). Each highway starts at Budapest.
A single vignette is required to use all highways, except for M0 and short sections around major cities, which are free. Vignettes can be purchased online with bankcard on , at filling stations and at ÁAK (State Motorway Management Co.) offices. A 4-day vignette for a passenger car costs HUF 1520 (~EUR 6) during summertime. Vignettes are controlled automatically through a camera system. See  or  for details.
Inspect the change that taxi drivers give you. Cabbies commonly rip off tourists by giving them change in outdated Romanian currency, which looks similar to Hungarian currency, but is worthless and cannot be redeemed.
Hungarians speak Hungarian (Magyar), a language remotely related to Finnish and Estonian languages from the North and the East and not at all related to any of its neighbours, much less English. It may sound somewhat similar to and borrows heavily from German (the ö and the ü, for example), Russian and the Slavic languages (the "y" is a soft sign in Hungarian), there's NO relation with them at all. Pointing out the seeming similarity may upset or even anger locals, even though Hungarian does have a rather large German and Slavic vocabulary.
Many foreigners think that the Hungarian language is close to the German - in fact it's not, so if someone doesn't speak German, there's no use to try to speak loudly/clearly/slowly, they won't get what you say.
English-speakers tend to find most everything about the written language tough going, including a number of unusual sounds like gy (often pronounced like the d in "during") and ű, as well as agglutinative grammar that leads to fearsome-looking words like hozzáadottérték-adó (value-added tax) and viszontlátásra (goodbye). On the upside, it's written with the familiar Roman alphabet (if adorned with lots of accents), and - unlike English - it has a phonemic orthography. This means that if you learn how to pronounce the 30 letters of the alphabet, you'll be able to pronounce almost every Hungarian word with near perfection. Remember, one difference in pronunciation or even vowel length can lead to misinterpretation. Attempting anything beyond the very basics will gain you a great deal of respect. Diphthongs are almost-nonexistent in Hungarian (except foreign words, which it has many).
Since English is now obligatory in schools, if you address someone in their twenties, possibly carrying a schoolbag, you stand a good chance that he or she will speak English well enough to help you out.
However, due to Hungary's history, the older generation had less access to foreign language tuition, so your chances are less good. One exception is Russian, which was obligatory in the communist era (although a number of Hungarians are quite happy to forget it). The other is German, which is understood in areas frequented by German tourists (mostly near lake Balaton and the west, around Sopron), and partly because of Hungary's historical ties to Austria and later with East Germany.
Basically, in Hungary, you'll have much more chance finding someone speaking a foreign language in larger cities, especially in those with universities such as Budapest, Szeged, Pécs and Debrecen. In rural areas chances are rather low.
To summarize: try your luck with young people. And don't get offended of someone reacts to your "Do you speak English?" question by stepping or looking away - either he is ashamed of his lack of language competence, or you're the first person in his life to ask that. Don't be discouraged and try with someone else.
Hungary has several World Heritage sites. These are:
There are also some amazing things to see.
Hungary is an excelent destinations for a birdwatching (aka birding) holiday. There are wooded hills, vast fish-pond systems and grasslands, the puszta. Particularly good areas include the Kiskunsag and Hortobagy National Parks and the Aggtelek, Bukk and Zemplen Hills.
Vast areas of open countryside coupled with the long traditions of horsemanship make Hungary an ideal country for riding. Wide open plains in the south and forested hills in the north offer varied riding terrain.
Thermal waters abound in Hungary with over 1000 thermal springs in the country many of which have been turned into baths and spas. The most famous being the Szechenyi baths in Budapest. There are, however, hundreds of individual baths all around the country. The cave baths at Miskolctapolca and the spa at Egerszalók are some nice examples.
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 100 (two colored, similar to €2), 50, 20, 10, 5 HUF. As of March 1, 2008, the 2 and 1 HUF coins have been withdrawn, too.
Euro is now accepted at most hotels and some of the restaurants and shops. Make sure you check the exchange rate though, sometimes even well known places (like McDonald's) will exchange at unrealistic rates. Forint is scheduled to disappear around 2010-2012, but no date is fixed yet.
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.
There are 194 forints to the USD and 263 forints to the EUR (11 Oct 2008).
Exchange rates for EUR and USD are roughly the same within downtown (at least in Budapest and Eger). Rates may be much worse in airports and large train stations - so change exactly what you need to reach downtown. Official exchange offices always give a receipt and normally have a large glass between client and a cashier making all steps transparent for client.
Travellers report that unofficial money changers operating nearby an official money changing booth offer unfavourable rates--and recommend to use official exchange offices.
If you arrive to Budapest at late nights it is quite likely you won't be able to find any working bank or exchange office. In this case you may attempt to exchange your money with any random taxi driver. They will rip you off by 100-200 forints (around 1 EUR), but it's better than nothing. There is an ATM in the arrival hall at Budapest Ferihegy, and the rates for using ATMs with a card are often better than the bureau de change
Adventurous locals in Budapest report they change EUR unofficially with arabs on a train station, but they don't recommend it to unaccompanied travellers.
What to buy?
Apart from classical tourist souvenirs like postcards and trinkets, here are some things unique to Hungary or just hard to find elsewhere.
In restaurants, a service charge is frequently included into bill, 10% or even 12%, but this has to be clearly pointed out on the menu. If it'n not, the place has no right to include a service charge in the bill.
Even if there's no service charge, unless the service was preposterous most Hungarians tend to leave a generous tip (10% minimum). Unlike in most western countries, tip is usually not left on the table, but rather the amount is specified to the waiting staff when you pay.
There were some places (mainly in downtown Pest) that tried to rip off drunk tourists at night by charging ridiculously high prices for drinks. Most of these places are closed now, but it's still a good idea to always check the prices on the menu before ordering.
In major cities and next to the highways you can find restaurants of the major international chains such as KFC, McDonald's, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Subway and TGI Friday's.
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 tasty rather 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 paprikás csirke, 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 (mostly sour cream, cheese and/or garlic).
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' or nokedli), the primary Hungarian contribution in this field is an unusual type of small couscous-like pasta called tarhonya.
Vegetarians and Vegans will have about as much ease eating out as in any other western country. 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).
However, in recent years, Italian food has 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.
There are plenty of vegetarian and vegan restaurants, and a lot's of healthfood stores that offer all sorts of vegetarian/vegan products (including cosmetics). Regular stores like Groby among other brands sell everything from vegan sausages to mayonaise. A good place to start is looking at Budaveg and Happy Cow for specific information.
Over all, apply the same rules as you do at home, and you should be well fed.
If new to Hungarian wine, be aware that both champagne ("pezsgő") and wine, red or white, are quite likely to be sweet ("Édes"). If dry wine is your preference, look for the word "Száraz" on the label.
In Hungarian, pálinka denotes strong brandy-like liquor distilled from fruit. Pálinka is a very social drink: just as the English drink tea, the Hungarians, especially in rural areas, will offer pálinka to guests upon arrival. The best-known varieties are barackpálinka, made from apricots, körtepálinka from pears, and szilvapálinka made from plums. Factory-made pálinka is widely available, but keep an eye out for homemade házipálinka. Pálinkas usually contain around or above 40% of alcohol, often more for the homemade ones. Pálinka bottles marked mézes will be heavily sweetened with honey.
Unicum is a strong digestif made from a secret mix of over 40 herbs. It comes in striking black bottles emblazoned with a red and white cross, and has a very strong and unusual taste. Unicum Next has a lighter, citrusy flavor, and is rather more palatable.
Hungarian beer is quite 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 and Arany Ászok, available in the styles világos (lager) and barna (brown). They cost about 150-200 Forints at a store and 300-500 at a bar.
Imported beers like Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen and Budweiser (the Czech variety) are widely available in bars and markets for not much more than the ubiquitous Hungarian brands.
When offering a toast with beer, be warned that most Hungarians will politely refuse. This is due to an old tradition due to remembering soldiers killed in the 1848 revolution, whereby it was decreed no Hungarian would toast with beer for 150 years. It's been so long, however, that most Hungarians no longer know the origins of this tradition or that they've been free to make toasts over beer for the past ten years.
Cafe culture is alive and well in Hungary, although it may never recover the romance of its turn-of-the-century intellectual heyday. Unless asked, it's a good idea to specify what kind of coffee you prefer. The word kávé means the strong, espresso like coffee to most Hungarians, although American-style coffee (known as hosszú kávé in Hungarian, usually translated as "long coffee") is now also available at most places.
Tea houses are now getting popular in cities, especially among the young. There is a growing number of 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. The best teas to go for are the herbal and fruit varieties. In restaurants and cafes, lemon juice is frequently served in a small bottle. In traditional restaurants or cafes however, good teas are hard to find, as coffee and beverages are preferred.
When you ask for a black tea in a budget cafe, frequently Earl Grey is served instead--remember to specify if that does matter for you.
Most mineralized (and hard to find, judging by Budapest):
It should be noted though that as it is the case of most European countries, in Hungary, it is safe to drink tap water anywhere, even 'remote' settings.
Prices vary greatly. For the cheapest room in a youth hostel in Budapest expect to pay between €10 and €12, but the normal rate in a hostel is €20-22 per person.
Village Tourism is popular and very well developed in Hungary, and can be a remarkable experience. Start your research with 1Hungary , National Federation of Rural and Agrotourism  and Centre of Rural Tourism .
B&B During your stay in Hungary, BIKERCAMP awaits you in the centre of Budapest with cold drinks in the summer, warm rooms in the winter and with motorcyclists' hospitality. The campground, is near the M3 subway station of Népliget. The subway is 4 minutes on foot .
Hungarian universities are open to all foreign students. Many European exchange students come through the EU's Erasmus program. There are quite a lot students from Asia and the Middle East as well, particularly because despite the high standard of education, fees are still considerably lower than in the more developed Western European countries. Interested should visit Study in Hungary  or University of Debrecen  websites.
It could be very difficult 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 since the joining of Hungary to the EU a reduction will follow in the amount of red tape involved.
Many students (usually on a gap year) work 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.
An excellent option is to teach through the Central European Teaching Program . For a reasonable placement fee they will take care of all your paperwork and set you up in a school in Hungary teaching English. Contracts are for one semester or a whole school year.
See also Work section in Budapest article.
Watch your baggage and pockets on public transports. There is a danger of pickpockets. There are some reported cases when people got their baggage stolen while sleeping on the train, watch out for that. Generally, Hungary is rather quiet during the night compared to other European countries, and crime to tourists restricts to pickpocketing, and eventual cheating on prices and bills and taxi fares, see that section. Chances are weak, but indian, South-American travellers might encounter hostility because of being misrecognized as the local gipsy minority, generally discriminated in Hungary.
Food and water is generally safe.
Private health care providers are good quality but limited in scope. Dentistry is cheaper here than in Western Europe (8-10000 HUF for an appointment and x-ray), and physiotherapy also (3000HUF for a half hour treatment), but check the price with the provider before you confirm the appointment. Outside Budapest you will need to speak Hungarian to communicate your needs clearly as fewer doctors will have good English or German.
Public health care is free for qualifying (insured) people, but varies in quality.
The country has 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 at this time that the local doctor will know the EU rules, prepare to provide info.
The European Health Insurance Card is required from EU citizens applying for free treatment under this regulation; European health card for 1 June 2004 
Pharmacies are everywhere, you may expect high prices, but very good pharmaceutical coverage. The only problem might be communicating with the pharmacist as most of them speak only Hungarian outside Budapest. Even some rusty Latin might come handy quite unexpectedly. For travellers from Eastern Europe, note that due to limited or abandoned trade of Hungary with Romania (as of Dec 2006), some of familiar medications are unavailable--so be prepared to find a substitute in advance.