In today’s episode, we’ll be talking to Kinga Szabo. Kinga is a 35-year vegan veteran who has been tour guiding in various places around the world including her home country of Hungary and that is what we will be talking about today, her home country. Now, if you are someone who doesn’t know much about this country, you will want to listen and get a bit more insight into how travelers can enjoy her beautiful country. There is more to it than the capital and you could easily spend at least a week just based on the recommendations she shares.
Interestingly, Kinga originally reached out to me because she found out about World Vegan Travel and wanted to know if we might run tours to Hungary. Now, honestly, Hungary is not high up on the list, but if you want to visit Hungary, feel free to reach out to Kinga so she can help you enjoy this beautiful country.
In this episode we discuss:
- How Kinga became vegan and what she does in the vegan travel space
- Some of her favorite vegan restaurants in Budapest
- Influences on Hungary – food, architecture
- Hungary has been invaded and occupied many times
- Things to do outside of Budapest
- Ways to get the best local interaction
- 24 hours in Budapest
Learn more about what we talk about
- Danube river,
- Lake Balaton
- The largest number of hot springs(70-80%)
- Second most beautiful Szechenyi Bath,
- Ceramic factory,
- Szentendre, unique country houses(mud and brick houses), traditional handicrafts, Santangra town, the longest lake in Europe about 5km with green color (8 km from Budapest),
- Hungarian great plain with lots of herbs and vegetable fruits,500 years old churches made of mud or stones
- Hungarian costumes are skirts esp double skirts, Hungary dance,
- Boat cruise at night in Budapest, opera house, trinity square,
- Napfenyes vegan restaurant,
Connect with Kinga Szabo
- email address: veganbudapestguideATgmaildotcom
Brighde: Hello, Kinga, thank you so much for joining me on The World Vegan Travel Podcast.
Kinga: Hello, Brighde
Brighde: I’m excited to have you here because we’re gonna be talking about a destination that we’ve never talked about on the podcast before, and that is Hungary as a destination and you are very well qualified to speak on this topic for several reasons, but I don’t want to talk too much to that because I want to let you do that. So Kinga, why don’t you tell us a little bit about, who you are and what you are doing in the travel space?
Kinga: Thank you. Brighde thank you very much for inviting me. And I’m very happy to be the first to talk about my beautiful country. There are millions of things I can tell you about. It would be a little bit difficult to choose.
I am a guide and I’m a vegan guide as well. So I have been vegan for about 32 years. I became a vegetarian first and very soon I became a vegan. At that time in Hungary, people didn’t even know the word vegetarian and I always loved animals. I wanted to be a veterinarian since childhood and I didn’t become a veterinarian because I loved animals so much.
I heard that would be animal testing at the university. So I just didn’t want to do that. And I was very much against it. So that’s why I didn’t become a veterinarian but I still love animals very much. I had a dog. Then I met someone who was vegetarian very early and he was a Krishna devotee.
That was the time when Krishna devotees, just started coming to Hungary. I remember when he told me he stopped eating meat. It was just such a touching thing, for me, it touched my heart. I think I had even tears in my eyes because we are such a meat-eater country. I just didn’t know that it was possible, because at that time doctors told us that we have to eat meat, otherwise you’ll die.
I decided that on my birthday, I will become a vegetarian but I didn’t know what to eat. So I just had cheese and bread all the time.
It happened in London because I was a babysitter. I decided that I would rather die than eat meat again. This was the beginning of my journey. Very soon I realized about the milk industry as well. So I stopped that. Now it’s very easy actually because we have wonderful vegan restaurants. We have the best, vegan restaurant in Europe.
Now it’s easy. This is my story and I have been a guide for more than 25 years. I guide vegans, but there are very few of them, but most of the people are not vegan actually. I love my job because I love looking after people, I love traveling, and I love talking a lot. I’m a fairy tale teller as well.
So I tell fairy tales to my people. I love cooking. We have a few vegan foods in Hungary. I would love to have lots of people come to Hungary and show the beauty of our country, in a vegan way of course.
Brighde: That brings us onto our topic, doesn’t it? Our topic, of reasons why people would go to Hungary. So, people who don’t know so much about the country, there are these stereotypes of, central Europe, and heavy foods, an ex-Soviet block country.
Think that it’s very gray, the gray architecture and these kinds of things, but there’s much more to Hungary than this. Why might people like to visit Hungary?
Kinga: Yes, I can understand from that far, it looks like we are gray. Although socialist countries are those countries that belong to, the Communist system, they were not all the same.
First of all, we were those who suffered the most, from the socialist system, but among the socialist countries, it was Hungary that was called, the happiest Barack. Because it was a much lighter type of, socialist system. During the fifties, the socialist system was horrible.
You may have heard of the ’56 revolution. At that time, about 200,000 people left the country and, the revolution broke out because in 1947, the Communist Party won the elections and they started, stretching its power all over the country.
The people were forced to give up their cooperatives and the cooperatives didn’t work. There was a ticket system, but people didn’t get any food for the tickets. So there was just not enough food and the fifties were terrible that’s why the revolution broke out.
It was a beautiful revolution because people were walking in the street, hundreds of thousands, and later millions of people were walking in the street quietly. We were asking for the help of the Western countries, but since we didn’t get it, the Soviet Union attacked Hungary.
They thought that they would finish Hungary within a day, but actually, Hungary was at war with the great Soviet Union for weeks. After that, horrible things happened because people were punished, but that horrible ruler was changed to a lighter one. The Soviet Union could understand that the Communist system should not be that harsh.
They developed, a lighter Communist system. People were able to have their property. There were some private shops. People were able to go to churches, they could marry in churches. After a while surprisingly the cooperative started working and they worked that Hungary was the only country that was able to sell their agricultural products. The markets were full and the symbol of the richness was the meat. There was lots of meat, mainly pig, which was a very sad thing, but there were plenty of vegetables and fruits as well.
We were able to travel as well. While people from other countries couldn’t travel. It was not as colorful because I was 10 years old when I went to Austria first time and I saw the colorful shops. We also had chocolates. We had everything but we didn’t have so much variety.
The houses are beautiful because we had one of the richest art nouveau for example, in Europe. We have excellent architects and, the most beautiful Andrassy Avenue, which was constructed at the same time as Champs-Élysées in Paris.
Many of the American films, which play in Paris, were made in Budapest. There are you who don’t even realize that it was made in Hungary.
When people come and see our houses, they’re actually in shock because they are just so amazingly beautiful. They were gray because they were not restored. In the beginning, the houses were nationalized. But after a while, they started selling the houses to the original owners, or to the people who lived inside.
We have one of the most beautiful avenues, which was constructed between the 1870s and the 1920s. That is very similar to the Champs-Élysées in Paris because it was constructed during the same time, but it is not that the Hungarian architect wanted to copy Paris.
The thing is that the architecture was the same at that time. It was the same style of architecture, but all of the houses are different and very beautiful. We have many UNESCO World Heritage sites. I would love to show it to the people.
What I love the most about Hungary is, the water because we have the River Danube with the most beautiful bridges. Budapest is the first in the world, in medicine and water. We have the largest number of hot springs in the world. Hungary is lying on hot springs and hot water, about 70, 80% of the country. Wherever we would make a hole, look for oil there is always hot water coming up.
Brighde: like thermal spas where people can go and enjoy the medicinal benefits of the water?
Kinga: And the most beautiful thermal complex in the world, is in Budapest. It is called the Széchenyi Thermal Baths. It is a very large complex with about 20 pools. Outdoor pools and indoor pools as well.
The second one is called Gellért Bath. For me, the second is more beautiful. I like it more. I wouldn’t call them baths. I would call them bathing palaces because they are real palaces. They’re extremely beautiful. We have a very famous Hungarian ceramic factory, which decorated many of our buildings.
This is one of our specialties. Many of the buildings, were, made during the turn of the, 19, and 20th centuries. They are decorated with very colorful, beautiful ceramic. We have some baths, which are from the Turkish times because the Turks occupied Hungary they were here for 150 years.
We suffered a lot from the Turks. They have made beautiful bathing places. The people have been using the hot water for at least 2000 years, but the places were open and there were only houses where they could change their clothes. The Turks made beautiful bathing palaces, some of them still work and they are from the 16th century. So they are about 400 years old.
Brighde: How long did they occupy Hungary?
Kinga: They were here for 150 years. They didn’t do much good for us, but they have done a lot of good for the vegans because they brought paprika for us. They brought tomatoes, they brought all of the vegetables.
We eat a lot of meat, which is true because it can be extremely cold in the wintertime. In these countries, they eat a lot of meat. When the Turks were here, they brought eggplant and they brought a lot of wonderful vegetables.
Paprika very Hungarian. That is originally from Mexico. It went to the Turks and then from the Turks, it came to Hungary. It became a Hungarian specialty. Wherever you go, whatever you eat, if you eat Hungarian food, it is usually completely red.
The Hungarian food is red, because we use a lot of paprika powder, but it is not chili. It’s a high grade actually, which is sweet paprika, not hot at all. We use it as a base. We chop onion, fry it a little bit, then we add lots of paprika powder, and immediately reduce the heat. This is the base of every food.
Brighde: Alright. Thank you so much for giving an overview as to the architecture being so beautiful and the thermal baths being so interesting. What is the Hungarian countryside like and what are some highlights? Where would you say people might like to visit outside of Budapest?
Kinga: First of all, we call it Budapest, not Budapest in Hungarian. Around Budapest, there are several places we can visit. We have a wonderful little town, which is about 28 kilometers from Budapest. That is called Szentendre.
Szentendre or St. Andrew, is a lovely little town, with colorful houses next to the river Danube. It has its Mediterranean architecture, from the middle ages, because it was occupied by the Serbian refugees who were occupied by the Turks for a much longer time. When we became free from the Turks, they came up and they made a lovely Mediterranean town for us.
The town is very old and the Serbians repopulated it. It has a lovely town square, little shops, restaurants, and coffees. It is a great place to be. This is a very common little excursion, what we make. It can be a half-day or a one-day excursion.
There is also a place which is an open-air museum because Hungary has very unique country houses. There’s an open-air museum which is divided into 10 parts and houses were brought there from different parts of Hungary to introduce the different architectures in the different parts.
It’s really lovely because you can see old ladies sitting next to the house and they explain everything to you. Some of the houses are made of mud, which is amazing. Mud is best because it is cool in winter, and warm in summer. Some of the houses are made of bricks.
Brighde: Could you tell me the name of that again?
Kinga: It is in Szentendre. There is a little town with an old town square and a few kilometers away, outside of the city. That is the open-air museum, it’s called Skanzen. Skanzen is open museum of Szentendre. If you go a little bit further, it’s another lake. It’s the longest lake in Europe, 77 kilometers long. It’s about 80 kilometers from Budapest not that far. It’s a beautiful long and narrow lake. Imagine that, one or two times a year, people swim from one side to the other side.
Kinga: Which is about five kilometers. I think this year, the oldest man who swam through it was 84 years old.
Brighde: He did the whole 77 kilometers.
Kinga: No, not the 77, just five kilometers. Three from one side to the other, it’s five kilometers. It is 77 kilometers long and about five kilometers wide. 7,000 people swim from one side to the other one. So that’s another wonderful water experience. It has lots of sailboats and it has several competitions with sailboats. We always visit the houses of the fishermen, who lived there hundreds of years ago.
We see life, how the people live next to the beach, and their traditional life. There are lovely restaurants and cafes, and we just walk next to the lake. The lake is green. Imagine because of algae of some kind of, plankton. It is also a healing lake.
There are two ways of healing, being healed with hot medicine and water. One of them is to drink. The other one is to sit in it and there’s a hospital. We also have doctors and rheumatologists who specialized, in hot medicine water, because they are for different diseases.
People are coming from all over the world and they just stay and they go to the bath. Like every day for three weeks, they stay here and they got healed. Our water is just wonderful for arthritis and gynecological diseases and heart problems. So there is different water for different problems, they are magical.
Brighde: Wow. That does sound interesting. I didn’t think about Hungary having lakes, to be quite honest. I know about the river. I did a vegan river cruise that finished in Budapest, a few years ago. And it was a lot of fun. We had a couple of nights in Budapest total
but I’m only familiar with the river, not these lakes. That’s so interesting. And what about the topography? What about like mountains and hiking? Because I find a lot of other people that listen to this podcast, they really wanna visit the cities, but they also wanna get out into nature and experience the wonders because if I understand I think Hungary has a lot of forests.
Am I right about that?
Kinga: Oh, well, we have forests, but we don’t have that much large number of forests because we don’t have high mountains. And if you have high mountains, then it is not allowed to cut out the trees. We have a beautiful forest.
Yes. We don’t have a sea and we don’t have high mountains, but we have something very special and that is called Puszta or the Hungarian Great Plain, which is a complete clay plain. They say that people who live there, have good eyes because they look far and which is good for the eye.
We have lots of herbs. We have herbal shops where you can buy hundreds of types of herbs in a little packet and the majority are from there. Originally there were forests everywhere, but Hungarians, when they arrived here, they cut out the forest because they were animal breeders, which is bad.
It has the best quality of, vegetables and fruits as well. You can see the horses as well, the animals.
There are lovely little 500 years old, or even older churches. And some of them are made of mud. Some of them are made of stone. So they’re very unique and every place has its style of architecture, costumes, and own hand embroidery as well.
One of the Hungarian costumes for ladies or girls in the countryside is that they had, many skirts. So it happened they wore 12 skirts, one on another.
Brighde: One on top of the other, 12 skirts.
Oh, I think I’ve seen pictures of that. Yeah. Oh, how interesting.
Kinga: Next time you come, I would like to take you to a Hungarian dance house because we have dance houses where anyone can join and they teach you dancing. Sometimes it’s free. Sometimes it was very cheap. It’s just so easy.
Some of the dances are just like Greek dances. So we dance in a circle. And there’s just a few steps right, a few steps left. Very easy. And it is, it’s a wonderful feeling to be with us. You can feel like a Hungarian.
Brighde: Yeah, that does sound fun. What a great opportunity for some interaction with local people. How would we find those dance houses or is it something that you need a guide or someone to introduce you to?
Kinga: Yeah, I think you would need a guide, or if you have a group, then search for someone who will come teach us because they are just for Hungarians. It was a secret, but I’m telling you.
Brighde: This is the benefit of using a local guide in that you have a bridge that connects the tourist with the local culture. Otherwise, it can be challenging.
Kinga: I always wanted my people to come and dance with me, but they always stay for a short time because they run from country to country. Many times my groups go to Vienna as well, because Vienna is very close. We can go to Vienna in two and a half hours. Sometimes we just go there for a day and come back.
Brighde: Yeah. I feel like a lot of visitors from North America will come to Hungary, but they probably only stay for a couple of days in Budapest, and then they go on to the next place. Poland, Warsaw, for example, and make it a bigger part of a Central European trip.
All right. So bearing in mind that many people will just stay a couple of nights in Budapest. I think it would be great to get from a professional, vegan professional tour guide. What would be the perfect two-day itinerary, for Budapest?
So imagine that I’ve arrived or the traveler has arrived like that evening. They check into the hotel, they wake up in the morning. What do they do?
Kinga: I would recommend you to have a city tour. Budapest used to be two different towns. So the two towns are quite different. You should take a boat cruise because that is so beautiful. And you should take the boat cruise at night if it’s possible.
Next morning, We can have a city tour. First at the park side, and then at the Buda side as well.
We will see Andrássy Avenue, the opera house, Heroes’ Square, the city park, and the second most beautiful bath. And then to the castle district as well. We’ll visit, the vegan restaurant, which is the largest vegan restaurant.
It is called Napfenyes Vegan restaurant. We have a lot of vegan restaurants now, and we have excellent vegan food in many places.
The next day we can go to Santander to see that lovely little town. If we could organize a dance, that would be so wonderful because then you could be a Hungarian or if you are tired, then I can take you to the bath. After all, the bath is just amazing.
Brighde: Okay. All right. Kinga, I’m sure you have convinced many people to come and check out Budapest and Hungary your beautiful home country. And I’m gonna invite people to go and have a look at the show notes, to learn about how they can contact Kinga.
She doesn’t have a website quite yet, but if she does have one soon, I’ll link to it in the show notes there, and there’ll be some information on how you can contact Kinga. Why don’t you just tell us Kinga, how can people find you and reach out to you?
Kinga: First, I would like to tell you to stay longer if it’s possible, because then I can show you more things and, you can contact me on the Vegan Budapest guide but I will leave my email address. I think it will be written there. I may well have a website, but I am an anti-internet person.
So if you write me a mail, I can give you my WhatsApp number so we can organize whatever you like. It can make a beautiful vegan cooking course. Let me know when you come. It was wonderful meeting you Brighde.
Brighde: Yes, it’s lovely to meet you too, Kinga. Thank you so much. Thank you.