This week we skirted along the north of Hungary and had one night in Slovakia, stopping off for a thermal bath and a spot of wine tasting.
And sheltering in the van from a monumental thunder storm, there was time for some covert filming of Stuart’s funky dance moves…..take it away Stewey.
Who knew that a pair of toothbrushes could sound that good?!
And back to our travels where we started the week crossing the border into Hungary near Debrecen on the Northern Great Plain.
At the border, the guard was even more thorough than the ‘any drugs?’ question we were asked in Corsica.
“Any drugs, guns or ammunition? Any horinca or homemade alcohol?” he asked. Nope, none of the above, not even a small bottle of the firewater-like plum brandy we’d had in Romania before virtually every meal. His colleague joined him. ‘Please can you blow into this? she asked offering me the breathalyser. ‘Wow, the Hungarians are really, really strict’ I thought and was ready to oblige but for her colleague pointing out that in our right hand drive van I was the passenger.
She retreated, not bothering to pursue the test and so we were waved into Hungary and it was time to learn how to divide by 350.
We headed for Hortobagy National Park.
Known as the Puszta, Hortobagy is Europe’s largest natural grassland and is home to herds of grey cattle, water buffalo, horses, varied birdlife and Hungary’s Wild East cowboys.
We’d seen the elegant dressage of the Andalusian horses in Jerez Week 7 – From Seville to Jerez and the cheesey performances of the Fort Bravo cowboys in Almeria Week 15 – Back in Spain – Almeria, the Ebro Delta and up to the French border.
Now it was time to see the whip-cracking horsemanship of the Hungarian csikos.
At Mata Stud, we joined one other couple on a leisurely cart drive along the dirt tracks of the steppe. We stopped to peer in at the Racka sheep with their black wool and distinctive spiral shaped horns, hundreds all huddled together in the cool of the barn, away from the noon heat.
Black sheep in a dark barn – the photos didn’t work out too well. Here’s the barn anyway.
Our cart ride took us on past a small group of water buffalo with their calves, sharing a pond with this woolly pig enjoying a splash….
..and up to where one of the herdsmen was waiting to show us how he drives the ox drawn cart without reins, using verbal commands only.
The oxen are the smartest bull steers in the herd, saved from the slaughterhouse by their ability to be trained.
We got close to a skylark in song…
…and then it was time to see the cowboys demonstrate their skills in horsemanship.
Here’s how to make the horse lie flat, a skill developed by the cowboys of old when trying to conceal themselves from their enemies in the flat landscape.
And here’s how a horse can sit like a dog. Eh, not sure why.
We declined the offer to go for a horse ride….
….posing is fine for me, thanks.
The drive out of the Putza took us through miles and miles of grassland, dotted with a few landmarks like the T-shaped sweep wells …
…and small white-washed farm cottages. We were curious to know why so many of the fields and houses had lighting conductors attached to the roof.
In the campsite at Eger that night, we found out why.
The mother and father of all storms raged for a few hours and the rain poured like a shower off the van’s awning. Watching the lighting flashes all around our tin box, we would have felt a lot more at ease if there were a few lightning conductors nearby to take the strike.
We had a wander around Eger in the evening. It was a pleasant enough town. Some good restaurants – for goulash soup of course – and an impressive baroque church..
…and familiar names for stocking the van store cupboard..
..and it has an extensive thermal bath complex. We did as the Hungarians do and whiled away a few hours in the pool.
And on the edge of the town, right beside our campsite, there is the wine-tasting area of Szépasszony-völgy (Valley of the Beautiful Women) where there are around 200 wine cellars side by side.
It was time for a tasting….
…of the region’s famous red wine ‘Bull’s Blood’.
So cheers to Hungary. It was a flying visit but now we were off to Slovakia and into Schengen agreement land with no borders. Just a signpost to say we were now in a new country and time to put away the forints and dig out the euros.
So first impressions…..Slovakia has a serious number of solar panels….
….and picturesque countryside ….
…with beautiful beech forests…
…which made a perfect pit stop.
But as we drove on from Kosice northwards, it was startling to see as we came into one of the villages en route rows of tumbledown shacks and makeshift houses, teeming with people, spilling out onto the road in front of us. It looked like the poorest part of rural India. We read later that while a minority of the 500,000 Roma in Slovakia are well integrated, for most this shantytown is typical of the living conditions for many in the countryside.
Our destination was a campsite near Humenne. We parked up for the night by the lake…
….and in the morning were back on the road heading for Poland.