Posted by: Valerie | October 10, 2011

Hungarian Odyssey Part II

Welcome to Erdobenye

Csütörtök, Szeptember 29th, 2011

Wine Taxi Day but before that, we went off to the once-upon-a-time orphanage to drop off a copy of Joe’s second book which covers his entire childhood – in Hungarian of course so I haven’t read it.  They were so happy to get it and Joe was delighted.  Actually Joe is dropping off copies of his book across the country – signed of course. I think he is feeling rather like a Great Author. And why not!

Our Wine Taxi driver wasn’t able to pick us up until the afternoon as he was busy helping with the harvest at his own family’s winery but he did appear in a ramshackle sort of Jeep/bus thingie and rattled off with us to a very smart, newish winery where we had an English-speaking guide and a very good explanation of the wine making process. The Tokaji grape is only white and there are various stages at which they are picked and fermented to create all the different varieties. We tried three wines and decided that we liked the driest best but the flavour of the sweetest wine, the Aszü, was really exceptional. I had to keep Joe off that one, as a bottle of Aszü contains about 160 grams of sugar!  The story of the grape used in making this wine is left on the vine until it develops what they “noble rot” and turns it into what looks very much like a raisin. From that the wine of kings is created. At one time they used to make an Aszü which could only be purchased by royalty. Given that the number of royals around has decreased substantially, the very rich can now buy it. Our Wine Taxi lad told us that 80% of his family’s production is pre-sold to China!

An alcove in the cellars, Tokaj

The second winery we went to was very different. Here we only visited the cellars which are 36 metres below ground and date from the 15th century. I learnt less here but really got the atmosphere! The cellars are hand-hewn out of lava limestone and they are black with thick clinging mould. No wine, no mould. No mould, no wine. Symbiosis. There is an ancient tasting room where all the tables and baronial-looking chairs are also black with mould and there is a Miss Haversham chandelier draped with mouldy spider webs. Atmosphere! Not sure how healthy for people but excellent for wine. Fortunately there was a much fresher tasting room above ground.

And that was the end of that bit.

Next day we were off to Szigetszentmiklos, south of Budapest, to do the relative thing again. It was a long ride full of missed turnings and dodgy maps and frazzled nerves but eventually we arrived at our hotel, booked through the internet. It sounded all right until we discovered that it was right on the motorway and was actually a truck stop as well as a hotel. I think it is the worst hotel we ever stayed in. Our room was on the second floor – no help with bags – it was stifling hot although we had previously ascertained that it was air-conditioned. In fact they had turned off the a/c all through the hotel according to the date, not the temperature.  Anyway we had a hot rest and then went down to wait for the family we were there to see. They turned up three hours later but we did have a pleasant evening with them. Next day we spent wandering around SSM.

There really was nothing at all to do and as we were invited to dinner with the young family that evening and we had to amuse ourselves somehow so we ended up wandering aimlessly around a huge discount store full of stuff that was such junk we didn’t even want to touch it. We got into the car and another vehicle drove up beside us. The driver hopped out and asked Joe the direction to the motorway (which was actually unmissable), then he stuck his head in the window of our car and shook Joe by the hand,  leaned across to kiss my hand (!) and announced himself to be Turkish. Next, he had something for us – a catalogue of stainless steel pots and pans. Next he “gave” Joe a shaver and pressed a knife block onto my lap. I wasn’t touching it! He was not giving up though. Next thing, he opened the back door and hurled in a complete set of pots and pans. Then of course he demanded money. I was ready to get out and hurl it right back but Joe is a much softer touch and started bargaining. Bad idea. The guy was practically helping himself out of Joe’s wallet. He spotted a 50 Euro note and demanded it and when he didn’t get it, he took back his “gifts”. So we drove off with $150 worth of stainless steel pots and pans. Of course there was no way we could bring them back so they were given as a gift to Eva, our hostess for the evening.

We left the “bad” hotel this morning and took an expensive taxi into Budapest for a day of sightseeing. Originally we planned to visit the Hungarian Parliament which, if you have photos of it, looks like a wedding cake. We had to wait around before we could even buy a ticket for a tour as there was a red carpet event taking place. The Vice-President of Croatia was leaving with some ceremonial pomp. I got a nice shot of a security guard descending the steps as I actually have no idea what the V-P of Croatia looks like. After queuing for tickets for the tour, we were told they were free as we are both EU citizens and by the way, come back in two hours and we’ll let you in. The hell with that!

We grabbed a taxi and were driven over the famous Chain Bridge to the Buda side of the river and the Buda Castle area. St. Matthias Church, the Fisherman’s Bastion etc .etc. All the buildings in that area are 18th century or older and we had a lovely wander and bought things we didn’t need in classy little boutiques. Then we dropped into a little café for a presszó kavé. To my childish delight it was a movie star hang-out and there were signed photos from lots of big stars on the walls. Christopher Plummer, Jeremy Irons, Anthony Hopkins, Robert de Niro and lots of others were all there. Not physically however.

Buda seen from Pest

All that before going back to the relatives’ tiny house to spend the night as they wanted to take us out before we head back to another town to stay with the relative who did the birthday celebration mentioned in Part 1. Unfortunately the rest of the time is going to be eaten up with relatives liberally sprinkled all over the country, which Joe had promised would not happen. It is a great strain being with people you cannot communicate with. They all seem to called Itzi, Bitsi, Mitzi and Titzi and that’s just the girls – the boys are Tomi, Doni, Laci and Janci  (“C” is pronounced “ts”) then there is Sanyi and Pityu and Pista – not to mention Józsi of course. As Joe is everyone’s uncle, he is Józsibacsi.

Anyway, I digress. We stayed with Tomi, Evike and Tomika, their son, last night, on the hardest bed I have ever slept in and it was only 30” wide! Amazingly, I did sleep.

Taxi, anyone?

Today they took us to a newly set up historical park – 12th century  – very well done. There was an English movie crew filming there at the time so we had to wait here and there. It was fun though – made up for the hard bed. They really are very, very nice young people, even if I understand not more than a phrase of two in a thousand! Tomi is mad about everything Scottish and knows a few words of English. He was a professional footballer before he got too old – but not one of the ones who earned fantastic salaries. His son is now showing a lot of talent. Tomi and his wife have a small business that seems to be constantly on the edge of disaster, like many of the small operations in this country right now.

12th century vessel

Just wait – Part III will follow really soon.



  1. Val–I have lots of comments but they are best unsaid. I can’t say too much as I just subjected Bill to a 3 week trip in England which was inundated with relatives and culminated in a family wedding with 200 people. And the language thing was not much better as Boro and Geordie accents are often undecipherable.
    The scenery sounds wonderful, the blog is actually very amusing and informative but not actually persuading me to take my next hols in Hungary although the Buda side sounds appealing.

  2. I would love a (translated ) copy of Joe’s book if that ever happens. At least let us have a precis or summary. Highlights and lowlifes so to speak. I’ll bet is is well worth translating.

    • I mentioned this to Joe and although he has no plans to have it translated he is apparently re-writing it in English. Great to be retired!
      His English grammar is hideous so I guess I will do the editing when the time comes.

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