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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.

Monument Park, Budapest

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.

Hungary, Football and Goulash - so near and yet so far

Neville Chamberlain once described Czechoslovakia as a far away country of which we know little. Well Hungary is a bit further on still, cross the Danube and then take a hard step to the right. Hungary’s political solutions are all somewhere in the past. The Fidesz Government of Viktor Orban is blindly chasing some Thatcherite vision of unbridled capitalism as the country teeters on the brink of becoming another Greece and the second largest party Jobbik are an unlovable bunch of uniformed Empire revivalists whose symbol is a map of Hungary expanded to include chunks of neighbouring countries. And of course there’s elections coming up.


Somerset Ambassadors of Song Sing Out Across the Danube

A few years back, natural voice practitioner Yvette Staelens founded the Voice of the People Choir at the Bridgwater Arts Centre to help people find the singing voice that she believes everyone has inside them. For almost as long, we have taken these musical ambassadors to the four corners of Europe to meet other singers and prove that songs, smiles and a cheery disposition are universal.

This year we did Hungary.

Flying out to Budapest from Gatwick the 48 strong group from all over Somerset landed into lovely sunny autumnal weather. Which was just as well as it had been bucketing down icy rain only the day before.



It was only a year or so back that we started to develop links with Hungary. This came about through a meeting with Hungarian councillor and turkey magnate Nemeth Zsolt from the town of Sarvar at the Uherske Hradiste wine festival. He introduced us to school teacher Kovacs Beata from the Tinodi Sebestian High school and thereafter the links simply flowed.

Well, Kovacs Beata is like saying Smedley Brian, but the Hungarians seem to like things that way round, so this year I got Media teachers Hughes Vanessa, Woods Laura and De Francesca Mino to take College Bridgwater over there with 33 eager students.



Hungary is a funny country. Even Hungarians revel in the fact that no-one can understand their odd language, totally unrelated as it is to any other. Apart from Finnish. And maybe Estonian. Then there's the weather. With the harshness of the winter over it seemed those thermal vests and extra layers wouldn't be neccessary. And then it snowed, temperatures plummeted. And then it stopped and turned to shirt sleeve summer.

So this was the country chosen this year by the Globe-Trotting Sociology department of Somerset's Richard Huish College for their study trip. Of course, it wasn't just the unfathomableness of Hungary that appealed to Sociology students, there's also been a lot going down there recently that has raised eyebrows around the world and which make the place ideal for further investigation.