Tuesday, November 21, 2006

a weekend of relaxation

Someone - Calvin College, Professor Fetzer, the travel agent - knows what they’re doing.  This past weekend’s group excursion to Sarospatak and Debrecen was quite enjoyable, and definitely well-timed.  We’re all starting to get tired.  We’ve been doing the whole living in a foreign country thing for three months now, and while we love it, it does drain a person.  The end is in sight, and with that comes the added stress of final papers and exams, as well as how to fit all our European purchases into our suitcases to go home.  So a relaxing weekend was just what the doctor ordered, and just what we had.

Our first group excursion was very energy-consuming.  There was lots of driving, lots of learning, little or no personal time.  It was a fabulous weekend, but if we had had to do it this past weekend, I don’t think we would have enjoyed it quite as much.  We just don’t have the energy for that kind of weekend anymore.  It was perfectly placed at the beginning of the semester, and this past weekend was perfectly placed at the end of the semester.  We had less driving to do (Sarospatak is only about three and a half hours away), and lots of down time.  By this time in the semester we know and like each other well enough that we can spend significant amounts of time together, even without scheduled activities. 
So anyway, we got on the road about half an hour late, because our bus driver was sick so a new one had to be called in.  It was Peter, our bus driver from Poland, who didn’t maintain a very professional relationship with the group, so we were a bit nervous, but the issue never came up this weekend.  Everything went smoothly there.  We picked up Professor Fetzer and Tamara and were on our way by 7:30 on Friday morning.  We rolled into Sarospatak around 11:00, and went to the Rakoczi castle first.  We toured the cellar with its tunnels, the family quarters, and the courtyard.
          After the Castle visit we headed over to the Great Library, where we toured the museum and saw the library itself.  Hundreds of rare and antique books are housed there, and it was beautiful.  My english major self loved the smell of old books wafting through the room.  We had to wear booties over our shoes for visiting the library.  It was kind of fun because they made your feet really slippery, so we did a little bit of skating around.  With maturity of course.
Following our tour of the library we split up in search of lunch.  I went with Kyla, Ryan, Christy, Chandra, Eric, and Mary to a pizza place where Ryan and I split a fabulous Hawaiian pizza and even had leftovers.  It is quite rare to find a place here that lets you take leftovers home with you, but this place did.  I guess “doggy bags” are not a European commonality.  After we ate we let our food settle a little bit while chatting, and then we headed to a park we had seen earlier.  There were lots and lots of leaves just begging to be played in, so we obliged.
And then it was time for the first wine-tasting at Rakoczi Cellar in Sarospatak.  We descended many stairs, walked down long tunnels lined with barrels of fermenting juice and more mold than you can imagine, and finally ended up at two long tables in a cave, where we tasted five wines, described to us in French.  Since it is the off-season the cellar’s English-speaking worker was not there, but most of our group speaks French anyway.  Sarospatak is in the Tokaj region, which is known for and only makes white wines, most of which are very sweet.  So that’s what we had.  They were very nice, and up to this point I’ve never met a wine I particularly enjoyed.
After the wine-tasting, we checked into our hotel, where we were pleased to find chocolates on our pillows and sterile toilets.
There was also a “Wellness Center” in our hotel, so of course we made use of it.  There was a swimming pool, similar to those found in many American hotels, with the exception that this pool had a high-powered jet at one end which was conducive to pretending we were torpedoes.  There was a jacuzzi.  I do not call it a hot tub, because that would be exaggerating.  It wasn’t hot.  In fact, the half of the jets shot out cold water.  Oh well.  You win some, you lose some.  There was also a steam room and there were two saunas.  It was all most enjoyable, and almost everyone enjoyed the facilities that night and the next, and some people even got up early enough to use them in the morning, too.  I did not.

We ate from the continental breakfast provided the next morning, and then set off to see a bit of the region, finally arriving at Disznoko for lunch and wine-tasting.  Our lunch was delicious, although there was a very intersting side dish.  I’m still not sure what it was.  Possibly some sort of Hungarian noodle, but it was rather rubbery.  Cari wanted to take a mouthful and then spit the pieces out one by one, as though she were a machine gun.  We didn’t allow her.  Spoilsports, I know.

The wine-tasting facilities there were much different.  They use lots of machines, and don’t do anything by hand, unlike the wine cellar we visited the day before.  Our tour of the facilities was very difficult to follow due to the excessive noise coming from the machines and the soft voice of our tour guide, but at least we could see the machines.  We sampled six different wines there and had a very nice time.  It was there that we worked on perfecting our wine-tasting technique, under Jackie’s gentle guidance.  She studied in France last year, so she has some experience.  I now know how to swirl and sniff the wine prior to tasting, hold the glass by the stem so as not to warm the wine by the heat in my fingers, and suck air in around the wine to fully release its flavor.
After finishing at the Disznoko cellar, we headed to Tokaj proper, where we visited a third cellar and tasted six of their wines.  There seemed to be a general concurrance that the wines here were the best we tried. 

That evening we were tired, so we rested for awhile before hitting the wellness center for a couple of hours, and then playing some cards before going to bed.  Very laid back and enjoyable.
Sunday morning we checked out and drove to Debrecen, taking the scenic route to see a bit more of the countryside.  In Debrecen we visited the Great Reformed Church, and then it was lunchtime.  We all split up, but I think everyone still ended up going to McDonalds for lunch.  It wasn’t that there were no other eateries open, just that something reminiscent of home sounded good. 
We left Debrecen around 2, and drove pretty much straight through (one stop), arriving back at the dorm near 6.  As usual, we read, slept, and enjoyed each others company on the bus.

Posted by Emily MacLeod on 11/21 at 06:51 AM
(0) TrackbacksPermalink

<< Back to main