I started guiding in 2012, for my own pleasure and as a hobby. I am [a] Budapest fan, trying to discover the hidden secrets of the city. Then I qualified as a guide, to have the licence as well.
How did you make the transition to becoming a tour guide?
Originally I was an English teacher, so I could share my time between high and low seasons. I had also learned art and history, which was a great asset when I prepared the tours. Then I trained with different companies, like Free Budapest Walking Tour, which I really loved.
I own Curious Miles, a heritage and cultural tours agency, and I am also responsible for new walks and content. In my family, we are travel loving people, and I have been to 30 countries already. The basic idea of my tour company is to introduce Budapest in a more interactive and personal way. Visitors have an unforgettable memory when they have a chance to meet the locals, peek inside the residential quarters and hear personal stories. So I set up Curious Miles in 2013 to show Budapest’s other faces.
What does a typical day look like for you?
In the morning, I take my kids to the kindergarten and then I prepare for my tours. We usually do the tours in the morning so travellers can relax after the walk and enjoy their lunch in a local tavern. In the afternoon, I get out to have another tour or I set up the itinerary for the next day and make the [necessary] arrangements.
I consider myself enthusiastic and friendly, ready to adapt to new things in town, but to be easy going, and [a tour] needs good preparation.
What is the best part of your job?
That I can be outside, meet new people and make other people fond of Budapest.
What is one of the ‘hidden gems’ you’ve discovered in Budapest that you can share?
There is this little cafe, with a collection of vintage stuff, 100 teddy bears, delicious hot chocolate and locals chatting. The atmosphere is unique and you find objects [that] you can hardly tell what [they were] used for. It is a typical feeling of the communist past, the multi-cultural city and spontaneous hospitality.
The owner of the café collects interesting objects from the past that are no longer used. So you can imagine how people lived and guess what the object is. For example, there is a razor sharpener, or games kids used to play with, or how did they listen to music without electricity? An old gramaphone. Apart from these, he makes the best hot chocolate and knows the secret recipe of the best mokkarabica coffee.
There are quite a few; I have a favourite building, an art school, but if you go inside, you find yourself in a Sistine Chapel-like hall, painted by the most prominent artist of the 1800s, however just [a] few people know about them. The art school used to be the first Art Hall in Budapest, opened in 1875. This Neo-Renaissance-style building was decorated by the artist Karl Lotz, who painted Parliament, the Budapest Opera and the Academy of Sciences as well. However, when the new Art Hall was opened in Heroes’ Square, the older building became the University of Fine Arts.
What one thing must first time travellers to the city see, and why? What one meal or dish should they try, and why?
The view of Pest from Buda Castle in the evening with the lights on. I have seen [it] thousands of times, but I still admire it. The view is the essence of Budapest, the hills and river give a natural setting to the whole city and bridges and Parliament are reflected in the water. [It's] best in the evening lights when you have Fisherman’s Bastion just for yourself. The buildings were constructed according to a city plan – there are no skyscrapers or unsuitable buildings. This means the outline of the city is homogeneous and the view is breathtaking.
Chicken paprika, a delicious comfort food, with dumplings and sour cream and hot paprika paste to season, of course! It’s a simple delicious dish, not too spicy, and you can taste the fresh peppers and paprika powder that makes a thick sauce over the noodles – a comfort food enjoyed by everyone. At once, you can feel Hungarian.
As an experienced guide yourself, can you explain to our readers what the benefits of hiring a guide are?
You save time and money. A good guide knows the quickest way and the best local restaurants. [There is] no hassle with maps and street signs. A guide book never contains the information about how the people live and think really.
Why did Freddy Mercury want to buy Parliament? Where is the secret communist bunker? Where can you go for an apartment dinner with gypsy music?
Budapest is the city of music with seven great concert halls, and several clubs and bars. Concerts are available for reasonable prices in beautiful venues like the Opera, Music Academy and the newest of all, the MUPA – Art Hall. However, few capitals can boast about local folk dancing groups in ruined bars or gypsy music dinners. People of all age groups pursue the hobby of folk dancing. You can also join one of these events just as locals do.
The gypsy (Roma) minority has a very deep-rooted tradition of music and kids grow up listening to the songs and instruments of the parents. These fierce tunes can be enjoyed at occasional dinner parties where they prepare traditional dishes and we can have an insight into their simple but loving family atmosphere.
If you are curious, you can join us on an authentic Gastro dinner.
There is [also] this secret underground communist bunker in Budapest. But why is it secret? Not only from foreigners, it used to be hidden from the citizens as well. “Everybody is equal, but some are more equal than others,” wrote Orwell. But why did the communist rulers hide it from the people? Why was it built after all? Our ‘Reds’ walk will tell you.
In your view, what makes a good tour guide?[A good tour guide is] well prepared and up-to-date, can engage and involve people, [is] helpful and kind, emphatic and flexible.
And finally, have you got any tips for people who are interested in booking a guide like yourself, but aren’t too sure what to look for?
Make sure you can contact them easily [and they are] open for questions and requests. They are for the visitors, not the other way around.