We headed off to the gathering of our host’s friends at what we were told was a wine cellar. In 2006, I visited an old wine cellar in Vienna that served as a restaurant and a place where people could also enjoy regional wine.
This was not at all like my experience in Vienna. The wine cellar, it turns out, was actually one of 900 caves under the city of Miskolc that had been turned into a wine cellar by the owner. It was 400 years old. The cave was cold, damp, and covered in all sorts of fungus, mold, and other microorganisms that apparently are essential for the keeping and creating of wine.
We entered the cave, standing in a semi-circle around our host, each holding a wine glass. Our host explained that he had previously been a school teacher, but now he owned and operated a vineyard in the famous Tokaji wine region of Hungary. He told us that the wine would not be spectacular, as the unseasonably rainy summer changed the chemistry of the grapes. He shared so many interesting facts about the craft and science of vinting, that I wished I could soak it all up to remember later. As he offered us samples, he uncorked his giant wooden barrels of wine and used an old fashioned “lobo” to pull the wine from the barrel, using his mouth to suck the wine up into the large, thin, glass instrument. We were told that this was originally done using a long necked gourd and that later, the glass version was used.
We started with a white wine, moving to a rose, then to a series of reds. He said that this was standard practice and that you should always move from light to dark when sampling wine. He also told us that a rose should be opened and consumed right away and that a rose more than two years old will not be good.
We all sampled the various wines and in the end voted on which we thought were the best. We decided that two of the reds were our favorite- I sadly can not recall the names as they were Hungarian and even if I could say them aloud, could not properly record their spellings.
Next, we went outside set up a couple of tables and began preparing for a BBQ. We basically made a small fire, then roasted a variety of sausages, vegetables, and cheeses over the flame. People had contributed all sorts of breads, chips, and spreads- it was really a feast of all good things!
We sat around, eating, and talking. The group was entirely made up of educators from around the world, so there as plenty to discuss. Among us there were three Americans, two Spaniards, and the remainder were Hungarian. We learned about each other’s lives and shared a few phrases of language with one another. Andrew and I learned to say “Hello” and “Thank you” in Hungarian, as we found these expressions to be among the most useful.
After a while, the Spaniards and I got cold, for which we were teased a great deal. I am not sure how chilly it was, but it was getting late into the night and the temperature had to be in the low 40’s Fahrenheit. I was so cold that I resorted to wrapping myself in a green gingham plastic table cloth to retain my body heat. To be sure, it looked ridiculous and I was probably “that weird American,” but I was determined to get warmer and ward off the chance of sickness. Plus, my hair was still damp from the cave baths. My life is so hard! :)
After we all had eaten our fill, we closed up shop, so to speak, and headed to a local pub. Again, we continued with our chatting and conversation until we were all too sleepy to stay awake and so we headed to our home for the night.
The next morning, Andrew and I awoke and walked to a grocery store to purchase some breakfast. We each bought a roll and a strawberry Greek yogurt. It was a gorgeous fall day, complete with blue skies, sunshine, and golden leaves all about. We sat outside on a bench and ate, reflecting on how much we had accomplished in our first 24 hours in Hungary.
Around 11:30, we loaded into our host’s car along with two other teachers from the night before and headed into the Bukk Mountains. In English, Bukk means beech tree. The drive up the mountains absolutely took my breath away.
We arrived at a location where we met with some of our host’s friends. They are a family of avid hikers and each Sunday they hike extensively in the mountains. We joined them for about 4km in and then we were to hike 4km out. We did not follow a path, but rather followed our guide, his map and compass. Eventually we came upon a ridge and were treated to a spectacular view. We could see across Hungary and into Slovakia and, we were told, on clear days, we could have seen the High Tatras, which border Poland.
After working up an appetite hiking about 8km, we made our way down the mountain by car to our next point of adventure. In the Bukk Mountains, a family has been stocking and raising trout since the 1920s. Every summer and into the beginning of fall, they open the trout farm as a restaurant. We were there for the last day of their 2014 season. You may order only fish and sides as well as drinks. I ordered my trout smoked with a side of potatoes and water. When your order is up, you receive an entire trout- the only thing that is removed is the eye balls, but everything else is still there. The fish is steaming hot, and is to be eaten with your hands. I can not explain how tasty this treat was. The fish was as fresh as could be and utterly delicious. The cold mountain air and the rustic atmosphere managed to make it taste like a total treat. I made a huge mess of my fish and probably looked like Gollum from Lord of the Rings while eating, but I really, REALLY enjoyed my food.
After we sucked our fish bones dry we headed further down the road to another attraction, the hotel at Lillafüred.
This historic hotel was built atop caves that had served Hungarians as a place to remedy illness for hundreds of years. Early in the 20th century, opportunists built this gorgeous structure to appeal to the rich and famous who could afford the 4-star accommodations. The hotel is still operational today and the caves still function as medicinal spas. Many famous Hungarian poets and writers took refuge at Lillafüred, many finding inspiration for some of their most famous pieces while in residence at the hotel.
We walked around the premises and then took a walk half way around the nearby lake. The colors of fall reflected in the water was simply beautiful.
We then grabbed dessert at a nearby restaurant, Andrew and I shared a concoction of chocolate sponge cake and something that resembled flan, topped with a dense chocolate sauce and whipped cream. Presso, short for espresso, was also imbibed.
Andrew, another teacher and I then headed to a stop of the local “forest train,” a little open air train that takes people from the city to Lillafüred and vice versa. We enjoyed a beautiful ride through the forest as our cheeks and noses went numb in the fresh autumn air.
Upon arriving back in Miskolc, we trekked back to the apartment of our host, packed up our things, bought some snacks for the train ride home, then made our way to the train station.
By the time I arrived back in Kosice, it was 10pm. I made it hope by 10:30.
Needless to say, I slept a deep, deep sleep Sunday night with images of ancient Hungarian kings and queens dancing in my head. (I really did dream about ancient Hungarians in the Bukk Mountains).
The weekend has inspired me to couchsurf in the future and to be as opportunistic as possible in my time abroad. I feel content and blessed.