Hungary caught the attention of the world on numerous occasions with its revolution in 1956, drawing cheers and tears from foes of Stalinism to the opening of its border to Austria in 1989, portending the collapse of communism and ripping the “Iron Curtain” to shreds. Who would have thought a country roughly the size of Indiana, landlocked by Austria, Croatia, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Ukraine, would make headlines over history in the making. Today, Hungary is very free and prosperous and one of the most popular destinations worldwide to visit.
Hungary is a fertile land with the Danube and Tisza rivers flowing through the country. The Danube flows through four capital cities (Budapest, Hungary; Bratislava, Slovakia; Vienna, Austria; and Belgrade, Serbia), more than any other river in the world. The Danube Delta has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991, where its wetland supports mass flocks of migratory birds.
The official language of Hungary is Hungarian and the currency is the Forint (HUF)—since Hungary is not on the Euro, this makes Hungary an affordable place to visit, study, and explore with the currency exchanges.
This is a country that is home to one of the world’s most beautiful cities, Budapest, often called “Pearl of the Danube,” where 2,000 year old Roman ruins and 400 year old Turkish monuments can be found side by side; where Balaton, which is Central Europe’s largest fresh water lake provides natural paradise to its visitors; where hundreds of therapeutic hot springs gush up from its depths.
HIGHLIGHTS OF HUNGARY
National Parks cover over a tenth of the natural area and ten national parks are designated here. Areas of countryside with rolling hills, wild rivers, lakes, forestry, and caves sprawl the land. Take a guided tour, go on a nature trail, or see a demonstration of a specific topic or cultural heritage.
Shopping is very unique in Hungary, because of the WAMP, the Hungarian Design Market, where thousands of visitors go to find interesting and one of a kind design products from Hungarian designers. Shops like Eclectick, Jajcica, Ticca, and Retrock Deluxe, provide the most authentic goods found nowhere else. You can even get a handmade wedding gown here—cheaper than in the States! The best part about shopping in Hungary? You can get a refund of 25% sales tax (VAT) on goods purchased here.
Thermal Spas are actually part of the Hungarian lifestyle. They are designed to be in use all year round. They offer true relaxation and relief from muscular pain and various other ailments. The most popular of these is the Szechenyi Baths with over two million people visiting each year. Heating chambers, saunas, and dipping pools are architecturally overdone at this location. Hungary is a land of more than 1,000 hot springs and enough spa facilities to accommodate 300,000 people at the same time! Today, a couple of contemplative hours in the local baths are part of the daily routine for many Hungarians.
Pannonia lying west of the Danube, the region of Pannonia is blessed with natural beauty and history. Three sites are listed under the UNESCO World Heritage Site list: the convent at Pannonhalma, the catacombs of Pecs, and, Lake Ferto.
Pannonhalma: a treasure of Hungarian architecture, the Benedictine Abbey, often called “the most ancient Hungarian house,” has stood for over a thousand years. The 13th century basilica hosts organ concerts and its library, with over 360,000 volumes, is the oldest in the world.
Pecs: situated in the southern Mecsek Hills, this 2,000 year old city was once a major center for early Christianity. Mysterious burial chambers, Zsolnay chinaware, and Baroque architecture, along with cozy restaurants and cafes show off this city’s delights.
Villany-Siklos Wine Road: was the first ancient wine road to be developed in Hungary. It is connected through eleven towns and villages in a protected wine growing area. Every two years, the October Red Wine festival is held introducing the popular Villany wines such as: Merlot, Cabernet, and Blue Port. On the Church Hill of Villany, is a former lime mine, where you can study 240 million year old animals.
Mohacs: is a town where Hungary’s most spectacular folk tradition takes place, “busójárás”. The masquerade of people wearing rags and scary masks was originally used to frighten off the Turks. Today, this is a carnival saying farewell to winter and welcoming spring.
Budapest is often described as “Little Paris of Central Europe.” With its 1,000 year old culture, it also reflects the relics of others who settled here. The capital of Hungary has two sides: Buda and Pest, representing two unique sides of the city. Buda boasts its historic castle district with medieval streets, caves, and ruins. Pest, offers the largest parliament building in Europe with riverside promenades, antique stores, and cafes.
Buda: Castle Hill is home to Buda’s “old town” and has served as a cultural focal point for centuries. The royal palace required some reconstruction after World World II. It currently houses the Budapest History Museum, the Hungarian National Gallery, and the National Szechenyi Library. The Fisherman’s Bastion, with its fairytale turrets gives great views of the city. Chain Bridge was the premier permanent link between Buda and Pest and the first to cross the Danube River.
Pest: St. Stephen’s Basilica, named after St. Stephen, is visible all over Budapest. The Great Synagogue is the second largest in the world including a Jewish museum, and the Holocaust documentation and memorial center can be found here too. Andrassy Avenue mirrors that of Paris’s Champs Elysees, with eclectic architecture with an opera house and inner courtyards. City Park is a favorite with the city zoo and the Szechenyi baths.
Eger-Tokaj Hilly Wine Region. The country’s highest mountain, smallest village, biggest cave system, oldest railway from the 19th century, and the first Hungarian language bible can all be found here. The world renowned Hungarian wine, Tokaji Aszu, ages in the cellars of this region.
Eger: one of the most beautiful Baroque cities in Hungary, the city of Eger has a rich past with museums and galleries showing off its history and a century old wine cellar filled with full bodied red wines.
Tokaj: for 450 years, the historic city of Tokaj has been producing “the king of wines and the wine of kings.” The grapes ripen until late autumn on a sunny hill, giving the wine a high sugar content, and among some of the customers of this medicinal wine of the middle ages were Russian Czars and the Pope of Rome to name a few.
Miskolc: Hungary’s 3rd largest city is interesting with churches and synagogues, but the twenty minute bus ride to the cave baths, steal the show. The atmospheric outdoor pools discovered in 1920 are sure to awe you. The tranquil resort of Lillafured, which is nestled in a lakeside forest, is best known for its neo-Renaissance palace hotel. The two stalactite caves also attract many visitors.
Puszta and Lake Tisza is a place of legends and amazing sights. The bird nature reserves, Tisza Lake, and the Hortobagy have made it on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Three national parks, Europe’s largest fruit producer, Central Europe’s biggest windmill, and the world’s second largest panorama painting are housed here. The events and festivals related to this region of Hungary are very enjoyable with various wine tastings, cooking folk festivals, and even, a jam making contest.
Hortobagy: stretches over 200,000 acres of protected prairie where cattle, sheep, and other livestock graze on open pastures.
Lake Tisza: is the second largest surface of water in the country. Huge bays, islands, and an abundance of fish swarm in Lake Tisza and it’s also the only lake in all of Europe where jet-skiing and power boating is allowed. Best known for distilling apricot brandy, Kecskemet, is also a university town and center for the arts.
Kalocsa: is known as the paprika capital of Hungary as well as its traditional flowery embroidery and painting. The paprika fields are a picturesque sight of red in early September.
Lake Balaton. “The Hungarian Sea” as its affectionately called, is the most frequented resort and precious treasures in all of the land. It is also the largest lake in Central Europe and its water including the sleek mud found in it, are medicinal in nature for nervous fatigue, anemia, and other ailments. Like a large part of Hungary vineyards span the region. Included in the surroundings of Lake Balaton is an extinct casket shaped volcano, the oldest settlement in the region called Keszthely; Siofok, is the largest town south of Lake Balaton and Heviz, which is known for its two century old thermal bath and is the second largest hot water lake in the world.
HUNGARIAN CUISINE—PASS THE PAPRIKA!
Authentic Hungarian cuisine is definitely not for people on a diet. Very rich and fatty foods complement the taste buds but not everything is soaking in pork fat or paprika. With the fertile plain and climate of Hungary, savory meat dishes and lots of nutrient rich fruit and vegetables, span the region. There is a distinct taste to Hungarian meals which include: paprika, onion, garlic, lard, sour cream, and in dessert dishes: walnuts, poppy seeds, and cottage cheese.
A perfect Hungarian lunch always starts with soup. Other Hungarian dishes include stuffed cabbage, fish soup, beef soup, and the famous goulash.
Bogracs is a cooking utensil still used today in Hungary. It’s a cast iron kettle that was put over a cooking fire and today used mostly in outdoor cooking.
Hungarian cuisine is a mix of many cultures including Italian, Turkish, Austrian, and Bulgarian flavors. The Turks brought paprika to Hungary which later became the symbol of Hungarian cuisine. Before paprika, ancient Hungarians used dill, mushrooms, horseradish, rosemary, and sage. When the Turks raided the land of Hungary, they stole almost all of the livestock, except for pigs (due to their religious beliefs) and since then, pork has been widely used in Hungarian cooking. The Turks also introduced coffee to Hungary and since then, cafes and coffee houses have become part of the social and cultural growth at the turn of the last century.
Some “must-try” Hungarian dishes include: goulash, stuffed cabbage, chicken paprika, goose liver, and for desserts: apple or cherry strudels, funnel cake, and a variety of other cakes.
When visiting Hungary, you can take a cooking class at the First Strudel House of Pest, with special presentations where active participation is encouraged. Don’t forget to try Palinka, a distilled fruity brandy made from apricots, plums, and pears. Last but not least, Unicum is a blend of herbs and spices that Hungarians swear by to help with digestion.
HUNGRY TO STUDY ABROAD IN HUNGARY?
The higher education system within Hungary provides many diverse opportunities for international students. Central European University has classes conducted in English and internationally recognized for graduate education in the humanities and social sciences. Corvinus University in Budapest, has excellent programs in business, economics, and public administration and even has programs where students can work with government and business partners to help with prospects. The Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Hungary’s premier university, boasts a large and diverse international studies program.
The first university in Hungary was the University of Pecs, founded in 1367. With a truly international flavor, this university offers hundreds of classes in English, German, French, and Italian, in addition to all of its standard classes. These are just four of the many diverse institutions that contribute to the education system in Hungary.
With its central location and bordering countries, cultural activities and excursions are easy to acquire within or outside of Hungary. With its rich history, mouth watering cuisine, relaxing thermal baths, and unique culture, Hungary is truly a gem to explore as a study abroad destination.
FUN FACTS ABOUT HUNGARY
– A typical Hungarian eats about a pound of lard (fat) a week just from cooking with it
– Budapest has some of the oldest railways in the world
– Hungary has won the sixth highest number of gold metals in the Summer Olympics
– Hungarian language is also known as, Magyar, and is a direct descendant to the language spoken by the Nuns, who gave the country its name.
This post was submitted by Anastasia Diamantis.
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