Monday, 18 September 2017

Alfoldi Kektura: thoughts

Having walked quite a bit of the Alfoldi Kektura from Satoraljaujhely to Szeged it seemed worthwhile to make a few comments.

Firstly there are not any hills to climb, it really is flat, which may appeal to some  but distress others for whom the achievement of reaching the top of a mountain is a reward in itself.

Secondly, there is quite a bit of variation to maintain the interest. There are forests and rivers, fields of crops and grassland, little villages and little towns many with some church or stately home of interest. It passes through areas of National park including the Rehely visitor centre and there are plenty of birds to spot (if you are equipped to identify them). I saw deer, hare and wild pigs and many types of wild flowers.  So there are things worth making the walk for. Nevertheless these interesting sights can be thinly spread, it may be tempting to just do the best bits of the walk.

Thirdly, as in any walk, the most memorable bits are not always those spent walking, an unexpected fete, trying some new food like langos, being checked by border police, a MiG jet in a rose garden, or a chat with a friendly, English speaking local.

Much of the Alfoldi Kektura can also be cycled, which may be a better way to appreciate the great plain. I would certainly include the towns of Debrecen and Szeged in your trip although they are not directly on the trail. They make interesting staging points and are a contrast to the small towns and villages you pass through.

Martely to Szeged on E4: Day 45

Today's achievement was reaching Szeged where I will be spending my last night in Hungary.
I rose at first light and packed. The new sun in the clear skies made the trees look a vivid green and cast sharp and dark shadows. Initially it was cold but soon I had shed my jacket and the sun rose in the sky.
Following the meandering embankment I reached a main road crossing the Tisza. Crossing the bridge I left behind the trail marked with red lines. I had planned to continue south to Szeged on the embankment on the west side of the river, but changed my mind on seeing a cycle track sign marked Szeged 11 kilometres. I had walked quite a few embankments and there were more in Serbia so I thought a change was in order. It would also get me into Szeged a little earlier so I could do a spot of sightseeing.
The cycle route was beside a busy road and a complete contrast to the little villages I had been walking through for the last two weeks. After some countryside, there was an industrial area which included some oil or gas wells and an oil refinery. Then it was blocks of flats and finally it was the older area around the centre, rebuilt after a big flood in the 19th century. I checked into the Novotel having decided to spoil myself before heading out to view the splendid architecture and squares of the city centre. 
I had an expresso first and found that what cost me maybe 110 forints in a village bar cost 330 forints in Szeged off Szechenyi square, however as this is just one pound sterling, you cannot complain too much. For lunch I went to a road off the square recommended by the hotel receptionist, a pedestrianised road there were lots of pavement cafes and restaurants.
The votive church was completed in 1930, a result of a vow taken by survivors of the great flood. Outside the brickwork did not inspire me but inside I thought the paintings that covered the interior looked spectacular. Modern but with an echo of the fresco painters of the Renaissance.
Evening meal was at the Halszcsarda: turkey, sour cream and tarragon soup followed by catfish with paprika sauce. Very enjoyable watching the world go by....

A GPS file of this route can be obtained from wikiloc.com. If you want to follow my continuing rambles along the E4 in Serbia go to johnpone4serbia.blogspot.com

River Tisza in the morning near where I camped

Inside the Votive church Szeged

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Tompahat to Martely on E4: Day 44

Today fell into two halves: first a walk beside fields to Mindszent, then a walk along the River Tisza embankment to beyond Martely.
I was kept awake last night by a group arriving in the accommodation late and talking loudly outside my door. I assumed some immature youths, however at 6:30 am they again began their discussions and on going to the bathroom I discovered they were my age (i.e. not so young). As the toilet door could not be locked I found it difficult to concentrate fearing one of them may also want to use the facility.
Again it was an agricultural area I walked through to reach Mindszent. Most of the crops had now been harvested. There were a few areas of grassland on which sheep and cows were grazing, also a goose farm with thousands of white geese, a few patches of trees and two wayside shrines. Much of the morning was on roads, including nine kilometres of straight road into Mindszent.
It was Sunday and I had not stocked up on food, so after a few false tries I found a restaurant in Mindszent serving an extensive range of food. I asked via Google Translate (that handy smart phone App) for their recommendation and received a delicious broth and chicken stuffed with ham and cheese. Google Translate does not always get it right, at the end of the meal the waitress typed something in and the translation said "Do you want the shit?". I understood what she meant (I think) and paid the check she then provided.
On leaving the restaurant it started to rain heavily calling for full waterproofs. On reaching the River Tisza on the edge of town it was time to leave the Kektura with its waymarks of blue lines and for a while follow red lines along the Tisza embankment, heading South. As I walked flashes of lightening were followed by long rumbles of thunder around five seconds later. While you are very unlikely to be hit by lightening it does happen, so I was walking under telegraph lines in the hope that the lightening would reach ground through them rather than me. Then thinking that the lines are actually held on insulators I headed down the embankment so that I was walking under the cover of the trees which lined the river.
As I reached Martely the rain was easing. I walked down to the "strand" area where I understood from the Internet there was a campsite. It was a beautiful, picturesque location by an ox bow lake with patches of green pond weed, trees, some starting to turn yellow, and a few boats, one in the distance with fishermen. However if there was a campsite I could not find it. There were some Panzios but they looked very closed down, they had notices with telephone numbers but I doubt if anyone would understand my attempts at Hungarian if I called them.
I decided to wild camp a few more kilometres down the river. After some abortive attempts I found a nice spot right next to the river, obviously used by fisherman. After erecting the tent I watched the herons languidly come and go and some other type of bird. I kept my waterproofs on with my hood up to protect against the mosquitoes. As the skies darkened I headed into the tent for the remains of my food supplies and a read of my kindle.
Sky on leaving Tompahat

Long straight road into Mindszent 

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Gadoros to Tompahat on E4: Day 43

For another day it was across agricultural land on straight roads and tracks. There were two highlights: Karoly Kastely and a fete at Tompahat.
Before leaving Gadoros I stopped to pick up some food at the Coop. It was 6:30 am (shops open early) and a farmers' market was setting up with a variety of locally grown vegetables and fruits. I bought a few peaches. Like yesterday's walk the route passed many fields on roads and tracks. They were harvesting the sunflowers. The harvester cut the stems, a screw pulled the sunflowers into the harvester where the seeds were somehow separated and then the plant remains excreted out the back of the machine. A tractor with two trailers was standing by. Periodically the harvester filled a trailer with sunflower seeds from a boom, the seed looking black from a distance streaming out like water from a tap.
At Nagymaros, a village on route, I walked around the grounds of Karoly Kastely. The Karoly family was a big aristocratic family with these stately homes everywhere, I stayed in one that had been converted into a hotel on an earlier trip. This one was nicely located in a bend in the river. I had lunch watching some fishermen with a "Greek" rotunda on the opposite bank.
As I walked the last stretch to Tompahat along a dirt road, not only did several cars come past me heading the other way, there were also a number of horse and carriages (the carriages were open and had two men up front, one driving the horses, and two people behind, so maybe it was a buggy or a trap). I discovered when I arrived at Tompahat that there was a village fete, and I had missed the horse and carriage races. After settling into the Bagoly Szallashely where I am staying for the night I was able to watch some of the events, including a wind band (brass plus clarinet, flute and drums), some youngsters doing ballroom dancing, a young lady singing, possibly songs from musicals, a magician and various other acts, getting more professional as the evening wore on.
As the darkness fell lightening was visible in the West, there was a brief but heavy shower, then they set off the fireworks. As the rain subsided the acts continued but it was time for me to go to bed....

Karoly Kastely 

Young singer at Tompahat fete


Friday, 15 September 2017

Szarvas to Gadoros on E4: Day 42

Today's walk was on straight roads and farm tracks through an agricultural area: fields, some belts of trees, and a few drainage ditches.
I wished I had longer in Szarvas as I had not seen the arboretum and National park visitor centre among other things. It is a pretty town with a lot of German being spoken, possibly because it was originally a German Lutheran settlement. However I had accommodation booked at Gadoros and they had asked for my time of arrival so I had  a schedule to keep.
Apart from passing a geothermal well on leaving Szarvas it was not the most interesting day's walking, mainly beside fields. There was generally a distant hum of a harvester bringing in the remaining maize or a tractor tilling the ground ready for seeding. The farmed landscape does not have the hedges, fences or dry stone walls we have in Britain, if they are grazing livestock a single wire electric fence is used that looks rather temporary, or else a shepherd or cowherd is employed. It must be very efficiently farmed with the large fields and mechanisation but it is not intensively farmed, there is still room around farm tracks and drainage ditches for wild flowers to grow.
I was again frustrated by my unfamiliarity with bird names. Could the brilliant white birds standing in a field be egrets? And were those herons flying overhead? Nevertheless, there was no doubting that it was a pheasant I disturbed.
I had been wearing some insoles my podiatrist gave me. I get hard skin and blisters particularly on the outside of my heels and she diagnosed super pronation(?), or walking on the outside edges of my feet. She gave me insoles with wedges attached to correct it. Sadly these seemed to cause the blisters even more quickly and after several days walking the wedges are parting company with insoles. So today I dispensed with them and it was much more comfortable.
I am now at Anna's Vendeghaz in Gadoros, conveniently located next to a bar where I had a beer waiting for Anna and her family to arrive. Most refreshing!

Typical track beside drainage ditch

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Mezotur to Szarvas on E4: Day 41

Most of today was spent walking along the embankment of a river, first the Berettyo river then the Koros.
Fanni and her husband set off for work early but they left me the means to make breakfast for a small consideration, so I was able to make an omelette (successfully!) and added a tomato, some salami,  small, very nice apricots, and pastries, quite a feast and still enough left to make a packed lunch. (The coffee was also good).
Then it was out of town down the Berettyo river followed by a diversion via a gas plant with a smoky flare. I assume the plant took gas from nearby wells, separated the condensate and then compressed the gas for sale with three compressors in a big compression shed. For the next long section the path followed the northern embankment of the Koros river. In some places there were ox bow lakes, remnants from before the Koros river was confined to a smaller flood plain between embankments. On the left there were trees and occasional glimpses of the river, on the right there were fields and patches of trees. Birds of prey circled overhead. I would like to think they were eagles but sadly my bird identification skills are very limited. I enjoyed my lunch overlooking fields until stung by an inconsiderate wasp, which hurt a lot. I wish they would stick to pollinating flowers or at least ignore me like the dragon flies and red and black insects that crossed my path.
I was still thinking about my wasp sting and watching that bit of my finger swell up when I reached the Mezotur - Szarvas ferry, which was not working. Google translated the sign as saying that there would be a "pause for technical reasons". I rang one of the telephone numbers and the conversation appeared to confirm that the ferry would not be operating today. Annoying as Szarvas, my destination for the night, was just beyond the ferry on the other side of the river.
Looking at the map on my GPS there was no means of crossing the Koros within walking distance. Two possibilities presented themselves, there was a railway line a few kilometres back that crossed the river, I could walk along the line and across the railway bridge to get to Szarvas.  Alternatively I could walk back to Mezotur, 13 kilometres away along the road, hoping to hitch a lift. At Mezotur I could then catch a train to Szarvas. As I thought walking along the railway line was probably illegal, possibly unsafe and not wanting any trouble,  I started the walk back to Mezotur. Fortunately after a kilometre or so, the second car that passed stopped for me. The very kind father, daughter and baby granddaughter took me all the way to Mezotur railway station  (Hungarians are clearly very nice people). I then took the train replacement bus on a very roundabout route to the station at the edge of Szarvas, where I alighted from the bus with the 3 other passengers (one wonders how these rural public transport services will keep going with so few passengers).
Like Mezotur, Szarvas has some pretty decent neo-classical buildings however Szarvas appears to be bigger so there are more of them, there are also fountains on the river, cobbled, pedestrian friendly streets, floodlit buildings and a greater range of bars and restaurants. My bedroom tonight at the Lux Panzio is an embarrassingly large suite, maybe I over-ordered....

Berettyo river near where it joins the Koros 

Non functioning ferry, Szarvas is so near, but so far

A bit of Szarvas

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Turkeve to Mezotur on E4: Day 40

Today's walk was entirely along the river embankment, large fields to my right, many newly ploughed, the slow moving river to my left, usually hidden by trees. White kilometre markers every 200 metres on the embankment meant my progress was easy to monitor.
As it was a shorter walk today I began with a leisurely walk around Turkeve, attractive in the morning sunshine, with collections of bikes parked outside key venues complete with a shopping basket at the front and often a child's seat at the back. To begin I had coffee in a bar, then a "langos" with cheese at a hole in the wall place. There were a variety of shops to peer at including a fishing equipment shop. Fishing is a popular hobby, today beside the river I spotted several fishermen, equipped with chairs and a couple of rods. Having exhausted the shop fronts it was time for a coffee and cake in a Hollywood themed "cukraszda". Signs in the village offered bird tours, canoe trips etc. so I was a little sad to be heading off, but I had already booked tonight's stop at Mezotur.
Tonight is the first time I have used Airbnb to book a room. Fanni, who looks after it, spotted me walking through the centre of Mezotur and gave me a lift to their house, saving me the last two kilometres. I asked how she knew I was her guest, and she pointed out (in excellent English) that there were not many people walking around Mezotur with a big rucksack and a broad rimmed sun hat among the shoppers and students leaving school. That evening she also lent me her bike so I could go to a restaurant. After walking for the last week, even my modest pace on the bike seemed exhilarating, especially returning in the dusk after a pizza (and beer) the wind in my hair.....

Milestone (OK kilometre stone) on the embankment

Fluffy clouds above river embankment