Residing in Hungary, I realize two drawbacks about Central and Eastern Europe regarding the touristic information. The first one is that Central and Eastern European countries receive less attention from the media than Western European ones such as France, Italy, and Spain. The latter one is the assumption that their historical heritages, landscapes, and food will be the same because they are located close to each other.
It is undeniable that these countries shared history when they were merged in territories and influenced by the Holy Roman Empire. However, each country still holds incredible uniqueness in architecture, nature, and food. In this blog, limited in length, I will compare these aspects among 3 countries that I save in my travel pocket: Hungary, Austria, and Poland.
The 19th and 20th centuries marked a period of phenomenal architecture in Hungary with big buildings and bridges. The Hungarian Parliament Building, representing Gothic Revival style, is granted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The biggest Synagogue in Europe, Dohány Street Synagogue, features a mixture of Moorish, Byzantine, Romantic and Gothic architecture. The most distinctive design, created by Ödön Lechner, is blending Hungarian folk patterns such as colors, flowers with Eastern elements (like tiled domes). Watching these exceptional immeubles, you will find Hungarian architects’ creativity in combining the beauty of Western and Oriental style, the history of the past and present.
Interesting fact: In Budapest, skyscrapers do not exist because the building height has to be lower than the Hungarian Parliament Building and St Stephen’s Basilica, each of which equals 96 meters tall.
Hungarian Parliament Building - Photo by TripAdvisor
Surrounded by the land of neighboring countries, Hungary does not have a direct connection to the sea. However, mother nature kindly favours this country with the most beautiful section of the Danube river. To catch the best view of the riverbanks in Budapest, you have the option to go on a cruise along the river. Besides, if you come to Budapest in the spring (March to April), you will be welcomed by cherry blossoms all over the city.
A nice spring day full of cherry blossoms - Photo by Moon Nguyen
The symbolic ingredient in Hungarian meals is Paprika. At first, Paprika was only used by locals for decoration until the 18th century. Since then, it has become a popular spice in all households’ recipes because of its nice flavor and Vitamin C supplement. Hungarian people add it into the most famous traditional dish: Goulash (Beef soup) and halászlé (fish soup). Thiswebsite will tell you more about Paprika and Hungarian cuisines.
Different from Hungary where most of the architectural constructions aggregate in Budapest, Austria has enormous castles, palaces, and museums across the country: in Vienna, Salzburg, Styra, and Tirol. The Hohensalzburg Fortress located in the city of Salzburg represents the Baroque style of the medieval age. Moreover, the unusual modern constructions such as the Graz Art Museum in Graz bring an extraordinary impression to tourists. While admiring the audaciousness in designing the buildings, I have not touched the profound ideas and philosophical meanings in the architects’ messages.
Hohensalzburg Fortress - Photo by AFAR Magazine
About nature, Lake Hallstatt is undoubtedly one of the most stunning lakes in the world. The old town, the green mountain, and transparent water make Hallstatt the prettiest town in Austria. Besides, inheriting the beauty of the Alps, Austria has scenic national parks. If you are prone to nature, you will not miss the Hohe Tauern National Park and Grossglockner High-Alpine Road.
Grossglockner High-Alpine Road. Photo by Favoriten Studio
Although It’s difficult to choose only one remarkable dish in Austria, Wiener Schnitzel (fried veal cutlet served with steamed potatoes) is at the top of my list. I have two friends who took a 4-hour trip by train from Munich to Vienna to have this dish for lunch and come back.
Wiener Schnitzel - Photo by Foodlocate
After the war, Polish architecture was dominated by the modern design of national architects to foreign ones. One of the atypical constructions of the 20th century is the Warsaw University Library. The library looks like a big green factory with plants growing all around the walls. 3 km away from the library, the Palace of Culture and Science of 42 floors is considered a “gift” from the Soviet Union. From the observatory on the 30th floor, you have the panorama look of Warsaw. Travelling to Warsaw twice, I have the impression of a modern city with a lot of skyscrapers, parks, and malls.
The top of the Palace of Culture and Science
We talked about the Alps in Austria but have you heard of the Tatra mountains in Poland? I asked a Polish friend whether the Tatra mountains were similar to this picture. She said the real view was more than that. This mountain belongs to Tatra National Park where sports lovers can choose to go hiking, skiing, or kayaking.
At first, I couldn't understand how Polish chefs mixed irrelevant ingredients together in the dish. For example, they added boiled eggs and sausages into sour soup or they filled the dumplings with cheese, sweet jam. However, they unbelievably turned out delicious and their names were Zurek and Pierogi.
Zurek soup - Photo by Envato Elements
From a personal view, I keep in mind the image of romantic Hungary, creative Austria, and intercultural Poland. Each country stands for special architecture, nature, and food as well as history and culture. If you once have heard from somebody the cliché that Central and Eastern countries look the same, please ask them to visit all these countries to verify their claim.
Written by: Ha Khuat, Public Relations Volunteer for Amunì Travel Forum