On the flood plains of the Danube bend the Nomadic tribes of Magyars decided to make their home. By the 10th century they had formed a powerful Hungarian state and were major players for the next thousand years dominating their Slavic neighbours, often in partnership with the Germanic Austrians, but more often forming the frontline of Europe against the Turkish invasions. From the vast empire the Hungarians once had as overlords to the Slavs to the more compact majority Magyar State they have today the history of Hungary has been one of struggle and quest for National identity. For fifty years a restless Communist state following the Second World War as allies of the Germans, Hungary today is a capitalist democracy - and slightly unsure of itself at that!
The jewel in St. Stephens Crown is Budapest, the capital city on the Danube. The heights of Buda with the Castle Quarter overlooking the plains of Pest where the bulk of the modern city including the commercial heart lies. A spectacular riverside Parliament building and the prominent St. Istvan's Cathedral dominate the cityscape, whilst a short metro ride up Andrassy Street takes you to Heroes Square, the public icerink (when it’s icy) and the popular Gellert Spa – one of the many thermal spas in the city.
On the outskirts of Budapest can be found the interesting 'Monument Park' where the hosts attempt to explain why Communism was a bad thing with the aid of several of the many giant statues removed there from their previous prominent plinths in the city centre.
But to understand the real Hungary it’s necessary to head out into the country. Our contacts are with the town of Sarvar – a pleasant place despite its literal translation as 'castle of mud'. And the fact that it was the home of Elizabeth Bathory the Countess who murdered (mainly Slovakian) peasant girls and bathed in their blood to preserve her eternal youth. Eventually she ran out of peasants and moved onto the daughters of the Hungarian nobility. At which point the Police got involved.
Sarvar is also famed for its newly renovated thermal spa as well as the acres upon acres of nearby poultry farms. But for us it’s most welcoming sight is the Tinodi Sebestien High School where we have some very good contacts, along with the Town Council there - which is also twinned with Uherske Hradiste. Sarvar is slightly nearer to Vienna than Budapest but can be reached easily by either airport with flights from the UK.