Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Kektura: Eger to Sarospatak

Eger in Hungary is not to be confused with Eger in the Czech Republic. Eger is the Hungarian name of the town which in German used to be called Erlau. And the "winos" might know "Erlauer Stierblut" or "Bull's blood from Erlau", a usually rather mediocre wine. And as you might deduct from that: I was in wine country here which led to a another meal in a restaurant accompanied with two glasses of wine. Eger' main attraction is this minaret still dating back to the Ottoman reign in Hungary. The Turks had occupied parts of Hungary for 150 years - from 1541 to 1699. So this minaret is the Northernmost minaret of the former Ottoman Empire! You can even walk up to the top. Eger also boasts Hungary's second largest cathedral. My favourite attraction though were the thermal baths again. It is just absolutely wonderful to soak in 36 degree hot water after a long hike! Going to the thermal baths is a very social activity here in Hungary: Most people come in groups of friends and hang out for hours in the hot pools. Some even sleep in the water or play chess on swimming chess boards.

It was now getting close to November 1st - All Saints Day which is a national holiday in Hungary and apparantly a very serious business. Wherever I went cemeteries were lit be hundreds of candles and decorated with white and yellow Dahlia. And most Hungarians took advantage of the holiday to travel on a long weekend. Usually I did not see anyone in the forests but now again loads of people were on a hike - but no one was camping! I was now hiking in the Bükk mountains -another small and beautful mountain range in Northern Hungary offering great views. Who can say now that Hungary is flat?

Next was Aggtelek National park which is famous for its huge caves. The cave system is 26 km long and stretches from Hungary into Slovakia. The main caves can be visited by guided tour only but there are several smaller caves that can be explored on your own. I took a one hour tour and was amazed. Although I have seen several quite spectacular caves the Aggtelek stalactite cave really impressed me. One spectacular cave after the other - each one bigger and bigger. One cave is even used as a concert hall although due to the "dripping" environment the chairs are made out of plastic. And you better dress up warmly for the concert as the temperature in the cave is only 10 C year round. During the tour pompous Hungarian rock music is played while the different stalactite groups are colorfully illuminated. Quite a tacky experience but I still liked it. Although the village of Aggtelek is a very touristy place full of hotels and holiday apartments there was not a single restaurant open at night. I had to eat noodle soup Hungarian style on my gas stove....

After Aggtelek you hike through Gypsy country. There are Roma people all over Hungary but many are concentrated in this region. The poverty they live in is shocking. You realized at once when you were in the "Roma" section of a village: Garbage everywhere, stray dogs and run down houses that would be classified as ruins in Germany with laundry hung up for drying. And lots and lots of little children on the roads. Most villages here are "mixed", but in some villages only Roma people were left. 

After Aggtelek National Park the landscape got flatter again and more agricultural but still offered some great views. Although the weather was still very sunny during the day temperatures dropped well below freezing every night. Combined with very little daylight and long hours in the tent this made camping very uncomfortable. Therefore I spent the last week on the trail mostly in accommodation and really enjoyed it. Each place was nice and special and my Hungarian hosts offered great hospitality. One time I was greated with a little bottle of Schnaps, another time I was offered a bowl of Gulasch soup. Many places were heated with wood stoves - and it is just great to relax next to such a stove after a long day of hiking. 

My hike ended just in time - the day after I finished brought a torrential rain..... I decided to finish in Sarospatak instead of Satoraljaujhely. The two towns are just something like 10 km apart, but Sarospatak offered a thermal bath and Satoraljaujhely didn't. And then when I had arrived in Sarospatak after a last day of 30 km hiking I was too tired to go to the baths.... I guess it had really been time to finish my hike!

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