Hungary has always been one of those countries that fascinated me. I regretted not having devoted any time to explore it during my last visit in Europe three years ago. This time around I dedicated two months live in Budapest and travel within to explore parts of the country. Two months is probably not enough to truly grasp what’s going on within the country but I’ve witnessed and encountered enough oddities to form somewhat of an opinion. Bare in mind, this is my own opinions based on my own experiences so your mileage may vary.First, the oddities I mentioned, some are just downright disturbing. There’s far right nationalistic movement going on and you can feel and sense it, especially if you’re not of European decent. The migrant crisis has really affected the political climate in this otherwise beautiful country. The capital city of Budapest doesn’t show this as much but as soon as you get out into the suburbs or the countryside things become more apparent.
Budapest is a home to many expats and digital nomads. It’s ideal and centralized location withing Europe make it perfect as a base for western and eastern European excursions. The cost of living is relatively cheaper than its western counterparts. I was able to rent out a huge room in a flat for 310 Euros a month which I found through a friend’s referral. I decided to stay long term to chill and also join a gym to recover some atrophied muscles from over a year of constant travel.
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Budapest is very international. Ninety percent of the conversations I overhear out on the streets are in English. There are international shops everywhere and the city is indeed a thriving metropolis. One of the biggest music festivals in Europe also happens here, the Sziget music festival.The city is amazing and ideal for beautiful nighttime photos. I’ve spent many sunsets and nights just across the Danube on the Buda side photographing Gelert hill, Fisherman’s Bastion, and the Buda Castle. The Buda side definitely provides the most photogenic postcard views of Budapest. But the Pest side is where all the parties are at. Pest is famed for its ruin bars that are unique only to Budapest. These ruin bars become very lively at night and during the weekends, lines of people would snake around the bars waiting to get in. The internet infrastructure is the country is fast and ideal for people with remote jobs. My flat was near the main international train station, Keleti Palyaudvar, and I can make quick trips to Slovakia, Romania, Austria, and Croatia if I wanted to. On the downside, the city has a very odd and strange odor and I can smell it everywhere I go. I don’t know where it’s emanating from but on one incident at night, I saw an old lady positioning herself in between two parked cars while urinating standing up. I don’t know if it’s the smell of urine or a gas leak all over the city.
The Hungarian Countryside: A Brewing Far-right Nationalism
I hitchhiked with a friend who is of Hungarian descent from Cluj to the border town of Biharkeresztes in Hungary. From there, we would catch a train to Budapest. Hitchhiking through the border was a bit of a hassle. The border control was really on alert because of the migrant crisis. Nobody would give us a ride to the border so we walked it across on foot to hitchhike on the other side.
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We walked about 2 kilometers towards the train station in this town. We came across two farmer teenager carrying scythes. My friend overheard them talking and he told me later that were saying “I’m gonna kill you, migrant!” I can only assume it’s due to my darker skin and black hair that I would be mistaken for a migrant. But that etched a very powerful and disturbing image in my head. Imagine if one of those teenagers carrying sharp scythes started swinging at me. Not a very good introduction to Hungary. Through research, I learned that there’s a right-wing Nationalist movement taking root in the Hungary.
The Far-right faction is represented by Jobbik which regularly blames the country’s ethnic and religious minorities for its woes and in recent years have been reported to form vigilante groups meant to harass minorities, especially gypsies. Bands from the vigilante group patrol small towns in Hungary and rural villages and threaten and harass the local Gypsy population.
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Eger: A Beautiful Place, Kind Of
There’s also an incident in Eger where I was flat out refused service. I went to eat at a restaurant the night before asking if they had Wi-Fi service. The waiter said yes. The next morning, I went to the same restaurant now talking to a different server. I politely asked if I can get a table and use their Wi-Fi. The server looked at me in disdain and said they had no WIFI and told me to go away. WTF? I was a paying customer last night and will be again today!The next day another incident I observed where a group of guys drinking beer at a restaurant and two dark skinned individuals passed by, probably Romas (Gypsies). The group proceeded to heckle them. Some had formed a fist and bumped it on the palm of his other hand to suggest beating them up. I walking past them when this all happened and I think I was spared the heckling because I had an expensive camera wrapped around my neck. I was disturbed by the what just happened so I bought a hat that would clearly label me as a tourist instead of being mistaken for a migrant or Roma to avoid conflict. That hat has a large engraving that says “Los Angeles.” So far I’ve had fewer stares and glares after buying that hat.
I was disturbed by what just happened so I bought a hat that screamed tourist so I would stand out like a sore thumb and look like a tourist instead of a Gypsy. That hat has a large engraving that says “Los Angeles.” It worked like a charm!
The Final Train Out of Hungary
After these incidents, I couldn’t wait to get out of Hungary. On the train out towards Slovakia, I ended up in a town called Miskolc. It is an industrial town full of working class people. I explored the town for a few hours and did notice a larger Roma population. The people of Miskolc were noticeably friendlier, at least to me. I was greeted with a smile when I asked for information or a mug of beer. I accidentally dropped 5,000 forints on the ground the guy behind me rushed up and told me I had dropped it. A very nice and friendly gesture.In Eger, I didn’t get the same treatment. I felt like I was glared at constantly like I was a stray dog. As I sat on my seat on the final train to Slovakia, I reflected back on my experience in Hungary and can only conclude that the EU is weakening. The EU was meant to avoid the Ethnic Nationalistic movement that devastated the world in the 20th century (the Holocaust). I hope this trend doesn’t continue because Europe has a long history of ethnic nationalism. My time in Hungary is a stark reminder of this.