Our son’s preschool – cost: €30 a month – welcomed us with open arms, not a waiting list

My husband and I met in Dublin, then moved to Hungary, his home country. I can give you 10 reasons why we’re staying put

The hardest thing I’ve ever done was take my child away from his Irish granny and grandad, but I knew we could give him a better upbringing here in Hungary. A life like the one my parents gave me in Lucan in the 1980s.

I met László, my Hungarian husband, on Merrion Square, in Dublin, in 2012. Our only child, Wolfe, was born in Ireland in 2018.

I am a visual abstract artist and yoga teacher. Laz is a chef, studying accountancy – a pandemic-proof career – but his passion will always be in the pot. He brought me here in 2021 to get a second opinion on the debilitating symptoms of what I now know is early-onset perimenopause.

In Ireland we felt like we were collecting receipts from private hospitals rather than answers on our quest to figure out what was “wrong” with me. My perimenopause is about 20 years earlier than most. I need to manage it with a complete lifestyle change, doing what I was meant to do – art – eating nourishing food and practising yoga.

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These are 10 reasons I’ve stayed in Hungary.

It feels good for my health

Before I even saw a doctor I started to feel the depression cloud lift and symptoms ease. We were staying at Laz’s family home, in the village of Sóstóhegy, on the edge of a thousand-acre forest, and the sun was streaming in the window. Here residential roads are lined with cherry, plum, apricot and walnut trees; there’s an explosion of uplifting colour every spring.

I can work on my art

I’m a colour theorist abstract artist. Creating abstract art is a moving meditation that I use in conjunction with yoga to help manage my symptoms. I am working on an ambitious art project that is likely to take two decades, and creating one colour-focused artwork per page of James Joyce’s Ulysses. The edition I am drawing my inspiration from is Penguin’s, which has 933 pages. I have recently exhibited the first of my Ulysses artworks at the Space Gallery in Budapest, in association with the Irish Embassy, celebrating creative women as part of St Brigid’s Day events. It was opened by Ronan Gargan, Ireland’s Ambassador to Hungary.

The childcare is excellent

Here we were welcomed with open arms, not a waiting list. As I can’t give my son a sibling because of my early-onset perimenopause, spending time with other kids is really important for him. Mothers here get two years of maternity leave with an optional third. From the ages of three to five, children attend óvoda, or preschool. It is open from 7am to 5.30pm. Wolfe goes from 8.30am to 4.30pm and loves it. The kids get properly fed, go for naps on little stackable beds, have oodles of toys and a huge playground with swings, slides and sandpits that is sheltered from the searing sun by sturdy old oak trees. Parents pay for the food, arts-and-crafts materials and hygiene products, which cost a total of about €30 a month. (This is not a new initiative: it was the same when Laz went to óvoda, in the 1970s.)

We don’t waste time commuting, as most things are a five-minute cycle away

Sóstóhegy, where we live, is northeast of Budapest, outside Nyíregyháza. We bought a little 1960s mud and straw cottage that we are self-renovating. It is on a quarter of an acre, with enough space for a large art studio in the garden, an extensive outdoor kitchen for Laz and a large vegetable patch. Within a five-minute cycle we can get to óvoda, primary school, a mini-supermarket, our GP, a pharmacy and a gym.

And everything else is within a 10-minute cycle

Neighbouring Sóstógyógyfürdő has a sandy-beached lake for swimming, and another for fishing and pedal-boating. It is bordered by a walkway and running track, beautiful playgrounds, a huge zoo, thermal baths and a waterpark complete with swim-up bars. That is in addition to a new hotel and a handful of lakeside restaurants, cafes and bars. It is a fantastic place to raise a child.

Wolfe’s future primary school has a petting zoo

When life gets overwhelming in the classroom, the kids can calm down by cuddling bunnies or tending to the goats and sheep – never mind the vegetable garden complete with glasshouse and lavender corner.

Everything grows

Convenience food is not a thing here. It’s as if it never happened in Hungary. They are still doing what we are trying to get back to in Ireland: grow your own. In fairness, everything grows here. It’s normal to see gardens bursting with colourful veggies and fruit, and neighbours sharing their surplus. Last summer we grew 20kg of gherkins, some tomatoes, butternut squash, watermelon and even a pumpkin.

Come summer it is float or melt

The Hungarian climate is amazing. The winters are cold, hovering around freezing, but in the summer it reaches 40 degrees. Come 4pm in July, you can hear splashes from every garden as families soak in their seasonal swimming pools, eat ice cream, or do both. In Hungary they know how to find the little pocket of the day to relax for some self-care, even midweek.

We can drive anywhere

Hungary is landlocked, so I miss the sea, but we can drive almost anywhere in Europe and beyond. Our nearest sea is the Adriatic, and we host women’s health yoga retreats in Croatia, at which I teach yoga and give menopause-navigation advice. (I studied yoga for menopause with Niamh Daly in Greystones.)

We have a supportive Irish network

It’s not all easy. VAT here is charged at one of the highest rates in the world, at 27 per cent, but it makes us waste less and stops us from impulse buying, which is better for the environment anyway. Also, it was tough for me to integrate, as not many people speak English here, and Nyíregyháza is the first place on earth I’ve ever been that I’ve never met another Irish soul. That’s where making contact with the Irish Embassy and the Irish Hungarian Business Circle made me feel more connected. Even though most events are in Budapest, 240km away, we make as many as we can. Even far away, they are a great support.

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