I'm going to Budapest and possibly Zagreb to live for six weeks, starting April 1. I have a ton of book research to do and I'm dying to get started. I'd be there yesterday if I could.
I've read everything Frommer's has written about the Budapest, I've been studying Hungarian and Croatian since October, and I have friends of nearly 20 years in both places who will provide "safe houses" for me if anything should happen.
Do any of you have cultural tips for me? I think I know how to hold my knife and fork, and I know what the proper number and color of flowers are to give to a potential female romantic partner ( ). But I'm wondering about my Ugly Americanness and would like to know if anyone has a "the guide books won't mention it, but..." information.
"And never grow a wishbone, daughter, where your backbone ought to be."
- Sarah McMane
We had a running joke because everyone we talked about it to used to exclaim: Budapest, did you know it's really 2 cities, Buda and Pest?
The Danube river runs down the middle and there's a beautiful old castle on the Buda side that's a must see. I think the Buda side is older.
Croatia was a mixed bag at the time because they were still rebuilding from the war. I was underwhelmed by Zagreb after Budapest, and would definitely suggest getting to the coast if you can.
We went to Dubrovnik (a medieval walled town) and then to an island called Hvar. It was amazing.
ETA: The people in both countries were incredibly kind and gracious. We encountered warmth and generosity everywhere we went.
Also, if you can try to go to Plitvice Lakes. It's a beautiful national park with stunning turquoise lakes. Great for a day of hiking. I've never seen anything like it.
Have fun! It's a great journey.
[This message edited by Rainbows at 5:16 PM, March 5th (Wednesday)]
Do not refer to Hungary as Eastern Europe. It is Central Europe. You can see that if you look on a map. Eastern Europe designation is from the Soviet days and not a good reminder that it was behind the iron curtain.
Hungarians are incredibly proud of their country, their agrigulture, their unique history and language. They tend towards the melancholy so rather than celebrate and remember the days they won battles, they remember the ones they lost.
The young people speak English well. The older ones not so much. When I travelled there a decade ago hardly anyone spoke English, but then in 2012 I would head towards a young person when I needed help and they usually spoke great English.
Hungarians remember how much they lost after WW1 and are still very upset by this. They are also upset that after WW2 the other european countries got the Marshall plan and many developmental support and they did not. They were allies with Germany, but unwilling ones. Yes there was a small faction of Nazi like people called the Iron Cross, but most wanted to stay out of it. They were used as cannon fodder by the Germans and sent into battle without weapons. The US bombed Budapest for 100 days, a siege that my family lived through. They were softening it up for the Soviets to come in. So Hungarian's feel used and trodden over on all sides.
In 1956 the Americans promised that they would support the Hungarian resistance if they fought against the Soviets and then did not come through. Many brave young students were sacrificed in the process. There is a Budapest museum in the building that housed the Nazi SS, and then the Soviet secret police where many Hungarian's were tortured and killed. It's grisley, but worth seeing to understand the terrible difficulties that Hungary survived.
The Puszta is the great plains in the center of Hungary and a rich agricultural area. They have made parts into a park where people keep traditional breeds of sheep and cattle and horses, and people wear traditional dress to demonstrate the lifestyle of many years ago. There is a rich tradition of excellent horsemanship and you can see a demonstration of this here. Debrecen is an Eastern city that is beautiful, and a nice jumping off point for visitng the Puszta.
Hungarians don't have different words for 'her' and 'him' and so they often mix them up when they speak English, so don't let that confuse you.
My Dad was a huge PITA, but one thing he did give me is a rich cultural heritage that I am also very proud of. Enjoy your trip!
The local beer in Zagreb is Ozujsko (with a mark over the z - also know as Zhuja), which was good. And I remember Dubrovnik has good seafood and good pizza. Dubrovnik and many of the coastal towns are very nice. We also visited Split to see Diocletian's palace.
If you haven't been to the Adriatic before, I hope you are also leaving time for Venice!
Namaste, would you be interested to meet for a coffee sometime? If so, PM me and I'll give you details on how to contact me once I'm there.
Innerlight: Thank you so much for your insight into your heritage. In one paragraph, you said more than you could get out of an entire guide book!
Another thing...the pastries are very good.
I know many of the folk songs from when I was a child. My Dad prided himself on knowing so many and he taught them to us, although I sing like a 5 year old with an American accent speaking gibberish not real Hungarian. Still, it is a huge thrill to hear these songs sometimes in the restaurants.
I once when to a performance of folk dances and my Dad explained that these 'Hungarian' things were banned by the Soviets for many years since no one was supposed to think they were Hungarian they were supposed to think they were Soviets. People practiced these folk dances in secret to keep the old traditions alive. I was surprised as I would not have thought that folk dancing was so politically dangerous. Of course it's not necessary to hide any more.