Friday, March 06, 2009


From Vienna I took the train to Győr, a medium sized city halfway between Vienna and Budapest in Hungary’s Northwest. I met my friends there and took a stroll through the darkened city centre, taking in the baroque buildings. Then it was off to Tata, Gergo’s hometown. With a beautiful old castle and lake (which was entirely frozen), it’s a pretty town and I took in most of the sites the next day.

What stands out most about Hungary is its hospitality, with the beautifully cheesy irony that you will never be hungry in Hungary (Contrary to local claims that ‘hungry-Hungary’ jokes are overused and not amusing, it is quite clear that they are=) ). From the moment I arrived I was fed food and endless shots of homemade palinka (a strong brandy made from fruits, similar to schnapps).

I was thoroughly educated in the benefits of palinka, as related to me by my friend’s parents: a shot to prepare for the meal; a shot to compliment the meal; a shot to finish the meal; a shot to help the digestion; a shot to aid sleep; a shot to warm one up; and, my all time favourite, the breakfast shot, to wake one up. It’s good for your health, apparently. I also got to try some interesting dishes, all good: rabbit stew with macaroni and sour cream; the strangely addictive duck fat on bread with salt and spicy paprika powder; and, of course, Goulash.

From Tata we took a trip to the very Soviet looking Tatabanya, a town dominated by grey apartment blocks. It boasts a brilliant giant bird statue though, which looks out over the town.

On the way to Budapest, we took a road trip along the Danube to some towns well worth visiting:

Ezstergom- Ezstergom, the very beautiful former capital and one of the oldest towns in Hungary. Ezstergom has a fascinating history based on its many battles and invasions, and has a stunning basilica (the largest in Hungary).

Visegrad- most famous for its ancient hill-top castle, the remnants of the summer palace of King Matthias. Thankfully not a taxing climb to the top, which gives a stunning view over the Danube.

Szentendre- is a very pretty and arty barqoue town close to Budapest.

I arrived in Budapest on New Year’s Eve. Budapest is a top city, and I was lucky enough to see it with locals. The two sides of the city, Buda and Pest, are split by the Danube river. It’s a city packed with history, culture and nightlife. It’s also very cheap by European standards. New Year’s Eve began with a trip to the horse races, and ended with a house party. I was given a ghetto tour the next day, to see the ‘underside of Budapest’. With endless grey apartment blocks and the overwhelming presence of dog faeces, I almost felt like I was in North Dublin.

Highlights; the cellar dive bars, Hungary’s version of a Wild West saloon; general wanderings around the city, taking in the architecture, parks, castles and giant outdoor skating rink; paprika.

Downsides: Unicum

I left Budapest bruised, exhausted and with the longest running hangover of my life, but it was worth it.

Many thanks to all my hosts in Hungary, I’ll be back =)

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