Tag Archives: women

Drinking Bull’s Blood in the Valley of the Beautiful Women

This is not a joke.  We really did drink it.  Read on…

On the outskirts of the baroque town of Eger in North-Eastern Hungary lies The Valley of the Beautiful Women (Szépasszony-völgy in Hungarian).  Skirting both sides of this valley are the cellars of many small Hungarian wine producers.  The cellars are built into the hillside, mostly underground, with the name of each winery displayed out front.  Inside each there is a bar for tasting and there are tables inside and out for drinking.

Looking over the valley from the hillside, small houses and trees visible

The Valley of the Beautiful Women

Hungary is better known for its wines than its beer.  The Eger wine region produces many types of wine but is primarily known for its Bikaver wine, which translates as ‘Bull’s Blood’.  It is a robust blended wine which varies considerably from cellar to cellar.  Officially it must contain at least 3 of the 11 traditional grapes varieties from the region.  Eger was the first Districtus Hungaricus Controllatus (DHC) in Hungary, an appellation control concept similar to France’s Appellation d’Originelée (AOC).

According to legend the name Bull’s Blood originates from the siege of Eger castle around 1552.  The small group of soldier’s manning the castle were given red wine to boost their spirits.  Among the Turks who laid siege to the castle it was rumoured that bull’s blood was mixed in to their wine, because the strength and resistance of the garrison and townspeople could not be explained.  Believing they could not win, the Turks gave up.

There is a large cellar and cave system beneath the town of Eger, where many of the wines are produced.  The Valley of the Beautiful Women appears to be more of a marketing spot for tasting and drinking and not so much a place for wine production or storage.

Cellar fronts with tables and people drinking

Some cellars of The Valley of the Beautiful Women

Even still, the Valley of the Beautiful Women is a phenomenon.  People come from far and wide to taste the wines, or to sit inside or outside the cellars and drink.  We were there in the early afternoon on a Monday, so things were pretty quiet.  We were cautiously enjoying our first tasting (not that good) when we met a Czech businessman and his Hungarian wife.  They were very friendly and recommended two cellars for us to visit.  It turned out that they had been there ‘tasting’ since 10 AM and had purchased several cases of Bikaver to take with them.  He admitted developing a strong taste for it during previous trips to the region.  We visited the two cellars they suggested, tasted, and bought a nice bottle of Bikaver at each.

One of the best things about the Valley of the Beautiful Women is that, in addition to the better wines, they provide an option to purchase basic wine very cheaply.  If you bring your own bottles, they will fill them for less than $2.  The minimum purchase is 2 Litres, so people literally bring their used pop (‘soda’ for any Americans reading) bottles and fill ‘em up.  To be part of the fun, we bought a 2 litre green glass bottle for about $2 and had it filled with red wine for less than the cost of the bottle!

Diane standing with 2 Litre green jug of wine in front of Wanda's wine cellar

Diane with her purchase in front of Wanda’s Wine Cellar

We couldn’t resist going to this cellar because it shared the same name as our friend Wanda!  We asked and ‘Wanda’ was the name of the owner.

I tried but couldn’t figure out why it is called ‘The Valley of the Beautiful Women’.  Is it because the women hired to serve the wine and conduct tastings in the cellars are all beautiful?  Perhaps.  Or is it because, after an extended visit to the valley, every woman looks beautiful?

Begging

We expected to be encounter people begging on this trip. However at times it can be overwhelming and much more sad then we had expected. One of the toughest things to deal with, is that we’re getting used to it. This is a way of life for many people here and unfortunately it will not change any time soon. We receive many requests for money or other things from women, children, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

It is very common to see young women or girls begging while carrying around their children or younger siblings as a kind of sympathy prop. In some cases the child being carried seems far too large for the child doing the carrying. The young ones seem completely passive, enduring the discomfort and heat without complaint.

Blind people shuffle through the streets or the trains seeking donations, often with a child as a guide. Sometimes they shuffle together as a group, holding onto each other as they walk through traffic-clogged streets; literally the blind leading the blind, which seems very dangerous. To attract attention, they sing loudly with strained and cracking voices, doing what is necessary to be heard over the din.

Many children have a common script to ask first for money, then a school pen, followed by chocolate, or perhaps foreign coins. In several cases these children are clearly not poor, like those who ride up on their bikes or are traveling with their families, and are just trying to get what they can from foreigners.

Several times we’ve seen young boys crawling through the trains on their hands and knees, sweeping the floor literally with the shirts off their backs. After brushing the dirt from beneath your feet, they sit there staring up into your eyes, sometimes touching your leg gently.

One of the saddest cases we encountered was a beautiful young girl in Rajasthan wearing a traditional red dress that was old and worn. She was begging at the street side counter of a liquor shop, which in India tend to be far worse places than you would think. She had a monkey attached to a chain around her waist. She would hoist the monkey up by the chain around his neck, and the monkey would reach up to grab the chain to prevent being choked. Both ends of the chain were very sad to us, and the combination was heart-breaking. What was alarming was that the monkey end of the chain was more disturbing for us. Shouldn’t we have been more concerned about the little girl?

It is quite common after dark to see people sleeping on the streets. Rickshaw drivers and street vendors often sleep in impossibly cramped positions in or on their rickshaws or stalls because they have no home. Families of women and their young children sleep together huddled in groups on the pavement. What is very hard to see are elderly people sleeping on the streets — a frail old man or woman sleeping on the hard ground with no padding, all alone, and without protection.

Another painful situation is the few times when we’ve had elderly people get down on their knees to beg, often bending forward and extending their arms to touch their forehead to the ground, and sometimes touching Patrick’s feet. To have an old woman do this to you is overwhelming. For her to be walking by, see you there, set down her load, and proceed to prostrate herself in front of you is crushing. Interesting, we’ve only ever seen this done by old people to a foreigner; they don’t appear to do it to other Indians. Is this strictly a practical matter of who is most likely to contribute (because Westerners are wealthy), or is it a holdover from the life of subservience that these older people experienced growing up under colonialism?

A stranger case is that of Indian transvestites. There are a small percentage of men here, presumably homosexual, who dress in woman’s clothes and act like women. They often solicit donations on the trains, sometimes after performing a song in a high falsetto. What’s unusual is that they are very brazen and seem to intimidate the Indian men into donating so they will leave them alone. It seems to be a case of utilizing homophobia to their advantage. We’ve heard that some Indians believe these people have magical powers and if they don’t contribute, may be cursed. They don’t tend to approach tourists, who presumably don’t respond the same way to their advances.

We have an issue of poverty and homelessness in Canada, and we have people begging on the streets of Vancouver. Based on the number of people begging in India, their ages, and their apparent condition, the need is far greater here.