Szia, tripwolves. I’m just back from Hungary; my official first foray to Eastern Europe. I’ve always longed to visit Eastern Europe, but ever since meeting V – an ultra-chic woman from Pécs; one of my best friends here in Italy, who has seduced me with tales of her native land – I’ve specifically had Hungary on the brain. When she invited me to spend Easter with her family, I could barely keep my knees from knocking together with excitement.
It was – as you will see throughout the course of this series – a brilliant, soul-enriching week. Below, my seven best reasons for you to visit Hungary. And for me to plan my second trip.
Hungary: a Living Testament to the Power of Great Ideas
I took a lot of strolls through V’s hometown of Pécs – taking snapshot after snapshot of local treasures, like the majestic mosque of Pasha Qasim the Victorious at Széchenyi tér and the Zsolnay Fountain with its famous bullheads, created from a stunning iridescent ceramic glazed to resemble bronze and copper patina all at once.
And at Míves Tojás Easter Egg Museum, I gawped at dozens of lavishly decorated Easter Eggs – each one more incredible than the last.
I mean, if you told me to decorate an Easter Egg, my pea brain would just slap polka dots on it and call it a day. As I walked and gawped my way through several cities in Hungary, I had the same thought over and over: How did they do that? Where the heck did they get that fantastic idea?
Hungary has a long history of producing inventors and artistic geniuses. A very brief list of famous inventions the world owes to Hungarian brainpower: the Carburetor (Donát Bánki and János Csonka), the Volkswagen Beetle (Béla Barényi), the modern diesel engine (Ferenc Anisits), Vitamin C (Albert Szent-Györgyi), the ballpoint pen (László Bíró), and the Rubik’s Cube (Ernő Rubik). Hungary was also home to Béla Bartók and Franz Liszt – two of history’s greatest composers.
Nearly every corner I passed on my Hungarian strolls reminded me of the importance of beauty in the world. Of the hope that can spring from seeing just one lovingly-conceived garden plot. And above all, of the far-reaching effects of abstract thinking.
Hungary might be a land-locked country, but 80% of it is bubbling with thermal waters. Heading to the baths for a healing soak in the medicinal waters or – better yet – spa treatments has been a popular element of Hungarian culture since the days of Ancient Rome. The Gellért Baths in Budapest are especially luxurious.
Spicy Paprika, Garlic, Lard, Hot Pepper, Meat Upon Meat
This simply wouldn’t be an Eva post if I didn’t wax poetic about the beauties of global cuisine. Ho mama, is Hungarian food good. All I have to say to you, my fellow tripwolves, is prepare yourselves for one heck of a Ten Things to Put in Your Mouth article.
One drunken night, V and M – my Swiss-Italian friend – came to verbal fisticuffs on the topic of wines. V had merely suggested that Hungarian wines were delicious enough to rival Italian wines, and M just… wouldn’t… have… it. The argument raged on the next day through Facebook chat – CC’d to all who had been present during the original discussion. I have a feeling M would drink his words if he took a trip to Hungarian wine country.
Wine has been produced in Hungary since Roman times. Wine-producing regions are plentiful throughout Central and Western Hungary, extending from the Northern part of the country to the Southwest. The wines produced run the gamut of flavors, from fresh whites to robust, spicy reds. The most well-known Hungarian wines are arguably Tokaji – sweet, white dessert wines – and Egri Bikavér: the full-bodied red Bull’s blood of Eger.
Choose a wine region, and then choose a pince – wine cellar – and get to work tasting as many wines as you can drink before you need to take a sobriety test. Many of these establishments serve tasty snacks or provide full menus. Just what you need for soaking up award-winning wines. Hic. Hic.
What could be better than looking down on the world from a stone tower? Hungary’s political relevance during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance is forever stamped on its soil by the dozens of romantic castles dotting the idyllic countryside.
Many of Hungary’s castles show influences from other cultures, such as the Turks, the Mongols, the Ottomans, and, later, the Italians. Buda Castle on the Danube River offers breathtaking views of bustling Budapest, while Pécsvárad Castle – a Medieval strongfort built by St. Stephen on a Benedictine Monastery is an intriguing mish mash of Romanesque, Byzantine, and Barque architecture. Traces of a Byzantine fresco can still be seen in its chapel.
Tiles as Far as the Eye Can See
Whenever I come back from a trip to a new place, I find myself uploading dozens and dozens of photos of (natch) food and architecture. I couldn’t build a Lego hut to save my life but no matter where I go, I can’t stop staring at unusual doors, windows, and sidewalks. And now that I’ve been to Hungary, I have a new obsession: tiled roofs.
I mean, just look at this roof. Thousands of ceramic tiles forming a mosaic that only the birds can fully enjoy. Tiled roofs covering churches, post offices, museums, castle wings, factories, and even regular homes.
I wish I were taller, lots taller, just so I could see them better.
Bang for the Florint
As of yesterday, 1€ bought 295 Hungarian Florints. While prices remain higher in the capital and largest cities, overall, prices for food, entertainment, and lodgings will be extremely attractive to a visitor who lives in Western Europe or the United States.
So the real question is…. Hungary is waiting for you; what are you waiting for?
All photos by Eva Sandoval