It never occurred to me when living in Modesto, California that someday, I would live in Budapest, Hungary or, even more incredible, be a writer for Frommer's having the opportunity to write two editions of this book and chapters for others.
After graduating with a doctorate in International and Multicultural Education in 2000 (with over 22 years of teaching experience at that point), it was time to make a major move. A year abroad seemed to be in order for me and my partner to revitalize our spirits before transferring to the east coast of the U.S. Our European travels eventually took us to Budapest during a cold spell, and we decided to hunker down and stay until spring. Back then, but no longer, all an American had to do was leave the country for a day and return to refresh your visa for another 90 days -- we did this several times. We started teaching English at private schools for the fun of it; when we were told we could avoid work and residency permits if we had our own business, we started a private language school. It turns out we did need those permits after all, which cost us a trip to NYC and a wait in line at the Hungarian Consulate. We submitted our applications and were flying back to Hungary the next day.
After more than three annual visa renewals, we were able to apply for our long-term residency visa, so 8 years later we're still here.
During the first year, we both found university teaching positions and by our third year opened up a bed and breakfast (BudaBaB). I am still at the university, but Ron retired from his university position to run the B&B. Budapest and Hungary have grown and evolved before our eyes.
In those days, Budapest was not on the travel radar, still considered too exotic, while many did not realize it was no longer a communist country. (People still ask us this question.) During our first year, Hungary had its third democratic election for prime minister. Each of the three elections put a different political party into control causing continual upheaval in the laws from one party's whims to the next.
Tourism was greatly aided by the budget airlines, which started to spring up in our first 6 years here, but with all of the economic woes, many have dropped Budapest along with other cities from the destinations to which they fly. During the upswing, the hotel industry blossomed. Boutique hotels and new 4- and 5-star hotels were built or took over historic buildings, creating a wide offering of accommodations for budgets from average to luxurious, but the last couple of years there have been poor occupancy numbers.
The restaurant scene also has been in flux during these difficult economic times. It is not uncommon for a restaurant to suddenly close without warning. The Hungarian Restaurant Association had predicted that 30% throughout the country would meet their demise, but it has not been as grave as that. Menus in English were once uncommon, and ordering a meal was a grab-bag surprise; tourism has changed this, but sometimes there is something lost in translation, so what you get is not what you thought you ordered. Culturally, the country (and especially Budapest) continues to thrive, with nightlife, arts, and fashion scenes that are infused with more youthful exuberance than ever before, and an underground party scene that is well worth seeking out. Some districts, however, are implementing laws forcing restaurants to close at 10pm or 11pm for noise control. Each district is autonomous in this law creation.
Since Hungary joined the European Union in 2004, those extended visits we enjoyed in 2001 are no longer valid for most travelers; the official E.U. law still allows 90-day visits, but requires Americans in particular (as well as Canadians and Australians) to leave the E.U. for 6 months before returning. E.U. visitors have no restrictions on their length of stay. I hope that regardless of how long you are visiting, you enjoy yourself enough to extend your stay, just as we did.