Eger, a large town in the north of Hungary, is famous for several things – the quality of its wines, its dominating castle, cathedral and minaret, and significant historical importance as a border town, including a famous siege in 1552.
Yet, despite all of that, I’d never heard of it until fellow blogger Amanda wrote about it a few days before we arrived in Budapest. Looking for a break from the capital cities, this seemed to be the perfect spot – a gorgeous old town small enough to walk around, plenty of sights to keep us occupied for a day or two, and only a couple of hours away.
Oh yeah, and that wine. Can’t forget about the wine.
Arriving in town mid-morning aboard a creaky local train, our cheerful guesthouse owner met us at the station exit. I guess we weren’t so hard to spot – I’m pretty sure we were the only people lugging backpacks that morning.
Armed with a map and a hand-waved set of directions, we headed down the hill and into the old city centre.
And then we just stopped and stared.
This town was seriously beautiful.
It’s very rare these days that I get to an intersection, look down two random streets and want to walk down both of them. Simultaneously. Eger was, repeatedly, that kind of place. Did I want to check out the town square, or the brightly coloured buildings? The cathedral, or the cobbled strip of restaurants? The castle, the minaret or the river?
And so, of course, we tried to see them all.
Fortified by large glasses of beer and even larger radioactive green “kiwifruit” slushies, we spent hours wandering around that impossibly pretty town. If we got tired, a seat in the shade was never far away, usually looking out at an impressive statue or meandering little river.
Even though the exterior of the cathedral was more functional than jaw-dropping, the frescoes and stained glass on the inside were quite remarkable.
Even completely mundane street scenes seemed to take on a new light, although that could well have been due to the sugar high from those toxic slushies…
With an early return to Budapest the next morning, we knew that all of our sightseeing in Eger had to be crammed into a single day. So it was that, despite our tired legs (and looming sugar crashes), we found ourselves paying the excessively high rate to have a look around Eger’s largest attraction.
With significant restoration work underway in the grounds, the best feature of Eger Castle is, undoubtedly, its view. Perched on the slopes of a hill overlooking the town, there’s no better way to appreciate the beauty and diversity of the architecture than while stumbling around the uneven stones of the castle walls.
And if the views aren’t to your liking, well, there are large busts of extremely-stern looking Central European men to look at instead. If, say, that’s your thing…
Relaxing over dinner later that evening, listening to the world’s happiest accordion player entertaining the diners and drinking yet another cold, cheap beer, we remarked on just how much we’d enjoyed our short stop in Eger. We had seen everything we wanted to see, done everything we wanted to do and drank everything we wanted to drink.
Which, amazingly, didn’t include a single glass of wine, in a town famous for it.
It just served to remind me, I guess, that at the end of the day I travel for myself. Not to tick things off a list in a guidebook, but to enjoy my own version of somewhere new. Sometimes that might include all of the main attractions. Other times, it may well just include cobblestones, churches, a castle and several cold beers.
Not to mention that damn green slushy.
This trip through Central and Eastern Europe is made possible by the good folks at Eurail.com.