So we survived another group excursion! Those things are always a good time – you put 20 incredibly random Americans on a bus together and send us traveling through Hungary and it’s bound to be interesting.
After a superrr early morning meet-up at Hero Square, we got on our bus. This bus wasn’t as big and luxurious as last time, and our bus driver didn’t seen to be able to drive much faster than 50 kph, but amazingly we eventually made it to the Aggtelek caves. They were hugge (Europe’s largest under ground network), and we took a tour of them. There were tons of cool formations and everything, but the highlight was probably this huge underground performance hall. It was basically a big room of a cave, with a “stage” full of cool rock formations where they do concerts and even weddings. To give us a feel of what the acoustics were like, our tour guide put on an Enya song that went along with a light show. Pretty wild to say the least.
After grabbing lunch by the caves, we got back on the bus and headed to Szilvásvárad to see the Lippizaner horse farm there. Unfortunately it was really rainy and gross, but we looked through the museum and then got to see the horses, which of course I was incredibly excited about. The horses were gorgeous. The ones there are used for the carriage competitions, so it wasn’t quite as cool as seeing the dressage ones would be, but I still enjoyed it.
Next we headed to Eger, which is where we spent the night. We checked into our hotel (our room had 6 girls and 8 beds in it), then headed down to the Valley of Beautiful Women. Eger makes tons of wine, a special kind of red wine, called Bull’s Blood, and the valley has lots of different cellars where you can go and taste the wines for really cheap. Our favorite one was the first one that we went to. The woman who ran it made it a blast. We tried 5 wines, a white, a rosé, a Portugeuser, a Bull’s Blood, and a dry red. To serve the wine, she had a huge glass siphon type vessel, that she’d fill with wine from the barrel, then basically just shoot it into the glasses. As if it couldn’t get cooler, she then would have us lean our heads back with our mouths wide open and then she’d shoot the wine straight into our mouths. Basically the beer bong of wine. Awesome. After having dinner and visiting a couple more cellars, we ended up calling it a fairly early night.
In the morning after hitting up the hotel breakfast buffet, we went and saw some more sites around Eger. First, we stopped at the Cathedral, which was beautiful. Then, across the street, we climbed tons of stairs to see the camera obscura, basically a huge old pinhole camera that could project scenes from the entire city onto a table. It was amazing how well you could see that city from it.
Then we headed to the Eger castle, where parts of it were still standing from the Turkish occupation. There were tons of kids there playing all sorts of games and doing competitions along with people dressed up in costumes. It reminded me of some sort of Hungarian Renaissance Festival. We got a tour around and learned about some of the strategies they used to protect themselves from the Turks, some of which were pretty clever.
After a quick lunch of chicken paprika, we got back on the bus and headed to Recsk. Recsk was a death/forced labor camp that was open for 3 years during Stalin’s regime. As they ran out of room in prisons for people who most likely did nothing wrong, they’d be sent to Recsk where they’d have to do intense labor with little foood and awful conditions. It was weird being there and knowing what happened, because the site itself is in a peaceful and gorgeous area that looks more like a summer camp than anything. Learning about Stalin’s regime is shocking, especially since I knew so little about it before. It’s weird how common to not know much about it is though, considering more people died under his regime than the total number of people who died in WWII.
Last, we took the winding and slowww ride to Kékestetü, where the highest point of Hungary is. We climbed up a little bit to get to it, and saw the view there. By that time though, we were pretty ready to make it back to Budapest, so we got back on the bus after seeing it (and having a glass of mulled wine) and headed home.
This weekend in Budapest is the first annual Palinka and Sausage Festival, so we decided to rally and make it to that last night too, instead of going today. Palinka is one of Hungary’s signature drinks, a fruit brandy with all kids of flavors. We tried a few kinds (the honey peach was the best) and ate some incredible sausage. As cool as it was to try the different kinds of palinka though, Jacqui and I ended up with a beer in hand and felt a lot more satisfied. It was fun being at Castle Hill at night – we could see so much of the city there all lit up and glowing on the river.
This week should be a pretty standard one. We’re taking today to head to California Coffee Company (big coffee cups!) for some American comfort and to catch up on work. Then we’re all looking forward to this weekend – our 4 day trip to Transylvania! On the subject of traveling, I’m heading to Rome in December! Rome at Christmas time – can’t wait! It’ll be a good last trip before making the way back to the States.