Below is an interview with guide book author and tour guide András Török, whose book A Critical Guide to Budapest is a cult favorite with travelers and locals alike who want a more in depth and off-beat guidebook to the city. As his answers indicate, he has a textured and authoritative view on Budapest and its culture, one you won't find in more run of the mill sources. We picked his brain a bit about some of the city's secret and not so secret locations.
Flatpack: We typically see the same locations in Budapest, like the Chain Bridge, the State Opera House and Parliament, being used in films. What are some of the photogenic or otherwise atmospheric locations in Budapest that you have yet to see in international films?
Török: The Ganz-Mávag working-class housing-estate, in Joseph Town, near Népliget, the Wekerle Estate in Kispest, the Napraforgó utca villas. The little that remains of the Slaughterhouse, in District IX.
Flatpack: Are there any under-recognized, or hidden gems for tourists and locals alike to visit?
Török: The Budapest Music Center, the Liszt Museum, Epreskert, where sculptors are trained in Theresa Town (District 6), Brody Studios (members only club), Károlyi kert (District 5).
Flatpack: How do tourists’ impressions of Budapest differ from your own?
Török: It was too long ago, but Paul Newman was flabbergasted: "How could I overlook that gem of Europe so long?" he asked. He nagged me about the details: How could poor Hungary in the 1950s be preoccupied with the costly rebuilding of the Royal Palace? (In such a cheap manner?)
Flatpack: What is the most romantic spot in the city, for say, a proposal?
Török: Obviously Fisherman’s Bastion, or the stairs of the National Museum.
Flatpack: If the city were a celebrity, who would it be? And why?
Török: Jeremy Irons. Old, but youthful, trendy, still capable of enticing ladies.
Flatpack: What’s the most vibrant, up-and-coming neighborhood?
Török: Joseph Town (District 8), in and out of the Grand Boulevard (not the rust belt part).
Flatpack: What’s the top culinary experience for somebody visiting the city?
Török: The gallery part of Hold Utca Market: "street food with a difference”.
Flatpack: Has there been a significant difference in the type of tourist you see in the city these days, as opposed to when the book came out?
Török: Oh yes, wildly different.
a.) city hoppers – affluent couples (often gay – a great market!)
b.) stag party tourists – despicable, but numerous
c.) large families with kids of all ages
d.) conference tourists, getting out of boring lectures, enjoying the city
e.) affluent senior groups, often octogenarians
f.) Viking Tour tourists, sleeping on the ship, their buses are everywhere
g.) travelers, discovering the city by themselves, often off the beaten path.
Flatpack: Do you have a strong interest in an historical figure the non-Hungarian readers might not be familiar with?
Török: Artur Görgey, commander in chief of the Hungarian rebel troupes in 1849, who actually defeated the Austrians, but was beaten by the troupes of the tsar. He symbolically lay down arms to the Russian troupes. His life was spared, but the rebel leaders blamed him for the defeat. Gullible Hungarians wanted a cheap explanation, and could not take the bitter pill, so they believed populist Lajos Kossuth, the governor, and considered Görgey a traitor for a long long tile. God punished Görgey with a very long life. He died late in 1916. His statue is in Castle Hill, on the western edge, away from the river. (Re-erected in 1998.)
Flatpack: You have a lecture called ‘What Makes Hungarians Tick’. Is there aspect to the Hungarian mindset that might be unique and is easy to put in words here?
Török: Money, power, family, sex. Like other nations, but possibly in another order.
Most Hungarians think they are special… They are never to be blamed for the problems of the country. It’s the Turks, the Austrians, Moscow, Brussels(!) and nowadays Mr. Soros.
They think Hungarian is the most beautiful language, and they are the most hospitable.
Hungarians hate competition, love excessive drinking, and greasy food. They suffer from an unfounded superiority complex.
Sad… As the US President would say.
Flatpack: Is there a film, be it Hungarian or foreign, that captures the essence of the city?
Török: Not yet.
Flatpack: Tell the Budapest-curious readers about your book; how has it evolved with revisions?
Török: Budapest Critical Guide evolved a lot since it was published first in 1989. There are (old) photos in it as well, the modern developments are more emphasized. In the first edition there was a blind lottery ticket lady, where you could leave massages and little parcels for others to pick up. In the pre-mobile-phone times… The cover has changed some seven times.
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Flatpack Films is based in Budapest, Hungary. We are a film company that offers an inspiring and professional work atmosphere for our local and international clients. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast, and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we facilitate, we do to highest standard possible.