Budapest Amber Davenport

Amber Davenport

Hungary is a landlocked country with no coastline and is known for its spas and hot springs. It has a small population of under 10 million, and the language is notoriously difficult! Mostly flat, it borders many countries (including Ukraine which has obviously seen in influx of desperate refugees fleeing the war). Other bordering countries are Romania, Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia.

Hungary is known for its lakes including the Danube (nearly 1800 miles that passes through 10 countries to the Black Sea) and Lake Balaton (the largest freshwater lake in central Europe). Both offer home to endangered fish (like salmon and sturgeon) along with 400 species of birds. The Great Hungarian Plains are home to imperial eagles, mouflon sheep and wild boars.

Two actors with Hungarian heritage are Tony Curtis and Peter Falk (a lifesize statue of Lt. Columbo stands on a Budapest street, legend is that he was the ancestor of an important Hungarian politician).

There are limited on building heights. In Hungary, buildings are not allowed to be more than just over 300 feet (around the height of Big Ben). This means it’s free from ugly tower blocks and skyscrapers. New Urbanist architect Andres Duany (who created the lauded Floridian town of Seaside) says building sky-high buildings is bad town planning, as it alienates people from community (say Grenfell Towers). Most experts say no building should be more than four storeys high. Andres says ‘There’s an argument for density that supports public transit. But there’s not an argument for tall buildings that need elevators’.

It looks after its underground. Aside from London and Chicago, Budapest runs the oldest subway systems on earth (it has a maze of 200 caves, a real subterranean city), linked by many beautiful bridges.

It spends 5% of GDP on education. This has resulted in a 99% literacy rate, one of the best in the world.

Hungary is not the world’s most vegan-friendly country. However it’s home to goulash, a popular dish worldwide and the spice paprika, which is also very popular. Hungary even has 8 grades of paprika spice, and 2 museums dedicated to it.

Hungary uses fruit brandy to heal ailments. The national fruit brandy (Pálinka) has been taken by people in Hungary for over 500 years to heal everything from headaches to menstrual pain. Unlike most boozy tipples, brandy has no carbs (so good to keep weight down) and is a good aperitif. Fruit brandy also contains antioxidants. So as long as you don’t over-indulge (nor drink while pregnant/driving), it’s a better boozy option. Gibson’s (The Cotswolds) is a nice homegrown version.

What not to learn from Hungary. Hungary remains one of 5 countries worldwide to still produce foie gras, a food that force-feeds geese or ducks, until their livers turn to pate. It’s still to sell in the UK so boycott shops, restaurants and hotels that serve it.

what we can learn from Latvia & Estonia

Riga Amber Davenport

Amber Davenport

Also in Eastern Europe, Latvia is home to one of Europe’s oldest languages. The Venta is Europe’s widest waterfall and again like so many other Europe neighbours, over 50% of it is protected forest with everyone allowed to pick and eat what they want from state-owned forests. Only a petition by 38 Degrees stopped the UK  government selling off remaining forests to private owners. 10% of Latvia is bog, so pack your wellies!

Just next door, Estonia is a fascinating little place that you can reach by ferry from Finland or Sweden, or even by bus from Berlin or Warsaw. With a beautifully preserved medieval city, nearly everyone speaks 4 or 5 languages, and it’s one of the most forested nations on earth, with all of it protected to preserve the country’s wildlife (lynx, brown bears, wolves, foxes, deer and rabbits).

Despite the ‘natural aura’, it has fantastic broadband services, with nearly everyone paying taxes, registering a business or getting medical prescriptions online. But what’s most fascinating  is that despite its historical churches, it’s one of the least religious countries on earth (many people believe in ‘nature’ as their God instead). And also one of the most peaceful. Yet what’s hilarious is that official religious people visit to try to ‘convert’ the masses, often from countries at war – due to religion!

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