DIPLOMACY - INTERVIEW
Interview of Szilvia Szeszler
H.E. Ms. Anunciada Fernández de Córdova, Ambassador of Spain, descendant of a diplomatic family has a significant diplomatic carreer; not everyone knows, however, that she is a known artist and in frame of her literary work she published numerous books of poetry, novel and essays. For the first time in my career as journalist happened to me that tears welled up in my eyes listening to my interviewee; as I listened to her in the building of Embassy of Spain in Hungary, reading her poem about the river Danube that shows and express so nicely her love to Budapest and Hungary. We asked Her Excellency about the present situation, plans, to-dos and also about the future plans of travel and tourism between our countries.
Anunciada Fernández de Córdova
Ambassador of Spain in Hungary
- From your wonderful literary works we can see, how much you like Hungary, Budapest and also the river Danube.
- Yes, furthermore to my written works, I emphasize several times on social media how beautiful your country is and how much I love to live here; every time I cross the Danube, I say: wow.. When I got my Letters of Credence from the King of Spain, in the frame of a very nice ceremony I gave it to your Head of State; before the event, the car came for me to take to the venue, the Castle and we crossed the river Danube – now I already know it was on Erzsébet híd – I told to the Chief of the Protocol who was with me in the car: „How beautiful the Danube is!” He was very kind and gentle and took me to cross the Danube several times, as we still had time, we were too early from the event. No doubt that Budapest is the most beautiful capital in Europe – regardless the official vote results of it two years ago.
- How are your everydays in this epidemic situation? How much it had to be changed comparing the plans?
- I try to walk every day an hour and every week-end I go to the Normafa or outside Budapest. I like walking also on the countryside. On week-days I go to the Heroes’ Square and the Városliget and back, walking. It is amazingly beautiful. What I miss the most during the pandemic is the concerts, the music. The music that is offered in Budapest is so exquisite, so delicious. I have the Liszt Ferenc Academy which is from here only a seven minutes walk, or the MÜPA; I am constant client of the MÜPA, my best moments in Budapest are at MÜPA. Besides classical music I miss the jazz music, Budapest Jazz Club, and also the places where we go for a coffee. Usually I go with my bike, stop for a coffee and listen tot he world-wide famous musicians playing. I miss that a lot.
I also miss the restaurants opened, Hungarian foods are very delicious, my number one favourite is duck. In Spain we are very good eaters also and the food differs in one region from the other. We have 234 Michelin star restaurants. Our cuisine differs very much from Hungarian as we use much more fish; it is quite different what you can eat on the North or in South, also. Ham culture is significant, we call is jamon and chorizo, which is like salami, also very famous. Pata Negra pig is most famous perhaps of all. I like and try to make known in Hungary the gazpacho, which is our famous tomato soup. I travel around Hungary because I like to get to know and see it, not only Budapest, and it is one of my obligations as ambassador; one is to visit Spanish companies here and the other reason is to visit Spanish-Hungarian bilingual secondary schools. I like to talk to the students and roll up my sleeves, braking the ice as they receive me with great respect so they are very stiff, I put out the ingredients of the soup, we cook together and have friendly talk,it is a good way to bring the culture closer. Maybe this gazpacho soup is my trade mark. Same is with a friendship group at the Parliament. I went to Győr to open an exhibition of a photographer who was working in Spain, János Gyenes. We ambassadors can travel and have to travel, but much less, of course, as before. I have scheduled some lunches with some personalities in Hungary, either of politics or culture or business, economy but I had to cancel them.
- What are your favourite cities, landscapes in Hungary?
- Budapest is first of all, it is simply breathtaking, I like Eger also very much, maybe that is my second favourite. And here is Pécs and Szeged, the landscape at Tokaj is also beautiful, the Mátra where I went to the highest peak of Hungary; you have a really beautiful country. Or Sopron, also wonderful. I love the view at the Balaton, when you see the wineyards, last time when I went to Veszprém, suddenly could see a field completely blue, then a field completely yellow then one completely red, it is such a colour, so amazing. Last year with a couple of friends we used to go to pickniking. We chose one of these amazing fields as the restarurants were partly opened partly not. But of course I like your restaurants, as well, you have very good ones.
- What is your experience about us, Hungarians? Did you have an imagination like of what you found?
- Well, it was a surprise for me, I thought, hearing musicians - now I think it was the famous gipsy music - and when I arrived here and I was reading a lot of Hungarian literature, which I read a lot, I was shocked how hard it is. I mean how much the war is still in what writers write, about the mortality of Hungarian jews for instance, it was a surprise for me. Hungarians are different; sometimes it can be annoying but that is what interests me a lot. I like different people, I like diversity, I say always to my Hungarian friends, that Hungarians are like this: if something is simple why not make it complicated? It is very much in your philosophy and one has to accept that and seduce people who are like that.
- We are not easy, it is fact.
- Yes and that what makes you so interesting. And may be that what makes you to have the most Nobel Prizes in the world.
- How would you introduce Hungary for Spanish people after your experiences?
- I have guests nearly every week, I usually take them for a tour first of all in Budapest, preferably walking. I advice them to make a tour on the Danube, beginning at the Vigadó up to Margaret island. Also very nice to see the city from the Danube because of its central location. And of course I would schedule a concert, probably at the Liszt Academy and not only because of the music but also because of its beautiful building, even its doors are beautiful. I would take them to the MÜPA for a jazz concert and of course I would make a reservation in a restaurant. I would prefer local Hungarian food, not a Michelin star restaurant. And would choose duck, as one of the dishes for sure.
- How do you think about culture and its role between our countries?
- Culture is a soft message, I am for culture and I am a writer myself, as well, and I think, it is a very fine tool of diplomacy and it makes long-lasting bonds. I always try to organize cultural activities which make bonds between institutions, for example last year it was the 200th Anniversary of the Museum Prado, best museum of the world, without being nationalistic and biased. With director of Szépművészeti Museum on the night of museums we talked about each other’s museum, he about the Prado and I about the Szépművészeti and it was a very nice event and gesture, I think.
- Let me have some questions about tourism. How much damage the tourism industry has suffered under covid?
Of all, it is known that the tourism sector worldwide is the one that has suffered the most from the consequences of the pandemic. By cutting air connections and therefore tourist flows, this activity has been paralyzed from one day to the next. Spain is the second country in the world that receives more tourists and with one of the best accommodation and service infrastructures in the entire continent, therefore, unfortunately, yes, we can say that Spain has been one of the countries most affected by COVID . However, even in the worst circumstances, there is always a positive side: this year of inactivity has been used to redirect the Spanish tourism sector towards sustainability. Awareness has been made of a better use of natural resources, ensuring that the tourism industry has a lower environmental impact. With the new tourism policies implemented in Spain after the pandemic, the new path guides us towards the "demassification" of our destinations, prioritizing quality versus quantity.
- Do you think that COVID makes new challenges?
- Undoubtedly. COVID has brought good things and many changes when it comes to doing things. Before we thought that working from home was not possible and today we see it as something normal. Well, this also happens in the tourism sector. COVID has brought us 10 years ahead in the digitization of our companies. Many things that were previously face-to-face are now within reach of our mobile phone with a single click. We can buy tourist packages, plane tickets, check-in at hotels, hire services and a long etcetera without leaving home. Obviously this trend towards digitization was already present in our lives before COVID, but without any doubt, after the pandemic, the technological level of our tourism companies is much higher and better. COVID has also helped us to realize that the "virtualization" of certain activities that were previously only face-to-face, is also possible. Today most of our meetings are virtual avoiding unnecessary travel and costs. So the "digitization" and "virtualization" of the tourism sector are the new challenges that COVID has brought us.
- How has the profile of tourists to Spain changed since the pandemic began?
- Spain is a diverse country as are its visitors. We can categorically affirm that Spain is a country fit for all profiles. From families, couples, singles, young or old. Also for those who come looking for sun and wonderful beaches, culture, traditions, gastronomy ... Spain has it all. But it is true that there is a profile of tourists that we did not have before and that with the pandemic has become very popular. Thanks to our good weather all year round, a developed infrastructure and excellent telecommunications, Spain has become a paradise for Digital Nomads and Remote Workers. And although it may seem that they are the same, they are not: the "digital nomads" do not have a physical office and can jump from destination to destination while they work and their stays are short because they change a lot of location. While the "remote workers" have a physical office but they can allow themselves to spend several weeks working from another place and this profile prefers to choose a single place and work from there, therefore their stays are longer. The most important thing they both need is a good internet connection. In any case, Spain has managed to position itself in a very short time, as one of the main countries in the world for this profile of tourists.
- What is the role of the Spanish Tourist Office in Hungary if the borders are closed?
- Our promotional activity has not stopped at any time. In the last year we have adapted our activity to the new reality and as I mentioned in the previous question, many actions have become virtual with the intention of always being present in the market. We have focused on image actions, we have always wanted Spain to be present in some way, so that when tourist flows are reactivated again, Spain will be the destination chosen by Hungarians to travel again. It is worth mentioning that in the last 10 years Spain has had an exponential increase in the number of Hungarian visitors per year, we have gone from 30,000 to more than 300,000 in 2019, being Spain one of the 3 main tourist destinations for Hungarians. Likewise, air connectivity has had a significant increase, reaching up to 13 Spanish cities connected with direct flights from Budapest by 4 airlines, before the pandemic. These two data give a clear idea of the importance of Spain for the Hungarian tourist. The intention of the Department of Tourism of the Embassy of Spain in Hungary is to achieve, at least, the pre-pandemic figures and I believe that we will achieve it in a short since the main airlines already have scheduled on their routes for the summer of 2021, 11 of the 13 connections that we had before COVID, which means a great success.
- For those Hungarian tourists who have been to Spain many times, what would you say, do you think they can still discover Spain?
- Well, there are always wonderful places to discover. Spain is one of the most complete countries in the world, and believe me it is not a slogan. Spain has more than 8000 km of coastline with wild beaches or that offer all services to visitors in three different seas: Mediterranean, Cantabrian and Atlantic. 15 National Parks and 52 Biosphere Reserve Areas declared by UNESCO. We also have 15 cities that are World Heritage Sites in their entirety and 45 monuments that are also declared Heritage. It is one of the 3 European nations with more than 500 years of history. With cities as important as Madrid, Barcelona,eville, Valencia, Malaga, Santiago de Compostela, Bilbao, Palma de Mallorca ... among others, perfect for a cultural getaway. Spain also has the most important network of museums in the world, including the Prado, the Guggenheim, the Thyssen, the Pompidou in Malaga, the Picasso Museum or the Dalí Museum, among others.
In Spain, however, you can not only discover territories. I recommend you discover the country through its gastronomy world famous for tapas, paella, sangria or serrano ham. Discover Spain through its festivals such as the world-famous San Fermines de Pamplona or the Carnivals of Tenerife, the Fallas of Valencia or the April Flamenco fair in Sevilla. I invite you to discover Spain through its avant-garde, classic or modern architecture. Discover Spain through the practice of any outdoor sport all year round thanks to its good weather and sunny climate. Through our language, spoken by more than 500 million people, through the famous Santiago Way or even by train with almost 3,500 km of high-speed train tracks. Therefore, and answering your question: there will always be something in Spain for you to discover.
Robaré el Danubio una tarde de nevada rosa
o una mañana gris
con manchas de pájaros y hojas de otoño.
Será con Europa entera a cuestas
con sus guerras y sus triunfos
partituras y campos de concentración
monarquías y exterminios.
En meandros perezosos, su majestad fluvial
contempla altivo las orillas y las gentes de sus riberas,
vasallos de ese eterno transcurrir
que lleva la carga y la sangre de tantos.
El Danubio húngaro, a pesar de Strauss,
es para mí más Danubio y en su cadencia
que divide y une a Budapest
caben pizzicatos, polkas
guetos y nazismo, la estrella roja y los baños turcos.
Cada día que paso por uno de sus puentes
lo quiero robar. Si desaparece
me declararé culpable.
Lo germano se empapa de magyar
la Selva Negra, de llanura panonia
los trajes de húsar, de alfanjes y entorchados de serrallo
los edificios, de Secesión vienesa
el barrio judío, de ruin pubs y bares de copas.
Europa le es tributaria a este gran señor
que gasta botas, porcelanas, violines
puentes y barcazas.
Si desaparece, lo habré robado yo
y le invitaré a sentarse al calor
de una estufa con azulejos pintados
para que me cuente sus historias
este venerable maestro de Imperios,
matemático inventor, compositor de sinfonías
sereno testigo que, fluyendo, discurre.