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20060903_P_0177 crop diary pic
Roadside stalls selling fresh tasty fruit and vegetables - private enterprise that would not have been possible not long ago, and now Tesco is moving in.

Continuing in the same vein, we had a fancy breakfast at nine o’clock (earlier not possible) which was served, rather than a buffet, with fresh juice and linen napkins, and perfectly fried eggs (one of those topics I could write a book about…). Having visited the wine cellars yesterday, today we were quite happy to continue on to our next destination, Hortobágy, “saving” another day.

We checked out, loaded up trusty Eddie, who had been parked below our room in the narrow street along the side, and we left tiny Tokaj behind. The surrounding wine countryside wasn’t exactly extensive but it certainly was scenic. It disappeared behind us as we drove south, passing into more ordinary agricultural countryside, less hilly, flatter, and eventually just flat. Not that I can really recall any part of the drive, at least not until we finally got into the Great Plain. Oh no, I tell a lie – heading south towards Debrecen, we passed some very colourful sunflower fields, with the flowers in full bloom, yellow leaves and black centres, their heads standing up and facing the sun, and very tall – well over two metres. And not just one or two fields, but long rows of extensive fields. It was hard to stop though and I figured we would see more so didn’t get a picture. It was a contrast with the drooping and wilted fields we had mostly seen.

Debrecen itself was a large town and we effectively bypassed it and turned west again, on a smaller road now and heading into the Alföld, the Hungarian Great Plain, described as “the open sea” by Hungarian poet Sándor Petőfi (although in Hungarian he would be called Petőfi Sándor, reversing the order of the name). It was put less poetically by me as “Holland minus the traffic and towns”. Flat, completely flat, grasslands and fields on both sides of the road, although still with plenty of signs of human habitation: farms and houses dotted on the horizon, and traffic too. Still, it was a very different side of Hungary all of a sudden, a contrast with what we had seen so far.

After a while we reached Hortobágy. It was not exactly a village, more a collection of newish houses which now lined the main road and the “centre” which consisted of a visitors centre/tourist info and a large wayside inn, the famous Hortobágy Csárda, just before the – also famous – Kilenclyukú híd (Nine Hole Bridge). Accommodation options were limited and we settled for the Hortobágy Club, a 4* job just out of the village, a resort with all the facilities and forming part of the large horse riding centre. We managed to get a room – well, they were virtually empty. The large low-rise (two storeys) hotel sprawled in a big U shape with long corridors but no people, apart from us and a couple of Japanese bird watchers, and one or two others. It was a luxurious affair, although with signs of having seen better days.

We checked in and then went out to see if we could go on the two o’clock horse and cart ride into the national park. There was a mix-up and the ride turned out to be full: we found five or six carts, wagons, full of tourists, and in hindsight it was a relief that it was full! We rebooked for four o’clock and went back to our room, chilled, and had a snack and played cards for a bit. Ness had dodgy guts, just as we went out again to go on the four o’clock ride, so we ended up deffing the four o’clock one too. Instead Ness had a kip and I went for a beer at the hotel’s “Drinks Bar”. First I sat outside, overlooking the grounds, later moved inside when the laptop battery ran low and uploaded pictures and did some site updates. Quite nice to just have some non-sightseeing time. The lights in the bar stayed off, while the barmaid watched a Hungarian soap, or a US dubbed one, on the set that had been plonked on the bar, not so 4*.

It was quite late by the time I came back to the room, and Ness was feeling better by now, and we went for dinner in the hotel restaurant. It was reminiscent of the Cracovia, though different. A very large high-ceilinged dining room, in which the diners seemed to drown in the space, and only half of the large room’s lights had been switched on, but it was atmospheric and pleasantly absurd in its own way. It reminded me also of the dining room at Hardap Dam, in Namibia. Tasty dinner of veal paprika with “gnocchi” (don’t know the Hungarian name) for me – not sure what Ness had. It took our waiter by surprise as we hadn’t gone for the halb pension. Glad to be somewhere new again!