Wine tasting and wanderings around Hungary

Well Eger certainly was great fun. The story goes that around 2000 Hungarian soldiers held off some 200,000 Turkish invaders in the mid 1500’s with the help of wine given to them by their captain. With increased vigour and blood stained beards, rumors started to circulate that they were drinking the blood of bulls. The invaders departed and the legend of Eger wine was born.

The Valley of Beautiful Women, a street really, is jam packed with cellar after cellar that serves the region’s wine and we methodically made our way from one to the next. On the way “home” (we ended up at a pub and actually made it home round 4am) we walked past some locals feeding grapes from a big crate into a pressing machine and I immediately indicated I wanted to help out. Next thing I know they bring me some wellington boots and I hop in. Great fun indeed and as a thank you, we were invited into their cellar to taste some wine, which turned out to be the best we tried all day.

We were pleased we even made it to Eger after the train stopped at a random town and the lights went out. We hadn’t realized that we needed to change so it was a mad dash across the station when the penny dropped that we had to get off. Traveling on trains here in Hungary is an experience – most of the stations are very badly sign posted (if there are signs at all) and even where the station’s name is written in something larger than font 4, you often stop before of after the sign and have no idea where you are. It’s good fun.
Not only did we try wine but also the local shot called Palinka. When I ordered some vodkas, the barman looked at me with a quizzical look and said that this was not Poland or Russia and ‘here we drink Palinka’! (Palinka is a brandy, often coming in peach or apricot flavour). Fair enough – so I ordered a few of those and will never make that mistake again.After Eger, we worked our way south through Debrecen (the 2nd largest city), Szeged and then Pecs. These places aren’t “sight-intensive” per se, and  definitely less visited (we saw a handful of backpackers in the week from Eger to Pecs) but we’ve been enjoying wandering about and getting a feel for the country

Soaking it up in the hot springs
Soaking it up in the thermal baths

In towns where there are fewer backpackers, it’s so nice to be traveling with someone and I’ve enjoyed traveling withJustin, a kiwi I met a few weeks back in Slovakia. Couch surfing is also phenomenal for these quieter towns and we have met fantastic people who have showed us around. It’s hasn’t only been couch surfing, though – we’ve mixed it up and slept on a friend’s sofa Debrecen (someone we had met in Slovakia), a pension in Eger, which is similar to a guesthouse,  couch surfing in Szeged and then a hostel in Pecs.

Debrecen would certainly not be high on my list of places visited but as we now knew someone there, we figured why not. While there, we made our way to a tiny town some 20kms away which houses Hungary’s largest thermal bath complex. The place was teeming and it was an interesting experience. Justin and I must have brought the average age down by at least 30 years!

Both Szeged & Pecs are popular varsity towns and our couch surfing showed us around brilliantly. Szeged has the most beautiful shul I’ve ever seen and for that alone, it was worth the visit. We had rather large nights in both places and met great people.

Szeged's beautiful synagogue
Szeged’s beautiful synagogue
While in Pecs (Justin headed off to Serbia after Szeged), I headed out to a wine region, Villany. The wine here is fantastic and I had a great day trying around 9 different types of red. All in all, for a day’s drinking and a fantastic cheese platter, I paid 7,000 FT (EUR 25). You cannot beat that.

I’m now in northern Slovenia and it is stunning here! I am basing myself at Bohinj for some hiking in the Julian Alps,  and am really looking forward to the next few days.

PS – Bet you had no idea that the Smurfs in Hungarian is “Hupikek Torpikek”. Literal translation – Baby Blue Dwarfs. Phenomenal.

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