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Published: June 26th 2011
Days 35 24th June Budapest – Eger
There is a motorway that runs from Budapest to a few miles short of Eger. It runs along the edge of the great Hungarian Plain, the Plain that covers nearly half of Hungary and is remarkable only in its flatness. The sun literally shimmers over it and it is here that they grow the cereals and where foreign investment (didn’t Brian Aldridge from The Archers buy a farm here?!) is causing concern amongst the Hungarian farmers.
We reach Eger easily and in good time. We had read up about Eger which had been described as a ‘gorgeous Baroque town’; as we reached the sprawling grey, graffitied (there is A LOT of it in Hungary) suburbs we wondered how anyone could be so generous with their description. However, we have learnt (the hard way) that most travel guides describing Hungarian towns are describing the OLD part, the little bit of a town that is the CENTRE, the HEART of the place. Around each heart are the vital organs that keep it pumping and Eger certainly wasn’t going to have a coronary anytime soon given the amount of urban sprawl. One of the
problems with driving Big Bess is the inability to park close ‘to the action’ and any attempt to do so usually results in three point turns and various other skilled Piloto movements. We decided to visit Eger another day, possibly by bus, from our final destination: Western Riding Camp! However, before we headed up country into the foothills (of the Bukk Hills) there was a little valley outside Eger that we had to visit….
The Szepasszony Valley (Valley of the Beautiful Women) is just a short distance outside the town of Eger. When the Ottoman invaders occupied Eger the Egerites moved out of town into the valley, living in caves dug into the hillside. When the Ottomans were finally driven out they all moved back into town but the caves were kept and used as wine cellars. Eger is at the heart of the Hungarian wine region and is famous for its BULL’S BLOOD and so we parked up amongst the coachloads of Hungarian tourists (note there are very few foreigners in this neck of the woods) and headed into the cellars.
Please do not imagine anything glamorous or even tidy-tourism. The sides of the
hill are punctured with doors surrounded by concrete; the word ‘bunker’ comes to mind! Despite its rather strange appearance this area of some 50 ‘holes into the hill’ was fun to visit as it was so very different. Some of the cellars were really nothing more than bunkers. Outside there was an aged figure, toothless, slightly drunk, definitely NOT wearing his Sunday ‘best’. Inside, if you dared walk into the gloom, there was ‘the wife’, dressed in drab dark clothing with the inimitable floral apron over the top. She too had skipped the annual visits to the dentist and judging by the high colour on her cheeks took ‘medication’ on a regular basis. ‘Valley of the Beautiful Women’ – I don’t think so! A liquid akin to vinegar was given as a taster and, if you should choose to buy, your wine was poured from a plastic container into a plastic bottle……..hygiene…..forget it! On the other hand some of the bigger wine producers had the Full Monty – chairs outside, nice wine cellar inside and even musicians to draw you in. We opted for the full wax treatment at No. 43. It was delightful and we came away with a
case of wine to keep us going through Slovakia and into Poland.
Half an hour later we had found our very own Western Ranch on the Hungarian-Slovakian border….
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