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Hungary : Country overview

Budapest panorama
Situated in the heart of Europe, the Republic of Hungary lies in the Carpathian Basin in Central Eastern Europe and is bordered by Austria, Slovakia, Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia and Ukraine.  Rich in history and culture, as well as natural beauty, Hungary is a remarkable country to visit and combine with dental, surgical or cosmetic treatment.
With a population of around 10 million and a central Europe climate of very hot summers and raw cold winters Hungary has plenty of natural beauty and a fascinating artistic, historical and cultural element after surviving many a heroic struggle against oppression.  Today Hungary is known as the Gateway to Europe, but this central position has made the country vulnerable to plenty of invaders, including the Turks, the Habsburgs, the Germans and the Russians and each has left their mark here - for example, the Turkish thermal baths, the Austrian Citadel on Gellert Hill, Szent István Basilica (the world’s largest Synagogue), and the Russian statues in a park on the outskirts of Budapest.
The capital, Budapest, is located in a central northern position on the banks of the river Danube and is considered to be one of the top European destinations, even above Prague.  A bustling, vibrant and architecturally beautiful city there is plenty to see and do, and despite the many invasions and uprisings the city’s original charm remains:  Imagine sipping drinks in one of the many coffee houses which have long time been popular haunts for poets, soldiers, musicians and aristocrats with passionate gypsy music in the background, overhearing locals’ heated discussions, or watching yellow trams hurtle down cobblestone streets passing facades marked with signs of revolution and magnificent old apartment blocks.
Budapest was originally separated into three parts and divided by the River Danube which flows from the north to the south with the district of Buda situated at the west, Pest at the east and Obuda (which translates as old Buda) at the north-west, but in 1873 three became one to form ‘Budapest’.  As many of the dental and cosmetic surgeons are based in the capital, culture vultures can enjoy the city’s attractions after their treatment.  Highlights include the Opera House, the Royal Palace, Buda Castle and the Old City Wall.  Take a ride on the funicular railway to Castle Hill, or Tram number two to enjoy the hills of Buda, stroll around the Museum of Fine Arts or the Hungarian National Gallery then relax in one of the city’s 400 cafés with coffee and cake. 

Budapest theatre
Budapest, Hungary National Theatre
Hungary was one of the Eastern European countries to enter the European Union in 2004 but the Euro hasn’t arrived just yet; the currency is the Hungarian Forint and the exchange rate is roughly 366 Ft to £1.  Hungary is very accessible and from London you can fly direct to Budapest in just under two and a half hours with return fares on budget airlines from as little as £40.
The Hungarians are a very proud, resilient and patriotic race who are generally very hospitable people despite their reputation for being a little pessimistic - but who could blame them after such a turbulent history?  As far as dining goes expect to see dishes such as Paprika Chicken with dumplings or Goulash.  Pork is also big news in Hungary and you will see plenty of it at most meal times, either as a main course or used for seasoning and added to anything from soups, sauces and cabbage.  Allegedly the ham obsession goes back to the Turkish invasion when the Muslims (who for religious purposes won’t eat pork) left behind many pigs and hence it became a staple dish.  And don’t forget to sample some Hungarian wine with your meal; it regularly wins prizes at international wine fares.
Nature lovers will delight in Hungary’s spectacular scenery; Lake Balaton, for example is Europe's largest freshwater lake, known as the Hungarian Sea and there are many other nature conservation areas to be explored.  Take a trip out of Budapest to Szentendre, a peaceful folk village north of the city on the Danube bend, just 20 minutes by car or 40 by train.  The country also boasts a collection of thermal spas (around 400 thermal springs in 85 different locations) whose therapeutic and medicinal properties have attracted visitors for many years and have been recognised by the Ministry of Health.  The thermal water of the spas absorbs minerals from the earth’s crust and is especially good for muscle tension, aches and pains or circulatory/injury rehabilitation.  The main ones are Gellért Spa, King Spa, St Luke Spa and Széchenyi Spa.  See www.budapestgyogyfurdoi.hu for more information. 
Photos courtesy of the The Photo Archive of the Hungarian National Tourist Office.

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