As I was going through old blog material this one resurfaced which I wrote when living in Eger in Hungary back in 2006. I have lived abroad for the most part of the last ten years in Czech republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Japan and now in Bulgaria. I thought I might put it out again as I had some good memories of Hungary
One of the most surprising failures of Hungarian trade seems to me to be the failure to market the magnificent Tokaj Wine more widely in other more Western European nations. The bog standard Egri Bikaver can be found in Britain but it is hardly on the same level as Tokaj.
Roger Scruton has written,
"Hungarian wines are associated with two brand names, one - Tokaji - ancient and honourable, the other - Bull's Blood - modern and cheap. Tokaji is a subject in itself, Bull's Blood no subject at all.....Hungarian viticulture has improved so much in recent years that only post-communist inertia can explain our ignorance of it "
This wonderful dessert wine is made from aszu or 'shrunken grapes', the special shrivalled grape left on the vine until late autumn and which is left to rot to the size of a raisin due to the 'noble rot' created by the fungus Botrysis Cinerea.
A very decent bottle of 'the king of wine, wine of kings' can be picked up in Hungary for about 3000 HUF, almost ten quid if it is three buttonys ( buckets ), a mark denoting the quantity of concentration of the wine in the barrel as it matures.
In London, I did not see this wine on offer in any supermarkets or wine stores, at least at none of the more prominent retail chains.
This is a great shame as I believe its unique taste would be very popular in Britain. Yet it seems that most British people are content to buy their brand name Australian wines. Everything is about marketing these days and quality is not often appreciated because the main aim is to procure mediocre satisfaction with something you know tastes OK and 'does the job'.
Having said that Tokaj nevertheles does 'do the job' as its quite strong. I recommend anyone to go to Tokaj and try this wine as part of a venture up into NE Hungary en route to Sarospatak, the seat of Ferenc Rakoczi himself who was a powerful magnate in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries at the time when Tokaj was a wine at the apex of international repute. Louis XIV called in 'king of wines, wine of kings'
Needless to say the Communists wrecked the tradition of Tokaj producing buckets loads of mass produced industrial rubbish that did the job for 'the proles' but with the end of collectitivism and the return of family traditions of private enterprise and pride in one's own produce this wine surely deserves far more widespread recognition.
As a place to visit Eger is, of course, far more interesting but I would urge a little caution when descending into the Valley of the Beautiful Ladies if you really want to try the local Bulls Blood wine where the majority of the 'Pince' are located cut into rock enclaves with steps leading down into dank and often airless chambers cut out of the rocks..
The old women who run the places are often rather enthusiastic in trapping you there and getting the clientele drunk quickly in order to get them to part with their money. The place is popular with Poles as the two countries have always enjoyed a certain mutual affinity.
Egri Bikaver is a well known wine in Poland in a country that is best known for its vodka, has no viticulture, and appalling beer such as Zywiec which smells as foul as it tastes, though it has not stopped it having a too dominant market share.
A warning though.
Though bread and dripping is amply supplied, a lot of people go there simply to get rapidly intoxicated and local skinheads have been known to beat up foreigners.
The message being here-be careful when wine tasting in Eger if you do go settle down in those cellars . People come out from the Pince after many hours drinking, the cold air hits them and they can get rather nasty.
Eger is a charming town but suffers from high unemployment, a seasonal trade in tourism during the summer and becomes a bleak ghost town during the winter. The dark side of the Magyar character can come out with gloomy alcoholic men stewing in their own pessimism and sense of misfortune in the alcoholic koscma
Anyway, the picture here shows the Rakoczi wine cellar in the centre of the small town of Tokaj at Kossuth Ter 15. I would say that if you like wine and prefer the safety of a more congenial atmosphere then Tokaj is your best bet. Not least in the Golden month of September when these photographs photo was taken.
Here's a small observation I wrote for an English Language school magazine in 2005. Though I notice that had to get in a few digs about the EasyJet Stag Night idiots
OUT AND ABOUT IN BRATISLAVA. By Karl Naylor
Bratislava is a city of potentially considerable charm which has overcome the drabness and decay of the communist period with a certain degree of success. On the positive side, the National Theatre, the Mirbach and Grossalkovich Palace and the Castle stand out in their full glory. The old town has a lot of charm but seems a little small and, as Bratislava is the capital of a new Slovak Republic, I think efforts should be made to extend the centre outwards more impressively and with elegance beyond the Namestie SNP and around the Technical University. And the ghastly Slovak Radio building justly deserves a few tonnes of semtex; it looks like some kind of alien UFO has just decide to land uninvited in the middle of Bratislava. It is also a pity that the awful and brutal Staromestka could not be re-routed as it cuts right through what must have once been the most enchanting part of old Pressburg, leading up ulica Kapitulska to St Martins Church and up around the hill towards the Castle. I like to walk up this cobbled street on a starry night with the lanterns gleaming, a forgotten area and a relic a vanished life frozen in the past. For me it compares favourably with Michalska and St Michael’s gate which is full of just trendy, boring and overpriced bars frequented by drunken British males yelling, shouting and making the usual nuisance of themselves. Up beyond the castle to the east, rising up the hill is a deeply liveable residential area and I have often walked around there and on to Mlynska Dolina where the student village lies .If I go for a drink, I prefer to go there or else somewhere out of the old town where ordinary Bratislavians go.
Vocabulary: drabness - fádnosť, decay - dekáda, in their full glory – v ich plnej sláve, ghastly - príšerný, deserve – zaslúžiť si, enchanting - čarovný, lanterns gleaming – lampáše trblietajú, nuisance - zlosťIt has not all been pleasure though. I dug up a letter I wrote to the Slovak Spectator not so long after.
Re: One dead and two seriously injured after suspected neo-Nazi attacks, Flash News, November 7, 2005
The violence displayed by neo-Nazi thugs is, of course, very disturbing. However, I can't help wondering whether the violence towards foreigners is not sometimes fuelled by the Slovak authorities permitting hordes of drunken British louts to roam about the city centre chanting and behaving provocatively.
Last week, when Glasgow Rangers played Artmedia, the Rangers fans were determined to plant their Unionist flags all over the place in a way almost designed to provoke fellow neanderthals in Bratislava.
As a result, I was singled out on my way home by a thug just because he heard me speaking English. I received cuts and bruises to my face and body. As a consequence I have decided to leave Bratislava for good.
In all my time in Central Europe, in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, I haven't seen so much misery, despair and latent hostility as in Slovakia. Bratislava can be both brutal and bleak.