“During the first six years of my life, Hungary was one of the most important components of the Habsburg dynasty’s vast Austro-Hungarian Empire, but after World War I it became an independent national entity” – Georg Solti
In November we visited Budapest in Hungary with our regular travelling companions. I have been chastised before for not introducing them to you in my opening post so here they are in the picture above – Mike, Christine, Kim, Margaret and Sue.
In preparation for travel I carried out my usual research and used my favourite benchmarks to try and understand the country that I was visiting.
Wedged in between Iceland and Portugal, Hungary is the eighteenth largest country in Europe, which means that it is really rather small. It used to be a lot bigger but in 1914 the Austrian-Hungarian Empire had the misfortune of being allied to Germany in the Great War and the heavy price it paid for defeat in 1918 was a significant two-thirds loss of territory. Slovakia in the North became part of Czechoslovakia, Transylvania in the East was given to Romania and in the South-West, what are modern day Slovenia, Croatia and some other South Slav lands were handed over to the new State of Yugoslavia.
Hungary is placed forty-third in the Human Development Index which means that it is categorised as having high human development in an index that ranks countries by data composed from life expectancy, education and per-capita gross national income. It is classified as average in the OECD Better Life Index and only one hundred and third in the Happy Planet Index which is way behind the United Kingdom but two places ahead of the United States. I had no idea that the USA is so unhappy!
Hungary has eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites including a selection of sites in Budapest parcelled together as one entry in the list so we would be seeing a lot of these over the next few days.
One of my usual research measures is the number of Blue Flag Beaches but it would be unfair to use this for Hungary because it is a land-locked country with no shoreline. It is situated in central Europe and has borders with Austria, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. It does have the largest lake in central Europe, Lake Balaton which is sometimes called the Hungarian Sea but even this doesn’t appear to have any Blue Flag marinas.
My final benchmark is always the Eurovision Song Contest and Hungary has taken part twelve times, it has never won the competition but unlike Norway it has never come last and it has always been awarded some points.
Budapest is the capital city of Hungary and the country’s principal political, cultural, commercial and industrial centre and is one of a number of European destinations that have been on my to-return to list for some time not least because the country is in the top fifteen visitor destinations in the world and is the sixth most visited capital city in Europe, behind London, Paris, Rome, Madrid and Berlin, which by my logic means that there must be something there worth seeing.
I knew this but what I didn’t know was that the valuable list of Hungarian contributions to the world and human advancement include most importantly the ballpoint pen that was invented by László Bíró, the Rubik Cube, invented by Ernő Rubik, the theory of the hydrogen bomb (perhaps, not such a good thing) and the BASIC computer programming language.
A Hungarian chemist János Irinyi also developed the noiseless match, which is essentially one that doesn’t detonate with a bang when ignited. This may not sound especially important but before this invention striking a match could be disconcertingly violent, a bit like firing a musket and due to a dangerous composition of chemicals the thing was liable to go off with a loud explosion and a shower of sparks with the potentially unfortunate side effect of setting light to people’s clothes or, even more dangerously, their beards.
One of the finest ever footballers in the world was the Hungarian Ferenc Puskás who in the 1950s scored eighty-four goals in eighty-five international appearances for Hungary, which is a very impressive strike rate indeed especially when you consider that England’s top goal scorer, Bobby Charlton, only scored forty-nine goals in one hundred and six games and even Pelé, who is generally reckoned to be the greatest footballer ever, couldn’t match this level of performance with seventy-seven goals in ninety-two games for Brazil.
In the middle of this goal fest Hungary lost a game against Czechoslovakia and Puskas was suspended for life by the National Football Association, for “laziness on the pitch”. This was about as dim as suspending Jo DiMaggio for not making a home run or Jonny Wilkinson for missing a penalty. He was pardoned just a couple of months later.
A bit of a shame that he didn’t get one more goal for a 100% record and at 98.8% I suppose that is very similar to Don Bradman, the Australian cricketer who retired with an international batting average of 99.94%. Now that, it seems to me, is just about as close to perfection as it is possible to get.