Sunday, February 25, 2024

The Joys of Forint Travel


No, the title is not some strange misspelling or typographical error. Later this week we’re making a quick trip to Budapest, Hungary, the official currency of which is the forint, named originally after Florence, Italy, where gold coins were minted from 1252, according to Wikipedia. In Hungary the florentinus, later the forint, was used from 1325.

In the 81 sovereign countries we’ve visited over the past couple of decades, there is a special category in which the language and currency are completely alien to our experience. Along with all of Asia, several European countries come immediately to mind, chiefly Finland, Turkey, and Hungary. Road signs are indecipherable, and it’s virtually impossible for us to acquire a single word of the local language, other than learning words like hello and thank-you by rote.

Our recent visit to Athens reminded us why that old expression “It’s Greek to me” appeared as far back as in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar,­­ even though Greek has had great influence on English and is part of the same large Indo-European language family.

This will be our third trip together to Hungary, the first being with our three young children in the early 1980s. Back then we had to obtain fairly expensive visas at the Hungarian Embassy in Vienna, and cross the Iron Curtain to enter and to leave what was then a Communist country, something of an adventure in itself. 

The main purpose of that side trip during our first European summer was to visit the parents of a college friend Kathy had stayed with during her college days in Vienna in the late 1960s. Back then, Kathy traveled to Budapest twice, the second time to help out her friend who had overstayed an entry permit, at some modest peril to herself. That’s a story for another day. Times have changed.

The point of this little travel history is that after all of these visits we still can’t understand a word of Hungarian, nor can we even recognize the sound of the language. Similarly, after spending a month traveling around the coast of Turkey on a yacht manned by a Turkish crew, we departed knowing nothing more than the “please” and “thank-you” we’d learned in advance.

Now of, course, we have utilized the free translation apps on our phone, Google Translate being one, that enable us to communicate in rudimentary form, and even to translate signs using the phone’s camera. Even so, there’s something especially exciting and even exotic about exploring such countries.

Our itinerary is simple and brief, resulting from a bargain British Airways business class fare between Vancouver and Budapest via London. We're staying in the Hilton Budapest, the same hotel we enjoyed in 2012.

We've bought tickets to attend a production of Tchaikovsky’s opera, The Queen of Spades, at the Hungarian State Opera House. We’re both unfamiliar with it, and fortunately have found a video of a live production for advance listening. Like many if not most operas, the plot is convoluted and frankly nonsensical, but we’re already enjoying the music and attending the production in Budapest’s recently renovated opera house should be most enjoyable for a couple of retired music teachers.

We’ve also reserved a morning walking tour that involves food and wine, and we plan to bring some genuine Hungarian paprika back home for, among other dishes, Kathy’s famous - within our family - Chicken Paprikash, (Paprik├ís Csirke in Hungarian) a recipe she learned in Budapest from that same friend more than 50 years ago.

Are we looking forward to our return to Budapest? Igen azok vagyunk!








Anonymous said...

I so enjoy reading about your adventures…the background info is delightful. Thanking U2 for making me smile.

Kathy and Brian said...

Thanks for your kind words! We enjoy writing about our travels and we're looking forward to seeing how our impression of Budapest will compare to those of our March 2012 visit.

Anonymous said...

Can’t wait for the Paprikash

Kathy and Brian said...

We've left plenty of room in our rollaboards to pack paprika.