Our large bus windows allowed us to view the rollong landscape and periodically small enclaves of people came into view. These are obviously isolated villages where we saw women and children washing clothes in streams and others lounging around in the summer sun. There seemed to be a huge disconnect between what we saw here and what we had been observing elswhere on this trip. Turning to Katka for an explantion she talked to us about The "Gypsy" Question explaining that Eastern Europe is home to a silent population mostly in Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia - of millions of dark skinned people who speak a unique language and follow their own culture. (information quoted from RS travel guide to Eastern Europe) The preferred name for these people is "Roma" and estimates of their number in Europe is between 6 and 12 million. They have a long and troubled history in this part of the world ranging from times when their skills and talents were sought out, to the times when they were treated with suspician and widespread bigotry. Over a quarter of a million of the Roma were exterminated in the Nazi Holocaust. Following World War II the Communists attempted forced assimilation of the Roma but this too failed and severely disrupted their communities and culture. Today many Roma continue to resist assimilation and they suffer poverty, living in segregation. Many Roma children drop out of school at a young age and in the face of the added problems this part of the world is experiencing with refugees fleeing war torn countries the Roma problem is likely to remain so for some time.
Arriving in Levoca we settled into the town square for our our picnic lunch. This was a booming spot in the Middle Ages when Levoca was on a trade route between Hungary and Poland and today it is quieter but still Slovakia's finest small town. We enjoyed a few hours in the town square where families has gathered to enjoy a variety of foods, craft demonstrations and musical entertainment. It gave us an opportunity to glimpse how the average Slovakian family might spend a beautiful spring Sunday afternoon. The town is also known for its mostly intact medieval wall and the greatest Gothic altarpiece in all of Europe. (which unfortunately I didn't see)
Leaving Levoca we continued on to Eger,Hungary another smaller destination on our itinerary best known in history as the town that successfully held off the Ottoman advance into Europe in 1552. It is also well know among wine enthusiasts for its surrounding area which produces a well known red wine "Bull's Blood." Our overnight stay here was in probably the best room of the tour. It was in a building separate from the rest of the group and it looked out on a quiet courtyard decked out with beautiful flowering plants hanging and in pots.
|It was the perfect spot to enjoy a basket of strawberriies from the local market|
Our group dined together at Bajor Sorhaz (known as HBH to the locals because of the kind of beer they serve) and I remember the evening best because the waiter used his considerable skills to do the first pour of wine directly into the mouth of anyone brave enough to receive! He stood some distance away - enough to make me a non-participant! After dinner our group did the buddy introductions, a mandatory rite of a Rick Steve's tour.
|My tour buddy was Tina - a social worker from New York|
The next morning we enjoyed a leisurely stroll around Dobo Square which is the heart of Eger and is remarkably free of the usual town square tourist traps hawking cheap souvenirs and postcards. The Minorite Church dominates the square and is said to be the most beautiful Baroque church in Hungary. We also visited Egers local market where stalls were piled high with the first bounty of summer. And we purchased our first bag of paprika. Later we walked to the Eger Cathedral which is the second largest church in Hungary and also has the second largest organ in the country. Other town sites seen but not explored - the northernmost Ottoman minaret in Europe and the Eger Castle. Our visit to Eger was brief but I sensed that I had seen an authentic Hungarian town, full of Egerites going about their business.