Today an interview with Hélène Bienvenu, Spotter for our Budapest Cityblog. We had the pleasure of spending a really nice evening with her in Amsterdam a few weeks ago, where she was to promote her new documentary at the IDFA documentary festival!
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am a freelance multimedia journalist, travel-writer, documentary filmmaker and a translator when I need to be! I also blog on Planete regards. I was born and raised French, in the Paris area and lived there for 18 years in a row, which I’m trying to offset as much as I can by living abroad! I lived in Warsaw and Bangkok prior to Budapest and I still feel very deeply connected to these two places.
I was initially sent to Budapest three years ago by a French publisher to update a Budapest & Hungary guidebook right after I graduated from International Relations. I really liked the place. Not to mention the funny tonalities of the Hungarian language that got my head spinning the right way! I decided I should stay and that’s roughly what I did, signing up for Hungarian studies!
Everywhere I go, I tend to dig the unknown and the little known, I prefer staying away from the major sights and make a lot of random encounters instead! This goes hand and hand with the fact that I’m also a language freak! I «mastered» a couple of languages that are maybe not your usual bet such as Hungarian and Polish. Recently I decided I should refocus on Persian and Portuguese… I guess I’m far from being cured!
Currently, I’m working on a transmedia documentary project on the fascinating city of Detroit (USA) to be released in 2012 (feel free to check our blog, in English). I’m actually back from Detroit on my way to Budapest, where I shall retake my media correspondent duties. I’m also considering engaging as a tour guide in Hungary…
Ibolya Presszó (by Hélène Bienvenu)
How do yo like being a Spotter? Do you have a nice Spotters-story?
It’s a great experience! It’s all about sharing the passion you have for the place you live in. Spotted by Locals is some sort of alternative travellers’ community: getting to know a city’s significant-hidden-to-outsiders anchors change the way you see the place altogether, you’re not a tourist anymore, people start to talk to you in the local language and treat you as their neighbors! Then you know you’ve won! It’s not that different but I like it better than being a guidebook writer! You get to update your articles in real time and you’re sharing your tips the same way you would for friends coming to visit! I love being in touch with other spotters when I travel and with non-spotters through the comments they leave on my articles! So feel free to drop me a line ;)
Milenaris Park (by Hélène Bienvenu)
Why Budapest? What is a must do when you visiting Budapest? What is not?
Eastern and Central Europe is a much more complex and diverse area than what people usually think. Budapest is no exception to the rule. The city is visually attractive and there is a lot to do and see. It feels very Western but it has a unique Oriental touch (Hungarians know why, ask them they’ll tell you!). Frankly I’ve never stumbled across anyone that didn’t like the Hungarian capital, I’m the first one to be surprised! I myself love the city’s architecture and I’m never tired of looking at facades and doors’ details. I discovered that I have a crush for Budapest Art nouveau buildings. I guess one of my favorites is the museum of Applied Arts. And yeah, I’m always very impressed by the Hungarian parliament (talking about the building here, not so much about the institution nowadays;)). Make sure to visit it inside! I’m also a big fan of Budapest’s music and cultural scene, one of the best I’ve seen so far. It’s a very creative, friendly, unexpected, a bit crazy sometimes and a very affordable microcosm.
Budapest is a small city so you can walk almost everywhere or use the vintage trams (and metro)! Even though there are a few tourists, it’s never overwhelming outside of Váci utca and the Pest bank of the Danube from Erzsébet to the Chain bridge.
Dandar Furd Spa (by Hélène Bienvenu)
Which prejudices about Budapest are true? Which ones are not?
Not sure if people have any prejudice about Budapest! I’d say yes, there are spas and a lot of them, they’re great! And no Hungarian is NOT a Slavic language! No offense to anyone, it’s pretty much a “UFO” one (classified along with Finnish and Estonian). The language can be an issue by the way as not everybody speaks foreign languages (and not everybody is super open to communicate all the time!).
Yes, Hungarians do drink a lot (maybe not as much as Poles?) but they do it with style! Nope, Budapest is not in Romania ;)
And last but not least, Budapest is supposed to be a hotspot for porn movie production. Well, I guess it’s true judging from what I read though I still have to investigate closer! No real connection but this city has some very surprising events sometimes such as « miss plastic » ;).
What do you know about Budapest that no tourist will know?
Hum, I know where Budapest witches used to gather in the ancient times (hurrah to my Hungarian anthropology teacher!), a place that is now quite touristy but has maintained its mystical appeal! I also know a bar where you get the best “bécsi szelet” in town (to go with palinka!). Should be writing about it in the near future… And I can tell you which post office to go to drop your mail at 02:00!