28 May 2013

To Eger
Tourist info?
The Var

After checking out of our nice pension and another good breakfast, we went to catch the bus to Eger.  This is a town fairly close by with an impressive castle.
Our timing was with us,and we got to the bus within minutes of it leaving.  The ride out was long and not that interesting.  A few clumps of trees, hills in the distance and green fields.  The rain is helping something at least.  Our bus was a local one, and stopped everywhere.  It took us almost two hours to travel from Miskolc to Eger or about 60km.

E50postatatueIn Eger, we were let off at the main bus station.  It is up a small hill behind the Basilica.  We found a sign for tourist info, but it was only advertising the fact that there was one in town.  Dragging our bags down the hill, we found an info booth outside the front of the Basilica, but it was closed.  Although it proudly said it was open all day.  Giving up on tourist info, we thought we would be able to find a place ourselves.  There were signposts for hotels and pensions everywhere.  Picking a street at random, we started walking.  Lo & Behold, we found tourist info!

Going in, we asked if we could find a cheap place to stay.  Our helper could not get his head around this (If he didn’t speak English, we would understand, but every person in there thought they spoke English – And they do, compared to our Hungarian!!) and called in reinforcements.  This new lady asked us what we wanted.  A cheap hotel, pension, guest house, private, zimmer frei, or similar.  The phone rang.  Apparently she was the only one there qualified to answer the phone, and had to take it.  Leaving the others there twiddling their thumbs.  After this, she asked us again what we wanted.  Nope, she still didn’t get it.  So with a bit of exasperation and baby talk we got the point across.  We had to ask five times.  The response was to give us a booklet.  This did contain accommodation options, and we found some in our budget, yet we had no idea where they were.  Asking her about one, we were told it is near the hospital.  O.K.  That’s handy, of course I am here visiting a sick relative, so it would be good to be close by.  But, WHERE THE HELL IS THE HOSPITAL?  I am a tourist that has just arrived in the city.  I don’t know squat.  That is why I am at tourist info in the first place.  So, she then pulled out a map and marked it on there.  It was not too far.  Now we asked what there was to see or do in the area.  Look at the map.  These numbers you see?  They are points of interest.  No way, I have always wanted to know what those little numbers are for, and I even learnt that if I find the same number on the side of the paper, I might even get a description of what it is!  We pulled out the big guns, and said there is supposed to be a salt formation near by, and asked how we could get there.  A blank stare.  This is THE main attraction in the region.  Showing her a picture, she now knew what we wanted.  Egerszalok.  So how do we get there?  You go up this street, she said as she marked it on the map.  Can we catch a bus?  Yes.  From where?  The bus station.  OK, thanks, you have been very helpful.  Jeesh, it is easier to get blood from a stone than information from here.
After that wonderful first impression of the city, we made our way towards the pension.  It is a pretty town, and also very touristy.  Crossing the river, we made it to the hospital and found where we were staying.  The lady here is fantastic.  Very friendly, helpful and loves the town.  In a few minutes we were told what to see and do in the area, a bit of information overload in comparison to tourist info!  Dumping our bags we went to see our first attraction,  a minaret.  We had passed it on the way here, and it is back towards the town.  Apparently Eger has been held by the Ottomans occasionally in the past, and this is the most northern Turkish minaret.  When the Christians re-captured the city, they co-opted it into the local church and put a cross on the top, above the crescent (which at least they left).  It is sitting by itself now as the surrounding mosque/church has long since been demolished.  The legend goes that when they tried to pull down the minaret as well,  they used 40 oxen but nothing budged, so it must be important and kept it.

From the minaret, we could see the castle, and that was our next obvious destination.  Walking around the base of the walls, and up the other side to the entrance.  The ticket price is astronomical, so we opted for the no-frills ticket that allowed us to walk around the grounds, but didn’t include anything else.  No free education here.

E48postcastle2The castle itself is ruins.  Still, the outside fortifications are mainly intact, and the thick walls are a testament to how important the region was.  It was built to not be taken.  Double walls, kill zones, and then the gate.  We couldn’t look at the main gate, but it seemed to be concreted up from behind, and we continued up the walls to an alternative entrance.  Once inside, the first thing you see are the buildings.  These do not fit the style or character of the castle, but there they were.  Stalls were everywhere, but most of them were empty, with just one street open.
E47postcastle1We walked around a bit, but everything interesting was closed off, or came under the banner of education, and we hadn’t paid for it.  Honestly,it was a bit disappointing.  There were sections that would have been interesting to do (the dungeon, tunnels etc) but even with the other ticket we would not have been able to do them without hiring a guide as well.  We did sneak some information though, in 1552 Hungary won against the Turks.  This is a national historic moment, and still celebrated today. Even if 20 years later they lost.

Back down through the tourist streets, nice buildings and statues, we came to the Minorita church.  The outside is currently under renovation, with scaffolding up to its twin towers.  You can still go inside though.  It is simply stunning.  The ceiling is painted, and the alters on the side alternate between painted and marble.  We assume that the original ones had been destroyed and new ones painted to recreate what it looked like.  Everything was ornate and decorated, even the benches.
More wandering around town, past statues of great battles between Turks and Hungarians.  Cavalry battles remembered now by children scrambling all over them, and into the back streets.  Here the buildings are showing their age.  Some are still fine, and looked after, but many need a lot of attention and some are outright abandoned.

At some stage we visited the Rac Church.  It is a Serbian Orthodox church that is only used once a year now, they wanted to charge 400Ft to visit (and after you take photos, they sting you with another 300Ft!).  Out of principle, I object to churches demanding money.  I will donate, as I believe the buildings should be kept, but most religions are rich enough that they don’t need to charge admission.  Anna went in for a look around though.
Unfortunately on entering she found out that you have to then pay extra to take photo’s, so here is the one photo I was allowed to keep:
The church is a Serbian/Greek Orthodox church, but at the moment only does one service a year, when the priest comes over from near Budapest. For the rest of the time it is a museum, where all displays are in Hungarian and Russian only. Still the church is beautiful, great woodcarvings and a massive big chandelier.



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