Two days in Eger (Northern Hungary)

I am physically and mentally exhausted when I wake on my first morning in Eger. I feel like I should be excited to be here because I have heard how wonderful this city is. But in reality, I just want to stay in my bivy all day and watch The Good Wife, which I bought from iTunes and have been working through since Japan. It’s good weather for ducks today. After weeks of hot sunny days in the high thirties (celcius), today the temperature won’t rise about 19’C and the sun will barely come out. I knock out a few hours work in the shelter of the camp kitchen and catch up on some blog posts.

I leave camp for a while to explore the city. I figure I should get out and see what the fuss is about. After-all, I am here. I’m not disappointed at all.

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Eger is a lovely town with a beautiful big square that nestles under the watchful eye of Eger Castle. Children play in the fountain while their parents beg them to stop getting their clothes wet. It looks like two families; possibly aunts, uncles and cousins. It reminds me of my family’s travels through Western Europe with my god parents and cousins many moons ago. We would get up to this kind of mischief and our parents would put up with it for a while until it looked like they might have cold and whining kids on their hands for the rest of the day.

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Narrow lanes weave through the townhouses and lead to the city centre like the legs of a spider. It all feels very European to me. It’s quite a contrast to the harsh days cycling across the Great Plains. I am back in refined Hungary. The one that is so easy to love (have I mentioned yet that I am falling in love with this country … but that’s for another post).

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There are many grand churches and halls all over the city. I love the bright yellow paint contrasted by grey columns. I wonder whether the yellow colour of the buildings has significance or is just popular for “very important buildings” such as cathedrals and town halls. It sure does stand out.

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I go up to Eger Castle. This is more a large fort and stands above the city. It’s large but largely ruinous. The city is obviously reconstructing the castle but it looks like it will be a huge job and the interiors haven’t been done yet. There seems to be a medieval club gathering here this weekend. People walk around in costumes carrying bows and quivers full of arrows. The bows are definitely not the authentic sort … most are compound. Archery is being practiced all around the castle and some of the archers have excellent aim. I guess this is what I would have looked like if I’d stayed in Medieval Club when I was at university the first time. Yep, that’s right, I joined a Medieval Club when I was younger … it was great fun but I can’t seem to commit to clubs so it fell by the wayside. Besides I doubt I’d have the patience to make my own chain mail armour.

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The view from the castle is fantastic. I get a real sense of how Eger has changed over the centuries. There’s the square with the church and fountains. There’s a minurette, and then there’s the sprawl of red roofs leading away from the town centre into the surrounding hills as people have started to fill in the gaps between rural and urban spaces.

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I return to camp after a few hours and do actually watch that TV series I wanted to watch earlier. I must need the rest because I fall asleep early without even being able to keep my eyes open late enough to chat to Paul (he is 8 hours ahead of me so I have to stay up late if I want to wish him good morning and let him wish me good night). I think I have been burning the candle at both ends again this trip, starting my days early and going to bed far too late. Between cycling, exploring, working and blogging I haven’t got much down time to relax. I’m certainly not complaining … but sometimes I forget to take time out and then I wear myself out a bit.

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I feel much more positive after a good night sleep and a bit of a lie in. The sun is shining (even if only momentarily) and I walk into Eger again. There’s a flea market on my way so I check it out. You can buy everything and anything here. It’s crazy. There’s a military gas mask, old cameras, spinning wheels galore, some boards with rusty spikes on them, swords, pocket knives and wine glasses galore. I guess this is what happens when your country has a longer history than mine … you have bigger collections of cool stuff to sell at the flea market. I almost buy the gas mask but am not sure whether it will raise concerns with customs given the current national defense focus at home. I think it would look cool on a shelf or would make a rad gift for some of our more eclectic friends. But alas, it remains in Hungary.

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I stop in the basilica. There’s a mass taking place and I sit in the pews for a while. The homily is lengthy and I cannot understand it. But it doesn’t matter. The Holy Spirit is in this place and I can feel the presence of love.

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Church over I find the McDonalds where I use the free wifi to call my mum and wish her a safe trip to China. I step across the road and order myself a goulash soup: the first I think I’ve had in Hungary. It’s quite delicious and I recognise that the same base soup is used for the potato soup I ate in Kesthely and the fish soup I ate in Szeged. I guess that’s the Hungarian soup base.

After lunch I walk around a bit more and then return to camp for a few hours to catch up on a few things.

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My camp is at the head of the Valley of the Beautiful Women so I head down to check that out too. I have every intention of getting into the spirit and tasting some wine but when push comes to shove I don’t. I mean, I really only drink occasionally when I am in good company and I’m alone. And I don’t like to drink for drinking sake. I was a tee totaller until 2011 and am still selective about my alcohol consumption.

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But the valley is picturesque and worth a visit.

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There are many wine cellars here, some used and some abandoned. When I first arrived I thought these were strange small houses but a quick internet search for information about Eger enlightened me. A man is constantly sitting outside his as locals pull up with empty soft drink bottles that he fills with his red and white liquids. Now that’s cellar door wine.

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Down in the valley proper the tourist cellars are a little more refined. Many have tables and chairs set up for guests. Some offer food and others only wine. You can either buy your sample of wine by the 100ml or by the litre. The 100ml quantities are for tasting and cost about 100HUF-300HUF per 100ml dependign on what you are buying with the majority setting you back about 100HUF/100ml (50c/100ml or 30 euro cents/100ml). A litre will set you back between 500HUF – 1000HUF ($2-5 or 1.50-3 euros) depending on what you are buying. The prices for bottles of wine are a little higher but still very affordable (if you like wine).

I’m still feeling a bit off but am hungry. Actually, I am at that point just beyond hungry where I don’t want anything anymore but know I have to eat. Mix this in with a touch of homesickness. I end up buying a pita gyros from a local take away. Unfortunately, something must have been wrong with it because I wake a few times during the night experiencing the rather uncomfortable (but increasingly familiar) effects of food poisoning. Oh well, it happens. At least it’s stopped raining so I don’t get wet on my walks across the camping ground.

All up I enjoyed Eger for what it was. I think I’d like to come back with Paul because this is a town to be shared not tasted alone.

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