Visiting Esztergom and Štúrovo

For many centuries, Esztergom was the most important city in Hungary, acting as the capital from the 10th till the mid-13th century. It was here that the coronation of Saint Stephen of Hungary took place, in the year 1000 or 1001. With his ascension to the throne, Esztergom became the political, cultural and religious centre of the Hungarian nation.

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Today, the city is home to some 30,000 people. It lies on the banks of the Danube river, across the water is Slovakia and the town of Štúrovo. The two towns are connected by the Mária Valéria bridge, which has no border control.

Esztergom lies on the left, Sturovo on the right.
Esztergom lies on the left, Sturovo on the right.

You can easily reach Esztergom by train from Budapest. Trains leave the Nyugati train station every hour and a round trip costs about $10 Canadian or 7 Euros. The journey is slow, with many stops through the Budapest suburbs and small country villages, but the train is modern, making for a pleasant enough trip.

Esztergom’s basilica and castle are built atop a hill with sprawling views of the surrounding countryside and the Danube river.

The view from the Slovakian side of the river.
The view from the Slovakian side of the river.
Castle Hill
Castle Hill
Small Dungeon by the castle
Small Dungeon by the castle
Sunset at a sculpture depicting the coronation of St. Stephen.
Sunset at a sculpture depicting the coronation of St. Stephen.
The winding stairs up to the castle hill.
The winding stairs up to the castle hill.
Sunset views from the lookout spots.
Sunset views from the lookout spots.
A re-creation of the famous Holy Crown of Hungary with its bent cross.
A re-creation of the famous Holy Crown of Hungary with its bent cross.
Saint Stephen's likeness in front of a restaurant that claims to have been in operation since 1659.
Saint Stephen’s likeness in front of a restaurant that claims to have been in operation since 1659.
Saint Stephen Square. There is likely one of these in every Hungarian town.
Saint Stephen Square. There is likely one of these in every Hungarian town.

Across the river is Štúrovo, Slovakia. It’s a small town, with a mostly ethnically Hungarian population. You’ll hear Hungarian spoken on the streets and you can even pay for your food and drinks in Hungarian Forints at the local restaurants and cafés.

Crossing into Slovakia.
Crossing into Slovakia.
On the Slovak side of the bridge.
On the Slovak side of the bridge.
Central Štúrovo.
Central Štúrovo.
Bilingual street signs
Bilingual street signs
Welcome to Štúrovo.
Welcome to Štúrovo.

The convenience of cheap and hourly trains running between Budapest and Esztergom makes for a fun and easy daytrip. Esztergom is a nice enough town, with an impressive history to merit a visit on its own. Being able to cross the border and visit a different country only adds to the novelty. I enjoyed my daytrip to Esztergom and Štúrovo and would recommend it to someone looking for a change of pace during a longer stay in Budapest.

How Canadians Can Stay in Europe For More Than 90 Days

For Canadians who just can’t get enough of Europe, here is how to enjoy a long-term stay.

The 90 Day Rule

Most countries in Europe are now a part of the European Union (EU) and a large part of the EU falls under the Schengen Agreement. Under the agreement, participating countries no longer have immigration control between their borders.

Once you enter any one of the 26 Schengen countries, you’ll be given a stamp in your passport with an entry date and will be able to freely move from one country to another, without having to get another stamp in your passport.

If you’re a Canadian Citizen, with a valid passport, you can enter the Schengen area without any kind of visa and stay for up to 90 days. After your 90 days are up, you’ll have to wait another three months before you can return to any Schengen area again without a visa.

90 days in, followed by 90 days out is the general rule for Canadian passport holders.

Applying For a Visa

If you want to stay past 90 days, you’re going to have to apply for a visa.  This is where the Schengen Agreement can work in your favour.

If you get a visa from one Schengen country, you’re considered a resident of that country, which means you’re welcome in all participating Schengen countries.

The Canadian Government has bilateral agreements with many European countries, the International Experience Canada (IEC) program allows young Canadians (18-35) to spend time abroad, gaining skills and experience. The IEC website is very easy to use and allows you to browse the different agreements available by country. The type of visa that you’ll likely be looking for is:

Working Holiday Visa: The Working Holiday category is designed for Canadian citizens who intend to travel in X country and who wish to find temporary paid employment to help pay for their stay (up to 12 months).

Some of the EU countries with visas that of interest include:

Estonia: Getting an Estonian visa seems fairly straight forward. You need to be aged 18-35, have a Canadian Passport, show that you can sustain yourself financially ($2,500CAD), purchase health insurance and “confirm (your) intention to travel in Estonia and work in order to supplement (your) financial resources.” The visa fee is 80 Euros. Visit the Estonian Embassy’s website for details.

Lithuania: “The purpose of the Agreement is to create the opportunities for youth to deepen their professional and language skills, study and work during holidays in another contracting state, and get to know its people and culture.” Very similar to the Estonian visa. You need to be aged 18-35, have a Canadian Passport, show that you can sustain yourself financially and purchase health insurance. The visa fee is 60 Euros. Visit the Lithuanian Embassy’s website for details.

Norway:According to the Norwegian Embassy website, their country welcomes “all young adults who would like to experience living and traveling abroad and increase their employability.” You can begin the application process online at the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration’s website.‚ (Notes: Norway is not a member of the EU, but is part of Schengen. The Danish Embassy in Canada represents Norway in regards to visas.)

Germany: Germany has the standard bilateral agreements with Canada, an extensive selection of visas (all priced at 60 Euros) and the legendary “Self-Employed” and “Artist” visas that freelancers and creative types around the world love. You can read more about the application process for a “Self-Employed” visa here. Also, here is a link the the German Embassy’s visa page.

As mentioned, most European countries have a bilateral agreement with Canada. If you have your heart set on living in a certain country, it may make the most sense to pursue a visa from that country.

However, if you’re self-employed and want to bounce around from country to country in the Schengen zone, or your country of choice doesn’t have any agreements with Canada, then it may be best to opt for one of the above visas.

Some countries are stricter than others when it comes their visa policies. As a general rule of thumb, Eastern EU countries (former communist countries) are a lot more flexible. They’re looking to attract Westerners, not scare them off with immigration paperwork.

When I lived in Hungary, a country that does not have a bilateral agreement with Canada, one Canadian that I know acquired a visa from one of the aforementioned countries and is lived in Budapest for the duration of his visa. He never had any problems.

I’ve also heard that if you’re a Westerner (Canada, USA, probably Australia) who comes to Hungary and applies for a residency visa on-site, it’s practically a formality, provided you can demonstrate that you won’t be a burden on the state. I suspect other Eastern European countries have a similar outlook.

Apply for European Citizenship

If you have the ancestry and are willing to put in the paperwork, getting your European citizenship is the best course of action. Once you have your citizenship, you’re set for life and can live and work in any EU country as long as you like.

A rule of thumb is if you have a parent or grandparent who was born in Europe, you have a shot. This map on Reddit’s I Want Out page that shows which countries accept ancestral claims and for how many generations. If you qualify, contact your country’s embassy or consulate and find out what steps are required to pursue citizenship.

 

Disclaimer

It should be noted that I am not an immigration expert. I’m just a guy on the internet who has done some research and wants to help out fellow Canadians looking to enjoy a long-term stay in Europe. I should also disclose that I have never had to apply for a European visa as I have dual-citizenship (Canada/France). I’m quite fortunate. But it is nice to know that if my French citizenship somehow vaporized, I’d still be able to spend considerable time in Europe.

While using a country’s visa as a loophole to explore other parts of Europe may go against the spirit of the agreements in place, this seems to be a common practice for many long-term travelers. Popular travel blogger Nomadic Matt, (an American) has a written an excellent post on how to extend your stay past 90 days. He wanted to move to Sweden but found that their application process was taking too long, so he applied for a visa from France and was on his way. There are likely thousands of stories like this one happening across Europe.

As a Canadian citizen, staying in Europe for an extended period of time is very possible. All it takes is a bit of research, some paperwork and a bit of savings for you to spend a year or two exploring and enjoying life in up to 30 different countries.

For as little as $60, that’s a heck of a deal.

Summer Adventure

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I’m taking a six week hiatus to Europe. It’s my first time overseas since summer 2011, when I last came to Europe.

First up: A redeye flight from Montreal to Paris, where I’ll stay for a couple of days, adjusting to jet-lag. After that, I’ll probably head to the South of France, but nothing is set in stone.

I have a few locations on my hit list that I’d like to get to, but I’m not going to get weighed down by too much planning. I prefer to wing it as I go along and keep my options open.

I plan to split my time between hostels and airbnb listings. I’ve yet to use airbnb, but it’s been blowing up and seems like a great alternative for the budget conscious traveler.

Another wrinkle for this trip: I’ll be carrying my DSLR with me. Last time I traveled, I used my iPhone as my camera. It worked well, but I want to up the quality of images I bring back with me this trip. It’ll be a bit stressful, constantly worrying about a potential theft situation, but I feel the high quality images will be worth it.

I’m backpacking, so no suitcase, just a big pack and a smaller bag for day trips. Overall, I’m traveling pretty light. I took a test walk the night before I left, wearing my packed bag and didn’t have any issues with the weight.

That’s all for now, I will do my best to post updates as I travel along.