Tips for visiting Hungary

For those interested and/or planning on visiting the country of Hungary, here’s some information you’ll likely find helpful for your travels…

When you fly into the country, this’ll be the first place you’ll see, if not the place you’ll be staying. The city’s name is the imaginative combination of two former cities, Buda and Pest, which united in 1873. I’ll admit I haven’t gotten to fully explore the city, but one of the first sights to see would be Buda Castle, perched on a hill above and beside the Danube. If you’re up for some light subterranean exploring, the underground Labyrinth near the castle might be your bag; just be wary that it’s a cave and the leaky ceilings that caves entail. If you’re looking for something a bit more thrilling, I hear a wooden roller coaster that was built in 1922 still operates in Vidam Park.

In the case that you’re craving Mexican food, the city probably holds your best chance for satisfaction in Arriba Taqueria… their chorizo burritos are surprisingly tasty with pineapple, medium-heat sauce, sour cream, and the obligatory rice and beans.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it: the best car for most of Hungary’s roads would probably be a rally car with very, very cushy suspension.  While the freeways are pretty smooth, the highways and rural roads range from “Moderately Bumpy” to “Tire Shop’s Business Maker”. Most drivers love to drive fast – please note that the speed limit on Hungarian freeways converts to 80 MPH, and drivers often do triple-digits with nary consequence. In fact, chances are interactions between the police force and you will be either about a random inspection, or you forgot to pay for a Matrica Vignette – basically Hungary’s freeway taxes. If you have the choice, it’s best to choose a diesel car over a gasoline as gas prices are steep.

And if you haven’t gotten the hang of the rule regarding the left lane being used for passing only, prepare for a hard time.

I suppose I could say that being residents of Washington state, you’re somewhat prepared for the general lack of manners you’ll find… Just be prepared to fight for your right to crosswalks while on foot and put up with tailgaters, lane-hogs and slowpokes on the road, and people refusing to put down a grocery divider at the market. Oh, and staring – lots of staring. But I suppose that’s the only difference.

This isn’t to say everyone’s asinine and out to get you, of course. I’ve met some very kind people, including the nurses of a small hospital, and a veterinarian that gave the family dog a check-up and some medication free of charge.

I’ve yet to figure out if interest in a medical career correlates to kindness, so I’m afraid I’ll have to leave all of you to conduct further research.

Plenty of American fast food franchises have made their way to Hungary – McDonald’s is no surprise, but plenty of Burger Kings can be found, and KFC has a location or two in Budapest. For those of you wanting to eat more local food, there are plenty of palatable choices. Paprika is a favorite ingredient, so expect plenty of zesty dishes. I’ll warn you that there’s less concern about fat content. A popular snack, sajtos tejfölös lángos, could be described as fry bread topped with sour cream and Trappista cheese.

Concerning sweets, pastries and cakes are very popular, and you can pick up a small square of cake or some various pastries at local bakery shops. Kürt?skalács are Hungary’s oldest kind of pastry, and are a popular street vending treat.

If you’re interested in local liquor, I suggest you stay away from the Unicum and especially the Palinka. I’m not so sure, but a restaurant I frequented was joking about their bottles of the latter causing hallucinations…

If you’re up for a bit of exploring, the town I resided in lies about an hour and a half away from Budapest; you’ll likely pass by if you choose to visit Balaton Lake and it’s surrounding attractions. I’ll admit there isn’t much to see, though the large church in the town square may be of interest, and the miniature water park of a pool complex is a great place to relax. If you’re up for some unique food, I suggest visiting Kattani for a chicken “Gyros Kattani” pizza, the rather fancy restaurant next to the pool complex for some nice Wiener Schnitzel and fried veggies, or some pork knuckle at the Stork’s Nest… Think a big bone surrounded by bits of Carnitas and a bunch of fat.

Should you be interested, this city’s around two hours away from Budapest. Simply put, do not expect to see all there is to see in a day. Two favorite attractions would be Wiener Prater and the Hause des Meeres; the former is a large amusement park that possesses the world’s former tallest swing tower, and the latter is a unique zoo and aquarium contained in a WWII flak tower. If you manage to cover the city, perhaps a three hour drive to Salzburg might be worth your while as well.

In case you still have time after exploring Hungary and have already explored the rest of Austria, Italy is a six hour drive away from Budapest. If you consider it a reasonable distance, a trip to Venice may be in order. However, try to minimize the amount of driving you do in Italy; most the expressways in Italy have pricey tolls. The train will probably become a good friend of yours.

Throughout the years, I’ve grown a certain sort of respect and love for Hungary – much like the kind one grows for their lovably cranky grandfather – and I’m sad to note that this summer likely marked my last trip to the country for a while.

I’m not one to live vicariously through others, but if you get the chance to visit, make the best of it. Go wild exploring the land, so you won’t regret a thing once it’s time to pack up and go back to the U.S.

And speaking of regret, if anyone visits soon, I’d be grateful if you brought back some rum-flavored Ritter Sport chocolates… I never thought to stock up for the next several years.