Monday, May 9, 2011


Growing up on the countryside, Budapest has always been a tourist attraction to me.  I have visited numerous times back with my school class or with my parents.  But now with my sister living there I have more chance to actually go and stay in the capital, and really get to know the city with all its history and glory.

 When one is from a small country such as Hungary, where there's really only one main city and the rest is the country.  The two sides become very different.  There are country people with farms, horses, pigs and endless lands.  Then there's Budapest.  Of course there are other decent size cities scattered around the country, but the capital takes the cake with its population of almost 2 million people.  Which is nearly 1/4 of the entire population of Hungary.

 People are different in Budapest.  When I was still living home, going up to the capital always felt I was visiting a place I didn't belong to.  Even after I started to travel I never felt truly home.  I'm used to  the country people, their language and social behavior.  The way people act always felt down to earth and normal - to me.  More welcoming, friendly, hospitable.  Of course there are rude people everywhere, and the struggle of Hungary throughout history really made some of its citizens sour and liveless.  But when you really get down to some of those tiny villages where people still practice some of the old original professions.  The people you find are like nowhere else.  The kindness most welcoming crowd.  Nothing fake or pretended, just pure, simple souls living a simple life.  Which for most of us is impossible to imagine in the 21st century.  I mean no computers or cell reception at all!

 Though all the love I have for the countryside, I feel an enormous respect for my capital.  Budapest is one of the oldest cities in whole Europe!  Its history starting about 1 AD with the first settlement of the Celts.  Then later it was occupied by the Romans (of course - who didn't they occupy).  They built the historical city of Aquincum.  Which is also identified as the "Town of Attila".  Yes I'm mean the in-famous Attila the Hun.  Who ruled around the 5th century and was one of the most fearsome enemies of the Western and Eastern Roman Empire.  My mom told me if I was born a boy I would've been named Attila.  Just saying!

Aquincum - Ancient Roman ruins in Budapest

 In 829 Aquincum was lost to Bulgaria.  That's when Budapest first arose out of two Bulgarian military fortresses Buda and Pest.  A lot of people don't know this but Buda and Pest used to be two separate cities before they were joined together. Wait! A lot of people don't even know Hungary exists! Whatever!  Screw them!

 Finally Hungarians (led by our famous Árpád) settled in the territory at the end of the 9th century.  Who not long after officially founded the Kingdom of Hungary.  That's when Budapest became the capital.

 One have to mention the significant cultural role of the city especially during the Renaissance era.  The National Library (which still stands today) was Europe's greatest collection of historical books and scientific works of the 15th century.  And second only in size to the Vatican Library.  I know!  Impressive!

 Then the Turks came in 1526, liked the place and decided to stay for about a 150 years.  The only good thing they had done is to build some of the fabulous baths that we still have and enjoy today.  Otherwise they almost completely destroyed the city.  And also turned it into Muslim.  At some point during their occupation there was only about 70 Christians there.  Which seems so crazy to me, knowing if they wouldn't have been defeated, Hungary could be a completely different place today.  And I mean the architecture and life style, as I really don't care for religion.

 But with the help and support of neighboring countries, we kicked them out nice and easy.  Just to be incorporated into yet another empire, the Habsburg.  Lovely!  Though in 1867 after some reconciliation the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy was born, which gave us a bit more freedom.  All though 80% of the country was still German-speaking.  Which eventually was taken over by the Hungarian language.

 Also I have to mention the HUGE Jewish population (which of course didn't help us during WWII).  In fact Budapest was often called the "Jewish Mecca".  The 2nd biggest synagogue in the World is in the heart of the city still standing today.

 We'd really done it all!  Christians, Muslims, Jews.  We had everything!

 Then the Treaty of Trianon happened which made us a completely independent country after hundreds of years of foreign occupation.  And we did go out and celebrate by joining WWI.  Which turned out to be a hell of a party.  Where we lost over 2/3 of the entire country and more then 10 million ethnic Hungarians.  How messed up that is!  Even today if you travel outside of Hungary to any direction, you'll find hundreds of us living everywhere.

That's messed up!

 Then with WWII came the Nazis then the Russians, killing pretty much everyone and making us into a communist piece of shit.

 Most of the damage caused by the wars was repaired surprisingly quickly and well between the 60's and 80's.  With that they also further constructed our famous subway (UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2002).  Which I proudly say the 2nd oldest underground system in the World(why we are always 2nd?).  Dating from 1896.  Can you imagine using the subway in the late 1800?  Wasn't the healthiest choice in transportation as they used steam engines to pull the trains.  Yuck!

 In 1989 communism fell down, and all the last bit of the Russian soldiers marched out of the country. I know because we watched them on television stepping over the boarder.  I remember I was already 8.  After that the West suddenly opened up.  And we were able to travel.

 And that's just the history of Budapest.  I hardly mentioned the architecture, the beautiful buildings, coffee houses, the Royal Palace, the Parliament in Pest, the Hero's Square, the amazing Chain Bridge, Margaret Island, the Opera House, the St. Stephan Basilica, City Park, Vajdahunyad Castle, National Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Central Market Hall, Fishermen's Bastion, Matthias Church, the Main Railway Station, Citadella and the Crown!  And all this all lit up to perfection every single night. 

 And at last but not least the gray Danube flowing through the city, creating an airy atmosphere.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter Traditions in Hungary


 People celebrate Easter in many different ways around the Globe.  Easter being a Christian holiday, some of these traditions are naturally very similar to one another.  But I have to say there's no other nation in the World that celebrate it like Hungarians do.

 It's hard to forget waking up on Easter morning by a cold bucket of water in your face.  Doesn't sound very welcoming, does it?  It's called Ducking Monday.

Ducking Monday

 On Easter Monday morning the neighboring boys playfully sprinkle perfume, perfumed water or just water on girls.  They go around the neighborhood ringing doorbells.  The girls open the door, when the men one by one recite a generally short poem with always the same question at the end: "Could I water you?" If the answer is "Yes" they pour a pinch of perfume on the girl's hair.  For which we reward them with red painted eggs and a kiss.

I tried to translate one of the poems:

"I walked in green forest
  I saw a blue violet
  Could I water you?"

 This is a very basic one, and probably doesn't make any sense in English.  But there are some others that are borderline offensive or even dirty in a funny and entertaining way.
 Of course over generations the tradition has been changed a little according to regions and societies. But the main action stayed pretty much the same.

 Back in the old days, there was no perfume or kind words.  The girls used to run around chased by the boys carrying huge buckets of water.  Until pulled in a corner, or being held down.  By the end of the morning every girl in town was soaking wet.

 This side of the tradition is still practiced in many different regions on the country.  Mainly on the countryside.  Where both the ladies and men dress up in traditional Hungarian folk costumes. It's a pretty amazing site, and a fun celebration.  Full of dancing, singing and of course amazing food.
Naturally me being from the country I have had the fortune to experience this wonderful tradition on many occasions.

  In bigger cities, the man go around with perfume.  And instead of red eggs, they mainly receive money and chocolate eggs.  Which is less romantic I guess, but the funny poems they create makes it equally fun.

Needless to say by the end of the day we all stink of cheap perfume.

Egg Painting

 Easter eggs are beautifully decorated in Hungary, for the ceremonious occasion.  The traditional methods of painting the eggs are still followed by people in the country.  The patterns range from simple to intricate, and make the egg look very attractive.  The folk patterns are drawn on the eggs by using molten wax.  The painting liquid is traditionally made from onion skin, green walnut, wild pear or any other vegetable that yield natural color.

  Of course today one can just go down to the supermarket and buy a professional egg painting kit specifically made for the holiday.  Again less romantic, but also less pain in the ass.


Busójárás (Walk of the Busos, Legendary Monsters)

 The most spectacular of the Easter folk-festival is the so called 'Busójárás'.  Only practiced in the Mohacs region.  Men wearing frightening devil masks parade through their village, shouting and making rhythmic sounds with the help of old tins and dishes.  According to the legend, the locals once managed to scare away the invading Turks by wearing awful looking monster masks. Hence, it has evolved as a very popular custom of Easter.  Also the Busós, local men in masks and sheepskins spend the day revelling in drink, dancing and chasing girls around the town.  Often catching them and subjecting them to a friendly form of sexual harassment.

 This might all sound quiet violent and scary.  Especially compared to the US traditions of innocent egg hunt.  But for me it was always more exciting then anything else.  Plus the tasty food that comes with this particular holiday, was always my favorite.  Smoked bacon and ham, fonott kalacs (egg twist) .  Lot's of hard boiled eggs.  I could eat it for days.

 Knowing that many of the old traditions are fading.  I love the fact that Easter is something that is still enjoyed and heavily practiced by the young.  And even though I don't consider myself a religious person, it's something I would like to have around for my children and for many generations to come.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Once Was Lost But Now It's Just Annoying

A recent trip to New Zealand and Australia made me realize two things:

 #1:  Vacations are not always fun.  I've been spoiled so far with amazing trips, great hotels, first class flights (that were on time), and kind, friendly people.

 #2:  The estimation that over 99% of all animal species that ever lived have gone extinct.  That's some pretty heavy stuff.  I've always known that most creatures used to roam this planet have been long gone, before we even came along.  But 99% is a bit steep.

 First I'm going go with realization #1.  I'll get into the disappearance of species later. 

 Before I'm letting out my anger on airline crews and people generally working at airports.  I just want to give a single handed advice to everyone traveling, and checking in with one person or more.
 Please check your bag tags before it goes down the conveyor belt, as you might never see it again.  Make sure that the kind but "annoyingly ignorant and careless" lady at the counter puts your name on YOUR bag.  Not on your partners' flying with you.  So in case a retarded airline (wild example: Qantas) loses your treasured belongings, at least they can search for it by YOUR name only.  Better yet, put both of the bags under one name.  Less confusing for the airlines, as they clearly can't handle a lot.

 I've never had an airline lose my bag.  For that I feel extremely fortunate.  I've heard horror stories of luggages circling around the globe before finding their beloved owners.  Or bags lost for good, never heard from again.  I think airlines have like a 50$ cover for lost belongings.  Huh!  Yeah, right.  That won't even cover half a shoe for me.  Basically airlines do not take responsibility for handling your luggage.  Even if it comes out half beat up from tossing and throwing it around, they do not care.  So here's another advice.  Don't buy any of those fancy designer bags.  Just choose the old fashioned duffel, or some cheap wheely you really don't care if it comes out cockeyed. 

 Me and my boyfriend have this thing when we travel.  We bet on something and the winner is the one who's luggage comes out first.  It's a silly thing, but after a 18 hour trip to Queenstown, New Zealand you need something to keep you sane. 
 Of course my red North Face duffel bag rolls out first, leaving his identical black one behind.  Turns out it is really behind, maybe somewhere in Sydney international, because it clearly didn't join us on our flight.  Upsetting of course, but shit happens, and we thought it will show up later that afternoon.  And as much as the lost baggage lady is trying to help and be nice, she is nothing but annoying.  I think positions like "check-in" lady, or "lost baggage" lady were filled by people, whom are 100% incapable of doing possibly anything else in this World.  So they shove them in there thinking, they will do just fine.  Guess what!  NO!  They are retarded and incapable of doing the smallest tasks given to them.  Like asking for our contact information, in case our wildest dream comes true, and they find his bag.  Or giving us the wrong form with which we could claim the luggage, once it is found.  Again our expectations are way too high.  Thankfully a "bag loader" guy sees the mistake and runs after us with the right form.  Seriously who hires these people?

 We did come across some unfriendly Qantas people at the Sydney airport when getting our boarding passes for the connecting flight to Queenstown.  And it might just be that the local "check-in" lady there held back his luggage for revenge.  I admit we got a little feisty, but we had our reasons.  I ask all of you now.  Please recall the last time you flew with a printed out paper ticket!  Not boarding pass, no.  The actual ticket you purchased online or through a travel agent.  Think for a second before you answer!

Exactly!  Forever ago.  According to the Sydney airport staff e-tickets didn't come into use just until a couple of years ago.  So they require a printed out itinerary.  Even though she has it front of her on the computer, and she is looking at it.  As we kindly provided a confirmation number.  Excuse me!  I flew to Tokyo on an e-ticket 8 years ago.  They of course don't believe me.  They even say that my statement is impossible.  By then I'm rolling in anger.  Needless to say we have the full itinerary on our iPads as well.  But noooo, that's not good enough either.  They need a PAPER TICKET!  At that point we seriously thought we had been transformed back 10 years in history.  All though I can almost remember flying with an e-ticket 10 years ago. 

 I just read that of June 1 of '09 International Air Transport Association (IATA) members, who make up 94% of all airlines, will use only e-tickets.  I guess Qantas didn't make the cut.

 Furious and frustrated we made our way to Fjordland, soaking in the beautiful scenery of the South Island, trying to leave stress behind.  I turned on my positive mindset and thought the bag will be with us tomorrow the latest.  And even though we were planning to do some hiking, we can postpone that until the bag arrives.  Another advice.  Put some of your stuff in your partners' bag, in case this happens.  So at least you have clean underwear.  And clean socks.  So when the weather is not co-operating with your trip and rains the whole time, you can change your soaking socks.

 Once I'm on the subject of lost bags.  I came across a little place called The Lost Luggage Capital of the World.  Amazingly it is not a joke.  And if you are wondering where your never seen again rare Tahitian gifts or illegally purchased camera from Hong Kong are.  You might just want to go to Scottsboro, Alabama.  You never know.  It could be a happy reunion of lost belongings.  And hey, you can even re-purchase everything for 75% off.

After 2 nights and numerous phone calls to the airport, we were ready to give up and go shopping for at least the basic necessities for my man.  When we got a promising phone call.  They found the bag, it's in Auckland, NZ.  Don't ask me how or why it got there.  But at that point we were just happy, they located it, wherever it was.  Only when we received the luggage we realized that indeed it was in Queenstown the same day we arrived, possibly came in with a later flight.  But because we were unaware of our bag tag flip, we were looking for a luggage named Jason Rubin, while this whole time his bag had a tag with my name on it. 

Live and learn they say.  And we surely did.  Obviously not enough though, as we were yet to concur some other travel problems that I wouldn't wish for anyone.  Next to come.