UPDATED August 8, 2023

BY Michael Coo

IN Trans-Europa

no comments

UPDATED August 8, 2023

BY Michael Coo

IN Trans-Europa

no comments

Are You Really Hungry Hungary?


Awareness of ignorance is the beginning of wisdom” – Socrates

Ethan, ready to roll

I may have studied history in University but when I was suddenly sent to Hungary in order to help out on the 2023 Trans-Europa Cycling Tour, I realized just how little I knew about the country and its capital city, Budapest. I knew that I often forgot to add an A to the spelling, turning a proud nation into a gnawing need for chicken wings. I remembered something about the Austrian-Hungarian Empire but really, Austria and Hungary had an empire? Oh, and goulash soup…

In order to rectify this appalling lack of knowledge, I roped our Trans-Europa Content Creator, Ethan Weil, into taking a couple bike tours of Budapest with me. Our mission? To discover some history about this country and this city.

Let me just note that while the new mayor is a big supporter of more bike infrastructure, currently it is much like Toronto’s. Add a lick o’paint here, a lick o’ paint there, some sharrows and hope for the best…In any case, here’s what we found out.

The city itself is currently being spruced up, largely due to funds from the EU, but improvements have been in the works for a while. A good example is the House of Music in City Park. The Park itself was neglected for many decades but has been transformed over the last few years with projects like this one.

Before…and after

St.Stephen’s Basilica, in the city centre, can seat 8,000 people. In 1838 a historic flood swamped the Pest side of the city, submerging almost the entire area. However, there was a small hill where some inhabitants managed to survive by climbing up it as the waters steadily rose. As a result, it was decided that a cathedral should be built in that location as a gesture of thanks to God for saving those people.

St.Stephen’s Basilica

Budapest is a city of statues. No matter where you go, you will likely find a metal or stone figure lurking nearby. There is even one of the American TV detective Colombo (Peter Falk)!

One of the city’s many statues

After WWI, Hungary lost a lot of its territory (like two thirds) to Romania (Transylvania – maybe Dracula was Hungarian?), Serbia, Croatia, Ukraine and Slovakia. One of the reasons, they supported the Nazis in WWII was the hope they would recover these areas…bad move. Still, even today on the Hungarian Parliament buildings, there are 2 flags, one of Hungary and one of the Hungarian diaspora living in Romanian Transylvania. In Europe, it seems there is so much history lurking beneath the surface, just waiting to boil over.

Hungary was much bigger before WWI

Hungary is famous for its thermal baths. The whole country lies atop these waters and past Turkish influence simply encouraged their development. The waters can be up to 70C (yikes) and Hungarians with health issues are given free access to them.

Thermal baths in Budapest

The country founded in 896 by seven leaders who may, or may not, have been Huns (Hun-gary, get it?)! They took a blood oath to protect their people and  you can enjoy their unsmiling faces at the Millennial Monument (serious looking dudes) along with a collection of the past kings of the country.


Budapest’s opera house was constructed during the time of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. As the junior partner to the Austrian capital, Vienna, the city was finally given permission to build one, but on the condition that it was not bigger than Vienna’s. Size, I guess, did matter to the Austrians.

The smaller Opera House

Thanks to Boris Johnson and Brexit, Budapest can now claim the oldest subway in the European Union. I would never have guessed! And it is beautiful.

Budapest’s subway

Unexpectedly, we ran across a statue of Ronald Regan and George Bush Sr.. While maybe not remembered as fondly in their own country or  some others around the world, in Eastern Europe they are appreciated for having ended the Cold War and pulled back the Iron Curtain. Ironically, they are located near the last Soviet War Memorial in Budapest which itself is located across from the US Embassy!

Soviet War Memorial

We also stopped at a memorial to the victims of the Nazis in WWII that is quite controversial. It was dedicated to Hungarian victims of the Nazis, overlooking that Hungary was actually allied with the Nazis until it became apparent they were going to lose the war. The real victims, of course, were the Hungarian Jews whose descendents are rightfully appalled at this revision of history. In response, they began to leave notes and photos of those who were the actual victims of Nazi Germany and their Hungarian allies. The current government has tried to remove the displays but they are always replaced and are currently there to see. Very touching and a reminder of the power of protest and memory.

World War II Memorial

So now I know a little bit more about Budapest and Hungary. And hopefully you do too!

Taking a bicycle tour of any city is the best way to get a better understanding of its heart and soul. Many thanks to Bernadette and Akos of Budapest Bike Breeze for teaching us about their beautiful city.



Join us on this spectacular 2 1/2 month cycling adventure across Europe. The route passes through eleven countries, starting in Tallinn and finishing...


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