Budapest (9).JPGOK, we all know that there can’t really be an island in the middle of Europe, but in some ways that is just what Hungary is.  First of all,  Hungary is surrounded by no less than 7 countries: Austria, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. More importantly, though, the Hungarians are a totally different people from all others that live in Central and Eastern Europe.  Most people in this part of Europe have Slavic roots, which is why there are so many similarities between all the languages in this region.  Not so with Hungarian.  The very first Hungarians that settled here came from a different tribe altogether.  Their language is not Slavic, but Finno-Ugric and is only related to the Finnish language and not to that of their immediate neighbours.  So I guess that makes Hungary an island, of sorts.

Did you know that the Hungarians people descend from a tribe from Central Asia that moved west during the great migration and settled in Hungary in the 9th century?  They were called the Magyar this is why Hungarians call their country Magyarország. Hungary is a bit easier to say though 🙂

Eger (26).JPGOne of the very first settlements of the Magyar people was the town of Eger in the north-east, which was established just before the turn of the first century.  Eger found itself sitting right on the border between Christian and Muslim Europe, and there have been lots of times when this caused it trouble.  Eger’s most famous moment came when in 1552 the Turks invaded Hungary and arrived on Eger’s doorstep.  A ferocious battle developed.  There were only 2,000 Hungarians in Eger and they were faced with an army of about  80,000 Turks.  No surprise then that everybody expected a walk-over.

Eger (10).JPGThe good people of Eger had other plans though.  The soldiers, local women and children threw rocks, burning fat and hot soup down from the city walls, and famously won the battle! Their success didn’t last long.   Forty years later the Turks invaded again and this time took the town. The people of Eger still celebrate their original victory with a medieval festival each summer.   Of course, invaders usually leave some sort of evidence behind once they leave.  In Eger, they left a little minaret in the town centre which is very special, as you won’t find minarets further north than Eger in the whole of Europe.

Did you know that Budapest is divided into two halves?  Pest is what you and I would call downtown, and Buda is on the other side of the river, on top of the hill, from where you have fabulous views over the city, the bridges crossing the river and the house of parliament.

More evidence of the Turkish influence is the Hungarian love of thermal baths, which you can see (and try out) all over Hungary.  Some of the best baths are in Budapest of course, and although most of them don’t actually date back to the days when the Turks ruled Hungary, they are really worth a visit.

Budapest (43).JPGThe Gellért Baths are absolutely beautiful and very relaxing, the kind of place where you can just float away the time and forget everything around you.  The Szechenyi Baths in the City Park are much bigger, have more outdoor pools and more choice of baths, but it is also busier. One word of warning! It is quite normal in thermal baths to have shared changing rooms.  If you don’t fancy that idea you will have to pay extra for a private cubicle.  It helps to speak a few words of Hungarian as the ladies in charge of cubicles often don’t speak English.  We certainly had some very funny misunderstandings! 🙂

If you like being outdoors, you should really spend a day on Margaret, a small island in the middle of the river Danube.  You can hire rollerblades, bicycles and carts to get you around the small island, and there is a great swimming pool to keep you amused for hours.  In Budapest itself you’ll find it difficult to choose what to do.  There is the planetarium, the zoo, a spectacular aquarium, a great hands-on science museum and there are several beaches along the river Danube.  And let’s not forget the Görzenál, Europe’s largest Skate and Leisure Park, with BMX bikes, skates and trampolines for hire, and a seriously challenging climbing tower. You will never get bored in Budapest, that’s for sure.

This text was taken from the introduction and the A-Z of ‘My Travel Kit for Hungary’.  For more information please contact me.