Friday, 13 November 2009
Day 4 - Eger, Hungary
Sure enough, last night we celebrated Alex the Hungarian Hostelier's birthday, and in many ways it was similar to my first night in Budapest: a number of underground-style bars, followed by a 3am tour of the city. The main differences this time were the lack of driving freezing rain, and an increased number - joining the ragtag group of revellers were a Brazilian girl who had been living for 4 years in Dublin and so occasionally (especially more as the palinka took effect) lapsed into an Irish Accent, Atilla (the Hungarian) who had an unparalled knowledge of the history of Europe and budding travel writer Hero, from Japan, who along with his girlfriend (who I think was called "cuni" - but I've never been good with names) have spent the last 18 months travelling around the world - they have another 6 months left. A great time was had by all, but the whole hostel was bleary-eyed this morning as I readied to make my way to Eger.
Eger is around 75 miles North East of Budapest; it's a town that all Hungarian schoolchildren know about, thanks to the 1552 seige where 80,000 Turkish invaders were blocked from entering Eger Castle, from entering Hungary, and indeed from reaching Western Europe by a group of fewer than 2,000. No matter that the Ottomans returned less than 50 years later, took the castle and massacred all the locals for their part in the seige - this is a story of battling against the odds, women fighting with men, boiling oil thrown over ramparts, and bull's blood.
Eger is in the centre of Hungary's famous wine region; its most famous product being Egri Bikavér or "Bull's Blood." The story goes that when the attacking Turks of Suleiman the Magnificent saw the local women drinking the deep, ruby-coloured tipple, they took it as blood, a fact that added hugely to the soldiers' terror of the steadfast locals. Although the wine lost its reputation in communist times, today it is one of the most loved brands in the country.
I missed the train and the next one arrived late into Eger; it was very slow and had sat at a nearby station for over 30 minutes, which all meant that despite my best efforts, there was no chance of photos before sundown, but I felt that I may as well visit the castle to see what I could learn. Sadly November is low-season and so, with dusk upon us, a man with a torch, shouting "halloo" managed to repel me (and a dozen or so Germans who had followed me) from the castle, just a his forefathers had done to the Turks 450 years or so earlier.
If I couldn't visit the castle, then surely I could try some "bulls blood:" the best area for the wine is Szépasszony-völgy or the Valley of the Beautiful Women. Nobody knows for sure where the name comes from - my guide book claims that the wine makes all women appear beautiful - but either way, I had a quick glass in one of the many (sadly empty - due to the time of year) bars and headed back to my hotel.
The hotel is nothing compared to my amazing hostel in Budapest; very homogenous and with no common-areas in which to socialise with fellow guests. The key to the front door only works if you jiggle it the right way (35 minutes of jiggling just to get in this evening!!) and the only place I can get wireless is sitting in the shower - which is where I am now. But no matter, tomorrow I have an early morning bus to Hortobágy - as chosen by my Twitter followers. Should be good - can't wait to see all those species of grass!!!!
PS, the picture above is of the Minorite Church in Eger; not much to say about it, but just thought you'd like to see a bit of the town...