In 1989, Hungary opened its doors to tourism after the collapse of the Soviet Union and hasn’t looked back since. Hungary offers the traveller all the delights of Eastern Europe’s cultural capital Budapest, on a par with any of its western neighbours. Stunning architecture, arts, and a lively social scene based around cafes, bars, and baths built by the Turks, make the capital a great starting point before heading into the countryside; filled with medieval castles, churches and towns. The great expanse of the plains – the Hungarian heartland – offers extraordinary glimpses into Hungary’s Magyar heritage, and an abundance of wildlife. Fine wines, folk customs, music, and art, make Hungary a feast for the greediest of culture-vultures – at bargain prices.
Romania is one of Europe’s best kept secrets. Picturesque castles and citadels are scattered across the forested Transylvanian landscape, where wolves and bears roam in the majestic Carpathian mountains. Historic monasteries, churches and villages contain some of the best medieval sites anywhere in the world; where folk traditions are still strong and seem unchanged for centuries. The capital Bucharest makes for a sobering introduction to Romania’s recent history and a great place to begin exploring the wilds. Romania has struggled to shake of the past and tourism has been slow to develop; getting about the country can be a challenging yet rewarding experience. Much of Romania is unexplored and if you want to get off the beaten track in Europe – this is about as wild as it gets.
Hungarian currency is the Forint (1 Forint = 100 filler)
1EUR = approx. 250 Forint
1US$ =220 Forint
1 £ = 370 Forint.
Romanian currency is the Leu (plural lei, 1 Leu=100 bani)
1EUR = approx. 36,000 Leu
1US$ =33,000 Leu
1£ = 50,000 Leu
Currency rates fluxtuate from day to day and month to month – be sure to check with your regional exchange bureau for up to date information.
Generally speaking you will have no problems with credit cards, exchanging cash, and finding ATM’s except in remote areas – especially in Romania. Its always a good idea to carry some US dollars; they are accepted just about everywhere. Avoid exchanging money on the streets, you’ll only get ripped off. Tipping in Hungary is the norm (usually about 10%). Hungary offers excellent value for travellers with Pounds, Euros or Dollars. If you eat in average restaurants and stay in average accomodation you could probably budget for under $25 US a day. Hostels and campsites are even cheaper, and gives your wallet room for a little luxury now and again. Although Romania may seem a less touristy place in which to part with your cash, it isn’t always cheaper. Lots of places are geared to the tourists, so prices may be surprising. Bucharest is more expensive than anywhere else for food and accomodation – but in the rural areas you can find lodgings for well under £10. Accomodation in Bucharest may be around the $25 mark and restaurants are pricey too. Transport is very cheap here, and tipping is not expected.
Hungary 11 million strong population are mainly native Hungarians with a 10% ethnic minority composed of Roma, German, Serbs, Slovak and Romanians. There are also large Turkish and Jewish communities.
The much larger country of Romania has double Hungary’s population with a majority of native Romanians, but with a large Hungarian population that went with the land annexed from Hungary after the first world war (7%) as well as Roma, German and Ukrainian ethnic minorities.
Public transport in Budapest is excellent with trams, buses and a Metro and a rail network linking the suburbs with the city centre. Taxis are cheap by Western standards. Trains are the easiest way to get around Hungary and services run to all the major towns and cities. Flights within Hungary are relatively expensive. In Bucharest there is a also a metro system, and rail network. Travelling anywhere outside of the city, and especially in rural Romania can be a challenge, but trains run to all the major towns. Hitchhiking is always an option and the usual safety measures apply as with anywhere else.
Hungary does not pose any particular health risks for the traveller. If you are heading for remote parts of Romania Hep A, Typhoid and Polio boosters may be an idea. There have also been reports of Cholera and be careful around dogs and foxes as there is a risk of rabies. Drinking water is safe, except in some of the more out of the way spots – bottled water is readilty avaliable if you are not sure. Always seek medical advice before you go.
Hungarians speak Magyar, a language related to Finnish and Estonian, part of the Finno-Ugaric group of Languages. Its notoriously difficult to learn, but English and German are spoken in some areas, as well as a little Russian.
Romanian is closely related to the other Romance languages – Spanish, Italian and French – which are derived from Latin. English is spoken in some of the cities, but in rural Romania you will need some basics. French is spoken in some areas. Russian is not spoken widely in Romania.
Hungary has very cold winters and very hot summers – around Pecs in the South is warmest. Average January temperatures -2C/28F, and 23C/73F in June. The plains are famous for spectacular thunderstorms and lightening displays. Romania has a similar climate although its winters are spectacularly cold, especially in the mountains were snowfall is heavy throughout December-April. Average temperature in the coastal regions is 11C, and 2C in the mountains. The spring and autumn (around April/May and September/October) are good times to visit for those not used to more extreme weather temperatures.
Hungarian diets consist of large amounts of meaty soups and stews, especially Gulyas (Goulash), often flavoured with Hungarian Paprika – reputed to be the worlds best. Pork, Lamb and steak, and hungarian sausages are all popular – Vegetarians won’t find much to tempt them on traditional menus, except in the larger cities and towns. Bulls Blood is Hungary’s famous red wine from the Eger region, and Palinka is the national spirit distilled from Apricots and other fruits. There are many Turkish influences on Hungarian cuisine as you may expect. The Romanian national dish is Ciorba de burta (tripe soup), and here too, soups and stews, invariably with some form of meat, dominate any menu. Stuffed vine leaves, peppers and cabbages are also traditional Romanian dishes. Romania isn’t particularly famous for its beer or wine – although it’s cheap. Tuica (plum brandy) is the preferred spirit.
Citizens from US and most EU countries do not require a Visa to enter Hungary, NZ and Australian Citizens however are required to obtain Visas.
Citizens from US and EU do not need Visas to enter Romania, but will need to fill in the appropriate paperwork on arrival. Citizens from New Zealand and Australia are required to purchase Visas before entering the country; either transit visa (3 days) or tourist Visa (30 days). Visas can be extended. Canadian citizens can purchase the appropriate Visa upon arrival.
By Dan Porter
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