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Published: July 31st 2014
Bus to Sighetu Marmatiei 8pm July 29 2014
We are finally heading for the Hungary Romania border. We started the day in Eger (pronounced Egg-air) and took a bus back to Budapest in order to catch a direct bus to Sigetu Maratiei in the Marmures region of Romania.
We have had a super stay in Eger despite committing one of the cardinal sins of travel - we booked accommodation which did not have the internet. OMG the trauma! We have learnt our lesson now. How did we travel without it thirty years ago? The major issue for us was planning the next stages of our journey. Our solution was to go and spend 3 hours in the free internet zone at the shopping mall above the local Tesco. It was a 20 minute walk up and down the hill so we only used it once. Booking our next accommodation in Brasov remains a priority. (We have made the decision to skip Sibiu as there is a heavy metal rock festival there for 10 days.)
Our accommodation in Eger (AirBnB: Cifrapart Guesthouse, Eger) was very homely for Jane and me and Angela although
it did have its little challenges. In particular the gas cooker had a habit of going out once lit and care had to be taken with furniture which was not that strong. It had a lovely little courtyard and we barbecued on two nights and eat outside for most meals. It was up the hill next to the castle which was a tough walk up from the station with the packs.
This walk did identify a well positioned plum tree we were able to scrump a bag of fruit from and which Jane baked into a lovely cake.
Eger and it's castle are a point of pilgrimage for the locals because it was here that the Hungarians, having migrated West to the so called Carpathian Basin around 900AD, fended off the Turks in 1552. They don't highlight they succeed for only 20 years and then were occupied by the Turks for 200 years afterwards - but hey why ruin a good story.
The story goes that their secret weapon was the local 'Bulls Blood' wine. I have to say that this is a wine close to my heart because as a student it was the wine of choice from Cambridge Oddbins to take to dinners and parties - very reasonable in price and very drinkable.
The tourist thing to do in Eger is to visit 'the valley of the beautiful women'. The was a row of commercial wine cellars cut into the chalk in a valley outside the town. The sommelier at Czalgory 26 in Budapest had warned us not to go there for good wine. He was mostly right of course but it was the place to go for a party as the various Hungarian stag do's attested to.
Apparently on Hungarian stag do's they have a collection of things to sell any passerby on behalf of the groom (chopsticks, condoms, nail varnish, lipstick). We bought 70p of nail varnish which Jane has put to good use.
So you wander round trying wine or buying the odd glass for 110HUF (28p) and basically you can get any quality (and quantity) you like - it depends how much you want to pay.
There are a range of local varieties as well as the international standards - Chardonnay, Cab Sav, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc etc. Bulls Blood is the 'variety' Egri Bikaver which is in fact a mixture of up to 13 different varieties of which the Kekfrankos grape is often the most prevalent. Based on our experience in Budapest we like the white blends with ozelrisling (no relation of Riesling), cserszegi fuszeres and leanyka. So after tasting a bunch and rejecting a bunch we ended up with a selection from a cross the board: 2L of rose (local variety leanyka) in a plastic bottle for £3, a bottle of the white varietal mix above for £4 and some Bilvar Superior for £7. It all seemed to disappear quickly once the barbecue was alight in the evenings.
Eger, like Budapest, offers an excellent set of thermal baths which have been in place for over 100 years. They were similar to the ones in the capital with a mixture of therapeutic bathes and play pools and 'sports' pools. They are mostly in the open air and the occasional rain on the day we went was putting no one off. I was amused to see signs saying how the water was radioactive (well isn't everything) and 'not harmful'. Basically the curative pools smell of hydrogen sulphide (the clue is in the pronunciation of the town's name) and hopefully work although I have not notice any impact on any niggling ailments as yet.
The public baths do put in perspective the Hungarians very positive relationship with water. My memory was nudged that there is a proud history of Hungarian Olympic swimming champions and the local 50m pool was named after one. Water polo is almost the national sport. This was underlined when some lithe young men in black speedos came out of a hot spring pool. It was the New Zealand under 18 water polo team having a few minutes R&R before going back to practice. Eger was their base for 9 days before going to Istanbul for their world championships. They were impressed that our final destination was the Wiararapa and said some of the team were from the Hutt valley. The coach described water polo as 'rugby in the water'!
Eger is right next to the Bukk National Park. We had met Greta on the bus who was heading home for the weekend and recommended us to travel to Szilvasvarad. This was a 40 minute scenic bus ride away. From there you could rent some excellent bikes and cycle up and down a steeply wooded valley for 10 km. There was plenty more for those who wanted it. The first part had a train and 'granny trail' and after that you were more or less in isolation. Not spectacular and a very good day none the less.
Eger has many fine churches particularly in the Baroque style and in the end we did not go in any of them. Almost certainly our loss. We did go in the Lyceum, an old college opposite the main Basilica, and despite it being officially closed on the Monday got in to see the library. What a hidden gem. It was built in the 1700's has all the original books on the wall shelves over two stories and a magnificent ceiling which has yet to need restoration. The ceiling looks like a deep dome and in fact is an illusion by the artist as it is no more than one metre above the upper book shelves. The wood carving around the shelves is exquisite too. It makes the Pepys library at Magdelene college in Cambridge look like a monks cell.
The last 10 days in Hungary have left a positive impression. Some have commented that Hungarians seem grumpy. I have interpreted this as a shyness combined with an embarrassment that they don't speak English. No one expects you to speak their unique language. We have been helped by numerous English speakers and typical conversation for others might be:
'Do you speak English?'
'No' with shake of the head.
'Second on left' !!
If you get the chance do get out of Budapest. It has stellar sites and great parties and clearly Hungary has so much more to offer. I will be sorry to leave. Romania beckons.
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