Tokaj (Hungary)

August 18, 2010 (Wednesday) – August 20, 2010 (Friday):

Who’s Hungary for dessert wine!? We are! When we were planning our round-the-world trip, it didn’t initially occur to us to visit Tokaj, Hungary, home to one of our favorite dessert wine regions. It’s a city not always easily found on a map, and definitely not a metropolitan destination. But since we would be traveling on a eurail train pass through Europe, which allowed us up to 15 stops to most cities in Europe, why the heck not make a trip out to this rural Hungarian region and witness firsthand the birthplace of our beloved dessert wine.

Unfortunately, things almost didn’t turn out so. Leaving Zagreb, we were on a 5am (yes, a god-awful time of 5am) train departure to connect through Budapest, then onto Szerenc, then finally to Tarcal to arrive at 2:30pm, from there our hotel would pick us up and take us to the hotel. Simple, sound like a good plan. Not quite. Our 5am train didn’t arrive until 7:30am, which meant we were already over 2hours behind schedule. Once we finally got to Budapest, we of course missed our connecting train. No thanks to several unhelpful train ticket agents, we finally managed to figure out what trains we needed to take to get us to Szerenc, then onto Tarcal…by then a good five hours later than scheduled.

The train ride out to Tarcal was in and of itself quite an experience. Having hopped onto the train last minute with no reservation meant we would be standing a good portion of the way. But that wasn’t the worst part, these trains were not those modern bullet train-types with modern amenities, they were essentially communist-era transport trains. Although the train did have seats, we were relinquished to standing in the stairwell/entrance area of the car. The eastern European summer heat was beating down at a good 85 degrees with our only respite being the open windows of the train car. But that meant the deafening noise of the outside world passing by at 75mph to drown out your own thoughts. And even if you were lucky enough to formulate any thoughts to yourself, your concentration would be broken by the constant stench of cigarette smoke emanating from your fellow comrades stuck in the stable with you. .But hey, we’ll be sipping on sweet Tokaj wine in a just a few, let there be no complaining.

One of the most amusing incidents did happen going to Tokaj (and it wasn’t the train ordeal). Once we arrived at the Tarcal train station (it was really more like a depot, than a station…something you would see out of an old wartime movie when the train would slowly approach the depot and through the windows of the train, you would spy soldiers standing guard armed with machine guns and a German shepherd). Anyway, once we arrived, we went to the street-side of the depot waiting for the hotel car to come pick us up. Tarcal is a small town in rural eastern Hungary, with the population of Hungarians probably close to 99.5%, and the other 0.5% being outside tourists, with Asians probably rarely ever visiting. So, as we were waiting for our ride, about half a block down the street to our left, we noticed a group of about six junior high / high school kids gathered together. We could hear them mumbling stuff to each other and giggling, obvious that they were looking at us and talking about us. After about a few minutes, two of the girls mustered enough courage to walk over to us and ask in their Hungarian broken-English, ” Do. you. speak…..English?” Then they giggled at each other proud to have made first contact with these humans with small eyes and black hair. To us, it was as if they’ve never seen Asians before, and have only read/heard about them from their textbooks. When we replied back in perfect English that we did in fact speak English, they continued to giggle some more and turn back to their friends who were all still standing half a block away at a safe distance, that yup, these foreign-looking beings are safe, and indeed do understand the English language. Then our car arrived, and we said goodbye to our two curious Hungarian ambassadors.

Finally, Tokaj wines. I was looking forward to our upcoming two-day binge-fest (so to speak) on Tokaj dessert wines. The hotel we were staying at, Grof Degenfeld, arranged all of our tours and tastings. The hotel itself also had a sprawling winery, which we would taste their wines on the last day. As for the following days’ activity, we started out with a morning visit to Chateau Dereszla winery. After a 30 minute tour of their cave, we had tastings of their library of wines, from lighter (and less sweet) furmint wines to edes szamorodni to various aszu wines. Nice and yummy, just like how we like our tokaj wines.

Afterwards, following lunch and a stroll through the town of Tokaj, we took the car to the second winery, Disznoko. Again we took a tour of their facility and learned about the process of making Tokaj aszu wines (i.e., that puttonyos are the traditional wooden “baskets” used to collect the grapes and the number of baskets of grapes used would determine the sweetness of the aszu wines, anywhere from 3 puttonyos up to 6 puttonyos).

Although it feels like we could never have enough Tokaj wines, spending two days in the Tokaj wine region we definitely had our decent share. Despite the (minor) ordeal we went through to get to Tokaj, the end result made up for the inconvenience. Now onto Budapest.  (And wouldn’t you know it, just so things would come full circle, of course our train leaving Tokaj was delayed two hours…)

To view more pictures from Tokaj, visit the Photos.

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Comment