I had no business in Eger, but when I realized that a friend of mine stays there, I thought it would be worth a trip. After all, most of the tourists only visit Budapest in Hungary and then head back to Vienna and other European cities. Smaller towns like Eger, are equally charming and much slower, providing a well deserved break for a city hopping tourist. I also learnt that Eger was in the wine growing district and has its own special wine called ‘Bull’s Blood’, which I couldn’t wait to try. What sealed the deal and made me book my ticket for the 150-km train ride from Budapest, was, Lonely Planet’s recommendation to visit the Valley of Beautiful Women in Eger. First…there is wine and then beautiful women…no way did I plan to miss that!
You can take the bus or drive to Eger but I chose my favorite mode of transportation…the train. There are hourly direct trains or with connections through Fuzesabony, a sleepy town on the main rail line between Budapest to Miskcolc. Eger is another 20 km from here. Make sure you have pre-booked taxi transfers from Fuzesabony…I don’t remember seeing the taxi’s at the station. The one and a half hour train ride is pretty uneventful except for infinite fields of sunflowers! It was beautiful!
My tour guide was my friend Adam Nagy, who took me around various sites in Eger, including the mall as well as a few wine cellars. One of the main things to see in Eger is Basilica, which is the third largest in Hungary (the largest is in Budapest). The Basilica is comparatively new and was built only in the early 1830’s. It is imposing classical structure and has a number of paintings and sculptures of interest. The Basilica was a blessing in disguise as we enjoyed the cool environment inside compared to the unusually high temperatures in Eger that day. There are old underground wine cellars beneath the Basilica and for a small fee you can visit them. I decided to pass them as I had many trips of cellars planned that day!
Over lunch, Adam narrated the history of Eger, from the time of St Stephen (10th century) who made the first church in Eger (which was in the present castle complex). The Eger Castle, on a small hill, grew around this church and remained an active religious as well as political center. It was in the 16th century that wine growing became the local occupation, for which the city is known for today. Out of the blue, the Turkish decided to invade Eger and it was after various attempts by the fairly large Turkish army that they succeeded. It was during one of these attempts that a fairly small army at the Eger Castle successfully defended the Turkish. While the Turkish pondered the reason for the defeat, someone claimed to find the solution. “They are strong because they drink the blood of the bull!” Aha! Now we know where the name Bull’s Blood comes from…try it…after a few glasses, you will feel like the Hungarian army!
The Turkish left their mark in Eger and converted churches into mosques, made Turkish baths and minarets…a 17th century minaret still stands, which is open to the public. If you like to climb dark, narrow, claustrophobic minarets, then this is your lucky day! I rather sit across the road and have a beer! Walk up to the Eger Castle for great views of the city. Though most of the museums can be given a miss, you can’t stop thinking how the people of this castle fought the 80,000 old Turks and also defeated them. Oh yes…it was Bull’s Blood…wasn’t it, Adam?
Walk around the old city and watch the world go by. Eger is the place to relax, have a few drinks and a great day trip from Budapest. I was surprised to know that the first half of the 19th century ruined most of the city in two fires and hundreds of people died in various epidemics. From where I sat, it looked like it came straight out of a movie set, with no damages.
Just before we went back to the station, I made my eager trip to the Beautiful Woman Valley. All my dreams and fantasies of landing up in heaven filled with beautiful women vanished within minutes. It was nothing like I thought it would be. But Adam explained to me that the valley is more active on weekends, and then it does turn into ‘heaven’ with the two ‘w’ (wine and women) taking over! I guess I would need to come back for that!
I was given my last piece of historical information before I boarded my train. The station we see today at Fuzesabony was actually designed to be in Italy and somehow the designs of the stations got mixed up. By the time, the mistake was realized, the station was almost to its plinth levels and the architects decided to continue. So here I was, an Indian, in an Italian Railway station boarding a train to the capital city of Hungary. I wonder if I will ever see the one in Italy…lets google it!