So much chocolate and so little time

October 4th, 2009

We woke up early this morning and decided to watch the Grand Prix. Well to be honest, Maria woke up and decided to watch, we then didn’t have much choice. I don’t think John minded but I could have done without. Breakfast was great, just about anything you could think of up to and including Tarte Citrone, not something I’d associate with breakfast, but very nice.
We then went out to look at the antique market. It’s amazing what people will pay good money for. A group of people waving banners and playing West African music drifted by, adding a bit of colour to the scene.
I was keen to get started on buying chocolate. We started with some macaroons from a place which seems to feel chocolates, biscuits and cakes should be works of art.
We worked our way around the Place de Grand Sablon (the name of this square) looking at and buying chocolates as we went. At one point we met some girl scouts collecting for charity, we’ve always supported the Scouts.
Some of the shops have lovely signs.
We ended up at a patisserie for a quiet sit down and a piece of cake. I think Maria’s might have been bigger than mine, and she was very niggardly about letting me have a taste.
We dropped off the chocolates and decided to have a look at the church at one end of Sablon. It was built in the 15th and 16th centuries and is very gothic. There are some lovely statues outside, I particularly likes this little Madonna and child.
Maria took to this statue of a woman with a child and a handbag. She says she hopes it is a saint ‘cos she’s never seen a saint with a handbag before.
The church is dedicated to Our Lady of Sablon. Apparently in the 15th century a woman named Beatrice had a vision of Our Lady asking her to go to Antwerp and collect a little regarded statue and take it up the river to a small chapel on the Sablon. She put it in a boat and although her husband was too tired to row against the flow the boat floated upstream under it’s own power.
Later the statue is credited with stopping the local outbreak of the plague.It is now paraded round in a big procession every year.
Back to England tomorrow.

Goodbye to Hungary

October 3rd, 2009

Well, it’s time to go home. I must say I really enjoyed the holiday but I’m probably ready to go home. We left the castle early in the morning, after a quick visit to the wine cellar. We now have 81 bottles of wine!! With a quick stop to buy a dinnye (watermelon) we set off for Neurenburg. A long drive, but luckily no particular problems. We stayed at an inn we used in a previous trip and set off early again this morning.
A good trip until we were about an hour away from Brussels when we hit some awful traffic. We crawled along for some time and Maria got very ratty about the drivers who decided to take the hard shoulder, unfair and dangerous.
Brussels was full of cars and John got pretty harassed trying to get round to our hotel We are staying in the old part of Brussels in the NH Du Grand Sablon. An area we have never stayed in, seems very nice and full of character. We were lucky enough to get an upgrade and the view from our room is lovely.
There is an antique fair going on in the square at the moment, we thought we’d have a look tomorrow. Today we dropped our bags and had a wander around, sussing out the chocolate shops. There are some wonderful (and expensive looking) shops around here.

We chose some chocolates to sample tonight, before doing some serious chocolate shopping tomorrow.
It’s difficult to choose when there is such a variety.
Just a quick listen to a busker and a bit of window shopping, then back to the hotel.
We had a lovely meal in the hotel restaurant (Italian), and then Maria was thrilled to find we can get BBC1 on the TV, she’s been suffering from Strictly Come Dancing withdrawal. We’re intending to get up early tomorrow to watch the Grand Prix and then take it easy. A bit of sight seeing and a lot of chocolate shopping.

In search of the elusive paprika.

October 1st, 2009

The castle we’re staying at is lovely. It was built at the beginning of last century and has been a hotel for the last four years.
The interior is very impossing, including our room. Full of carved wooden furniture, a bit heavy for an ordinary house but very in keeping with the castle. I particularly like the staircase.
There is a carved dragon at the bottom of the stairs on each floor. I know they’re only made of wood but they still look pretty scary, today I got up the courage to climb one of them.
Today we were going to finish off the shopping and then perhaps do some sketching or John has found out about some Roman ruins. So off we went to the nearest Tesco, it had only been open for a short while, so it had a sort of unfinished look about it, it certainly didn’t seem well stocked. We were after paprika. We have a Hungarian friend, Johnny Pusztai, who is a butcher back home and makes excellent kolbasz, but he can’t get proper Hungarian paprika in any quantity back home. So we promised him that we’d take him 10 kg or so. There was no way the Tesco could supply that. So we set off to another Tesco. It was better and we managed most of our shopping, but still no paprika.
Maria then suggested rather than going from Tesco to Tesco we go to Kalocsa, one of the two paprika areas of Hungary and try there. A good suggestion, there was a Paprika House, where we found out more about the production of paprika than I for one ever wanted to know. We also found out why home produced paprika made in the traditional manner is much better than the mass produced stuff in the shops. We were told of a source for the home produced paprika. Having acquired 12 1/2 kilos of it and stopping only for a quiet sit down and cake, and a look at a rather nice memorial fountain to the women of 1956, we headed back to the castle.
We were booked in for a wine tasting at the castle at 6pm, so we had to give the sketching and Roman ruins a miss. The cellar was only about 150m from the castle, but mostly vertically. Maria was very good about not moaning too much and the view was excellent.
There are extensive vineyards and orchards, and the castle makes its own wine and palinka.
We got to taste a selection of both with a very knowledgeable chap called Molnár Ferenc. He is obviously very enthusiastic about the subject and made it all very interesting.
Tomorrow morning before we leave he is opening the wine shop for us so we can buy some. Where we are going to put it I don’t know.

Peppers, peppers and more peppers.

September 30th, 2009

We thought we’d have a mooching about day today. Breakfast was great, we were the only people staying at the hotel last night and they did us proud.
Maria wanted some peppers to take back (apparently the ones in England just aren’t the same) so we headed off to Szekszárd, which has a market. It was one those typical Hungarian markets, stalls are provided and then all sorts of people bring in whatever they have to sell. Some are real traders, others little old ladies with a handfull of produce left over from what they grow in their garden.
Maria made a start on her pepper shopping
I think some of these might be a bit hot.
We then headed for Decs, on the trail of some more folk art, but found the place only opens on Tuesdays and Fridays or by appointment. a bit of a disapointment. We diverted to Paks instead. They have an unusual church (if the pictures are anything to go by) and are supposed to do excellent halászlé. The pictures of the church don’t do it justice. It was stunning, very organic in shape.
It was closed, but what we could see from the door looked beautiful.
We then headed off for the halászlé, since it was special I decided to have a try. I’m not sure I would have if I’d known they would give me a bib(!!) to wear.
Still it did taste good. Maria hates fish bones so she chickened out and had some pork instead. It was covered in garlic and we had to share the car with her for the rest of the day!
We needed to cross the Danube so instead of driving for miles we took the Komp, a sort of dinky ferry.
…and headed for Kalocsa, another of the towns famous for it’s embroidery. Luckily as it is nearing the end of the season their stocks were much depleted and we got away without buying any. We did buy some china, but it was pretty.
We were then ready for a quiet sit down and a cake in the square in the centre of Kalocsa. I do like Hungarian cakes, it was just a shame I couldn’t manage an ice cream as well.
On the way we saw some fields of peppers, Kalocsa is one of the prime paprika areas, and some houses with red peppers drying before being ground into paprika.
It looks most attractive. There are also roadside stalls selling veg. and Maria saw some with peppers. So of course we had to stop.
She bought not just a few but a whole sack!!!! The boot of the car is stuffed!
They are talking of going to Tescos tomorrow and shopping! I am NOT going back to England on the roofrack.

Farewell to Eger.

September 29th, 2009

On Monday we had very little energy left. So we found the market in Eger and bought a few bits and pieces, poppy seed, beans, walnuts.. It’s a lovely market, full of little old ladies selling the produce from their gardens.
After a quiet sit down and cake, we headed back to start on the mamoth task of packing. Starting with 65(!!!) bottles of wine and all Maria’s purchases. John said if he never saw another stair he’d be happy.
Despite being shattered he wanted to go up to one of the local wine cellars but Maria didn’t really fancy it. The more he suggested the more she got stubborn and refused. In the end he went on his own, (and bought more wine) while she stayed and sulked.
I thought this would be a good opportunity for me to get some of the grapes that grew over the tables at the Csárda. I’d seen other people pick some but they would never let me. I thought while no one was paying attention to me I could climb up a vine and be done before they missed me. It would have worked too if I hadn’t got stuck.
Still I got my grapes and only a little telling off.
Today we moved on. We managed to fit everything in the car (just) but I understand they are intending to buy some more wine and peppers!!!. We are off to a little castle in Simontornya.
I was browsing through the guide book when I noticed a write up about an ice cream place, not too far from our route. So I insisted we divert for lunch. Well worth it, perhaps not hundreds, but LOTS of flavours of lovely ice cream, and wonderful cakes.P9293933
The castle seems lovely, I have MY OWN BED and internet.

From horses to planes.

September 29th, 2009

Saturday was Claire and Robs last full day so we decide to go out to the great plain, Hortobágy. I’ve been before with Maria and John to the Bridge Fair at the famous 9 arch bridge.
They have done a lot of work since then and we had a good wander around the exhibits, and Maria got all dewy eyed about some weaving. Apparently it’s just like her mum used to have and she had to have a couple of tea towels. I think she has the biggest collection of tea towels in the world, I don’t know where they all came from. We then decided to take a ride out onto the puszta (plain) in a horse drawn cart. It was rather dusty but well worth it. We saw some great displays of horsemanship.
The evening was spent quietly packing, trying to decide how much could be taken on the plane and what would have to be left for us to take back in the car.
On Sunday morning we took the kids to the airport. We were sorry to see them go but both had to get back to their jobs. We went back to Eger via one of the wine cellars and bought a few more bottles of wine (36!!!) and then went into Eger for a quiet sit down (and cake and ice cream).


September 29th, 2009

Off to Hollokö on Friday. This village is a world heritage site and very attractive and picturesque.
The only problem is the roads are very difficult and tiring to walk on.
We met a very nice lady selling some of her embroidery who was very taken with me and asked us to send her a photo when we got home.
By the time we got to the end of the village Maria and John were keen to make their way back, so it left just Claire, Robert and I to climb to the castle. Claire is almost as good as Maria at muttering.
Apparently as maria and John made their way back through the village my fame had spread and I was asked for. I was busy making a new friend at the castle. (I think his outfit was a bit out of date.)
We had a quick cake and iced coffee before heading back. The nice young lady agve me a bunch of wild lavender. Once we got back to Eger we were all shattered and fit for nothing but some nice food and a drink I’m getting quite fond of pálinka

And on to Thursday.

September 29th, 2009

We’ve been trying to alternate days with long drives with days nearby. So Thursday we decided to spend the day in Eger. First we went to the Rác church. It is a Serbian Orthodox church and as such HIGHLY decorated. Even I was impressed.
The only problem was getting up to it. It involved some rather steep, uneven and rickety stairs. You can imagine Maria’s reaction. She’s getting well practised at muttering. After that she needed a quiet sit down, so she settled to some sketching and John to some sitting quietly in Dobo Square. Claire has noticed that the Hungarians seem fond of having a quiet sit down, on a bench, a wall.. anything handy really. I think John is trying to blend in. We youngsters headed up to the castle, a bit of a climb but well worth it. The view was tremendous.
After all that exercise we felt we deserved a treat, and when John texted that he had hunted down a cukrázda, we felt it was time to join them. The ice cream was excellent.
On the way back we bought a watermelon and some local grapes from a roadside seller. I’m afraid I rather pigged out on it. But it tastes so much better than the stuff we get back home.

Internet is back!!!

September 29th, 2009

We lost the internet for DAYS! It was something to do with the router or something (I leave these technical things to John). So I’ve not been able to post, but we’ve been busy. Hope I can remember everything.
On Wednesday we went to Tokaj, in search of some more wine. We wanted to taste before buying, but when Maria saw the stairs to the cellar, she decided to stay at the top, well someone has to drive anyway and Hungary has a zero tolerance for drinking and driving. She could trust our taste.
After we ‘d bought a couple of dozen bottles we thought a bit of culture would go down well. The museum has a lot of icons and both Claire and Maria are rather fond of them, so John, Robert and I had a quiet sit down while they ooh-ed and aah-ed.
The drive back was interesting, the whole area is covered in vineyards.
We had bought a couple of packs of carsd so settled down back at the Csárda with a few glasses of pálinka to play. Robert is pretty good, but I reckon I could have beaten the rest of them, but they refused to play for money. Chickens.

Craft and wine

September 22nd, 2009

We woke to another beautiful morning, does it never rain here? (hope I haven’t jinxed it). As we open the door to our little house you’re greeted with a very typical Hungarian view.
No wonder Maria loves geraniums. We set off to Mezökövesd to have another look at this painted Tulipános Láda (Tulip Chest). Mezökövesd is a town famous for it’s folk art, especially embroidery. A small area of the town has been maintained as it was for the last couple of hundred years and the houses turned into a combination of museums and studios. It is all very picturesque.
John and Robert found a shady spot to sit while I went off with Maria and Claire. After a while I abandoned them and joined the boys, there is only so much I want to know about the finer points of needlework, weaving, spinning etc. Although the stuff about housekeeping in the old days was very interesting. Maria was particularly taken with the idea that the ranking female in the family (ie. the oldest) got the warmest cosiest spot to sleep, and the men slept in the stables and only came into the house for meals. Maria did ask how come they still had such large families, she got the answer ‘Haystacks’, which I don’t understand but she refuses to explain.
The furniture painter was in one of these houses and the Tulipános Láda was still much loved and John decided to buy. Maria also hankered after a piece of embroidery, but even she agreed it was too mush to buy right now. Didn’t stop her buying a smaller piece of embroidery and a Miska Kancso (a sort of Hungarian version of a Toby Jug), I hope there’s room in the car for me on the way back to England.
We then visited one of the best wine cellars in the district, to taste and possibly buy.
Vines as far as the eye could see. We watched some grapes being picked and looked at the old presses. I think this one is a bit too big for me to manage.
This was a bit more my size but still loked like blooming hard work.
Still the end result is lovely, Claire and Rob bought a couple of bottles to take back with them and John and Maria are going to call back after dropping the youngsters at the airport on Sunday and buy a couple of cases.
Tomorrow we’re off to another wine growing region, Tokaj. I really am starting to worry about space in the car.