We have discovered that our trips to small towns always seem more authentic than our trips to big cities. While you HAVE to visit the sites in the major cities, and we do love them, there’s just something so much more personal about heading into a smaller, non-touristy town (or at least where there aren’t as many tourists).
So, while in Hungary we went to Eger, which is a great day trip from Budapest. Eger is a two-hour train ride northeast of Budapest. There’s not a ton in the town, but it was the site of a siege by the Ottomans.
As most of you probably know, we tend to travel somewhat spontaneously. For this trip, in particular, we knew what days we’d be in each city and had hotel reservations, but the day-to-day sight-seeing we generally just decided a day or two in advance.
Note from Grant and Bonnie: Please forgive the lack of pictures and details. We originally wrote this back when we were just writing for our friends and family. We’ve updated it some but we know it is still missing a lot.
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Updated November 2018
Eger Basilica of St. John the Apostle
Sometimes our spontaneity backfires (like missing the Salt Mine in Kraków), but other days it works out perfectly, like today.
We arrived in Eger, at the main cathedral, just before the daily organ concert. So we got to enjoy a lovely concert on the second largest pipe organ in Hungary. The concert was nice, and the church was beautiful! It was every bit as grand and ornate as the churches in Italy.
We enjoyed a mostly traditional Hungarian lunch at a lovely little restaurant suggested by our Eastern Europe guidebook. Bonnie had some goulash and Grant had Ox Tail soup. We enjoyed both as much as you can in a non-air conditioned restaurant in 100-degree weather.
The local wine, Egri Bikavér or “Bull’s Blood,” was delicious, as well as our other dishes, Wild Boar Stew and Parmesan Crusted Chicken with Caesar Salad. Though the Caesar Dressing is definitely not the same as in the States… too much like mayonnaise.
After lunch, we walked through the town square and then toured the castle remains. There wasn’t much to the castle, but it has great hilltop views and it was nice and cool in the underground dungeon!
The castle is regarded as the “Hungarian Alamo” for a pair of sieges here during the Ottoman Invasions.
The first siege is particularly noteworthy as 2-3,000 troops held off an army of 35-40,000 for 39 days, inflicting heavy casualties on the attackers. They also lost about 1/3 of their own number. The second time around, the Ottomans came prepared for a long siege, eventually defeating the defenders of the castle.
Nearby is the Valley of Beautiful Women, home to Eger’s wine growing region and includes plenty of wine cellars built into the hillsides
Our single biggest regret about visiting Eger was skipping the wine cellars. The temperatures were just killing us.
The weather the past few days, and this day, in particular, was brutal. Nearly 100 degrees, little to no clouds, and decently high humidity. You’d think being from the South that we’d be used to it, but it definitely kicked our butts!
One thing to note – very few buildings here have air conditioning. In those that do, the AC is generally very weak and almost impossible to feel. So when you first walk inside it feels nice because you’re out of the direct sun, but after a minute or two, you realize there is little or no air movement, which is just as miserable as the hot sun.
Getting Home from Eger
The rain started while we were on the train headed back to Budapest. While the rain didn’t seem that bad to us, apparently it was pretty strong and there was a fairly bad storm in Budapest…to the point that it knocked out power to the trains (and metro, trams, etc. in the city). On the bright side, it did cool things down about 20-30 degrees almost immediately.
Our train stopped in a small town on the outskirts of Budapest. It took a while before we even knew what was going on since all the announcements were in Hungarian. After the electrical problems stopped the train for about 30-45 minutes, we finally found someone who spoke English and got the above info.
To put things in perspective, imagine taking a train from Atlanta to Chattanooga. You get stuck in the outskirts of Woodstock (about 20 miles outside of city center) and need to get back to your hotel in the middle of Atlanta. You don’t speak the language and you have limited cell or data service. Even if we had cell service, this was before the days of Uber and Lyft. And, of course, there is no mass transit.
Once we knew what stopped the train, the next question was when will we start going again? Nobody really knew. Apparently, this was a huge power failure with line damage and it was going to take some time. There was talk that maybe buses would come to help transport folks back, but we never saw them. They said another train might come – a different type that could run despite the problems, but we never saw that either.
At least we stopped at a station, and they did have food – limited options, but food was available. We first stopped around 5:30; we decided to find “dinner” at about 7:00. Dinner turned out to be pizza, topped with corn, broccoli, and ham (at least I think that’s what that was). I have to admit, it wasn’t as bad as it sounds, but no, I will not be getting that again unless it’s a similar situation where it’s the only option.
The Generosity of Strangers
About 7:30, the woman who had been translating for us said that she had a friend coming to pick her up and that he would give us a ride to Budapest! Yay! Consider again our scenario above and you’ll understand why we didn’t hesitate or worry, we just accepted the generosity!
Turns out the woman teaches English in one of the smaller towns and was going to Budapest for a Master’s graduation the next day. She was very nice and very helpful. Without her, we might have been sitting out there in what seemed like the middle of nowhere for hours!
We finally got back to our apartment at about 8:45 p.m. It was a long, exhausting day, but it was an adventure that we will never forget. It’s these random moments that make traveling fun and unique!
Eger is a really cool town in Hungary. We really want to go back when it is cooler. We fell in love with Bulls Blood and want to spend time in the wine caves. Plus, we really want to dig into the character of the town. There’s a lot we didn’t see based upon how long we spent.
While Eger is a good day trip from Budapest, I would rather do this as an overnight trip rather than a day trip. There’s a lot to love and enjoy and we feel we missed a lot on our visit.