Good thing we were too tired to go out with Arni and Inez that Saturday night before wine tasting - when they picked us up the next morning and we finally met in person for the first time, they told us they were pretty tired because they partied until 3 am. There's no way I would have been able to make it for our big day had we joined them!
The seven of us had a big day ahead of us - we were off to explore Eger, the wine capital of Hungary. The drive took almost 2 hours, giving us lots of time to get to know the bride and groom! Jake and I drove with Arni and Inez and chatted the whole time, with Inez translating for us and Arni. Inez's English is very good! She understands a lot and easily conveys complex ideas. Arni's English, we soon learned, is also quite good, but he doesn't use it as frequently as Inez does, and explained that he forgets many words. He can understand much of what we say, but finds it particularly hard to respond (much like us with Spanish). Over the course of the week, and even just that day, though, Arni's English improved and we could all understand each other pretty well!
Our drive was mainly a questions and answer session as the four of us got to know each other. Because of our language barriers, questions needed to be simple and direct. This necessity for to-the-point conversation lead to one of my favorite questions from Inez, "What are your dreams?" I love that - it wasn't the standard "What do you want to do when you go home", or "what kind of work do you like" or "what's your plan for the future"; while that might have been the point of her question, I love the way she phrased it. The question made us both stop and think for a moment - geez, what ARE our dreams? Not "what makes sense when we get back", not "what we used to do so we might do it again", what are our dreams? "My dream is to work in wine and hospitality when I get back, perhaps plan private parties with caterers and do wine education for groups, or work for a winery. And have kids. That's my dream." "And own five horses and have her barn next to her winery," added Jake. Well yes, that too. :) Jake explained his dream of someday helping people and companies be more effective with the use of technology, "And to have kids," I added. "Yes, that too," he confirmed. We then threw the question back at them - what are their dreams? Arni and Inez described the restaurant they want to own someday, a sort of tapas place where you can try small dishes from all over the world. They explained that they love restaurants, they love food, and the especially love trying many things from every restaurant they go to, and they want to own a place where you can order tons of stuff and try it all. I told her to call me when they open up and I'll help them with her wine list!
We reached our first destination, the Eger Castle, just after noon. The castle provided a bit of history about Hungary, how every other surrounding country has always taken little bits of Hungary here and there, long before the Nazis and the Communists arrived. We saw old weapons, belts, and jewelry that had been excavated from the castle site, and skulls that were found in graves of the castle grounds. We learned about the minarets built by the Turks, most of which were bombed during WW2, leaving one solo tower in the middle of the town. The Eger Castle was not nearly as opulent as others we had seen, but wandering the grounds and looking out into the distance over the red roofs from the fortified walls was just as neat; I still can’t get over the fact that I stood on buildings that are many, many centuries old, that people, like the Ottoman-Turks who I've only ever heard about in history books, built. It blows my mind.
After a quick tour of the tiny town square, we jumped back in the car for a short drive to lucnh and wine country.
When we asked Victor about where we were going for lunch, he just said "It is good. You will like it." No problem here, it's not like we would have known anything about where we were going anyway! My anxiety set in, though, after we sat down at our patio table and he handed me the wine list, "You can pick out the wine. You are an expert." Oh dear, Jake has been talking up my wine education a bit too much! I might know a bit more about wine than the average person (thanks to my Level 1 Sommelier certification two years ago), but the only thing I know about Hungarian wine that Tokaji, a super sweet wine, is produced there. There was no way I was going to be able to figure out what to drink from this list of reds, whites, and roses, all written in Hungarian! I tried to read the list, but Victor put me out of my misery, "Don't worry, I already ordered. It's a surprise." Oh thank goodness! I put down the confusing list, happy that I didn't have to choose for the group, and even happier that we were drinking wine with lunch. These are my kind of people!
Lunch was spectacular! I had no idea what we were in for when we sat down, and it turned out to be one of the best meals we've had - 3 courses and wine pairings?! Awesome! We all started with soup, as is proper in Hungary, traditional goulash for me and Jake, paired with a lovely dry cabernet sauvignon rose. Next, Jake had the catfish paprikash and dumplings, and I had the best plate of food ever created - fried camembert cheese over jasmine rice with cranberry jam. HOLY CRAP. When I cut into the perfectly, thinly breaded cheese, it oozed out over the rice in such a way that said, "this will be the best thing you ever eat." And it might be. And of course, paired with a perfect chardonnay, aged in Hungarian oak so it barely tasted oaky at all (Hungarian oak is much more mild than French), it was nothing short of perfect. And of course we had to have dessert - Jake and I each ordered the poppy pancakes (crepes) with plum jam. We were going to share one order, but the server confidently declared that it was small and we should each get our own. We should have each ordered something different, but forgot. I wish we had, though, because we both quickly realized that we hate poppy! The crepes were rolled beautifully and stuffed to the brim with poppy paste. I can't even properly describe how it tasted other than just not sweet. I ate as much as I could, covered in plum jam, but left over half of it on the plate. Lesson learned - unless it's a poppy seed muffin (and almond at that, no lemon for me), I hate poppy. No wine with this course, just my espresso to wake me up after such a decadent meal.
After lunch was wine tasting! We didn't even have to get back in the car. As we wandered up the street that wound around a hill, I asked Victor where the wineries were. "They are right there," he indicated with his left hand, "in the mountain!" Sure enough, I noticed patios in front of doors that lead to cellars built 20 meters into the hillside, each about 15 feet wide! Wine tasting here did not consist of driving from winery to winery and walking among the vines, it consisted of walking up and down this one street, around the hill, and into the cellars of each of the wineries! I was instantly fascinated - what a genius idea, build cellars right into the hillside where you get perfect storage conditions, and put a little storefront on it to hold tastings and snacks! Arni and Inez insisted that, in order to properly pick a winery to taste, you must walk inside, see the cellar, smell the dankness, and assess it from within. I wasn't about to fight them, so we followed them in an out of many cellars before settling down at one across from a beautiful little park.
A man wearing a Fresno Hwy 99 t-shirt served us (no he didn't actually know where Fresno was, too bad). From all that we tasted, Jake and I preferred the red "Bull's Blood", a blend of Bordeaux grapes, and the white "Eger Star", made from who knows what. With our wine we also tasted a local snack, onion bread - white bread with chicken fat spread like butter, green onions, and red onions. Had I not been so full from lunch I would have devoured the whole plate of salty deliciousness, but I was stuffed. We wandered in and out of about 5 more wineries after that, snagging a taste or two as we went, before driving home. Margareta bought us a little souvenir, a bottle of the Eger Star, to take with us. Yum!
The drive back to Budapest was more relaxed than the drive out, with conversation now flowing freely between all of us. Zsuzsi even joined us for the trip, listening to every word and commenting when she felt like she had the right English words. Like Arni, Zsuzsi can understand quite a bit of English, but has trouble speaking it unless she's around it a lot. As we drove, Inez asked us what kind of wine we like to drink - always a hard question, so we simply responded with "dry reds", and then threw the question back at her. Maybe it's the language barrier simplifying conversation again, or maybe Inez is incredibly profound, either way I loved her answer, "We drink sweet wine because life can be so bitter. You must have the sweet to balance it." Jake and I smiled at each other, both agreeing that that is the best answer she could have given. Suddenly someone sneezed we heard a funny sound, phonetically "agashaygedra". This, we learned, is their version of saying "Bless you". It means, "to your health", and is also said when cheers-ing. Inez delighted us with another Hungarian story - if someone is telling a story and someone else sneezes during it, that means the story is true. So, often times we may hear someone say "it's true!" after a sneeze. I love this culture!
Inez gave me a little treat just as we were nearing Budapest. "Noelle," she said, "I know you love horses. Would you like to see some horses?" The answer is always YES PLEASE. So we took a detour and headed to the neighborhood where her parents live, where she was born and grew up. Just down the road from her house is a huge riding facility. Sure enough, someone was having a hunter/jumper lesson on a huge beautiful mare. Inez said she used to come here a lot when she was little. She showed us around a bit, but was disappointed when we discovered most of the horses that are usually out in big green turnouts were already brushed and put away. The employees told us we were not allowed in the barn (I'm assuming because they didn't know us and we really had no business being there). But we were permitted to visit with the ponies and a couple other paints that hang out in big stalls outside. "Be careful of the bull," the warned - so we stayed away from the big bull in the pen on the other side of the ponies. I got my fix of barn smell (the smell of paradise) and watched the lesson in progress for a while. How I yearned to be that student! As the sun was setting an turning everything a perfect golden color, I realized I was really the only one entranced, so I thanked the group for the wonderful detour and we piled back into the car. We got back to Selma and Elliot's apartment about 20 minutes later and we already had another date on the calendar - Arni and Inez invited me and Jake out for burgers and Belgian beers (we had previously discussed our love of Belgian beers with them), and we couldn't resist! We were set for the next night.
The following evening, a Monday, we met Arni and Inez at the Green Pass office. This is the building the Selma and Elliott own with Victor and Margareta; also, Green Pass is owned by Victor and Margareta and Arni and Inez work for them, as does Inez's mom and Victor's ex-wife. It's one big happy family! The four of us drove to Arni and Inez's apartment out in the 17th district to drop the car off and call a cab - uh oh, the kids were ready to party! Well, parking in Budapest is also a nightmare, so we weren't too worried yet. We got the grand tour of the apartment, a great 2 bedroom spot with a an open kitchen/living room area, and Arni's giant saltwater fish tank. Just as we were thinking about opening up a bottle of wine, the cab arrived. We headed downtown (close to where we were living) in search of typical Hungarian burgers which are supposedly about 6 inches high topped with all kinds of stuff. Unfortunately, all of those places were closed, but we did find another burger joint that was just as delicious! This place was interesting- servers did not take your order. Each seat at the table had a computer under plexiglass, and a mouse on a little shelf just below the surface. You ordered all of your food and drinks from there, and it appeared minutes later. You even pay through the computer and are given the option to "just pay for my own" or "pay for the table". Fascinating! I kept thinking that places like this will be cropping up more and more all over the US as minimum wage continues to rise. I was in desperate need of something spicy, so I had the jalapeno burger and devoured every bite. Jake enjoyed his meatlovers burger with bacon on it. We were careful to not order too much food because Inez told us that at the Belgian bar we were going to have "dinner for the beer". We were intrigued, and definitely wanted to leave room for whatever was in store for us!
After dinner, we walked across the river into Buda, to our Belgian destination. Jake and I immediately started looking at the list of available beers, but Arni made is crystal clear that they were in charge and they would be ordering all of the food and beer. Jake and I looked at each other, unsure, but threw our hands in the air and said "Ok! You're the boss!" The first beer to arrive was an 8% beauty called Kwok. The second, another 8%, that tasted like sour cherries. The third beer Inez finally allowed us to pick one. Jake jumped up from the table and went to order us all modest 5% wheat beers (our favorite). When they arrived, Inez started shouting at Jake, "Big fat liar! You are a big fat liar!" Confused, we started laughing and asked for a translation - what was the problem? She explained that, because Jake did not tell the table that he was ordering beers for the table, that he broke the rules and is a big fat liar (perhaps she also thought he paid for the beers). I think there may be a little something lost in translation, but what I think she may have been trying to say was "Hey butthead! You're not supposed to do that!" (Inez, if you're reading, feel free to comment! :) ). We apologized, laughing, and drank our beers. We were happy to have something a bit more citrusy, but Inez hated the wheat beer, "It's so bitter!" So Arni and Jake split hers. For our fourth beers, our hosts took control again - Arni ordered the boys another 8% wonder, a darker beer than before; and Inez ordered us a lovely little 2.5% cherry thing that hardly counts as a beer. It tasted like raspberry jolly ranchers, if jolly rancher had a raspberry flavor!
Don't worry, I haven't forgotten to about the "dinner for the beer"! As we enjoyed our first beer, a huge platter of food and a basket of bread arrived. Inez explained what we were about to enjoy - this platter translates to a "peasant dish" and consists of cracklings (fried pork fat, basically pork rinds but better), beef tartare, goose liver, a little dish of fat to spread on the bread, red onions, cucumbers, pickles, regular sourdough and another salty bread. It looked like calorie-fest 2015 and I was all about it - hey, when in Rome (oh wait, they don't eat anything like this in Rome…) When in Budapest! Needless to say, everything was incredibly delicious and Jake and I were happy that we didn't overly stuff ourselves at dinner. As the bill came, Jake tried to pay (especially because they already paid for dinner), but Inez and Arni got very upset at this gesture.
They stated that they invited us and wanted to take us out, so they would like to pay for everything. She stated that when they come to visit us in the US, we can take them out. She then clicked her fingernail to her teeth and said, "We take you out, we are not Scottish." WHAT? We started laughing hysterically again -what the heck does that mean? Inez explained that "Sottish" is synonymous with "cheap" in Hungary and elaborated, "The Scottish, if you order one pizza, they will give you one pizza and it will not taste very good because it is their job to give you one pizza. There is no heart in it. In Hungary, if you order one pizza, they will give you two pizzas, and it will taste amazing because there is a lot of heart in it. We have big hearts in Hungary and we want to share what we can give with everyone. Scottish is not the same." Considering our experience in Scotland was nothing short of amazing and generous (Thank you Chic!!), this phrase baffled us. But we can appreciate the idiom just the same! We followed up on her explanation and asked why she hit her teeth with her fingernail. "It means 'take the coin to the teeth," she explained. I think what she was getting at was it's like taking a coin and biting it to make sure it's real. We're learning so much from these two!
After burgers and beer we walked back across the river. Jake and I were a short 10 minute walk from the apartment and intended to head back. But as Arni and Inez hailed a cab, they yelled for us to join them to party at their place. We couldn't resist and back out to the 17th we went. The night ended like most of our nights - with a bottle of wine (super sweet wine), music, and youtube videos. At about 3am we all went to bed, us in their spare bedroom outfitted with pajamas and slippers. Inez dropped us off the next morning after a few errands - the engaged couple needed to pick out their cake topper and they wanted our help. So off to the cake topper store we went! We helped them settle on one where the groom is trying to run away but the bride has him by the collar. They both laughed at it and said it was perfect, besides, Arni is just 22! We were exhausted (and a little hungover) when we got back to Selma and Elliot's around noon. We relaxed around the apartment and took naps for the rest of the day.
For the rest of the week, we took some walks around the neighborhood, caught up on more blog posts and pictures, and relaxed. It was SO NICE to be in one spot for so long so we could really slow down and do nothing for a few days. Don't get me wrong, I'm loving the traveling lifestyle and being on the go and seeing new things almost every day (the blog is called Every Day a New Adventure, after all), but I relished in relaxing and having no plans for a while.
We did get out for one tourist experience during all of that relaxation. Well, it's really more of an educational experience, a lesson in the dark and sad history of Hungary. We visited The House of Terror, a large building in the center of Andrassy Utca that was first used as Nazi headquarters, and then, after the Soviets "liberated" the Hungarians, it became Soviet headquarters where the Communist regime interrogated and tortured for 40+ years. Affixed to the exterior of the building, a big black overhang with the word "TERROR" cut out of it. As the sun moves across the sky and over the building, the literal shadow of terror is cast over the city, illustrating the figurative shadow that was cast by these two evil regimes. This might be the most well done museum of this kind that I have ever seen - the exhibits grab your attention, the information is plentiful and well laid out, and you can take your time wandering through.
The most moving part of the whole place, though, is walking through the basement - you take an elevator down from the third floor, all the way down to the basement, to the small rooms where people were imprisoned, interrogated, and tortured. We saw the cells in which innocent people were kept - one that was in total darkness and only 4 feet high so the prisoner couldn't stand up, one that had no furniture and several inches of water on the ground, something that was smaller than a broom closet that the prisoner could only stand straight in and couldn't even turn around. The whole experience in that building was remarkably powerful. And sad. We left more educated, but heavy-hearted seeing what happened there and learning about what happened to so many innocent people of Hungary.
Back to happy things! The wedding was on Saturday, 5/23, and Selma and Elliot were heading back to the states the following day, so Jake and I wanted to do something for them to say "Thanks" before they headed home. We decided to cook them dinner on Thursday, which meant we needed to brave the markets! We decided to make a feast: cheese and crackers and our interpretation of onion bread to start, a big pork roast with polenta and asparagus, mushroom and leek tarts (which Jake loved!), and brownies (which were terrible) with and ice cream. Oh and wine (obviously). We purchased most of our groceries at the Central Market where there are stands among stands of butchers, produce, cheese, anything fresh - it's kind of like an indoor farmers market.
And, since most locals buy their groceries there, most people do not speak English. But no matter, Hungarians are so nice and helpful, and everyone we had met so far didn't care that we stumbled through their incredibly hard language. Like we were back in the Uzes market, we jumped right in! In no time at all, we had all of the produce we needed, 6 pounds of pork roast (we wanted leftovers!), and crackling and pork fat for the onion bread! According to the butcher, what we could understand, anyway, was the best way to make onion bread was to use pork fat, crackling, green onion, and paprika - how could we refuse the advice of the Hungarian butcher? And to be honest, it was DELICIOUS.
We thought our next stop, the regular old grocery store, would be a breeze - we'd been in Spar and Tesco and CBA several times before and always found just what we needed. All that remained on our list was cheese, crackers, wine, and bread. How hard could that be? We rounded up all that we wanted and headed home to start cooking. That evening, as I set out the cheese and crackers, I quickly realized the one mistake we had made- since we had no idea what the Hungarian word for "crackers" was, we grabbed a bag that looked like some; turns out, they were cookies! What a happy accident! While we didn’t have any salty crackers to go with our brie, I don't think anyone minded the animal-cracker style cookies that we had. And they still tasted good with brie. We said thank you to Selma and Elliot for their incredible hospitality and generosity the best way we know how - by wining and dining them. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!! :)
The grand finale of Week 2 was, of course, the wedding! Stay tuned for a post detailing all of the events!