Imagine you are a Turkish soldier in the year 1552. You and 40,000 of your fellow warriors have been marauding across Europe, gleefully sacking towns and declaring victory for the Ottoman Empire. When you reach the gates of Eger, Hungary, you are expecting another easy win. Your large force lays siege to a castle defended by just a few thousand men and women, led by Captain István Dobó. The women are especially terrifying, pouring cauldrons of boiling tar and oil over the walls. It is a stout defense the likes of which you’ve never seen. The battle rages on for 39 days and the Hungarians ultimately win the day. Defeated and ashamed, you are convinced some supernatural power is at play. The red-stained beards of the Hungarian fighters can mean only one thing – they drank the blood of bulls to acquire unnatural strength. Of course I had to see this legendary place for myself, so I set off on a day trip to Eger from Budapest.
The original 13th century castle was destroyed during the brutal battle, and a new one was immediately built in its place. The Turks ultimately succeeded in taking Eger forty years later and ruled until the Hapsburgs kicked them out in 1687. Other than an impossibly narrow minaret, little evidence of the Turkish takeover remains today.
Eger boasts several historic churches, though with my time limited, I only visited one: the Basilica of Eger. The cavernous neo-classical cathedral, built in the 1830s, is a pastel delight. Rose and goldenrod marble columns form a rainbow guard along both sides and the soaring domes are painted with soft-hued celestial scenes. As luck would have it, I’d arrived just in time for the daily concert, giving me even more time to enjoy the refreshing interior.
For the rest of the day, I was content to wander around and admire the colorful architecture of the beautifully preserved old town. Since I visited on a Sunday, many of the shops were closed by early afternoon and other tourists were few and far between.
Options for lunch were plentiful and the patios facing Eger’s main square were blissfully uncrowded for a warm summer day. I settled on Senator-Ház, the restaurant of the historic Senator House Hotel in Dobó Square. Still craving Hungarian food, I ordered the veal, which came with cheesy noodles perfect for soaking up the luscious paprika sauce and a refreshingly light cucumber salad. It was a little pricey for lunch by Hungarian standards, but the great flavors and scenic setting meant it was money well spent.
And, of course, I had to drink the legendary wine. Egri Bikavér, or Bull’s Blood of Eger, is a vibrant red historically made from Kadarka grapes, though these are slowly being replaced by the easier-to-process Kékfrankos. Blended with several other red-skinned varieties, the flavor is said to be reminiscent of wines from Burgundy, France. While I would have loved to visit a winery where the famous wine is made, I contented myself with a glass at a shop on Dobó Square. I may also have brought several bottles home to enjoy at a later date. Supernatural strength doesn’t happen overnight!
Are you ready to plan a day trip to Eger from Budapest?
Have you ever derived super powers from alcohol? What’s the farthest you’ve traveled to sample a local specialty?