Eastern European Living, Central European Living

I received this e-mail from a reader. I am posting his note and my response in case others have similar questions about living here.

Reader Wrote:

I happened to randomly come across your blog while doing a google search about living in Budapest. I am looking forward to following your blog and learning more about Eastern Europe.
I hold an international chess rating and have been contemplating strapping on a backpack and competing in the various tournaments throughout Eastern Europe. I will be on somewhat of a frugal budget and was thinking that Budapest might be a good home base.
Any practical advise (web links and such) on how to live and travel frugally throughout Eastern Europe would certainly be appreciated.


I wrote:

Hello Alex,
What is your country of origin? If you are American, you will only have a 90 stay within the whole of the EU on a tourist Visa. With the addition of Romania and Bulgaria into the EU, the time limits can be daunting.
Budapest is a glorious city, but the cost of living has risen considerably over the years. There has been a 12% and 13% hike in electricity and gas respectively on an annual basis for the last three years. Food prices have risen about 8% annually and housing about the same rate.
With that out of the way, there comes the question as to what your comfort needs entail? Are you willing to be a roommate? How frugal can you live? Do you cook or need to eat out for most of your meals? Although there are still some budget places to get a meal, they are all Hungarian fare and the menus will be repetitive after a week’s dining. If you have a place to cook, you can troll the Great market and smaller farmer’s markets for fresh fruits and veggies, but winter selections are limited. Meat and poultry are getting pricier by the day. When we arrived, 5,000 Huf would buy enough food for three days, but now it is just barely enough for one day’s meals for two people. We certainly do not eat extravagantly either.
Are you thinking hostels or renting? Unless you choose a dorm room with 8 or more beds, most of the ‘acceptable’ hostels are rather pricey for more private accommodations. I would suggest http://www.roommates.com , www.caboodle.com or www.search4.hu ,
As close as things look on a map, Vienna and Bratislava are both 3 hours by train from Budapest. Prague is 7 1/2 hours if you get a good train. Krakow is 9 1/2 to 10 hours. Bucharest is a pleasant 14 hours journey, though Cluj, Romania is 7 hours. You can check out the times and costs at www.elvira.hu the Hungarian train site. Note the rates are listed in Euros, though Hungary does not use the Euro, so you will have to pay in Huf an the conversion when you are here. Buses may be a bit cheaper, but the journey will be longer still.
Budget airlines are falling from the sky. There used to be more than 20 budget airlines from Budapest around Europe, but the gas crisis forced many of them to cut their schedules, their airports they flew to, or go bankrupt without notice. Sterling is one example that left hundreds of passengers stranded just recently when they closed their doors without any prior warning. Those that continue to fly and seemingly prosper are:
Wizz Air
Ryan Air
Though some of them have very limited destinations from Budapest. Germanwings only flies from here to Cologne, Stuttgart, and Berlin as direct flights. From there you have to change to continue on elsewhere. SkyEurope only flies from here to Trieste and some other small city in Italy, but their site destination map does not even show Budapest any longer.
Good flight links are:
Air Ninja is a bit tricky, as they sometimes give routes that really do not exist, but multiple connections to get to the destination. There is the fear of missing one connection and then you have lost a ticket for the connecting flight. Budget airlines do not honor code shares or missed connections even within their own airline.
One thing to consider when flying into, out of or within the EU is that the EU has strict rules of how all airlines treat their customers regarding delays, etc. Every airline is by law required to give you a booklet of rules for the asking at check-in. This even applies to US airlines flying into the EU. The rules are written in simple English for the consumer to understand. I keep a copy in my travel on luggage for ready reference and have quoted the law for a free hotel room and meals when we have missed connections that were under the laws prescribed. Once the agent started hassling us tell us it was not their fault, I pulled out the laws and within minutes she was on the phone making us hotel reservations and giving us transportation vouchers. Meals were pre-paid at the hotel.
This will get you started. For more info, write again. For your information, I will be blogging this, so I will not need to retype it for future inquiries.
Thanks for writing,

P.S. What I forgot to include was that Hungarians HATE being classified as Eastern European. As they will all tell you, Hungary is actually the center of Europe, so they are Central Europeans.