After living in pair of towns with a population barely touching 400 for the past three weeks, we're finally moving on. This was truly a magical place, full of blissfully silent fields of wheat, and ripened fruit within reach.
Waking up before dawn for a full day of travel, we were given a final moment of early-morning serenity from Chmeľová. An amazing sight to leave the village with…
The Path to Eger
Without any accommodation lined up in Eger, we needed to arrive as early as possible in the day (hence the chilly 6:30 a.m. departure from Chmeľová). Bus and train transportation information for Slovakia and Hungary is available online, and has proved so accurate that I was able to plan out each leg of our journey ahead of time.
What really amazes me is that there's only a single weekly bus from the major city of Košice into Hungary. Once a week, on a Saturday morning—that's it. Everyone else uses the train, or their own transport.
The ticketing agent at the train terminal was thoughtful enough to suggest a roundtrip ticket for our onward travel, as the fare was actually slightly cheaper than a one-way. Like every other train ticket we've been issued in the region, it's valid for a period of time greater than that day, and without a departure time—it was up to us to find it on the information board in the main hall (going clacky-clack-clack-clack-clack as it buzzed every so often, flipping over a visual scramble of locations and times like a communist-era relic).
The most stressful part of train travel in the region is trying to figure out where you are, and how long you've got until your station. By myself, it'd be easy to just toss the pack on my back and jump out, but we've got to prep by a good five minutes or more to make sure all the baby stuff has been repacked, and that Aidric is back in his carrier. I might know the general arrival time, but it doesn't make it easy when half the stations seem to have no markings, or have had their painted names worn away by time.
Hungary's agricultural countryside—covering over half of the country's total area—is a pleasing sight from the window of a train. What really amazed Tatiana and me were the seemingly endless stretches of sunflower farms. I've never seen sunflowers grown like that.
During the Communist period, about 90% of all farmland was organized into collective and state farms. State farms were owned and managed by the government; in collective farms, families would work together on jointly owned land, and each would receive a salary and a share of the farm's earnings.
College Dorm Life
I left Tatiana and Aidric at Eger's quaint train station and quickly walked the 15–20 minutes into the center of town. It was closing in on 4:00 by the time I finished gathering information up from the cute girls at the tourism office. As expected, the cheapest accommodations in town were at the college dormitories that open their rooms up in July and August whilst the students are away.
Most every other type of room was starting at 3,000 Hungarian forints per person per night—a price that hasn't changed much this decade. Naturally, this would've been much more agreeable a few years ago when that amount converted into about US$7, but today it's just a few pennies shy of a lofty $19. The dorms it would be.
Unable to raise anyone at either of the buildings by phone from the tourism office, Tatiana and I crossed our fingers and bused down a long avenue running out of town. The price of a normal city bus ticket is pretty wild, about a $1.60 on the bus (or $0.95 when purchased in advance from someplace like the tourism office). We were pretty shocked when the drive just waved us on with a big grin, perhaps taking pity on an obviously overloaded Tatiana.
The first two dormitory buildings that I tried were manned by surly men who sported dispositions that seemed more prone to spit on me than give me a room. Perhaps I would've had better luck if Tatiana and the baby were in tow.
The third facility—the unpronounceably titled Mátyás Ifjúsági és Diákszálló—turned out to be our saving grace. It has more than just a vacancy—it's completely and totally empty. I really can't figure it out; perhaps the advertising is better for the other dorms (although all three in this part of town are located within a block or so of each other).
Our price per person is 1,800 forints (plus tax), bringing the total for us to a less than friendly 4,000 forints per night (a little over $25/night).
Unless I can scrounge up a cheaper room for us, I'm thinking a maximum of three nights is all we'll be spending to live in an Eger dorm room. Tatiana may have never been in a college dorm before, but I've spent enough time in this type of place.
Now, where can I get some of that regionally popular Hungarian wine country vino…?