Day 17 – To the capital city of fish soup

There are two things that can be said about the Great Hungarian Plain, it is flat and it’s not for the agrophobiac. It is hard to appreciate the sense of space the place gives you, added to by the knowledge this extends far beyond the horizon. And it is a striking linear landscape with either horizontal or vertical lines taking your perspective to the horizon or skyward. But, to be honest, this great outdoors is doing my head in a bit. As you know I’m all for the great outdoors, but my late father used to say you can get too much of a good thing. I never really agreed with that, but after a couple of days of these vast open vistas, he may have been right; in future perhaps I’ll just settle for the outdoors, we can forget about the Great bit.

My first stop of the day was in a town called Kalocsa. I had great hopes for Kalocsa, not because it is one of the oldest towns in Hungary, or because it has a long tradition of local crafs, or because it is at the heart of paprika pepper cultivation, but because I hoped I could get a sandwich or something else to eat. All along the main street there were cafes, with people drinking coffee. I chose a busy premises attached to a hotel and ordered a coffee. No problem. Could I have a sandwich? No, we don’t do food. Don’t do food at 12.30 of a Saturday morning? I did, however, manage to get food on the outskirts of the town; apparently I had just been looking in the wrong place – main street is only for coffee drinkers.

The afternoon’s cycle was a strange experience. The route took me onto the top of the flood dyke, along a loose gravel path. I was on that elevated path for about 35km without seeing a sinner. Just me and my thoughts- great trial for a cycling trip to Patagonia, if I was ever to plan one! I couldn’t help it but my thoughts wandered onto work and grey men in suits, one of the things I was hoping to escape from for the month. Grey men, self important and focussing on the wrong things, can really become a pain in the arse. But I am sure they are lovely men with their grandchildren.

The last section of the cycle brought my to the edge of the Gemenc National Forest reserve, part of a huge expanse of wetland and woodland similar to what would have been the original natural vegetation along much of the Danube. After days of seeing little wildlife to interest me, I was delighted to see two White-tailed Eagles and a Black Kite fly past, close enough to get excellent views. I couldn’t get over the number of Yellowhammers singing and flying across my path- certainly their populations are not threatened here, unlike in Ireland. When stopped for my afternoon break, I watched a dozen colourful Bee-eaters messing about on a bit of recently cultivated ground.

As I eat, it was lovely to hear three bird species that are exotic to an Irish birdwatcher; the Bee-eater with it odd lilting calls from the field, the harsh, nasal call of the Red-backed Shrike from the bushes at the edge of the wood, and the glorious flute-like song of the Golden Oriel from high up in the trees. Worth travelling to experience this, I thought.

I began to see the first small herds of cattle here- I hadn’t noticed any since I began my trip. They were all fairly scrawny looking; perhaps well suited to their environment here but I’m sure Teagasc wouldn’t approve.

I spent a couple of hours visiting the Gemenc Forest Reserve. It is difficult to get a good impression of the place in such short time, but it is lovely to see a bit of wildeness in a sea of maize and sunflowers. Woodlands of tall majestic willows, poplars and oak trees, with a rich understorey of shrubs. River channels lined with reeds and covered in lush growth of a water weed with a bright yellow flower. Plenty of Blackcap and Chiffchaff in song, but I got a bit frustrated that there were a couple of other birds singing and calling that I didn’t recognise. I must brush up on these over the coming days.

I made it to Baja for the evening, the place was a hive of activity for the Hungarian Triathlon Championships were taking place. There were athletes everywhere. Things were winding down by the time I arrived but there seemed to have been different races for different levels, for there was a real mix of talent; super fit and not so fit, slim and not so slim, young and not so young, everyone doing their best. It was a nice atmosphere, different I think from similar events in Ireland. Felt at home for once in the campsite with my lycra. Mind you my pale skin showed me up as not being native.

Did a quick internet search about Baja – under the heading ‘Merry-making of Baja’ is its claims to be the ‘Capital city of fish soup’ – apparently each July they have a festival where they make vast quantities, 2,000 pots of, well, fish soup. I kid you not. Now that’s something for the diary.