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Get out of Budapest, Head to Eger
Wait what? Why go to Budapest just to LEAVE Budapest? Because you need to go to Eger. Eger is around two and a half hours out of Budapest from Keleti station. There are direct trains, but I decided to be adventurous and took one that required I change about an hour into my trip.
The trains in Hungary don’t… tell you what stops are. So you need to look out the window and make sure you actually get off at Füzesabony and not go all the way to a random Hungarian city and wander around until you can find someone who speaks English to tell you to get back on the train and go back where you came from. Oops. Change there and head to Eger! Or get a direct train…
Once you finally get to Eger, prepared to be charmed to hell.
A city of a few canals and lots of yellow buildings, Eger’s history stems from being the place where the Hungarians defeated the Turks. Nearly every monument in Eger has to deal with this and it’s a source of pride. English isn’t really spoken here, so I had to get by with my rudimentary German, especially as the elderly couple who owned the B&B I was staying at didn’t speak anything by German and Hungarian. There are lots of B&Bs in Eger because it’s the door to Hungary’s wine country.
Though I quickly learned that you should… have a car. Because otherwise you’re walking three miles to the caves outside of Eger where all the wine is stored. It was a nice walk but there was a lot of me wandering around the Hungarian countryside just sort of hoping I was going in the right direction.
And finally I arrived. Dozens of caves wrapped around in a half-circle of a small park, each with its own wine cellar.
Eger is known for its wines, specifically it’s red, called Egri Bikavér. And it was goooood. I ended up buying four LITERS of wine. I don’t even know why. Couldn’t take it back to London. I just needed to validate this trek? Don’t know, but I loaded up my backpack and walked back to Eger and then got on a train back to Budapest.
I thoroughly recommend Eger for mini-trip. Spend two or three days out there and walk the cobblestone streets around Dobo Square and the Basilica. Visit the cute markets where I bought honey and jam from a little old lady who smiled when I couldn’t speak a word of Hungarian. It’s charming and sweet and vastly different from Budapest, but distinctly Hungarian.
What To Eat
Goulash. Goulash goulash goulash. You’ll fine goulash everywhere in Budapest. At this time I still ate meat and this was just one of the best meals I’ve had. I couldn’t tell you the name of it sadly. I stumbled upon what kind of looked like a diner, but wandering in I was hit by the stench of cigars, wood paneling, and more knickknacks than I could count. The menu was all in Hungarian, but gulyás is identifiable enough.
It was different from the goulash I grew up with. Actual goulash is more of a soup than a stew. Beef, potatoes, vegetables, and paprika. It’s hearty and delicious and with some nice bread it was the perfect fall dish. Hungarian dishes are heavy on the paprika and you can buy every sort of paprika you can imagine at various markets or even at the store. I hope you like paprika.
Hungarian pastries are… the best. They’re flaky and buttery and just decadent. They’re denser than French pastries, but just, if not more delicious. Make sure to grab chimney cakes (Kürtőskalács) at a patisserie or one of Budapest’s hundreds of coffee houses. Also, for some reason, Budapest has a lot of really delicious Chinese restaurants.
Where To Stay
There is only one place you should stay in Budapest and that is The Loft Hostel. I have never enjoyed a stay at a hostel more than I did at Loft. It’s a small cozy place on top of an old apartment building. You have to go up the world’s creepiest elevator to get there that holds but one person and walk along a balcony, but once you arrive you’ll know it’s worth it.
Painted walls with art and characters immediately let you know it’s a more eclectic place. The communal kitchen is basic and quaint with a large communal living area filled with bean bags, couches, and a sizable television. There’s only four or five rooms, so this isn’t your mega hostel. No, it’s cozy and friendly and the staff will hang out with you, go out with you, and just become an instant family.
The owner is also in a Mississippi blues band and one night after we had all drunk the four litres of wine I had brought back from Eger, he closed the hostel up and we all went to the bar where he was playing.
I don’t remember a whole lot from that night, just a few slightly blurry and drunken photographs to remind me, but I know it was a lot of fun. I’m not usually one to immediately take to strangers, but there was something about Loft that changed that. I immediately bonded with my roommate from Austria and was sorely sorry to see her leave the day before me. I danced and goofed off with the other hostel stayers and the next day when we were all hungover as all hell, we piled into the living room and watched the Star Wars trilogy.
This summer, I’ll be going through Budapest again and while we may not be able to even stay overnight, I kind of hope we can, just so we can stay at Loft.
Budapest surprised me. I loved it there. I spent five days roaming around Hungary, drinking wine, eating goulash, and trying to decipher Hungarian (and failing). It’s still one of the best trips I’ve ever taken and I hope it’ll be one of yours.