· Hungary is a country at the heart of Europe, but it is certainly different too in so many ways! While not large in terms of population (it has only 10 million inhabitants) Hungary has a wealth of culture and history, complemented by a language so completely different from its neighbors that almost no shared words exist! It can be said that ours is a land of great contrasts:
· Hungary is landlocked like its neighbors Austria, Slovakia and Serbia though it still deserves the nickname "land of waters", as it holds the largest lake in Europe (Lake Balaton) and is crossed by mighty rivers which divide and define its regions. Even its capital city is split by the Danube River, with Buda on the Western side and Pest on the Eastern bank. As well as water to cool off in, Hungary can be the perfect place to keep warm, as it is located over a very active geothermal area and has over a thousand thermal water springs and the second largest thermal Lake in the world for bathing (Lake Hévíz). "Taking the waters" for relaxation or as clinical treatments, is an important part of the Hungarian culture.
· Budapest is a city of full of surprises and wonder, with its lively center, pretty parks, majestic river, tall church spires and lavish spas. One of the most exciting cities in the world, Budapest is full of secrets to uncover, hidden spots to explore and old favorites to revisit. This is the city where being bored is not an option.
· There are a million ways to explore Budapest: on foot, by bus, tram and underground, on water, by bike or even by an amphibious vehicle. And what to see while you're there? Start on the top, with the magnificent Buda Castle and Castle District. You won't need hiking boots to climb Gellért Hill to enjoy breathtaking, in fact part of the UNESCO World Heritage, views of the city from the Citadel. Cross the river for the most grandiose building on the Pest embankment, the Parliament. For sacred wonders, visit the tallest building in the city, Saint Stephen's Basilica, and one of the largest synagogues in the world, the Dohány Street Synagogue. Heroes' Square will give you a peek into the romantic past of the country, and in Memento Park you'll have a chance to enjoy a modern history lesson in the open. For a bit of romancing, stroll along the Danube promenade or head to leafy Margaret Island.
· The Danube Bend, North from Budapest offers wonderful natural landscape, with the castle of Visegrád on top of the hills. Vác, a baroque treasure box and Esztergom, seat of the Roman Catholic Primate of Hungary with the Basilica of Esztergom, the largest church in the country are also great choices for one-day trips. The towns of the Danube Bend can also be reached by ship cruises.
· Budapest is surrounded with lovely small towns, easily reachable both by car and public transport. Szentendre, the Town of Painters is about an hour's distance from Budapest. The small houses, the narrow streets and cobble paved small piazzas have a unique Mediterranean atmosphere. The town is also famous for it's open-air village museum, the 'Skanzen'.
· Eger is the County Seat of Heves, the most outstanding touristic center of the Eastern region. The city remains a historic key in every-day common knowledge, primarily because the town was the scene of the honorable battle with the Turks in 1552, symbolizing national heroism and patriotism.
HORTOBÁGY - THE REGION OF ENDLESS HORIZONS
· East of the Danube and south of the mountains lies the flattest and quietest land of Hungary, and the largest continuous grassland in Europe, called the Great Plain. Rivers run through it, national parks divide it, Hungarian cowboys and herds of animals roam it, and spas fill it with life. This is the land where life is hassle-free and where horizons are endless.
· The Hortobágy National Park area offers you the experience of getting out into some big open space right here in the heart of Europe, with nothing else in sight but loads of cranes and other birds, plus the native horned grey cattle. In the summer, the quivering hot air over the endless grassland creates funny illusions and mirages. This is where gulyás (aka goulash) was invented, by herdsmen who dumped all their food in one pot over a fire, added some paprika, and there it was.
· This region, and the park, is also home to Lake Tisza, a wildlife wonderland as well as a sports paradise. You can go hunting, fishing, boating, hiking, horseback riding, biking, swimming, jet-skiing and even banana-boating in this idyllic environment. The Bird Reserve in Tiszavalk is not only part of the Hortobágy World Heritage Site but is home to around 200 bird species, including herons, egrets, and wagtails.
· Debrecen is one of the most vivid and coziest nooks in Hungary: this city is a unique and outstanding whirlpool of a dynamic cultural and intellectual heritage and of an effective and successful economic life. The centuries’ old traditions and the most recent technical and scientific innovations enhancing each other make Debrecen a nationally and internationally renowned city.
LAKE BALATON & TIHANY
· 100 km from Budapest, you will find the largest lake in Hungary, with many fabulous little towns, hills, wineries and beaches. The "Hungarian Sea", is the people's name for the 50 mile long lake with silky green-yellow water in the middle of Transdanubia. Lake Balaton is one of Hungary's most precious treasures and most frequented resorts. It is also the largest lake in Central Europe. Picturesque vineyards in the region produce an assortment of excellent wines that go very well with the delicious local food. Large numbers of inns and restaurants welcome guests from home and abroad.
"The king of wines, the wine of kings": Tokaji Aszú
· Louis XV is said to have remarked to his mistress, Madame de Pompadour, as he handed her a glass of Tokaji aszu, “This is the king of wines and the wine of kings.” He was not, however, the first to say these original-sounding words. They appear alongside the name of the wine on a court menu dating back to the time of Louis XIV. To this day, the Latin version of this saying – Vinum regum, rex vinorum — is allowed to appear on Tokaj wines of particular quality.
· Hungary has always been best known for the sweet wines created in the region of Tokaj in the North East of the country. It was this Tokaji Aszu that was sought out by the French and Russian Courts and the Habsburgs, and it was the region of Tokaj that was deemed valuable enough to require the world’s first vineyard classification system, introduced in 1700.
· More recently, as Hungarian wine making homogenized under Communism, and its diverse range of grapes was sacrificed in the pursuit of ever greater yields, Hungary was also known for its “Bull’s Blood,” now known as Bikavér.
· But neither of these wines on their own gets you to the heart of Hungarian winemaking. Look beyond these examples and Hungary’s vibrant, exciting wine culture awaits you. Rare and unusual grape varieties, or more common grape varieties recreated with Hungarian flair. If you are looking for high-quality wines that are slightly different then Hungary is your answer.
· The town of Heviz is located on the northern shore of Lake Balaton, in Mid-Western Hungary, at 6-kilometers distance from Keszthely. The famous town of spas is surrounded by hills, enjoying a unique Mediterranean microclimate, with many wind-still and sunny days.
· The Heviz Lake is a geological curiosity, Europe's largest thermal lake - a warm water lake situated in a peat-bed. The 4.44 ha water-surface lake is surrounded by a 60.5 ha nature conservation area. Springs of different temperatures diffuse in a narrow cave, and became a constant (38,5 °C) temperature stream when entering the lake. Beautiful water lilies, brought to Hungary at the end of the 19th century, dot the lake, supporting the eco-life, with leaves slowing down evaporation, and creepers protecting the medicinal mud on the bottom of the lake.
HUNGARICUM FOOD AND DRINK
Hungaricums are special items from Hungary, that characterize the Hungarians by their uniqueness and high quality. Here are some types of food and drink that encapsulate Hungary!
Pálinka Pálinka is the alcoholic drink made only from fruit or pomace grown in Hungary and some parts of Austria. By law, no additional ingredients are acceptable, except pure water. Really good pálinka is smooth and fruity and has an alcohol content of around 40%. There are hundreds of types of Pálinka, using many different fruits. the best distilleries are Agárdi, Gyulai, Zwack, Brill, Márton és lányai, Panyolai, Tarpai, Bestillo.
Goulash soup In the past goulash was made by the shepherds of the plains. It was a rich and filling food they needed to last them through their hard working day. Real Hungarian goulash is made from potato, beef (preferably grey cattle), paprika, spices and sometimes Hungarian gnocchi too. It is made like a soup, but in the end it's more like a stew.
Wines of Tokaj Tokaji Aszú is the name of the wine from the historical wine region of Tokaj-Hegyalja in the northeastern part of Hungary. The region is noted for its sweet wines, made from grapes affected by so-called noble rot. Tokaji Aszú is a world-famous dessert wine from Hungary, also called the "king of wines, wine of kings", and sure enough, the greatest kings and queens of Europe really did commission this unique drink back in History. Tokaji is the only wine in the world that is mentioned in its nation's national anthem.
Hungarian cakes Somló-style sponge cake (Somlói Galuska) is a popular Hungarian dessert, made of sponge cake, covered with fine chocolate sauce and whipped cream. Dobos cake (Dobostorta) is a layered sponge cake filled with chocolate and nuts, glazed with caramel. Makówki (Mákos Guba) is also a typical Hungarian dessert, made of sweet white bread covered with poppy seeds.
Pick "Winter" Salami For more than 130 years the Pick Company in Szeged has been creating unique flavours and unforgettable treats with its top-quality products. Pick Winter Salami is the company's most famous product. It is a real delicacy! Available at any supermarket or grocery store in Hungary.
Sausages Beside salamis, Hungary has very delicious sausages, perhaps quite different from the ones you are familiar with, because these sausages are made of pork meat and spiced with paprika. The production procedure is regulated by strict rules. The best two brands of Hungary are the Csabai and Gyulai.
Unicum Unicum is a special, bitter, alcoholic liqueur made with herbs and spices that Hungarians swear by as an aid to digestion, among many other things. For more information please visit: Zwack Unicum Heritage Visitors' Centre
Goose liver or "foie gras" Hungary is the world's second-largest foie gras or "Libamáj" producer and the largest exporter. Goose liver is part of traditional Hungarian cuisine and a must-try when visiting the country. The goose liver of Orosháza is a number one gift gourmet tourist take away. Really good goose liver is maybe expensive, but surely an unforgettable experience.
Szamos Marzipan The gourmet marzipan/chocolate of Hungary. Szamos marzipan is a sweet dessert item used in a variety of ways. The Szamos Marzipan Museum and Confectionery in Szentendre is Hungary's first marzipan museum. The exhibition displays the art of marzipan making, including some masterpieces of confectionery, such as the 160 centimeter tall model of the Parliament building.
Túró Rudi This was invented in the 1960's by a small group of dairy industry professionals inspired by a study trip to Moscow. They came up with a unique new product - a dark chocolate bar filled with lemony cottage cheese. The "pöttyös" (literally spotty) theme was part of the original marketing campaign, but now it's a uniquely recognizable brand of this dessert. It has a lot of variants, like extra-large, milk chocolate-covered, apricot and strawberry jam filled, and so on, but none of these are as popular as the original. In foreign countries you may find it under the brand name "Dots".
Fisherman's soup Fisherman's soup is a thick soup made in a pot on open fire. The main ingredients are river or lake common carp, paprika, spices and onion. The most famous types of fisherman's soup are the bajai, balatoni and the szegedi.
Bull's Blood of Eger Bull's Blood or Bikavér, is the name of a special type of red wine cuvée, made in the wine region of Eger. The name comes from the Turkish Ages, when according to the legend, castle defenders became stronger as they drank the red wine, and the Turkish soldiers thought the red liquid was bull's blood. Now Bikavér is a very popular cuvée wine and has its own festivals and fans.
Makó onions Onions from the town of makó in southeastern Hungary are famous and beloved nationwide. This type of onion has been refined and developed for centuries by the local gardeners and producers. There's also a special heat treatment, developed in the 18th century, that has been applied to the onions ever since. Makó onions are pretty large and known by their excellent smell and taste.
Paprika Last but definitely not least, Hungary is a major source of high-quality paprika, ranging in grades from sweet (mild, not hot) with a deep bright red color to rather spicy (hot) with a brownish orange color. Paprika is used as an ingredient in a wide range of dishes throughout the world. Paprika is an important ingredient of sausages and soups such as goulash. The two main paprika-producing regions are Szeged and Kalocsa
Hungaricums are those noteworthy assets from Hungary, which characterize the Hungarians by their uniqueness, specialty and quality, and represent the peak performance of Hungary.
Porcelain of Herend This Hungarian manufacturing company has specialized in luxury hand painted and gilded porcelain for generations. Founded in 1826, it is still based in the town of Herend near the city of Veszprém. For more information please visit: herend.com
Busó Festivities in Mohács The Busó March and carnival in Mohács in southern Hungary is an old tradition. People put on fleece cloaks and wooden masks and start bonfires to chase away the winter. The tradition has nowadays spread into a large festival, for which visitors travel to Mohács from all over Hungary and nearby countries. Handcrafted souvenirs and traditional food and drink await tourists during the 6 days of the event.
Dance-House method Dance-houses (Táncházok) in Hungary means culture-clubs where cultural heritage, such as folk dancing is practiced and passed on from generation to generation.
Matyó Folk Art Folk Art from Matyó is well known for the embroideries on souvenirs and villagers' clothes. Matyó motifs are mainly flowers and birds with ornamental plants colored in red, green, black and blue. Now it enjoys its second renaissance as young designers rediscover the possibilities of these traditional motifs in fashion and design.
Falconry Hungarian falconry is as old as the nation itself. Hungarians had very well-developed skills in hunting with falcons when they entered the Carpathian Basin in 895. Falconry is now officially part of the country's heritage.
Pottery of Mezőtúr In the village of Mezőtúr in eastern Hungary, you will find a 100-year-old tradition in every single product that the locals make. People here are very proud of their heritage, as the techniques are taught by old masters to the young apprentices, passing the knowledge from generation to generation.
Halasi LaceHalasi Csipke Lace from Halas is a 110-year-old handicraft Hungaricum. Mostly used as an exclusive decoration for rooms and halls. Even Pope John Paul II was given gifts of Halas Lace when he visited Hungary.
Mangalica Mangalica or Mangalitsa, known also as the curly-hair hog, is a breed of pig raised especially in Hungary and the Balkans, originally bred in 1833 by the Hungarian Royal Archduke Jozsef. Unlike all popular hog breeds, which are bred for their meat, the Mangalitsa is an extreme lard-type. Meat breeds efficiently produce lean meat. Lard-type breeds produce high-quality fat and very marbled, juicy and flavourful meat. Raised properly the mangalica's genes allow it to produce some of the world's best meat and fat.
Hungarian grey cattle This is an ancient beef cattle breed from Hungary. Although nowadays Hungarian grey cattle are kept mainly as tourist attractions in the Hortobágy National Park and other Hungarian national parks, these herds also serve as gene banks, due to their reported resistance to bovine diseases which affect more highly-bred cattle types.
Hungarian Vizsla The most commonly-seen breed in the country, the Hungarian Vizsla (pron. Viz-shla) is also known as the Hungarian Pointer or Magyar Pointer. It is an active, energetic working dog with enormous stamina. In earlier times it was used almost exclusively by nobility in falconry and hunting, as it is a fine retriever with an excellent nose, and a good hunter/pointer for small game and birds. In the past few years this breed has become a popular work, show and companion dog. It is reliable with children and quickly adapts to family life. The Hungarian Vizsla is a sleek, muscular, medium-sized, short-haired hunting dog with a beautiful rusty-gold color. In Hungarian "Vizsla" means alert and responsive.
Puli The Puli is an ancient breed of Hungarian sheep dog. It is medium-sized and sturdy with a unique corded coat. The Puli is a lively, cheerful little dog who is very loyal to its family. Its innate intelligence makes it easy to train but also gives it a mind of its own. Pulis came to Hungary with the first Hungarian settlers, but at the time of World War II, the breed had almost died out. A special breeding program was initiated, which ensured the survival of these unique little Hungarians.
HUNGARY'S HIGH ACHIEVERS
Hungarians are a talented and resourceful bunch, and they feature heavily in lists of internationally significant inventors, musicians, artists and sports stars.
Albert Szent-Györgyi was the first to discover vitamin C, after extracting it from paprika, the zesty yellow peppers of Hungary.
Ede (Edward) Teller helped to develop the atomic bomb in the 1930s.
László József Bíró invented the ballpoint pen the most popular tool for everyday writing.
Ernő Rubik was the one who came up with the world's best-known toy or puzzle– the Magic Cube.
József Galamb designed the world's first affordable car, the Ford Model T.
János Irinyi was the mastermind behind safety matches.
Dennis Gabor is most notable for inventing holography for which he received the Nobel Prize in
Physics in 1971.
John George Kemény is best known for co-developing the BASIC programming language in 1964.
John Von Neumann was a pioneer of the application of operator theory and quantum mechanics.
George Soros is a well-known Hungarian-American businessman, philanthropist and political activist.
Charles Simonyi is a former director of Microsoft's application software group.
Ferenc Liszt, the wild-haired 19th-century composer and pianist is one of the greats in the canon of classical music, and established a musical academy in Budapest.
Béla Bartók took inspiration from the traditional folk music of the country's villages for his compositions during the early 20th century.
Zoltán Kodály was similarly fascinated by folk songs and collected a huge number of them for posterity. He was also the inventor of a unique and radical way of teaching music to students. (the Relative Solfege method is the hand-signals-for-notes system you may have seen in the film "Close Encounters of the third kind")
George Szell was the Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra.
Márta Sebestyén is one of the many contemporary musicians who have left their mark on the cultural landscape (he was the folk singer who performed a memorable tune on the soundtrack of the film The English Patient).
Books, movies and photography
Imre Kertész the Jewish author's novel Fateless was based on his real experiences in a World War II concentration camp – was a Nobel Prize winner in 2002.
Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian-American publisher was the originator of the pulitzer prize, leaving money in his will to launch a Journalism school start the prize. It is administered by the University of Columbia in New York.
Tony Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz in New York as the son of Hungarian Jewish immigrants. Curtis played in more than a hundred movies: Some like it hot (1959), Spartacus (1960), Goodbye Charlie (1964) etc.
Jerry Seinfeld American comedian, actor and writer is the descendant of a Hungarian Jewish family. Aside from being a stand-up comedian, he is best known for playing a semi-fictional version of himself in the situation comedy Seinfeld (1989–1998).
Bela Lugosi was a Hungarian born American actor. Well known for playing Count Dracula in the Broadway play and the subsequent film version.
István Szabó is a successful director, responsible for films including Being Julia (for which Annette Bening was Oscar-nominated in 2004).
William Fox (or, rather, Vilmos Fried) started out in Hungary but ended up in Hollywood, as founder of the film studio 20th Century Fox.
Vilmos Zsigmond won the Academy Award for the best Cinematography for Steven Spielberg's film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Lajos Koltai is a Hungarian film director and cinematographer. He gained international repute during his collaborations with István Szabó, notably for his film Mephisto, which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1981.
Zsa Zsa Gabor had her film debut in the 1952 film Lovely to Look at. She appeared in many films, made hundreds of television appearances and starred several plays on Broadway.
Joe Eszterhas is a Hungarian-American writer, best known for his work in the films Basic Instinct, Flashdance and Showgirls.
Andy Vajna is a film producer who has made numerous movies including the Rambo series, Die Hard with a Vengeance and multiple Terminator movies and series.
Robert Capa was perhaps the top 20th century combat photographer who covered five different wars and co-founded the prestigious Magnum Photos with Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Sports and entertainment
The country has a proud Olympic tradition, and has fared particularly well in the sports of water polo, fencing and pentathlon.
Judit Polgár can justly claim to be the greatest female chess player who ever lived. (achieved grandmaster status at the age of 15)
Ferenc Puskás was the captain of the formidable Hungarian soccer team of the 1950s and one of the brightest lights to grace a soccer field.
Monica Seles was the World's No. 1 women's tennis player of 1991 and 1992.
Mickey Hargitay became Mr. Universe in 1955 and he is also known as the father of actress Mariska Hargitay.
Harry Houdini, the renowned escape artist, was actually born Erik Weisz in Budapest, but named himself after the famous French conjurer Robert Houdin.
FUN FACTS AND TRIVIA ABOUT HUNGARY
Tokaji In 1703, Francis Rákóczi II, Prince of Transylvania, gave King Louis XIV of France some Tokaji wine from his Tokaj estate as a gift. The Tokaji wine was served at the French Royal court at Versailles, where it became known as Tokay. Delighted with the precious beverage, Louis XV of France offered a glass of Tokaji to Madame de Pompadour, referring to it as "Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum" ("Wine of Kings, King of Wines"). This famous line is used to this day in the marketing of Tokaji wines.
Tourism Hungary is one of the thirty most popular tourist destinations in the world, attracting 10.2 million tourists a year (2011).
Rubik's Cube The famous logic-toy was invented by a Hungarian engineer, Ernő Rubik. Mr. Rubik originally named the toy as Magic Cube. Hint: the color of a side is determined by the color of the center-cube of that side.
Most cube solved in 24 hours Milán Baticz holds the record at Guinness, as he solved 4786 Rubik's cube within 24 hours. Wow! (source: guinnesworldrecords.com)
Have you heard about the Gömböc? The Gömböc is a mathematical shape first theorised in 1996 and proven in 2006 by Hungarian scientists Péter Várkonyi and Gábor Domokos. It is a three-dimensional shape which is mono-monostatic, convex, and homogeneous i.e., with equal density throughout. It is characterized by its properties of balance in that it has two equilibria, one stable and one unstable. (source: guinnesworldrecords.com)
Hungarians There are approximately 14-15 million Hungarians in the world, 10 million living inside Hungary, while the others are mainly in the countries around Hungary. But there are Hungarians immigrated to the USA and Western Europe too. (source: Wikipedia)
Land of the thermal water There are approximately 500 places in the country where thermal water occurs. That means you can find water with temperature above 30°C in the 70% of Hungary. There are about 150 spas in the country where you can bath. (source: Wikipedia)
The 1st National Park In Hungary, the first national nature reserve was the Hortobágy National Park, opened in 1973. (source: Bajza.hu)
The Legend of the Bull's Blood Under the siege of the Castle of Eger by the Turks, the Hungarians were so tough to beat, after they drank local red wine. The Turks tried to figure out what is that the soldiers drink behind the walls, and Hungarians said that's Bulls's Blood, that gives them courage.
Need a Herendi Queen Victoria, Queen Elisabeth, the Rothschild family, Franz Joseph I., Charles Prince of Wales, Lady Diana, Elisabeth II., Lewis Hamilton, Prince William and Kate, Pope Benedict XVI., Akihito, the Emperor of Japan bought Herendi porcelain. We can say Herendi is really precious and world famous. (source: herendi.hu)
Longest distance The westernmost settlement in Hungary is Felsőszölnök, while the easternmost is Garbolc. The distance between them is 544 km in a straight line.
Buda Castle funicular The funicular which takes you up to the Buda Castle from Clasrk Adam Square is more than 140 years old, and it was the second in Europe. The funicular has two cabins, called Margit and Gellért.
My undefeatable treasure Kincsem (pron. keen-tshem), the most famous Hungarian bred racing horse won all of her 54 races! People just remember her as the 'Undefeatable'. Her names means literally 'my treasure'.