Travel tips for Hungary

This guest post was written by our favorite French expatriate, Julie Duran-Gelleri. Julie has lived in several different countries around Western Europe, so we asked her for some travel tips in some of her previous homes.
Hungary has everything a traveller could wish for: breathtaking landscapes, a complex and fascinating history spanning back thousands of years, hospitable and kind people, and a lip-smackingly good, hearty cuisine. Not to forget hundreds of hot springs and thermal baths…
English: Parliament Palace, Budapest, Hungary Română: Palatul Parlamentului Ungariei, Budapesta Magyar: Parlament, Budapest, Magyarország (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Eating in Hungary is a real treat if you’re a meat eater. Food is rather cheap, portion sizes are big, sauces are rich and spicy, and paprika is omnipresent. If you’re watching your weight, scour the menu for something that is not deep fried; most restaurants offer half-size portions on request. Menus will usually have a rather reliable English translation.
It is customary to tip in bars and restaurants, by adding 10% approx. and rounding it up to the nearest “round” number. If your bill comes in at 13550 forints, tell the waiter to round it up to 15000 forints, or 16000 if you’re feeling generous.
In more traditional hotels and guesthouses, don’t be surprised if your bed looks like a sofa with a sheet on it. This is because Hungarian homes can be quite small, so beds are often designed to double up as sofas. Bring an eye mask if you’re sensitive to light: in Hungary the sun rises very early and most rooms don’t have shutters, or curtains thick enough to block out the light.
In the bathroom, most of the time you will only find one towel per guest. If you would like another towel to use as hand towel you will have to ask for it. You might be surprised to see that the toilet has a platform, which makes a kind of shallow pool for things to collect in… If you’re squeamish, don’t look before you flush!
Taxis in Hungary are professional and reliable, and will always use the meter. Always choose taxis that have a phone number displayed on the taxi light and doors. Many taxi companies in Budapest have phone numbers like “44-4444” or “66-6666”. Your best bet is not to hail a cab from the street but to call the cab company instead. They usually have English-speaking staff, and if they don’t, well, another company will.
And please, refrain from making the “/hungry” joke. They’ve heard it a million times already…. A better way to impress your hosts is to learn the word for “cheers!”: “Egészségedre”, “to your health”, is pronounced “Egg-esh-egg-ed-ray”.
Get a feel for the country before you leave:
The Book of Fathers, by Miklos Vamos, is the chronicle of twelve generations of fathers in the Csillag family, and a fascinating and lively crash-course in 400 years of Hungarian history.
A Guest in my own Country: A Hungarian Life, by Gyorgy (George) Konrad, is a first-hand account of the rather troubled history of Hungary in the 20th century. Gyorgy Konrad narrowly escaped being sent to Auschwitz as an eleven-year old, survived the last winter of the war among the ruins of Budapest, was active in the liberation struggle of 1956, and had to contend with censorship as a young writer in Socialist Hungary. What a life!
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