We arrived in Budapest off the overnight train, greeting a chilly, drizzly Hungarian morning with tired eyes but excited souls, ready for the country that is home to thermal baths, ruin bars and some of the most beautiful panoramas that I have ever had the opportunity to lay my eyes on. Another reason I was super excited to be arriving was that because from Budapest we were going on an overnight trip to a small town called Eger which has about four dozen wineries specialising in a dry red wine called Bikaver (or ‘Bulls Blood’ in english) in an area called ‘The Valley of the Beautiful Women’. With a lot planned for, and expected from, Hungary I had my fingers and toes crossed that the weather would clear up and we would be able to get out and explore without seeking cover from the pouring rain or searing sun every 5 minutes.
I had been to Budapest many moons ago, as a carefree, hangover-free 20 year old. Most of this time was spent hanging out in ruin bars and recovering the next day with cheap Mexican food and quality time in the thermal baths, with the occasional hour or two devoted to seeing the sights of Budapest. Although now at 27 I have to admit that I don’t have too many more cares in the world, I do tend to suffer from more debilitating hangovers these days. So although I knew this stop on our trip would likely involve a lot of wine, I suspected it wouldn’t be a levels previously experienced in this fine city, rather the kind that accompanies a meal and leaves me able to function the next day.
On the topic of meals and food (as after all, it’s what this blog is meant to be all about) – although I do enjoy the hearty food that Hungarians have an offer, I have to say I was prepared that for it not to be the culinary highlight of our trip through Eastern Europe. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food we ate! Some of my favourite meals included:
– Lunch at Macok Bistro, a small modern Hungarian bistro located in Eger, which Lonely Planet claims to have been named in the top dozen restaurants in Hungary. Now, I am usually pretty sceptical of Lonely Planet recommendations but this one was absolutely spot on. Friendly service and some fantastic meals – Ollie definitely won the ordering game this time around with an antipasti platter for an entree and incredibly tender deer leg, complete with potato doughnuts and pumpkin purée, for his main dish – absolutely glorious. Having said that, I was very happy with my pork tenderloin and paprika flavoured labneh, and the beef cheek soup I had for an entree.
– Dinner at a cafe called Spiler, where I got my first taste of goulash for the trip, and also had some tasty paprika meatballs that curiously came wrapped partially in cabbage (I think). Ollie stuck to some pizza and dips, not quite ready to dive into Hungarian cuisine (or more likely, he just really likes pizza!).
– Dinner at a little place recommended by our walking tour guide called Pesti Diszno (Pest Pig) that served modern Hungarian cuisine. I tried the mangalitsa stew – mangalitsa is a breed of pig that grows a lot of hair a looks like a sheep (you should definitely google that). The stew was hearty and delicious, with incredibly tender meat and lots of carbs in the form of small dumplings to soak up the rich, tomatoey sauce.
– We also had some great street food at the market hall, which was a lot more touristy than I expected it to be but was still fun. Ollie managed to get some sausage and a breakfast beer which made him happy, and we bought some cheese and sausage at one of the stalls downstairs that kept us fed for many lunches to come.
– I also particularly enjoyed the langos that are on offer around the city, which is like a deep fried, flat savoury doughnut that you can get plain or with a variety of toppings, but the most popular way is with sour cream and cheese – SO. GOOD. And the ice cream in Budapest wasn’t bad either!
And that’s just the food!
The other thing I should talk a bit more about is our trip to Eger. Once we managed to find our way there on the bus and have our lovely lunch, we walked up to the castle to explore the ruins up there and take in the panorama of the town. It was a walk well worth doing, with lots of great vantage points and adventures to be had.
After we had worn ourselves out adventuring, we turned our minds to working out how to get to the valley to get our fill of wine. We searched the town square for signs of a bus mentioned in Lonely Planet which I am pretty sure is nonexistent, and in the end we forked out the $5 it would cost us to get a taxi out there. I felt a bit lazy whizzing past everyone who had chosen to walk the two km’s there but hey – the wine was waiting!
Our first stop was cellar number two, which was the most expensive of all that we went too but came complete with entertainment in the form of the Hungarian owner pouring wine directly into Ollie’s mouth from a decanter. A great time was had there but we knew there wa more to explore, and before we left we stuck a coin into the moss on the wall for good luck, and then moved on to explore about 5 or 6 of the other cellars. None of them were quite as entertaining as the first one, but most had wine for about $1 a glass so that can be forgiven. That evening as we stumbled our way back into town we were treated to some fireworks over the castle for St Istvans Day.
Waking up the next morning with sore heads, I discovered my inebriated decision to unplug the noisy fridge in our hostel room had resulted in a it of a flood from the melted ice, completely soaking my jeans and giving us quite the mess to clean up. Oops. Lucky I had a spare pair of pants or it might have been quite the show. After we got that sorted, using about three rolls of toilet paper, we made our way over to the minaret to climb up the claustrophobic stairs up to the tiny platform to get a different view of th cityscape. It was terrifying to say the least – the platform at the top was so skinny I could barely do a 360 degree turn!
Once we got back from Eger that afternoon, we jumped on the tram to get on a very cool cog railway that would take us up into the Buda hills. Fom there we took a short walk to the children’s railway, which was built by Pioneers (Soviet Scouts) in 1951 and is still mostly run by children aged 10-14. It was a really interesting trip,and some of the stops were still home to Scouts activities like high rope courses. We got off midway through the line and jumped on our third interesting form of transportation, a 1km chairlift back down to the bus stop that would take us back home.
We also spent some time enjoying Budapest’s other outdoor areas, including a stop at Margaret Island, where we hired a golf kart to drive around for an hour and subsequently wished we had bikes so we could have gotten around a little easier – plus it only went 12km an hour and wasn’t as exciting as we first thought it might be. After our hour of joyriding we were delighted by the musical fountain for a little while, which spurts water out of jets in time with classical music playing over he loudspeakers. We also visited city park where we spent some time wandering around and visited the Szechenyi Baths for a relaxing dip in the 38 degree pools, and lastly we hiked up Gellert Hill (mountain in my opinion) for the fabulous views of the city and the Danube.
Image: Amusing Planet (because I felt creepy taking photos of people in baths)
While we were in Budapest we also went along on a walking tour around the city, seeing the main sights of Pest and making our way up to Fishermans Bastion on the Buda side to take in yet another stunning panorama. With the same company we did a walking tour centred around communism in Hungary, which was full of interesting stories. We walked past one statue that was put up by the Hungarian government that depicts Hungary as a victim of Nazi Germany during the Second World War period, and it being vehemently protested by many Hungarian citizens who believe it to be a denial of any wrongdoing on the part of Hungarian authorities – it will be interesting to see what happens with that!
And of course we did a tour of the Opera House, as it is meant to be one of the most beautiful in Europe – although I think here might be a bit of rivalry between Vienna and Budapest as to whose is better. It certainly was gorgeous though, and we even got a little concert on the staircase at the end. It made me super excited for our proper evening at the opera that is coming up in Vienna! To round things off, we also took a tour of the Parliament House which basically looks like the Australian one might do if Browwyn Bishop was in charge of interior design (aka spend all the money).
And before we knew it, it was time to depart – after one last mad dash to the city centre to buy some magnets for our parents, which saw us having to run to the train and jump on with about a minute to spare. Feeling hot and sweaty, we settled into our seats and waited to arrive in Vienna for our next adventure.