Ambassadors accredited to Budapest have different ways to explore the city and its people. The former Norwegian ambassador, Tove Skarstein, who left her post this January, wrote a piece for Diplomacy & Trade about her experience gained during walking the dog in Budapest.
Going for walks is a fixture in the life of any dog-lover, and has the added advantage of being one of the best ways to get to know a city. Walking my dog Bella was a wonderful way to wake up in the morning. It was also how I got to know the winding streets and hidden quarters of Buda. Connected to Bella by love and a leash, she forced me to make frequent stops during our walks. While she attended the call of nature, I had plenty of time to look up and admire our surroundings. Architectural gems and floral details made every break in our walk pleasurable.
Observing the mode and layout of Budapest’s many buildings meant more to me than an indulgence in aesthetics. The richly decorated facades testified to an incredible period of affluence in Hungary during the 1880s when most of the buildings I passed were constructed. Walking the city streets was a continuous exploration of Hungary’s past and history.
However, I was not just a curious stranger studying Hungarian architecture. As a dog-owner in Buda, I was part of a community. I chatted with people I met, our common passion for dogs bridging all language barriers between us. We made do with broken English or German, and I did my best to spice things up with the few Hungarian words I know. Telling dog-stories or discussing canine health was a wonderful way to connect with ordinary people in my neighborhood.
A brief foray into Hungarian canine customs quickly revealed there are four Hungarian dog breeds. Three shepherd dogs and one hunting dog; occupations that reflect the traditional Hungarian way of life. I find the vizsla to be particularly fine, with intelligent features and a wonderful physique. But owning a vizsla will remain forever a dream. A dog like that requires more exercise than a woman of a certain age – such as myself – would be able to provide.
My dog Bella was quite the beauty. She was to me what I imagine an expensive car is for others: she drew admirers, and people would approach me to ask about her. After I received some media exposure, I became more recognizable myself. From then on, people sometimes approached me personally to say a few words. I didn’t always understand what they said, but there was kindness in their eyes and their support meant a lot to me.
Two things about the canine culture in Hungary made a particular impression on me. The first is how well trained Hungarian dogs are. They often walk next to their owners without a leash, stopping dutifully by zebra crossings or at the red light. I have talked to my colleagues in the diplomatic community about this, and I know many of them feel the same. The time and dedication Hungarian dog owners invest in their dogs is a testimony to the love they bear their four-legged companions.
The second was the high standard of medical care provided to animals. I had personal experience of the veterinary sciences when I lost my Bella. She was old when she died, but I saw that the Hungarian veterinarians gave her the best help possible. Hungary has truly lived up to its reputation in this respect. Many Norwegian students come to Hungary to study veterinary science. After seeing how professional the Hungarian practitioners are, I feel confident that these young people are getting the best training possible.
It is a relief to see that there are barely any stray dogs in Budapest. I know the animal shelters are often overcrowded, but I appreciate the care Hungarians give to their animals. Strays are a widespread problem in the region. That Hungarians have avoided this misfortune illustrates their appreciation of man’s best friend.
I wish to all the dog-lovers out there that when things get hectic, try to remember that a dog’s love is the only love money can buy.
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