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12 things you should know before coming to Hungary

CNN has been kinda obsessed with Hungary since last year. They’ve featured a short film about the “Hungarian cowboys” aka the “csikós”, jointly created by community media users and the Hungarian Tourism Agency on CNN Travel. This year the collaboration continued, a one-minute movie featuring the Hungarian capital, Budapest was broadcasted by CNN in Europe and North America during May 15 to June 30. The “Spice of Europe”campaign intended to convey the image of Budapest as an energetic, creative and diverse city where visitors can find everything any classic European capital has to offer: the authentic, historical side versus the innovative, vibrant aspects. CNN Travel has also put together an article about 11 useful facts to know before you arrive to the country, you can find the original article here. We have added below some tips and an extra facts, so you can be prepared before you jet set and arrive after the summer season.

1. Lake Balaton is Central Europe’s largest lake

Almost 80 kilometers long, and covering an area of almost 600-square-kilometers, Lake Balaton is often known as the “Hungarian Sea”. The northern side is the quieter one, you can reach Balatonfüred from Budapest via train in 2.5 hours. Siófok and Zamárdi is for the younger generation especially in the summer due to the Balaton Sound electronic music festival.

2. Bringing swimming gear is a must

There are more than 1,000 natural springs in the country and the world’s largest thermal lake at Hévíz. In Budapest, enjoy a relaxing spa day in the amazing baths, treat yourself at Széchenyi Thermal Baths in the Pest side or visit the art nouveau Gellért Baths and Hotel at the foot of Gellért Hill in Buda side.

Széchenyi Thermal Bath

1146 Budapest, Állatkerti körút 9-11.

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Gellért Thermal Bath and Swimming Pool

1118 Budapest, Kelenhegyi út 4.

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3. The cream of the Nobel prize and inventors are Hungarians

The country has one of the highest rankings, per capita, for Nobel laureates and  invented many things, from the ballpoint pen (named for inventor László Bíró) to computer science (János Neumann) to Rubik’s cube. Earlier, we wrote about everyday items you could be thankful for the Hungarians here.

4. Franz Liszt is an immortal celebrity

The composer is still a such a big deal here, although he was born in what is now Austria, spoke German and French but no Hungarian and died in Germany, they renamed Budapest International Airport in his honor for the anniversary of his 200th birthday, in 2011.

5. The ‘little gate’ is a way of life

An option B aka “the little gate,” is always available as an alternative way in, a work around.  Hungarians no matter what, also have an opinion on everything, it’s said if you have three Hungarians in a room, they’ll form four political parties.

6. Goulash isn’t a stew

The signature national dish is gulyás, which you probably know as goulash is often made thick as a stew, but what you get in Hungary is a soup you eat with fresh, fluffy bread.

7. Hungarians are addicted to paprika (and sour cream aka tejföl)

There’s one element in the  Hungarian cuisine that’s present in every kitchen, from Grandma’s to the country’s first Michelin-starred restaurant, Costes the red powdered pepper: paprika. The chicken paprikash is accompanied by sour cream, which is often used in hearty dishes or a dollop on top of stuffed cabbage. Click here to find out some amazing dishes you must try while you are in Budapest.

8. Clinking with beer glasses is not a great habit here

When the Hungarians lost the 1848-49 Revolution and War of Independence, Austrians executed 13 of the most senior Hungarian generals, and supposedly celebrated by drinking beer and clinking their mugs. Hungarians vowed not to clink beer glasses for the next 150 years. Although that period ended in 1999, the “ban” is still widely observed, especially among more elderly people.

9. It’s a fact: Tokaji is the Wine of Kings

Tokaji is so good that Louis XIV of France called it the “Wine of Kings, the King of Wine.” Tokaji is measured by its sweetness, shown by the number of “puttonyos”. The concentration of aszú was traditionally defined by the number of puttony of dough added to a Gönc cask (136 liter barrel) of must. Nowadays the puttony number is based on the content of sugar and sugar-free extract in the mature wine. Aszú ranges from 3 puttonyos to 6 puttonyos. The best Tokaji (also rarest and most expensive) is the Eszencia, the juice of aszú berries, which runs off naturally from the vats in which they are collected during harvesting. The sugar concentration of eszencia is typically between 500 g and 700 g per litre, although the year 2000 vintage produced eszencia exceeding 900 g per liter.

10. Hungarians are addicted to sports

Hungarians are extremely proud of the fact that, per capita, the country has one of the highest tallies of Olympic medals (482 across both winter and summer games). They do well at fencing, swimming, gymnastics and kayaking, but the men’s water polo team is exceptional.
11. Equestrian traditions are very much alive
The Hungarians rode into the Carpathian Basin – the central European territory they conquered – on horseback and have been in love with things equine ever since. Their famed light cavalry gave English the word Hussar (from the Hungarian “Huszár”).

12. Joking about Bucharest or being hungry

The question “Are you from Hungry?” is not funny to most Hungarians, rather treated as cliché, Bucharest might sound similar to Budapest, but accidentally mixing up the two cities will be considered quite rude to a Hungarian. So if you wish to start a conversation, beware, these two mistakes won’t take you far.

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