Another test of that old chestnut as to whether there is much difference in the countries either side of a border crossing. From Romania to Hungary its a massive yes. The roads are long, straight and tarmac, houses are larger but in smaller plots, and lastly its flat as a proverbial pancake compared to the mountains of Transylvania. Border crossing was easy and over in nano-seconds, guard asked where we have been and are going – as we reeled it off he took on a glazed look and waved us through. Vignette purchased, we feel robbed though as you don’t get a sticker for the windscreen and we changed our Leu to Forint, sadly they gave us most of it in 10,000 notes so the wallets aren’t bulging. the hour we ‘sprung’ forward last week came straight back and caused confusion all day until we realised why the Sat Nav had us arriving in places 5 minutes before we left.
First impression of Hungary for us then, are we in Holland? It’s exceptionally flat, very clean, cycle paths everywhere and tulips a plenty in the gardens. Even the town names seem a bit Dutch to us, everything is orderly and well thought out and they have space and are not afraid to leave it as just open space. Suddenly it feels a bit more like 21st century Northern Europe and yet 20 miles ago we were on unpaved roads and overtaking horses and carts. We both agree this feels very relaxed, its all way too organised to worry about anything here.
The plan now is always to be heading in a fairly Northern direction so after the border we drove up to Debrecen and straight through the city centre (Sunday, so quiet and easily done). Plenty of huge concrete apartment blocks as we travelled through the city, an old fashioned tramway and an electric bus type tram, despite both of these the roads were wide and reasonably easy to negotiate – we probably wouldn’t try it on a weekday though. More evidence of being further North as we drove through the city was Tesco, closely followed by MacDonalds (which we haven’t seen since Italy).
From there it was out onto the Great Plains of Hungary. Not usually our ideal scenery but its been mountains for months now so this is actually a refreshing change. Mile after mile of grasslands, big sky and the odd village dotted along the roads, akin to Norfolk with lots of Trabant and Skoda on the roads. Hortobagy was chosen as the place to stay purely because there was a campsite open. We rolled up, its closed! Tourist Info office said campsites open in Hungary May 1st (but advertise April 1st!), lucky for us a small pension / guest house just down the road opened last week and had camping in the grounds. The pension was a square concrete block with windows but the people and the welcome were warm, as was the sun so we pitched up for a few days, it goes without saying no one else was there but the motorhome facilities were top notch so no complaints from us.
Horotbagy’s ‘Nine Holed Bridge’
The reason there was a Tourist Info was we had stumbled into the UNESCO site of Hortobagy National Park, the largest grassland area in Europe. The village is the centre of 800 km square park, known as the Puszta. It contains a bird sanctuary, rare breeds farm, horse stud, a couple of very big lakes and grassland further than the eye can see. In the main square there are museums to the herdsmen and also a large market area where you can buy pretty much anything related to horses or cows, sheepskin, saddlery, you name it. The area is awash with Hungarian cowboys and rodeos, plenty of the people keep horses in the back gardens, whip-cracking is big and the favoured head-wear is more your stetson than your cossack.
Slow down for all sorts 🙂
At the end of the village the bridge the famous Nine Holed Bridge leads to the the site of remembrance for the forced labour camps that were in the area in the early 1950’s. Over ten thousand people were detained in the fenced camps around the village and were only released after the death of Stalin. Complete families were then left to fend for themselves after release with no help from the state. It was only in 1995 that official confirmation was released that the Hungarian gulag had actually ever existed here, at that time an iron cross was erected which has since become a place of pilgrimage for the survivors of the camps. Despite the magnitude of the camps all trace of them have been destroyed with the exception of a few ruins deep in the park.
In memory of the those who were in the forced labour camps
Just when we thought we had probably discovered all we could about a village of less than 200 houses we came across the tank memorial, this commemorates the six day tank battle in October 1944 which took place in the puszta with over 1000 tanks and 1 million soldiers taking part. For somewhere we stopped at purely because we thought it might have a good campsite there was certainly a fair bit to do and see. We spent two days walking, good flat tracks which suit us down to the ground and plenty of bird spotting on route.
Puszta tank memorial
As with every country we try to come up with something we both want to do, see or experience as our main reason for being there. For Hungary we have agreed its goulash and a thermal spa as they seem to be the two things the country is most famous for (we are ignoring Budapest in that summary). With this is mind we took a hop and a spit up the road to Tiszafured which is a spa resort town. Again, not a spa in the way we might think of one, more like a fun park at the edge of town with chalets and camping (think Kellerman’s) with loads of different pools. A last we have company! There are three German units on site and the owner tells us he has another couple due in. So its positively buzzing compared to what we have been used to for the last month 🙂
The campsite is attached to the thermal spa which means its free for us to use, so its just 20 seconds from the van and into the various spa pools which range from 29 C in the swimming pool to an indoor thermal pool at 38 C and what they term the ‘big, round, bubbly outside pool’ which is 34 C. According to the literature this thermal water can and will cure pretty much every ailment known to man and then some! The list of minerals it contains falls off the bottom of the page and onto another. With this in mind we have spent the afternoon wallowing – not a pretty word but accurately describing our movements. We tried the indoor pool which was the hottest but it was a little like God’s waiting room, we gave that up and had the outdoor pool to ourselves for a couple of hours.
Midway through a very long wallow
The village of Tiszafured is on the edge of Tisa Lake and has a 70 km cycle path right around, not aiming to go that mad but we will be seeing how far we can go (there is a ferry midway if we need a short-cut) – then its back to the “Termal Kemping’ as our lovely Hungarian host calls it for at least the rest of the week.