After a late start, during which I attempt to do some blogging (not very successfully), we leave our hotel in Budapest and head for Keleti Railway Station, via a trolley bus. Recently renovated, the interior of the station is quite stunning. It is the largest of three train stations in Budapest and was considered the most modern in Europe when it was constructed back in 1884. We are told to be careful of our belongings the station is a kind of hang out for homeless and refugees at present (PS. In the week or so following our departure, thousands of refugees flooded the station in an attempt to board trains out of Hungary into Germany.).
This is the first time since our meeting night that we are all together as a group. Marco paces back and forward between us and the departures board, eagerly announcing the departure platform we are required to use. Eight minutes before the train departs, he finds out it is Platform 2, which is a ten minute walk away. We grab our bags and haul on out, as fast as our heavily laden bodies can carry us, and arrive at the train with what now appears to be plenty of time because it seems they are fixing the train someone. You gotta laugh.
The beautifully preserved Baroque town of Eger is about a three hour train ride from Budapest and is surrounded by ranges of hills and lush greenery. Must be all that rain.
Arriving in Eger, our accommodation is a bunch of apartments, which seems a strange choice given we are only here one night. And, much to the disdain of some members of our group, we are spread out between two buildings on either side of town!
Marco leads us on a walk through the streets to the main town of Eger, pointing out buildings and other points of interest along the way, and then we are on our own for a few hours. There’s a few things to see, but I feel this is a town I would like to just sit and observe given the limited amount of time we are here – Marg (also from Melbourne) agrees and we take a seat to order some lunch. The main part of Eger is Dobo Square, and this is surrounded by restaurants, shops and the like. The centrepiece of Dobo Square is a water playground with jets of water sporadically spouting water into the air, which children and adults alike seem to enjoy playing in. One lady, misjudging her timing, ended up with a very wet patch when she stood over the top of one. Though I was definitely not laughing as I watched from a restaurant nearby, sipping my beer. Definitely not laughing. Well maybe just a little bit.
Perhaps one of the best things about Eger is the ice cream, which was simply irresistible. Beautiful and creamy, my ice cream was the richest chocolate you ever tasted, accompanied by a beautiful vanilla ice cream with pieces of apricot through it. Just divine, even if the weather is miserable. Licking my way through my ice cream I note that the sky is darkening over, and with last night’s soaking still fresh in mind, we decide it could be a good time to head back to the apartment.
Back at the apartment we sit on the balcony overlooking the town skyline watching the clouds roll in and the lightning start up. It doesn’t bode well for the evening ahead. Hopefully Marco has organised a trail of taxi’s to get us to where we need to be tonight.
Traditionally, the Hungarians were nomads. They were believed to have moved to the Carpathian basin from somewhere near the Ural Mountains somewhere around 895 and initially agriculture was not their thing. Once they got the hang of it though, they started producing some of the world’s best wines.
In fact in March this year, Hungary had unprecedented success at the Vinalies Internationales international wine competition. Held in France, 3,575 of the world’s finest wines were entered into the competition, 65 of which were produced in Hungary. Of these 65, 9 won a gold medal and 11 won a silver medal. A 2011 bottle of Szekszard winery red ‘Gorogszo’ won first place for the reds – a first for Hungary. And probably a blow to France and Italy I would say.
Tokaji is probably the most well known wine outside Hungary, though not in the form we generally know it, which is in the sweet, velvety dessert wine form. Tokaj is actually the name of a region in the north east of Hungary and Tokoji Aszu was the drink of choice from Louise XIV through to Beethoven.
The second is Bull’s Blood (Egri Bikaver), which Eger is home to. In fact, Eger is home to some of the most famous vineyards in Eastern Europe. And wine tasting is on our menu tonight – with a visit to the wine cellars of the seductively-named Valley of the Beautiful Women. The cellars in Eger and built into the walls of the caves surrounding the town. Heading down the stairs into the musty little cellar, we meet our host for the night. Our wine tasting host – and though ‘tasting’ is probably not the right word to use, because there’s nothing ‘sample’ sized about our glasses of wine – is Beatrice. You can tell she delights in her role of host, despite her lack of English, and she’s happy to see Marco again.
The pouring of the wine itself was interesting. Beatrice held a long glass tube, with a glass bulb on the end, and using her finger to control the flow, poured the wine into our glasses. We work our way through the whites and reds, accompanied by some cheeses and other snacks, chatting away and getting to know each other even more. There’s a good little band playing in the corner of the cave and all is good with the world.
That is until one member of our party vomits on the table. Luckily I am out of the room at the time, but when I return, the smell is undeniable. It doesn’t seem to bother the ‘expeller’, as he returns to the table and continues his conversation, napkin placed over the offending mess. He then leans across the table to introduce himself to another foreigner visiting the cellar ‘Hi, I’m ‘the expeller’ (not his real name) and I’m from Australia’. CRINGE! Myself and a few others can’t ignore the faux par or the smell and decide to call it a night, grabbing a taxi back to our apartment, still in disbelief about what just happened. So there really is too much of a good thing….