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Budapest

It never occurred to me when living in Modesto, California that someday, I would live in Budapest, Hungary and have the opportunity to write this guide.

After graduating with a doctorate in International and Multicultural Education in 2000 (with over 20 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, all an American had to do was leave the country for a day and return to refresh your Visa for another ninety days -- we did this several times. Then we started teaching English at private schools; 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 back in Hungary the next day.

After more than 6 years and several Visas renewals later, we're still here.

We've found teaching jobs at universities and several years ago opened up a bed and breakfast (BudaBaB). We've also seen Budapest and Hungary grow and evolve before our eyes.

In those days, Budapest was not on the travel radar, still considered too exotic, while many still 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 has been greatly aided by the budget airlines, which have started to spring up in the last few years. Budapest now boasts fourteen budget airlines flying from destinations throughout Europe, with new ones in the works. With this, the hotel industry has blossomed. Boutique hotels and new 4- and 5-star hotels have been built or have taken over historic buildings, creating a wide offering of accommodations for all budgets.

Up until a couple of years ago, a new restaurant would open after extensive remodeling only to close within 6 months. This has changed with the influx of tourism, which has stabilized the business scene. Menus in English were once uncommon, and ordering an entrée was a grab bag surprise; tourism has changed all this and is changing customer services across the board. Shop clerks have had to be re-trained to deal with English-speaking tourists and to offer friendlier customer service. (For the most part, it is working.) 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.

Since Hungary joined the European Union in 2004, those extended visits we enjoyed in 2001 are somewhat trickier for today's American traveler; the official EU law still allows 90 day visits, but then requires Americans to leave the EU for 6 months before returning. I hope that regardless of how long you are visiting, you enjoy yourself enough to extend your stay, just as we did. -- Dr. Ryan James

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