Thursday, October 02, 2008

Eger, Hungary

Tuesday - Sept 30th - my bday.
Our train arrived in Bedpost on time at 7am. The ride was uneventful, but bouncy. It was better than the last night train that we took in Italy years ago (but not as good as Amtrak - kathy). The local ticket counter was only a couple of steps from the platform and we quickly purchased a ticket to Eger. The train was supposed to leave at 9am. Bummer. We did not really feel like hanging around the train station for two hours. As we were walking towards the ATM, we noticed a train that was leaving for Eger at 7:05. Well it was 7:15 and that train looked like it was running late, so we took a chance and hoped aboard. Now it turns out there is basically a train an hour to Eger, but some require a transfer. We weren't sure if we needed to transfer or not. Both trains went through the same transfer point. After looking up the schedule on the web, I decided that this train probably went through. Worst case was we went a stop to far and had to turn around. Kathy wandered the train a bit and found a student sporting an Ipod and confirmed our thoughts. The train ride across the Hungarian plains reminds me a bit like Kansas after a good week of Tornados. The train stations that we passed were mostly dilapidated abandoned hulks. Obviously built 30 or more years ago to the highest communist standards of the time. Some train stops were literally in the middle of corn fields. The crops looked nice though, with fields of corn and sunflowers that went on for miles. At our potential transfer stop, the train turned to the north and started heading up into the hills. The foothills reminded me a bit like some of the rolling hills on the eastern part of Kansas, but larger and drier. We arrived at Eger about 9:30 to a gorgeous fall day. We decided to walk the short distance to our hotel. It was nice to stretch after being on the train. We walked through a really nice park following a small creek to the center of town and our hotel. After walking around the town a bit, we had lunch at our hotel. The goulash was really tasty. It was nice to be back in a country that actually used spices in their cooking. As it was a beautiful day, we hiked up to the castle and strolled around the grounds. From the top you get a great view of the surrounding country side. Dinner was at a small pub off the square. I ended up having veal with parpadella while kathy had some of the local beef that Hungarians are famous for. Afterwards we found a student pub and had a quick beer. The steps in this town roll up pretty early and we were in by 10:30.

This was a total relaxation day. We slept late and then wandered over to the local thermal baths. These consist of a sulfery hot spring pool as well as a larger pool for general hanging. Each of the pools has a variety of jets, fountains, bubbles and even a small river to mess around in. It took a bit to negotiate the high and low tech entrance procedures. Soon we were bubbling away with the rest of the locals. Hot pool, cool pool, river, jets ... Basically you just move around the pools to whatever water feature is active . A lot of people just hanging about. After a bit more hanging about town we decided to head to the "Valley of Beautiful Woman." This valley is about a 30 minute hike outside of town or you can take the taxi or the tourist train/tram. We opted for the train (really an old car with a train facade and pulling three open aired cars). Okay, no body told me that this dude drove like a maniac. Imagine Mr Toad's wild ride and you will get the idea. We did pass many of the sites at a breakneck speed and almost got t-boned by a car only once. Somehow we managed to make it up the valley with most of our bones intact after renaming the train "The Terror Train.". The valley consists of 50 or so caves carved directly into the rock walls of the canyon. Some of the caves contain winestubes, others are just storage for casks. In the midst of this there was a bevy of activity around the fall harvest. Tractors hauling grapes to be crushed, crushing, pressing ... Pretty interesting. Of course you can try the different wines and if you like them you can buy a bottle or a glass. This area makes a really nice sparkling wine and a blend called "Bulls Blood.". The later is a Bordeoux style blend with a couple of extra grapes thrown in that I had never heard of. Amazingly good. First decent red wine that we have had on this trip. Some of the caves had locals filling up plastic jugs of wine to take home, while others were a bit more touristy offering complete meals for tourbus loads of Germans. We picked a couple of good divey cellers to check out. At one of them we met an young American couple, Chad and Ashley, that had been traveling for the last couple of months or so all over Eastern Europe. They were getting ready to head off to teach English for a year in China. They said they hadn't really talked to anyone but each other for the last month. So we hung out together and tasted the local wine. For diner we went to a really nice place that just had outstanding food. I had this foie gras in a Tokay wine reduction that was amazing. I also had a small glass of Tokaj to go with it. Imagine Sauterne the color of Gold. My main entre was duck with a paprika cream sauce and for desert we had a big plate of chocolate deserts. One looked like and tasted like melted chocolate ice cream. I guess you can sell these American tourists anything. Again we headed in early to avoid the sidewalks as they rolled up.

In the morning we went to the local market. It was a multi-storied building with stalls of people selling everything imaginable. Pig's head? yep. Live carp? You betcha. They had the mushroom section and the cheese section and the flowers section and of course the pig butcher and the cow butcher. Upstairs they had a food court with a dizzying array of items. Sausages, fried bread, fried trout, and god knows what else.
Now we are back on the train to Budapest. This time I am sure it is the direct train.

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