Thursday, October 06, 2011

In the dungeon with Russians - Eger, Hungary

I had originally planned on seeing some smaller Czech towns south of Prague and slowly making my way to Vienna. Logistially, this wasn't going to work because ALL roads lead back to Prague and I was completely finished with that city. I bought a ticket to Budapest, thinking I could hop off in Bratislava if I got tired of being on the train. So I boarded the train that morning not knowing where I would end up that night, which is kind of fun. This is why I prefer to plan ahead, but not TOO much. What if I get tired of some town and feel like going somewhere else? Hungary suddenly sounded much more fun, and three weeks ago it wasn't part of the plan.

In the Czech replublic, I saw a lot of pets on public transportation. Here is some girl taking her cat on a seven hour train ride:

Honey cake on the train!

After I decided to go all the way to Budapest, I called a small guesthouse that got good reviews on tripadvisor. Tripadvisor is so helpful when I travel! I arrived to find two fussy but very friendly older men running a small hotel on the second floor of a grand, crumbling building. The staircase looked just like the one in single white female. It was a beautiful building that was a little ragged yet very atmospheric, but the guesthouse was very hip (and cheap!) Here is my cool chandelier over my bed:

Before I checked in, I got a lecture about the toilet. The message came loud and clear - don't break it. Don't put too much toilet paper in. Don't flush anything EXCEPT toilet paper. I got my key, and one more reminder to not flush any dental floss in the toilet. Because I was a female, and they were two men, they danced around the "feminine hygene products" topic which was funny but you could tell one of them wanted to say it. Here is the sign above my toilet, which I did not break:

I walked around the neighborhood and liked Budapest immediately. The train station is really rustic and dirty. The underground metro looked like it was from 1800. It was really old and squeaky and the doors don't shut properly. Downtown Budapest was full of cafes, beautiful old buildings and places to linger for hours. I tried to sort out my feelings about Prague. Prague is pretty too, but something about it just wasn't as inviting. There were so many casinos, bachelor parties, bars and tourists. But I can't blame a city for having too many tourists because I'm a tourist myself. Prague is like a girl who had a bad boyfriend for 40 years and is now on a bender. You want to tell her to just chill out and take a yoga class or something. Budapest seemed a little more dignified, a bit more like Paris. But still, nothing like Paris. I can't really make judgements like that about Prague or Budapest because I really don't know much about either city. Those are just my first impressions. I was EXHAUSTED, though. (and my cold and cough will not go away!) Big cities in general were just losing their appeal. I decided to spend one quick night in Budapest, hop on the train two hours to a small town I had read about in Hungarian wine country, then come back and properly tackle Budapest. This would mean I only have one night (at the end) in Vienna. That's OK. All of the sudden, Hungary just seemed right.

I had a nice dinner at a place the hotel owners recommended. It was fabulous. Everyone is eating outside because it's about 70 degrees during the day.

Train to Eger

After two hours, I arrived in a little village. I followed two students from Hong Kong to a bus and we figured out how to get downtown. One woman walked me to the hotel I had in mind. The fresh air in Eger was nice. The hotel was full of antiques and I had a little attic room that overlooked a little outdoor cafe and cobblestone street.

I had 24 hours. Enough time to see a castle and go to the little wine cellars on the outskirts of town.

The Eger castle is an important part of Hungarian history. They defeated the Turks here in 1552. The women played a big part in the legend - they helped the fight by splasing hot oil on the invaders. Good idea! This area makes a red wine called "bulls blood". Supposedly the Hungarians were able to fight the Turks because they were drinking the blood of bulls. The little wine cellar road is called "valley of the beautiful women".

Here is a lady with her bucket of hot, boiling oil. Take that, Turks!

After wandering around the castle for an hour, I went down some steps and found a locked gate. I peeked inside. It looked like the best dungeon ever! It was a hot day and I enjoyed standing there on the cool dungeon stairs. A sign said "enter only when accompanied by an official tour". Wouldn't it be great if a tour group came along right now? I thought. On cue, a bunch of people speaking some language I couldn't place came down the stairs and opened the door.

Of course I followed them in and tried to blend in. But it was hard to blend in with this crowd. I understood nothing they were saying. The tour guide acknowledged me and let me know that I could stay and it was no problem. The dungeon was really fun. There were (I think) torture devices and hidden passageways. But just as interesting was this group. I couldn't figure them out. There were two very effeminite and affectionate older men, one with a shaved forehead, as if his hair grew down too far and he wanted to tame it - and very expensive, hip glasses. There was a young guy in a bright orange disco shirt. There was an older lady in a skirt with big polar bears on it. There was a man who looked like his name was Igor. And two old grandmas with grey buns. Speaking some language I couldn't place. Igor came up to me and spoke english, translating a few things for me which was very nice. They were Russians! I was further confused when one of the older men came over to polar bear and gave her a flirty squeeze. I knew you might want to see the skirt:

They couldn't have been nicer. We spent some time in the dungeon together and then the door was unlocked and I set out to find the wine street. Here is my hotel:

I took a taxi to the wine cellars, where I found MORE Russians , several plastic tables and and old, shirtless man running around. It was like the village in "Borat". You know for me, it all comes back to Borat!

A series of little houses and each had a little cavern attached. These were mom and pop wineries, and nobody spoke English. I was only charged money twice and spent a total of 2 dollars. Some of the wine was actually good. I'd say about 50% of it was decent. The bulls blood was good. They had some very floral-tasting whites, too. I barely knew what any of it was because it was mostly in Hungarian.

My favorite winery was a sweet grandma who had wine in giant test tubes. Some people bought wine and took it home in plastic soda bottles! It was VERY local and home-grown. I got a lot of confused stares, because I was alone and wasn't Polish or Russian. I did meet some nice people, though. We communicated through pictures and hand signals. I didn't drink too much because I didn't really know where I was, and it was only 4PM. With the exception of Oktoberfest, I really hate drinking alcohol during the day. It just makes me tired and crabby.

There were no taxis or trolleys so I just made the 20 minute walk back into town. It was a really fun experience!

I was on a mission to find good chicken paprikash. Mission accomplished!

After dinner, I took a little stoll around the square. Eger has a beautiful church. It was nice to be in the country for a day. Tomorrow, back to Budapest!

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