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A trip to Eger with a detour to the "Valley of the Beautiful Women" and a hearty glass of "Bull's Blood"

By
Sam Margolis

With more than a dozen shopping malls and scores of fast food chains competing for customers in the Hungarian capital, the quest for the truly magyar experience increasingly seems to lie beyond Budapest city limits.

Add to this the summertime crowds vying for space in the Trabant-laden air, often overbearing humidity, and restaurant prices starting to approach those of Vienna, then Budapest may strike some as less of a bargain than it was a few years ago, just after the Iron Curtain was drawing to a close.

Thankfully, 85 miles east, lies the town of Eger, sequestered between the Bukk and Matra mountain ranges. Ninety minutes by train from Budapest's Keleti Railway station, Eger offers a taste of Hungary's history and cuisine while at the same time being unencumbered by bloated prices for the flock of summer tourists.

The city is famous in Hungarian lore for warding off Turkish forces who far outnumbered the local troops in 1522, a battle in which the women of Eger fought alongside the men. The story has been immortalized in literature as well by writer by Geza Gardonyi whose "Stars of Eger" is on the reading list of every Hungarian schoolchild.

The castle in the center of town, which the denizens of Eger so vigorously defended four and half centuries ago, should be a principal stop on any visitor's agenda. Once the steep walk up the cobblestone road has been accomplished one can meander through the castle's gateways and numerous chambers.

After spiraling around the castle the next place to see would be the Karoly Eszterhazy Teacher's Training College (formerly named after Ho Chi Minh.) There one can climb up to the eleventh storey and gaze out from the observatory at the top. Or, one see some of the frescos upon the ceiling of the library.

Across the street from the college is the Neo-Classical Cathedral built between 1831-39 and standing in place of a medieval church. Upon entry one is greeted by the statues of Hungarian Kings St. Steven and St. Ladislas and by the apostles Peter and Paul.

But for many though, Eger will remain a place for the gourmand and in a country renowned for its cuisine.

In Eger one can find what is a rarity in Hungary, a strong Turkish coffee at several coffee shops along the main street-An incredibly effective way to shake off the morning's grogginess especially when joined with a "turo suti" a Hungarian pastry filled with sweetened cottage cheese and raisins. A favored spot amongst the locals would seem to be the Szenator Haz.

In the evening, we were able to find a splendid restaurant on the main walking street, HBH, serving traditional Hungarian fare and again at a remarkably low price. Feeling the trencherman at the trough after a long day's hike through the museums, castles and hills of Eger, I commenced my repast with a Hortobagyi pancake, a fantastic starter consisting of diced chicken in a mild paprika sauce covered in a crepe and doused with some more paprika sauce and sour cream (Hungary will never be a Mecca for the
weigh-conscious.)

This was followed by a veal stew (again with the ubiquitous paprika sauce) and completed with a chestnut purée. Another favorite at our table was the gypsy roast generously doused with garlic. Hungarian cooks are not inhibited to add some spicy paprika to their dishes nor are they timid when it comes to giving substantially large portions to their customers, at times bringing new meanings to the word gluttony. All dishes were of course accompanied by the local wines. The price: roughly $6.00 per person.

The wines of Eger are best found in "The Valley of the Beautiful Women" about a mile from the center of the town. There would seem to be a consensus (among male tourists at least) that Hungarian women are on the whole.well.stunning. However, as we descended into the site famed for its bombshells we instead found a couple of hundred portly German on a bus tour, who were like us enjoying a glass or two of the local vintage.

Most famous among the wines is Bikaver (Bull's Blood), a dry red wine, which can be found at over a dozen kiosks constantly cool even in the occasionally intense heat of summer.

Or, one can sit outside and be serenaded by violinists combing the valley. The price and good quality of the wine often contribute to making the ascent from the valley quite a challenge for some tourists who, more often than not left speechless at the fact that the wine that they are drinking comes fresh from the cellars and costs a mere 20 cents a glass or a dollar for a liter.

Contacts for Eger Hotels:

Szenator Haz
(A Three Star Property)
3300 Eger
Dobó tér 11, Hungry

Phone: 011 36 36 320 466
Rates: 31.50 - 53 USD Double Room with Breakfast

Hotel Romantik
(A Three Star Property) 
3300 Eger
Csíky S. u. 26, Hungry

Phone: 011 36 36 310 456
Rates: 33, 75-48, 25 USD Double Room with Breakfast

About the Author: Sam Margolis is a former Peace Corps worker who settled in Hungary after meeting a young lady who makes bridal clothes. She has her own bridal shop in Budapest, whereas he is a journalist, or more importantly President and CCM (chief coffee maker) of Chortler.com - http://www.chortler.com

 

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