Hungary

Hungary view by CC user dspender on Flickr

Introduction

Being located approximately at the centre of Europe, Hungary has also been at the heart of its history and culture over the thousands of years that civilized life has existed on this continent. As such, this country ranks consistently among the top 15 most visited nations in the world, many of whom go home raving about the beauty of its capital city, and the countryside that surrounds it.

A plethora of UNESCO recognized sites await the dedicated culture vulture, while those into exploring nature will find the soothing hot springs that can be found all over Hungary increasingly addictive.

With the prosperity that had swept the continent following the fall of the Iron Curtain, Hungary has become a nation that is fully modern, with secure streets (save some bar scams in Budapest that get broadcast by the media, but you can find incidents like this anywhere in the world), efficient transit, and water that is safe to drink.

Instead of worrying about problem that are long in the past, focus of enjoying the many castles, thermal baths, and other remarkable travel sites that can be found throughout this fascinating country.

Currency: Hungarian Forint

Languages: Hungarian

Buda Castle by CC user scuba04 on Flickr

What To Do

Budapest is a city filled with tons of relevant and interesting attractions, but one that you should not miss under any circumstances is Buda Castle. Also known as the Royal Palace, this palatial structure has taken many people by surprise with his opulence.  A often told story had an Ottoman Turk emissary being so shocked by the wealth and grandeur that surrounded him that instead of his standard greeting speech, all he could manage to stammer out was ”… the emperor sends his respects”. You may very well have the same reaction, as medieval era stone, fabulous chandeliers and the best art that Hungary has to offer will seduce you with its finery.

After dedicating as much time as you need to see Buda Castle properly, make your way outside of the capital to the Pannonhalma Archabbey in the city of Győr. Founded just before the turn of the 2nd millennium AD in 996, it ranks among the oldest historical monuments in Hungary. Not merely a monastery of the Benedictines, but also a fully operational fortress during the dark days of the Middle Ages, it has fended off many attacks from marauders over the eons. Despite taking its share of slings and arrows over that time, the inner sanctums of the cathedral has remained intact, preserving the earliest evidence of the written Hungarian language that dates back to the inception of this sanctuary.  It is this fact that has enabled it to be dubbed a Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Moving on to the town of Pécs, the history found here goes back even farther, as this place contains an early Christian necropolis that sheds light on burial rituals in the early days of the church. Back in the 4th century AD, the Roman empire had converted to Christianity, and with what was to become Hungary part of the outer provinces, this place also practiced it openly.  Over the early existence of Pecs, the largest necropolis outside of the core of the empire was built, with extensive murals featuring the Virgin Mary and other Christian themes throughout the six subterranean complexes found here.

Cave Bath by CC user 19546327@N00 on Flickr

After dosing up on just a fraction of the overall culture that this deep country has in its arsenal, start experiencing its nature by dropping by the Caves of Aggtelek Karst and Slovak Karst, yet another site in Hungary protected by a UNESCO designation. Spelunkers won’t know what to do with themselves, as this complex of chambers has 712 different caves to explore.

Being situated on the border with Slovakia, 1/4 of the Baradla-Domica Cave is in that country, with the rest being in Hungary (21 kilometres in total), while the Gombasek Cave is touted as a great place for those with respiratory ailments to seek therapy, due to its constant cool air (9 Celsius year round with 95% humidity).

Other caves with their primary attraction include: Dobšiná Ice Cave (-1 average temperature, very beautiful), Ochtinská Aragonite Cave (sparkly aragonite crystals in the aptly named Milky Way Hall) and Jasovská Cave (many Stone Age artifact found in this place).

Finally, if you somehow missed out on trying a thermal bath in Budapest, right that wrong by seeking out the Cave Bath in the city of Miskolc.  While the spectacular constructions of the urban baths of Budapest are soothing to the eye and the camera lens, the natural surroundings of the Cave Bath and the way the proprietors have built around it will appease you just as well.  This is to say nothing of the soothing waters, which range in temperature from 20 to 36 degrees year round, depending on the pool you choose.

Goulash by CC user octopushat on Flickr

What To Eat

The hearty cuisine that Hungary boasts is well worth a trip here on that basis alone.  By far, the best known dish that Hungary has produced is goulash, which is a stew consisting of various meats, noodles and vegetables which is seasoned liberally with paprika, the spice that seemingly dominates this countries’ culinary landscape. There are many iterations of this favourite, but meats include beef, veal, pork or lamb, and common veggies include tomatoes, carrots, bell peppers, celery, potatoes and more.

Those seeking a different main course will often order chicken paprikash, which is everybody’s favourite white meat cooked in a paprika roux, with bell peppers and occasionally tomatoes and onions, with the whole concoction served over egg noodles.

When the time for the sweet stuff arrives, seek out some gundel palacsinta.  This crepe-like treat is more like a pancake in composure, but it is folded over when complete.  The pancake contains walnuts, raisins, and dark rum, which is drizzled with a dark chocolate sauce when it is ready to be served.

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