My first trip to Hungary was in April 2005 when I joined a package tour leaving from Geneva, Switzerland to Budapest by EasyJet the well known European budget airline. I traveled to Geneva by train from Bourg en Bresse where I was living at that time. At Geneva airport I met up with the tour group which was mainly made up of elderly Swiss people. As usual, I was the only Asian in the group. After a two hour flight we arrived at Ferihegy International airport which is the main airport of Budapest. I believe it is now known as Ferenc Liszt Intenational airport.

A big bus was waiting for us with the Hungarian tour guide whose name was Edit. It didn't take us long to reach our hotel as the airport was not too far (about 16 kilometers or 10 miles from downtown Budapest). I think the name of the hotel is City Hotel. I normally don't recall hotel names, but this one was easy to remember. It was one of those apartment hotels and is conveniently located in the city center, within walking distance of several tourist sites.

The first day was a free day to walk around the city, and that's exactly what I did. It was a very nice spring day and the weather was perfect, not too cold or hot. The tour guide had told us earlier that the Danube River was near the hotel. Since I was a young kid I had heard the world famous waltz 'The Blue Danube,' but had always thought it only flowed in Austria as the melody was composed by an Austrian by the name of Johann Strauss.

I walked along the street looking for signs pointing to the Danube River. I passed a small store and stopped to ask for directions. The girl inside looked like she was of Middle East origin, and I asked her the way to the river. However, she didn't speak any English, but I suddenly remembered the guide telling us on the bus that the Hungarian name for Danube was Duna, so when I said that her face lit up and she started gesturing with her hands, while talking in Hungarian at the same time. Well, I got the general idea and finally found the river. It wasn't far at all!

When I got to see the Danube I must say I was quite impressed. Budapest used to be a combination of two cities, Buda and Pest. The two are separated by a couple of bridges, of which the Chain bridge is the better known one. In the 19th century the two cities became a single city, hence Budapest.

I strolled along the promenade along the river right up to the Chain bridge. I saw the Parliament Building, Buda Castle and stopped at St. Stephen's Basilica. This area near the river is very picturesque, and I took many photos. However, I lost most of them due to my frequent re-location of countries during that period. My own fault of course!

The next day Edit our tour guide came to pick us up in a van and took us to Heroes' Square and the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture at Vajdahunyad Castle which by itself is another impressive structure. Budapest is also known as the 'City of Spas' and there are many thermal baths in various parts of the city. In fact, one of the baths was near the castle, but nobody in our small group seemed interested in going there. The museum was rather interesting, and they had exhibits of how wine was fermented in the old days. I even tried my hand using the old method to make wine, but without any success!

After two days of sightseeing in Budapest we flew back to Geneva, but little did I know then, that I was going to be back in this country in a couple of years time. I was already settled down in Bangkok, Thailand working at a well known private school when I received an invitation to visit Nyiregyhaza a city in northeast Hungary, near the border with Slovakia. I was informed that a van shuttle service would be waiting for me at Budapest airport to take me to Nyiregyhaza which is around 240 kilometers or 150 miles away.

On this second trip to Hungary I took Turkish Airlines from Bangkok and had to change planes in Istanbul, Turkey. The service on board Turkish Airlines was quite good, and the waiting period for the connecting flight to Budapest was spent at Istanbul airport which is also a nice airport.

When I arrived at Budapest, I tried to find the van driver who was supposed to be waiting for me at the airport holding a sign with my name on it. I didn't find him till about 20 minutes after my arrival. It was good that he had my name because he didn't speak any English at all. However, on the two hour plus drive to Nyiregyhaza he had the car radio turned and was singing along to the English/American rock songs playing on it. For a guy who didn't speak any English he sure knew how to SING in English! Anyway, along the way we passed through several towns and villages. Well, I can tell you that all the places and buildings I saw didn't look dilapidated or run down at tall. The same can be said of the people in Hungary. I visited many houses with my friend and although they were not wealthy folks I would say they lived fairly comfortably, at least the majority of the Hungarians I met in all the three times I was in the country seemed to have a decent standard of living. I should mention also that the people there were always friendly and cordial towards me, even strangers I met on the street or in cafes.

After a week's stay in Nyiregyhaza I took a flight to France to collect all my remaining belongings that I had left behind with a friend the previous year when I moved to Thailand. This time I took Malev Hungarian Airlines to Lyon, and then flew back to Budapest for another couple of weeks stay in Nyiregyhaza. I heard that this airline (Malev) went bankrupt a few years ago. On this third trip to Hungary, my friend and I also took a train journey to Kosice in Slovakia (I will write a separate travel blog about it later).

One evening my friend took me to a village called Apagy which is a few miles outside Nyiregyhaza. When I lived in France I belonged to a table tennis club in Bourg en Bresse, and played the sport competitively in team tournaments and individual events. So while in Hungary I asked my friend whether I could play a few games at a local club just to test myself, as I hadn't played since I moved to Thailand. So we went to this place in Apagy and I played a few matches there with some of the members of that club. A few days later my friend showed me the local newspaper, and in the sports section there was a news article about me, along with my picture! Naturally, it was in the Hungarian language and it basically said that it was the first time a visitor from Myanmar/Burma came to play at this club, and that I was a good paddler.

Another time my friend took me to a business school in town to meet the teachers and students. Since I was also a teacher from the other side of the world, I was told that they wanted to meet me. When we got to the school one of the staff whose name I remember was Zoltan took me to see the Director, who then asked me whether I would be willing to give a teaching demonstration in one of their classes. I was a bit taken aback by this request but said yes anyway. She then gave me a textbook to go through. Luckily, it was a subject I was somewhat familiar with, 'English for secretaries.' So after browsing through the book for about 5 minutes I told the Director I was ready. She took me to the classroom where the subject teacher, and around 15 or 16 young girls were apparently waiting for me. She introduced me to the class, and took one of the vacant seats obviously wanting to observe my demonstration. Well, after about 20 minutes or so of interacting with the students they were all smiling, and asking a lot of questions. Anyway, when we went back to the Director's office she offered me a teaching position at her school. As much as I would have liked to accept the job, I was already committed to the school in Thailand, so I had to politely decline her kind offer.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I gained a lot of knowledge on life in the relatively new democracies of Europe which were under Communist rule for so many years after World War 2. I should also be honest in saying that a lot of the older people I came across in these countries told me that they miss the Socialist days, when their lives were much easier. I suppose they meant that most things were provided by the state during that era. It is not for me to judge whether one political system is better than the other, but I just wish for all nations and people to become prosperous, and to live in peace and harmony even if they have different political and/or social views, not to mention cultural backgrounds.