Many countries in Europe can fit inside of Texas with room to spare. Those of us who live in the Lone Star State are used to driving long distances on a regular basis. You can actually drive for more than 10 hours in Texas and never leave the state, as anyone at Texas Tech University who spent spring break on South Padre Island would know. If you started driving in Prague, a 10 hour drive south would take you through the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia and end up in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Because of the ease and accessibility of traveling by train in Europe it is definitely the preferred method, even if you have your own car. My friends and I took advantage of this. We traveled practically every weekend or as much as our Hungarian salaries would allow. A one to two hour train ride could get you to almost any wonderful Hungarian attraction and a three hour train ride got you to Vienna, Austria. Here at home during rush hour, it can take 2 hours just to get to the other side of Dallas.
One of my favorite Hungarian towns to visit and a very popular tourist destination is the charming Szentendre. (Saint Andrew in Hungarian) With history that dates back a millennium, Szentendre is well known for their museums that house ancient religious artifacts. I was so moved by their amazing collection of icons that I developed an interest in Madonna and Child images and began collecting them, reproductions of course!
The bold colors of the Szentendre buildings are what will really get your attention. Each building is painted a different color mostly in the mustard,orange and terra cotta palette. It's breath taking. The pathways snake around an endless number of shops selling their Hungarian ceramics, embroidered linens and packages of paprika. Despite the large crowds of tourists, I always found it to be peaceful and serene.
Eger and the Wine Cellars
Eger is famous for its castle and the siege that happened there. As with many places in Europe it has a long history of battles and takeovers. (why can't everyone just get along?) But the Siege of Eger is special because a small group of Hungarian defenders of the castle were able to successfully fight off the enormous Ottoman army from a takeover attempt.
But in recent history it is probably more famous for its vineyards and wine cellars. On one of my excursions to Eger, my friends and I spent some time at one of these cellars and what an experience that was! You probably don't think of good wine when you think of Hungary. However, some of the best wine I have ever tasted was Hungarian. There are a lot of sweet wines but their most famous is the hearty red wine Egri Bikaver, or Bull's Blood of Eger. Believe it or not, a popular way to drink red wine is to add Coke, about half and half.
I had never been to a wine cellar before so maybe this is how it's done everywhere. But I stood around with my mouth open as I witnessed employees syphoning wine out of barrels into glass pipettes and shooting streams of it into wine glasses feet away without spilling a drop. Sometimes over your shoulder or your head. It was very cool. Then they serve you a typical Hungarian meal and all of the wine you can drink. (ok, if you read this wrong it sounds like I am standing around with my mouth open hoping they will shoot streams of wine into it, LOL!)
If you wanted to purchase wine they would bottle it for you on the spot. So we loaded up, of course. I'm not sure how we were ever able to consume so much wine. Surely, we shared it at one of our many international expat parties.
Whenever we were feeling particularly home sick we would visit one of the two McDonald's in Budapest. Jeanne, being a Mickie Dee's officiando, visited it more than I think she confessed to. It was a hilarious experience each time we went. To see the menu items translated into Hungarian was crazy. Sajt is the Hungarian word for cheese, pronounced shite. So a double cheeseburger is a dupla sajtburger. It was always difficult to say that with a straight face. All the way back to my seat I would repeat it in my head with a sing song voice, "dupla sajtburger, dupla sajtburger", with a heavy accent on "burger" that sounded more like Inspector Clouseau than Hungarian.