Visitors to Hungary Have Nothing to Fear and Lots to Look Forward to
What they say about London buses is certainly true about headlines about Hungary. It is not often that Budapest is in the news, but, in 2006, two major international stories come along at once. First, the political tension that led to street violence between police and violent protestors, then the death of Ferenc Puskás, one of the world's great football geniuses. So, what can visitors expect to find when they touch down in Budapest in 2007?
As the Founder of local party organisers Stag Republic (stag weekends abroad) and Hen Nation and living in Budapest I have the inside track on what's really happening in one of Europe's most beautiful cities. The answer is, there's plenty to write home about, but nobody is getting hurt.
In many ways, the people causing trouble on the streets and the politicians bickering in parliament are both still struggling to come to terms with 50 years of communist rule. What people seem to forget is just how much has changed in the last 15 years since the Hungarian economy was opened up to competition, most of it for the good. The events of the last month or so have reminded us all how far Hungary has come, and how far it still has to go. Nothing is constant in Budapest, and that's why we recommend it to all our clients - it's always so full of surprises.
Granted, those watching the TV news will have got a very different picture. Many of the major hotels experienced mass cancellations following the ransacking of the TV building on September 18 and the violence that marred the October 23 commemoration of the 1956 uprising. Living in Budapest, it was all a little ridiculous. Only people living in the town centre got the slightest whiff of teargas - it was obvious where the flashpoints were and which places to avoid.
Thankfully, most of our customers are a little more adventurous, but we have had stag and hen groups calling to ask if it is still OK to come to Budapest. We quickly put their minds at rest. We even had some people wanting to come out to see the protests in the flesh! And why not, most of it was no worse than a rowdy Friday night on a UK high street.
Since the protests died down - and they now seem like a distant memory - discussion has turned to the wider political picture and how the country can claw itself out of its current political and economic crisis. In simple terms, the government has spent way beyond its means and its payback time. Rebuilding a country is a tough job, and the guys at the top still have a lot to learn. Many of the things we take for granted in the UK or the States are still filtering through society, and that includes the business, political and social environment. But it's business as usual in the city's great pubs, clubs, restaurants and spas.
The death of Ferenc Puskás offers just another example of how much the Hungarian people went through in the 50 years of communism. The 'golden team' that won the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki and narrowly lost the 1954 World Cup Final in Bern fled the country after 1956. When the Russian tanks rolled in to crush the uprising, the euphoria turned to fear and hundreds of thousands left Hungary for the West. Puskás received an 18-month FIFA ban from soccer as a result of his defection. Only once he has served his ban was he allowed to join Real Madrid as a 31 year old. But he was still young enough to win three successive European Cups. Sadly, the nation's greatest hero only returned to Hungary as a portly old man in the 80s. Those were very different times, no one likes tax hikes, but we have to put things into perspective. In the meantime, let's party.
About the Author: Josey Walker is the Founder & Managing Director of party organisers Stag Republic and Hen Nation. Stag Republic and Hen Nation are Budapest-based companies that have been organising made-to-measure stag weekends abroad and hen weekends in Eastern Europe since 2000.
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