Travelling across the Great Hungarian Plains…

We crossed the Hungarian Nagyafold (translation = Great Plains) today on our way from Eger into Romania. Hungary’s vast flatlands are akin to the Aussie Outback in some ways; the Aussie Outback tends to be somewhat warmer and drier, but the overall effect visually is the same: a virtually treeless expanse extending in every direction as far as our eyes could see. The Hungarian Plains do hold a sort of romantic appeal, with the sky seeming larger than life and human habitation so sparse. 



The Great Hungarian Plains.



Our day was long and quite tiring, with our journey from Hungary into Romania starting early this morning. First we caught a local bus from Eger to the Hungarian town of Debrecen, the biggest town on the Nagyafold. The bus ride itself was uneventful and not that scenic, but did give us an appreciation for how extensive the Hungarian Plains are. It was interesting to find out that the Nagyafold used to be forested and that it was only during the years of Turkish occupation that all the tress were cut down. With little vegetation to protect the precious top soil, winds soon blew away all the best soil worsening the state of affairs. It only took some 200 years for the regions (admittedly sparse) forest to turn into the arid plains they are today. Another example of how extensively human beings can change a landscape in a short period of time I guess.



Human beings changed the face of Hungary’s Great Plains from forest to this.



We reached Debrecen around lunchtime and since we had to wait 3 hours for our connecting train to Santu Maru in Northern Romania, we got to see a bit of the town and have our last meal of Hungarian goulash (ahhh paprika how we will miss you!). Debrecen is today Hungary’s second largest city, with a population of around 200,000. It is also one of its major cultural and academic centres with a major university being based there. Unfortunately most of Debrecen was destroyed during WWII and only the cathedral and buildings around the central square were rebuilt. The town has an interesting history though; having been the biggest town on the Great Plains for over 800 years, Debrecen was the target of numerous attacks by various factions over the centuries. Some attacks were repelled, but most were not, so the town has had to pay fealty to many different lords over the years. At one point, in fact, Debrecen was paying tithes to the Hungarian King, the Ottoman Empire and the Haspburgs of Austria! One of the enduring effects of this colourful history is that the people of Debrecen are known to be especially tolerant of religious and ideological diversity.



Exploring our last city in Hungary today: Debrecen.




Debrecen’s central square is flanked by lovely buildings rebuilt or restored after WWII.



This cool old building has been used as a hotel since the 1930s.



Debrencen’s cool Cathedral is painted yellow as this was the colour all “official” buildings and churches were painted under the Haspburgs. In Hungary it is still referred to as “Maria Theresa Yellow”.



After exploring Debrecen’s central square and yellow cathedral we headed to the train station with our tour group. The train from Debrecen to Santu Maru took about 3 hours, allowing for time to stop at the border on both sides and have our passports stamped. Romania is not a part of the Schengen area (though they would like to be – their application has been denied twice due to rampant corruption and inadequate border security measures), so we actually had to have our passports stamped for the first time in about 3 months! It was a long but painless process with the only moment of anxiety being when the train started moving before the Romanian Immigration Officer had returned our passports to us (they take them off you and walk away with them, which is in itself a little nerve-wracking!). Luckily someone got the train conductor’s attention and we didn’t go too far, but for a moment there we weren’t sure whether to jump out of the train or just wave our most prized possessions goodbye…



The border town on the Romanian side where the train almost left without our passports.



The change in the scenery once we had crossed the border into Romania was amazing. We knew Romania would be poorer than much of Central Europe and more rustic, but it was still surprising to see how much poorer the region is. In all honesty it was like we had crossed from Europe into Africa. In the space of a few kilometres dirt roads replaced tarmac and the number of horse-drawn carts on the roads out numbered the cars. 


Traditions and farming methods have not changed around here for centuries.



Maramures, Romania: where horse drawn carts out number cars.


Rustic Romania.


When we arrived in Santu Maru a small bus was there to pick our tour group up and drive us the last 3 hours to the tiny village of Vadu Izei. Vadu Izei is our home for the next couple of days; this rustic village is deep in the heart of Romania’s poorest and most tradition-bound region: Maramures. Maramures lies in a valley totally enclosed by the Carpathian Mountains, right at the border between Ukraine and Romania. This region is densely forested and isolated. This isolation has meant that many traditional practices, crafts, farming techniques and beliefs that were suppressed or superseded in other parts of Romania are still alive Maramures. Which is why we’re here: to see some of that traditional Romanian culture in action!


The state of the roads, homes and shops as we drove through Maramures today reminded us more of Africa than Europe.


Our home away from home for the next couple of days: the tiny village of Vadu Izei.


We can’t drink the water out here because it comes from wells and is untreated, they have intermittent issues with electricity supply, and yet we have internet! 



All up it took us 12 hours to get here and we are exhausted! Luckily the guesthouse we’re staying in here in Vadu Izei has warm showers and comfortable beds. The guesthouse is very cute – it’s right on the edge of the village with great views back over the surrounding hills. Not that we got to see much of the view (we got here just as it got dark)! We’re looking forward to seeing the region properly tomorrow though. We’re going on a tour around the region tomorrow in the same little bus that brought us here from Santu Maru so stay tuned for more stories from provincial Romania on the morrow…


The view from our guesthouse late this evening.


Settled in and keen to explore more of rural Romania tomorrow.




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