A Legend and a Fortress: Eger, Hungary
As we left the urban sprawl of Budapest behind, the window of our train compartment transformed into a sea of yellow. Yellow sunflowers that is. Everywhere I looked, fields of sunflowers blanketed the flat plains of Hungary. They swayed softly in the wind as our train rushed past, headed northeast towards Eger.
The idea to visit Eger during our two week stay in Budapest was an impulsive one. We had originally planned to visit Debrecen but decided last minute that we didn’t want to visit a big city. We wanted to see a smaller town, but still somewhere with a strong cultural significance to Hungary. In the end it was Bull’s Blood… the famous Hungarian red wine that made us choose Eger.
It was late morning when we reached the train station and the air was already thick with humidity. We couldn’t locate a map so we followed a group of German backpackers who lead us into town.
We soon found the main square and a main street, pedestrianized and filled with people eating lunch and shopping. Upon closer look I also noticed (and smelled) several bakeries, bookstores, and an abundance of Greek restaurants. I heard English, German, Hungarian and even some French. I had no idea of Eger’s popularity and the number of tourists surprised me.
The mix of old and modern was tasteful and a few blocks town we even found a large produce market. We purchased some apricots and a box of strawberries and sat on a bench to people watch.
After our snack, we decided to visit the castle, although calling it a castle doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t look like a castle. Fortress seems a better word. The best view of the city can be seen from its walls and that alone is its best feature. Its history repelling the Ottoman Turks is pretty interesting too, but in the end I’ll remember it most for its perspective.
We wandered through the main square, marveling briefly at the beauty of Eger, especially the bright pink Minorite church. But the hot sun eventually became too much and without a fountain, we sought relief from the heat elsewhere.
It was time to visit the Valley of Beautiful Women (Szépasszony-völgy). A place full of vineyards and wine cellars, the heart of the Eger wine region. It was quiet, but the bartenders were friendly and patient with us as they explained the different varieties and gave us samples. I tried several but in the end settled on a glass of the famous Egri Bikavér (Bulls Blood).
The name of the wine comes from the aftermath of a Turkish invasion. It is said that during the siege, the people of Eger drank wine in a frenzy to give themselves strength. It spilled onto their hair, clothes, and armor, unintentionally leaving the Turks to believe they had drank a magical type of blood from bulls. It made them fearful and the Turks ended the siege.
I ended up ordering a second glass, which I later realized was comparable to drinking an entire bottle of regular red wine. I stumbled out of the cellar and Luke and I sat under a tree, laughing at each other and waiting for the effects to wear off.
Visiting Eger inspired me to think about visiting other small towns in Hungary. I’ll be returning to Budapest again during my six month adventure this year and I want to find another place to visit, maybe somewhere a little less known.
What do you think? Would you consider visiting Eger? Have you visited other small towns in Hungary? Share your thoughts in the comment section!