A few days after arriving back in Budapest after my Christmas and New Year leave in the UK I went to a cellar bar nearby for a drink one evening with some people visiting from home. We walked downstairs and I was aware that something was a little different, but could not quite put my finger on it.
After a little while one of the people I was with worked out what was different: no cigarette smoke.
Yes, after several years of prevaricating and finding various excuses to avoid doing it, the government here has finally banned smoking in bars and restaurants. And what a difference it makes. Many of Budapest's bars are small or subterranean, and after an hour in one of them your clothes would be absolutely reeking with tobacco smoke. No longer.
What it does mean is that, as in other countries with a smoking ban, you can spot the bars up and down a street by looking for the huddles of people standing outside puffing on their fags. But here in Hungary, where the great majority of people smoke, the crowds are obviously larger. Probably fortunately for the government this has been an extremely mild winter so far, with barely any sub-zero temperatures. I suspect the smoking ban would have been harder to get started if evening temperatures were the more normal -10° at night.
But what to me seems to be the ultimate irony is that currently Hungary is getting criticism all round for introducing new legislation regarding small things such as limiting media freedom, the independence of the judiciary and suppression of parliamentary debate while nobody praises it for finally introducing the smoking ban.
Sometimes, life is just so unfair.