I’m not entirely sure what words can best describe the past few days and my thoughts on Budapest and Hungary. Maybe the clichés of the awestruck business traveller could suffice? Unfortunately words like historic, beautiful, brave, friendly and resilient don’t exactly seem to do this city or its people justice….
Ok to start, most of my MBA colleagues would have described doing the study trip to Budapest as the short straw compared with the apparently more glamorous destinations on offer such as Beijing and Moscow, how wrong could they be!
The first signs that this trip might well be a cut above the booby prize was the hotel, a 4 star city centre crash pad that has just been renovated. The itinerary also provided a clue, with speakers arranged from the state central bank, the Managing Director of UniCredit, a government minister’s head of staff and the HR Director of Kraft and did I mention to Operations Director of GE Energy? Or perhaps it could have been that weaved throughout we would be exposed to the rich and diverse culture of a country that seems to have been regularly invaded since the early 10th century. Indeed the trip was the very essence of international business tourism.
The remarkable thing about the culture is how it has seemingly integrated the better remnants of past occupation to become a welcoming and friendly destination, melding old world charm with modernality and having rather nice weather (on most days its been hot, dry, has had almost no humidity and held a gentle breeze). The first thing to remember is that Budapest is actually two cities that straddle the Danube (Buda and Pest) that were joined in 1871 within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Incidentally, Forbes rates the city as being one of Europe’s most idyllic places to live. The Pest side is Hungary’s economic and administrative hub, whilst Buda is more ancient, green and apparently where the affluent reside.
However, the city is not a reflection of the country. Hungary is deeply catholic, very green and has little ethnic diversity. Its not wealthy, has high unemployment and seems to have a much slower pace of life compared to its metropolis. Although it should be highlighted that the country does produce some rather nice wine!
Indeed, what we discovered was a country that due to its location and agriculture has become a keen exporter of both produce and plant equipment. It nevertheless recognises that its touched by the same troubles as most of the rest of Europe with a glut of public spending leading to their own brand of austerity (despite the fact they refuse to acknowledge the word and its use is apparently banned in government). In many ways the nation is brave in that it has implemented a series of corporate taxes that would make the rest of Europe blush. What does run through the country is a sense on entrepreneurism unfortunately this has helped with the current financial plight as the underground economy is evidentially rampant. This was recently seen when over 180,000 Hungarians took advantage of a government scheme to purchase their homes outright at a large discount as long as they fully paid up within the year, despite the unemployment and low domestic wage.
Although the purpose of the trip was primarily to review business with an international flavour, it didn’t mean we couldn’t and didn’t play.
The country itself is a stunning blend of baroque architecture, modern design amalgamations and weather that evokes the ethereal optimism of summer. The people are attuned to being outdoors with outdoor pursuits, legendary open-air bars and alfresco dining. Oh did I mention that a beer or glass of rather nice wine is less than £1.50? Although it is apparently a tough life being a Hungarian with all the austerity and invasion/liberation/occupation they do get to enjoy the glorious architecture, magnificent summers and revel in cheap luscious wine.
As for the nightlife, we managed to discover (thanks to Jason and the traveller connection) a virtual city of bars and clubs on an island outside of the city. By chance on the last night we happened join the thousands of revellers who descend on it to blow off steam at the weekend. Throw that in with the bars that appear to not shut and late night eats that are cheap, tasty and filling you can see why we were having a good time.
In summation, Hungary is a country facing problems. It has serious debt, a weak currency, its economy relies on exports, it has no natural competitive advantage and a serious underground economy. However, it has spirit, friendly people and a lifestyle that would be the envy of many European capitals. Actually I think some clichés might describe our experience…..amazing, go again, brilliant, insightful, fun. I think you can guess we had a good-time.
This blog post is written by John Spicer. John Spicer is a full time MBA student from Essex.
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