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It had been a while since I’d been to Eger. I spent a weekend there once, the memory of which is tainted with just a smidgen of disappointment. I’d been hearing about the Valley of Beautiful Women for an age and was a little put out to see that there was only one woman. I have a vague recollection of being disappointed in the wine and can only recall there being one main square. But then time has a weird way of rewriting history and melding memories into mush.

IMG_4819 (600x800)I don’t ever remember seeing this – and can’t for the life of me decide if it was purposely built or whether an existing church has been spaced-aged. Saw it from the bus on the way into town. We’d been up since the crack of dawn to catch the 7.15 down, a near two-hour journey that was far more pleasant than the return one later that evening.

On our way back from glamping, we got off at the castle, just to have a look-see. The town looks very different from on high.

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IMG_4953 (800x600)There’s  a fair few churches and it would take more than the few hours we had to see them all. But we did venture into a couple. Candles to light, prayers to say, and all that. I don’t ever remember seeing the minaret before though – nor the Turkish teahouse in the Yurt!

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But then, Hungary is nothing if not surprising. And fair play to those with a little imagination who find a gap in the market and go for it. I had been wondering what the little blue-and-white Turkish-looking symbols were all over town – perhaps they mark a trail to this very tent.

It was particularly hot. The heat seemed to amplify the colouring with the yellows looking even more yellow than usual.

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I wrote before about how the shop signs made me question observation and the part taking photos can play in heightening our awareness. I found some old favourites and some new ones.

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IMG_4926 (800x685)IMG_4944 (600x800)While wandering the town I do what I always do – ask myself if I could live there. Perhaps not surprisingly, the answer was a qualified no. If I had to, for some reason, I’m sure I’d be fine. But it’s not somewhere I’d choose to live. There’s something a little odd about the place that I can’t quite put my finger on. I get the feeling that it has succumbed to the tourist forint and that life is now about capitalising on its offer. Nothing wrong with that at all. We live in a capitalist world. But something is missing… That said, any place that has seen the virtues of pairing wine and chocolate can’t be all bad.

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It’s not often that my illusions are shattered beyond repair. I can usually glue the remnants back together – enough at least to keep some of the magic and mystery but rarely enough to keep believing. And so was the case with the Valley of Beautiful Women in Eger. It’s been on my list of places to visit for quite some time and although KG had warned me that it was nothing to write home about, I still envisioned  a sweeping valley full of wine cellars set into the side of the hills forming some sort of series of natural figures that people took to be women. Not so.  Szépasszony-völgy translates into the Valley of the Beautiful Woman (only one).  The large statue is of one woman, not a valley of them. And it’s not even a valley – it’s a horseshoe-shaped road.

I hadn’t come to drink wine in one of the new, modernised establishments. I wanted my pincé (cellar) to be grimy, dusty, grotty, complete with resident spiders and an old man on the door. I found it. And while I wasn’t too impressed with the wine (which cost about €0.15 or $0.20) at the time, it turned out to be the best of the bad dose of house wine I would taste in eateries in the town.

Eger is one of the more famous wine regions in Hungary. Just 85 km from Budapest, it was here in the sixteenth century that 2000 soldiers defended the town against an army of 80 000 Ottomans, apparently fortified by a mixture of red wine and bull’s blood. The region is now famous for its Egri Bikavér, also known as bull’s blood.  [David Farley, in his blog, has a different story that’s worth checking out.] It’s about a 20-minute walk from the town centre and if you’re going there sans illusions just to drink and have a good time, I’m sure it will do the job. There are over 40 cellars to choose from and the prices are very reasonable.

The one I chose looked like it had seen better days. The certificates on the wall were very hard to read and the man on the door had seen many winters. But as he poured the 1 dl of wine into the glass, it felt real. Plastic containers had prices marked on them – cheap enough to make your eyes water – if they hadn’t already watered from the wine. I noticed some coins  embedded into the wall above a rusty gate and wondered what that was all about. But as there wasn’t a plant in the vicinity to soak up my leavings and I really didn’t want to insult my host, I was concentrating more on downing my wine without grimacing. Angelina, eat your heart out! Up the road, padlocks and locked doors told another story. Perhaps these cellars belonged to wine enthusiasts in the game for their own enjoyment. On a sunny Saturday in early September though, they certainly weren’t part of the festivities.

 

 

 

It’s quite interesting to see the old and the new side by side – the ones that have adapted in the name of tourism/progress and those that continue with business as usual – a take-me-as-I-am approach, which I admit to finding uniquely refreshing. At least though I can cross it off my list. I’ve been there, seen it, and chose to leave the t-shirt behind me. [Note to DF: Thought Wanda would get a kick out of sharing her name with a wine cellar in Hungary.]

In Eger this weekend, I was struck by how many of us walk with our heads down, looking at the pavement. Or with eyes front, looking ahead. And then there are the few whose heads sit upon their necks like periscopes; they’re the ones who notice things. Odd things, like shop signs that are above eye level. It made me stop and think of the GB Shaw quote: The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who haven’t got it. Now, I know he wasn’t thinking about this type of observation – but it came into my mind nonetheless. Maybe it was the owl that did it – that strange mix of wisdom and night vision… mmmm… why am I associating GB with owls I wonder?

When I went in search of a more meaningful quote, I came across this one by photographer Elliott ErwittTo me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place…I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them. I have a vague recollection of reading a book about Venice in which the author reckoned cameras should be banned from the city and instead, people should look, really look, and enjoy in the now instead of looking for a photograph to admire later. There is something in that, I suppose. Yet I think that having a camera in your hand makes you look at things you wouldn’t ordinarily see and makes you see what you see in a totally different light.

I bought my digital camera when I was in Hawaii back in 2008 and since then, it’s been like another arm. I might take 100 rubbish photos for every decent one I get – and I find myself getting frustrated, not with the weather because it is hot or cold, but because it affects the light. And yet I can say, hand on my heart, that in the last four years, I’ve become a lot more observant. I notice things now that I wouldn’t have noticed before. And I save myself a fortune in therapy fees by identifying obsessions before they begin to wreak havoc on my life. I now go to photo exhibitions and get a real pleasure out of seeing other people’s work. I know that I still have one foot firmly planted on the point-and-click rung on the photography ladder yet I like to think that my appreciation of the ordinary, the mundane, has grown in leaps and bounds – and for this, I am truly grateful.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52