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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.]

IMG_2726Every Wednesday morning for the last eight weeks or so, I have been wandering through the 8th district, at the Kálvin tér end… on Múzeum utca. After class, I’ve walked past Épitész pince and have never ventured in. Last week, I decided to treat myself to lunch as my curiosity won out. Budapest is full of surprises. Behind high walls lie beautiful courtyards (udvar). Romanesque colonnades are nearly two a penny and the city is swarming with statues. Vibrant colours on painted walls are offset by so many shades of green that even Johnny Cash would have paused for thought.

The daily menu (napi menü) is a very reasonable 970 HUF for three courses (about €3.50, $5, £3) but clever as they are, if you opt for this, you have to eat inside in the pince (cellar). It was a glorious day and I was rather taken with the statues, the greenery, and the ivy-clad walls, so I treated myself to roast goose leg with baked cabbage and apple, and onion potato and sat outside. Plate piled high, I was transported back to my days in Valdez, Alaska when food portions for one would feed three. It was excellent. Everything I wanted and more.  IMG_2729

Épitész is Hungarian for building and this building houses the School of Architecture. I didn’t know this at the time, which makes my train of thought that day even more curious. Mind you, perhaps the group of four solid-looking chaps pouring over blueprints of some kind should have rung a bell. But hey, I was still in aperture land!

Eating on your own, without a book to keep you company, can leave you wondering where to fix your gaze. Even the most exquisite plate can only hold your attention for so long. Between bites of fresh orange and apple, I couldn’t help noticing what a wonderful architect nature is. Admittedly, the building itself IMG_2724is lovely and it comes with a picturesque courtyard, regal statues, an amazing wrought iron staircase, and well-trodden stone steps. Somehow, though, I felt it had grown into itself. Ivy covers the walls and frames the windows; the occasional red flower makes the greens seem even darker than they are. The marble statues are almost human, reflecting as they do years of inclement weather. Long, trailing creepers hang from glass ceilings, weighed down by time. The pebbled courtyard still echoes the horse-drawn carriages drawing up to take the ladies of the house to the ball.

I could live here. And maybe in a previous life I did. But then, if that were true, I’d have know what  Épitész meant…mmmm

If you find yourself in Budapest, take the 47/49 tramIMG_2721 to Kálvin tér or get the No. 3 metro (blue line). FromKálvin tér head down Múzeum utca to  Ötpacsirta utca. Turn right and look for the yellow building on your left. Open every day except Sunday.