My favorite thing about traveling is the unexpected surprises that you come across along the way. Everything about Hungary fell under that category.We arrived in Budapest on the morning of the 8th and spent the day catching up on our lack of sleep from the night train. In the evening we met up with a friend of mine, Zora, who worked harvest with me at the winery in the Fall. Zora and her boyfriend Gabor met Erik and I for a beer and then we made our way over to a Portuguese bar to meet a few of their friends, for what we thought was a wine tasting and concert. After a while there we were rather hungry as Erik and I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so we went to a Turkish place for Gyros, at which point Zoras older sister Zille joined us. We decided to make one more stop for the night, and went to an outside park/bar in the city center where I tried a Hungarian orange cocktail which was really good and very girly! It was really nice to see Zora and Zille again and we spent most of our week in Hungary with them. The following day we explored in the morning and then met up with Zora at her apartment where we left our bags and then took a walk through the park before getting on a train heading east to Tata–where her Mother and Stepfather, Dezso live. We spent the afternoon walking around the lake and an English park with Zora, Zille, their Stepfather, and their younger sister Gina before heading back to the house where their mother had dinner ready. We sat down and all had a shot of homemade Palinka, a traditional before dinner drink. I am not a big fan of shots but Palinka falls under a different category. It is made by distilling fermented fruit and is smooth and aromatic, particularly the homemade ones. Dezso is a winemaker in his spare time and a very good one, so not only was the food amazing (and our first home cooked meal in a month) but the wine was fantastic as well and it just kept coming. After dinner Dejun brought us down to his cellar, which he built along with the whole house (which was beautiful) by himself, where he keeps small tanks of each of his wines. We tried a few of them again and had a nice end to our night, all talking and laughing in the cellar.
The following morning we were up and back to Budapest early as everyone had to get to work. We spent the day doing laundry at Zoras apartment (a much needed activity) and wandering around the area that she lives in. We had lunch by the lake, took a look at a castle, explored the neighborhood, and a walk around the park before meeting up with Zora and Gabor who had rented a car for the 4 of us to head to the country for the weekend. We drove 3 hours to the far western side of Hungary, almost to the Slovakian border, to Zoras family’s vacation house. We arrived rather late and spent the first night drinking Palinka and a chili alcohol called Bull Killer. The Palinka was very nice but being the spicy food lover that I am, I really enjoyed the Bull Killer to everyone’s surprise.Saturday morning Zora and Gabor made us a traditional breakfast. It was similar to scrambled eggs but with 2 types of sausage, tomatoes, onions, and white peppers cooked in. You eat it with a chili pepper paste that was amazing, as well as with bread and tea. It was a very nice breakfast to start our sightseeing filled day. We first went on a short hike up to a castle where we had magnificent panoramic views of the area. We spent a bit of time there laying in the sun and enjoying the view before making our way back down. We then went for lunch in town before heading to a park with a villa. There was a bit of confusion on how to get into the grounds of the villa, so we hopped the fence and climbed the hill where to our surprise, a Polish hunting festival was taking place. Lucky for us there was a booth selling kurtoskalacs, traditional Hungarian dessert, similar to fried dough. It was a cylinder in shape, hollow in the middle, and coated in traditionally sugar in the outside. We had to try it and got one coated in coconut. We then sat down in the grass with our snack and watched the sun begin to set. Back at the house Erik and I set about making an apple pie while Zora and Gabor started on dinner. I am pretty good in the kitchen and I am definitely one who likes to experiment when cooking, but I always have a recipe for reference, except this time. Pies are pretty easy so it wasn’t too difficult but I don’t make pie crusts too often so that was a bit interesting. It turned out really well, the crust was just a bit bread-y. It was Gabors first American apple pie. Dezso has his main cellar down the street from where we were staying and after we stuffed ourselves at dinner (both Zora and I made WAY too much food) we walked over to the cellar and I have never seen as many stars as I did on that walk. The town was very nice and quaint in the daytime, but nothing compared to the sky when the sun went down! We again tasted through the wines, although here there were about 3 times as many, as he had both tanks and barrels. Zora had a list of the ones we were to try and we didn’t waste any time. We were all a bit drunk and had an intense table tennis battle before calling it a night. Sunday Erik and I made breakfast, french toast and eggs-in-a-hole with orange juice. It was our last day in the countryside, so we packed everything up and left the house on our way to the Tokaj Wine Region for a few tastings. Our first stop was a Palinka Distillery for a private tour of the facility and a tasting. The tour was all in Hungarian but I understood a surprisingly large amount of what was being said. We then sat down for our tasting and I cannot put into words how wonderful the Palinkas were. They were incredibly aromatic with strong, clear flavors, and were both smooth and warm all the way down. The two we tried were pear flavored, one a normal pear and the other a Hungarian pear that we didn’t recognize. After our tasting we made our way to the center of the Tokaj region and stopped at a winery, Chateau Dereszla. Here we also had a tour of their underground cellar, this time in English luckily. It was so cold in the cellar that we were given blankets to keep ourselves warm, even though it was practically summer outside. The man who showed us around was very nice and told us about the importance of cellar mold, the history of the winery and the region, how they age their wine, and gave us a bit of information about the different varietals grown in the area and the history of how winemaking in Hungary started. It was very informative and interesting and then we sat down for our tasting. The wine of the region tends to be more commonly sweet, which neither Erik nor I would say is our favorite, but every wine we tried we enjoyed and we decided to buy a bottle. We made one last stop for a late lunch before making the drive back to Budapest. Our last two days in Budapest we spent sight seeing. On Monday we had lunch at a cafe in a small square where we tried Goulash, a traditional tomato based Hungarian stew. We then went to see the Grand Synagogue, St.Stephen Basilica, and the Parliament building before walking back down the Pest side of the city along the Duna, the river dividing the city into Buda and Pest. We stopped to have a beer at a cafe along the river and watched the sun begin to set before going in search of dinner. We weren’t finding anything that looked good, so we decided on an Italian restaurant that turned out to be filled almost exclusively with Americans. There was a couple in their 50s from Texas at the table next to us who started talking with Erik when I was in the bathroom, who we talked to for a bit while waiting for our food. When they finished their meal and got up to leave they told us to enjoy our trip and that they took care of paying for our dinner which was incredibly nice of them. Tuesday, our last day in Budapest we went to Central Market Hall, a two story farmers market inside an old train station, where we tried Langos, the last traditional Hungarian food on our list of things to try. Langos is somewhere between fried dough and a giant savory pancake that you cover in sour cream, onions, and cheese, we added tomatoes and a meat. It was very good, but also incredibly greasy and left us both sleepy and saturated for the majority of the afternoon. From there we went to Gellert Park, a park on a cliff over looking Pest where we went into the Cave Church, and saw the Liberty Statue. We continued walking to see the Royal Palace, the Chain bridge, and the Fisherman’s Bastion before making our way back to Pest to meet up with Zora. Zora and her younger sister Gina met us for a ferry ride along the Duna to Margaret Island, where we took a walk and then met up with Gabor and Zille at a beer garden on the island for a drink. We spent a few hours with then before saying goodbye and going our separate ways.
We enjoyed every moment of our time in Hungary and would greatly recommend visiting this beautiful and overlooked country. The people were really nice, the food very good, the exchange rate was fantastic, the countryside beautiful, the wine and Palinka delicious, and the city was unlike any other I have visited. Although after everyplace I seem to claim that that one was my favorite, I can honestly without a doubt say that Hungary was the highlight of our trip, in part because my friend Zora and her family spoiled us, but also because everything about our time in Hungary was a pleasant surprise. We are now in Prague for the beginning of the end of our Euro Trip.