The place is called Hajdúhadház, eastern Hungary. On a warm, sunny September day, my first morning in town, I was woken up by a shouting István calling out my name. "Unicum! Unicum good!". István doesn't speak English and even though I've picked up some Hungarian words here and there, I can only say things like "thank you" and "beer". So I tell him "No, thank you" but he insists. I'm not getting out of this. It's six in the morning. He wants me to drink Unicum, 40% ABV.
Before I get back to this place with an unpronounceable name (say it like this: 'Haidù-Ad-Hez'), I need to start with Budapest. It is the capital city of Hungary and for some time in 2015, it's the place I called home, it was my city and I was its citizen. My (then) girlfriend was from Budapest and she said I should travel to the city to see her, so I did. In the end, I spent a combined 5-6 months out of the year 2015 in Hungary, exploring the country with her, trying to work remotely while she was at her job and meeting every single aunt and uncle and relative she had. And she had many. And István was by far and away the funniest, and loudest, person I've met in Hungary.
There are three things that István loves: his pick-up truck, his horse and Unicum. If you replaced Unicum with Jefferson's Bourbon, you'd think I was in Kentucky. The pick-up truck is an ancient and beat-up Mitsubishi with a Toyota engine. Or is it the other way around? I can't remember. The horse is called Csillag (Hungarian for "star"). And then there's Unicum. It is to rural Hungary what Jameson is to Ireland and Montenegro to Italy. They drink it all the time. And a lot of it.
I can see why because there's nothing else to do in Hajdúhadház. This back-of-beyond place is one of many places that aren't on the global map. When I first travelled to this place in 2015, Hajdúhadház looked like it had been left stuck in 1975. I've been to several countries in Eastern Europe and I've learnt that there is a world of difference between the cosmopolitan and vibrant capital city and everywhere else.
Hungary is one of the flattest countries in Europe, the highest point is a mountain top called Kékes, just 3,330 ft above sea level. It is also a land-locked country and it only has one significant body of water, apart from the Danube which it shares with 9 other countries, there's only Lake Balaton, around 48 miles in length.
Photo by Keszthelyi Timi on Unsplash
The good news is, whatever the country lacks in terms of geography and geology, it makes up for in beauty and hospitality. Hungary has Budapest, which is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and it has the Szechenyi Baths. It also has its wonderful people and Unicum. And if you ever visit, the good news is you can't actually have one without the other.