Hungary trip day 5 (driving) – Eger, Egri Bikaver, Eger Castle, Eger Basilica, Bukk National Park, Ballet – The Karamazovs.
The town of Eger, east of Budapest, is famous for eggs and Egri Bikaver, or Bull’s Blood wine. So my mission was to find some. Wine that is, not eggs. Of course you can simply buy it in a supermarket in Budapest or at the airport duty-free, but where’s the fun in that?
In 1552, 50,000, 100,000, or 200,000 (different figures depending on what you read, but a lot anyway) Ottoman Turks laid seige to Eger, which was defended by about 2,000 Hungarian troops, fortified by Egri Bikaver poured down their throats by their captain, Istvan Dobo. And with the assistance of the women in the town who poured boiling oil over the Turks, the town was successfully defended. Unfortunately, 44 years later, the Turks tried again and succeeded, and stayed for 90 years before being thrown out. I’d suggest staying just for a day or two. There’s an area called the Valley of Beautiful Women (Szepasszonyvolgy – the signs say Nice Ladies Valley or something) with a large number of wine cellars where you can sample and buy Egri Bikaver. Don’t drink and drive. Apart from the risk of spilling your wine, the limit is zero, and they’re quite strict about it apparently.
The Bull’s Blood name comes from the Turks seeing the victorious Hungarians with red wine dribbling down their chins, and thinking they had drunk the blood of bulls. Or so the story goes.
The times have changed however, now one needs not fear a Turkish invasion in Hungary, but the airport security officials who will deny export of bottles of Egri Bikaver in your hand luggage because they are larger than 100 ml. Bugger. I tried to find a beautiful woman to pour boiling oil on them but no such luck. I even tried to pour the wine on them to reduce the quantity in each bottle to less than 100 ml, but they were not impressed.
In the town of Eger, there are the ruins of Eger Var (Eger Castle) which is interesting to explore for a while, and an unruined Eger Basilica (Erseki Foszekesegyhaz), built in the early 1800s, designed by the same chap who did the basilica in Esztergom – architect Joseph Hild (Jozsef Hild). The Eger one is a bit smaller but is a nicer shade of yellow on the outside, and a bit more colorful on the inside.
Bukk National Park (Bukki Nemzeti Park) is east of Eger between the towns of Eger and Miskolc and has a few hills and a couple of steam trains. The highest hill in the park is Istallos-ko, at 959m. The highest hill (at what height do hills become mountains?) in Hungary is Kekesteto, a short distance west of Eger, height 1014m. A good place for a picnic, and if you bring some Egri Bikaver with you, your confidence should be boosted sufficiently to fight off Turkish invaders. Or NZ invaders. Or invaders from anywhere.
Back to Budapest for a ballet performance at the opera house (The Karamazovs – a story about a girl and a couple of blokes – similar to opera). I have a confession. I had never been to a ballet performance so wasn’t sure what to expect (yes, I did know there would be people dancing). It was unexpectedly fascinating – actually it looked like something Cirque du Soleil might do. My neighbour in the stalls, who had nicked my front row seat because I was late, told me that this was contemporary ballet, not classical ballet. Which explained the lack of frilly skirts.
Across the road from the opera house was quite possibly the best bookshop I have ever seen. Not because of the book collection (although that was impressive), but because it had an exquisite looking cafe upstairs, was open until 10pm every day, and they sold wine (including Egri Bikaver).
Dinner was worth a mention, because I parked myself in a restaurant on the UNESCO World Heritage Site listed Andrassy Avenue (Andrassy Utsa or Utca) and had some authentic traditional Hungarian pizza at authentic traditional Hungarian tourist prices. Pizza Hut is much better.
- 359 – Autumn bull’s blood vines near Eger.
- 369 – Quaint Eger central street.
- 374 – Eger town square and cathedral (not the basilica).
- 384 – Walk up past the Mona Lisa to the Eger Var (castle).
- 389 – Wine tasting courtyard in Eger.
- 392 – My part time job as a Hungarian somelier. I even dressed up for it, as you can see.
- 400 – Eger Basilica in the line of fire.
- 409 – Eger Var.
- 428 – Eger Var, cathedral, and basilica.
- 433 – Modern Hungarian houses.
- 439 – Eger Var, cathedral, and basilica.
- 443 – Hungarian army fighting off Turkish invaders in Eger.
- 447 – Eger town square and cathedral.
- 451 – Hungarian army pouring boiling oil down on Turkish invaders.
- 472 – Eger basilica outside.
- 496 – Eger basilica inside.
- 531 – Eger basilica inside – domes and windows and stuff.
- 600 – Bukk National Park scenic drive.
- 622 – Bukk National Park mountain pass (forgot the name).
- 629 – Budapest ballet performers sans frilly skirts.
- 654 – Parisis Nagy Aruhaz Alexandra bookshop entrance …
- 648 – … with wine shop …
- 643 – … and cafe upstairs. No kidding. Have you ever seen anything like it in a bookshop?