Budapest & Hungary
Lonely Planet – £14.99
There have been some good, bad and ugly developments here recently. A national election has returned the old guard with more power than ever. The economy splutters along but there have been some improvements. And the country has unveiled a series of new attractions – from an ambitious contemporary art museum in Debrecen to a restored synagogue in Szeged and mosque in Esztergom. And then there’s Budapest’s ambitious bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics.
(‘Budapest & Hungary Today’).
Even if the above, along with the country’s relentlessly unpleasant leaders do leave rather a lot to be desired, there is still something to be gleaned from paying Hungary a visit.
For a start, there’s: ‘’Stunning architecture, vital folk art, thermal spas and Europe’s most exciting city after dark.’’ which, according to one of Budapest & Hungary’s prime writers, Steve Fallon, remains one of its major drawcards.
Divided into five distinct parts that equate with the country’s four prime areas and it’s capital city (The Danube Bend & Western Transdanubia, Lake Balaton & Southern Transdanubia, The Great Plain, Northern Hungary and of course, Budapest), these 310 pages – excluding Behind the Scenes, Acknowledgements and Index – clearly bequeath the travelling reader with nigh everything one needs to know with regards this fascinating, Central European nation.
Alas, hideous Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, aside, there really is an abundance to learn about, understand and essentially come to terms with so far as all things Hungarian are concerned.
The first might well be it’s cultural allure, which is somewhat brought to the fore by Fallon when he writes: ‘’I love both Budapest and Hungary for so many reasons that it’s impossible to put them into any order. Is it the capital’s art nouveau architecture or the Turkish-era baths that are God-given cures for too much palinka (fruit brandy)? Is it the gentle landscape, the rolling hills of the north or the sight-and fun-filled cities like Budapest, Szeged and Debrecen? Maybe it’s the Jokai-style bean soup… But taking pride of place with all those reasons is Hungarian itself. When I sing a song of Hungary today it may be in a beautiful language that I once considered impenetrable, but no longer do’’ (‘Why I Love Budapest & Hungary’).
As always, what fundamentally attracts me to Lonely Planet, is it’s paramount/blatant honesty, of which the following is a more than resonant example: ‘’Himnusz, Hungary’s national anthem, describes Hungarians as a people ‘long torn by ill fate,’ and the overall mood here is one of honfbu, literally ‘patriotic sorrow,’ but with a penchant for the blues with just enough hope to keep most people going. This mood certainly predates communism. In the early 1930s a song called Szomoru Vasarnap (Gloomy Sunday) reportedly so depressed many ordinary Budapesters, that whenever it was played, they would rush to jump off a nearby bridge. Also called ‘the Suicide Song,’ it has been covered in English by many artists, including Billie Holiday, Sinead O’Connor, Marianne Faithful and Bjork. It is a real downer’’ (‘Penchant for the Blues – The Hungarian People’).
The truth, the blues, and nothing other than both – pick up a copy of Budapest & Hungary today and find out more of what this wholly unpredictable country has to offer.
It’s about as far removed from Planet Obvious as it’s possible to get.