Tokaj & Eger, Hungary
We said goodbye to Slovakia for the meantime (we'll be back in a month or so on our way back north) and said hello to Hungary. So far the scenery seems to be similar to Slovakia, minus the shanty towns. We headed straight for Tokaj, a necessary stop for Danny, passing numerous vineyards that make the town (or at least its wine) famous.
The main street of Tokaj only took us a couple of minutes to walk down, as there was absolutely nothing noteworthy to see. The only place that was open was the Rákóczi wine cellar, which was offering tours and tastings. Without hesitation we both signed up and ended up being the only two people on the tour. We were taken underground into a large dining room, lined with barrels and doorways leading into numerous cellars. It was impressive to say the least. The largest barrel they owned held 25,000 litres of Tokay - Danny was envisaging how he could justify having one at home. We tried six Tokays and somehow they were all completely different, from mildly sweet to ridiculously sweet. We both preferred the wines closer to ridiculously sweet and ended up buying a bottle to take with us. Our tour guide informed us that there were less and less tourists coming to Tokaj each year, for some unknown reason. Such a shame for the town and the industry.
The next day Danny visited the Tokaj museum, a sight I didn't feel especially keen to visit. On his way back to the van he did a quick search around town but couldn't find anywhere else to taste wine. As we didn't really feel like we had done the region justice, we stopped off at a few vineyards on our drive out of town. One of the places we stopped at was a residential house, with a huge two-storey cave underneath (this was Danny's dream home). The owner siphoned the wine for tasting straight out of the barrels using old-fashioned mouth suctioning. I'm not sure she would get away with that in Australia, but we weren't complaining.
The third site we visited was a huge company with an overly touristy set up that charged us even to taste the wine. Danny was eager to try a sickly sweet Tokay, 6 puttonyos (the highest sweetness level there is), and paid a fortune for the minuscule amount. Apparently that wasn't sugary enough, as he then went for the extreme: Tokay essence, 20 mL for €14, over 60% sugar and only 2% alcohol. It tasted like a caramel sauce, and I thought it would be better poured over my dessert rather than sipping it from a glass. It wasn't bad, but I couldn't drink too much of it without feeling sick. After stocking up on several cheaper Tokays (the cheapest in store was 1 litre for €1), we headed for Eger.
In Eger we parked at the caravan park, then I walked into town and left Danny to recover from all his drinking this morning (I didn't drink as I had to drive and they have strict no alcohol laws here). The town was full of churches, including one huge basilica that was beautiful on the inside. The main street was crowded and also full of churches and palaces, plus a random minaret standing all alone without a mosque in sight. Overall the town didn't hold my attention for too long, but that's not why we came here.
Luckily for us, the caravan park was situated in a wine region known as the Valley of the Beautiful Women (long story). A five minute walk took us to a circular road lined with 30 or so wine cellars and restaurants all selling local wines, most of them in semi-underground caves. There was a huge variety of wines available, but the most well known around here is Bull's Blood (another long story). It's a blend of red wines but it can include almost any type of grape, so every wine is completely different. It's a bit of random luck if you get a good one or a bad one. We stopped at four outlets and only managed to find one that we liked. I also tried several of the white wines in the region but they were nothing special. For something different we sampled a sweet red wine; it tasted like candy and after a couple of mouthfuls we were over it. I think we did well to buy just one bottle of wine for the night.
The following morning I hit Eger again, this time to visit the castle. Danny is obsessed with the Tour de France at the moment, so he popped himself down in front of the internet and didn't move. The castle was average, filled with food stalls, souvenir shops, children's entertainment and offered views over the town. There wasn't one main castle building, just lots of smaller ones, none of which made my best-castles-in-Europe list.
I think Eastern Europe outdoes Melbourne in the "four seasons in one day" stakes. We get everything from bright blue skies with blazing heat, to partly cloudy, overcast, windy, light rain and then thunderstorms every day. We never know what to wear or if we'll get caught out in the rain. It's crazy.