Thursday, 11 October 2012

Flat as a (Hortobágy) pancake...

So because i worked on Saturday, i got given a day off in the week in lieu. I checked the weather on the BBC website (because there is nothing that website cannot do!) and it said Tuesday would be the best day of weather, so that is what i went for. I needed something to do on my lonesome because Shaunna was in work (unlucky...) and i didn't want to go to somewhere she would also want to visit, and that was relatively i chose to go to Hortobágy National Park. I knew from work colleagues that there was a visitors centre and a small museum with some history about the place, that there would be wildlife trails to do and that there were craftsmen doing workshops in the traditional ways. So this sounded like a good place to go.

I made the short walk to the bus stop and armed with my Hungarian dictionary attempted buying a ticket for Hortobágy, which thanks to the internet i knew there was a bus leaving on the hour and it was only 45 minutes away. Unfortunately the woman spoke no English, and kept pointing at the buses outside. uh-oh, what on earth is she going on about i thought! So i put in an S.O.S phone call to the office, and they told me that Egér would be the destination of the bus, and that i would buy the ticket on the bus itself. Phew, crisis over! 
So off i went to catch the bus, and as luck would have it there was a guy waiting for the same bus, wearing a rangers uniform for the very place i was heading, so definitely on the right bus! The ranger then asked me if he could sit next to me after hearing i was heading to Hortobágy. I said of course, especially given that he spoke excellent English, yay. He told me lots of stories about Hortobágy, he was a ranger for an area more towards the top of Hungary so he had abit of a journey ahead of him given the size of the park. He told me about all sorts of protected species of animals that are in the park, everything from a eagle, to special Hungarian sheep and cows, and even bug the size of my finger nail. He told me about the activities going on in the visitors centre and even kindly phoned ahead to tell them (or warn them, not quite decided yet) that an English person was on the way. Nice chap he was. I got off the bus after about 40 minutes and it dropped me right off outside the visitors centre, where they had some nice English leaflets waiting for me. I looked at the nature trails, and there was even a little train ride you could take, but unfortunately i wasn't in the right part of the park for that. I decided i would like the crafts stuff more anyway so headed off to the workshops. Unfortunately, it being a Tuesday and kinda out of season the majority of them were not open, but i did see a few. A man making the most intricate dollies and table cloth kind of things with his sewing machine, and a man making clothes that traditional people would of worn. i had a nosey in the rest and saw the pottery workshop, it really was all old school techniques. 

The view from the bus, Hungary is flat as can be. There are no mountains, no hills and nothing taller than a water tower in sight. (outside of the city obviously) Hence the saying people have told me about in the office.....'Flat as a Hortobágy pancake!'

So there were 3 museums for me to go round, all about the history of the traditional shepherds, farmers and people who used to live and work off the land here. Where the visitors centre was placed was actually a little central kind of town where they would hold livestock fairs etc before heading back out to the great plain to work for several more months. There were lots of items that the Shepherds and horsemen made in their spare time, pipes, wood carvings, clothes and lots of photos of the temporary huts they used to build for both their animals and themselves. I enjoyed learning about all this, especially a story about how they would make very elaborate cloaks...and the story goes that when the came back after working away for months, they would spend a brief amount of time in the town, and if there was a lady they wanted to court they would intentionally leave their cloak outside the house, and if the coat was taken inside by the family, this was a seal of approval and the man would be welcome back the next day. And if the cloak was just left there, then ouch, rejection!

This is one of the cloaks/coat things that would be used as an elaborate "Look at my coat, isn't it awesome. Will you go out with me?"

So i learned all about the old traditions, how they used to tell the hierarchy of farmers through the different hats, how they used to make their own shoes and rope,s and how being a horsemen was the most respected position, and to do that you rode 5 horses at a time standing up on their backs and jumping between one and the other. Sounds like a piece of cake. Apparently there are still a small number of farmers and their families still living in Hortobágy, farming exactly the way their cloak-wearing ancestors used to, and following the old traditions down to a tee....including the multiple horse riding thing. They come out of hiding and do 2 shows a year for the general public, there was one in summer because it was a high season, so i had missed out on that...but the gift shop made up for it. Now anyone that knows me knows how much i love gift shops. I just get excited. So there were lots of handmade things in there that all the craftsmen had obviously made, all kind of impressive embroidery, wooden carvings, leather wallets, jewellery, food and my favourite bit was the pottery. It was awesome, and if only i had a bigger suitcase, everyone i know would of got some kind of vase/cup/plate thing for Christmas! And it was so cheap as well, considering it was handmade and hand painted. I did buy one little vase thing in the hope that it will survive the trip back. 3 of my English pounds, utter bargain! So i enjoyed learning about the traditional history of the park, and the people that used to live there. It is a shame some of the activities are actually far away, and that some of the workshops were closed. But this is out of the busy times so it is understandable. 

I got the bus back easy thanks to the timetable waiting for me in English when i had walked into the visitors centre, and watched the Hungarian world go by on the journey back. Flat as far as the eye can see, which is surreal coming from England because you don't have to go far until you find a hill to walk up! The journey was cheap as it was only 750 Forint (one way), which is about 2 pounds, for a 45 minute journey. We will be using public transport more over the coming weekends, and at those kind of prices, we really don't mind!

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