Eger to Miskolc-tapolca (Northern Hungary)

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Leaving Eger the landscape has totally changed from that through which I have spent the past weeks cycling. There are low mountains and green spaces here in this part of the world. It’s very pretty.

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Miskolc is deep within the mountains and this can only mean one thing: climbing. And, in true Hungarian road building style, the climbing is long and steady. The road starts to rise almost immediately I leave Eger and doesn’t start to descend again for another 35km (20 miles). Again, the gradient is low but it’s still a climb.

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But it’s fantastic to be in the forest. I didn’t realise how much I missed the natural world with all this farmland cycling. The trees whisper all day long, birds sing and flit around along the edges of the road, and the sun glints through the trees.

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I even get mountain views when there are gaps in the forest. I didn’t expect I’d be getting this in Hungary after all the flat landscapes. It’s actually a little bit exciting to see mountains again. They were the norm in Japan and it’s funny how you take them for granted until they don’t exist. Mind you, it’d still be nice to travel through them without having to climb. Haha.

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Lillafured awaits me on the other side of the climb. There’s a lake, a mansion and a garden. The lake is gorgeous, the mansion huge and the garden pretty. I am too hungry to take them in so stop at a bufe for a langos further up the road. I must be hungry because I devour the whole deep fried, sour cream and cheese topped pastry. There’s been no shops since I started the climb so I missed my morning pastry stop and it’s now about midday. No wonder I am hungry. After the feed I return to the lake and linger with the view for a while. I decide against exploring further because I really want to make sure I’m in Miskolc-tapolca on time to experience the cave baths.

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Diosgyori Castle stands out above the houses as I approach Miskolc. There’s no way to miss this fantastic blocky castle.

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Inside the castle is amazing. It is wonderfully restored and dressed as a testament to the Knight culture of Hungary. There are lots of suits of armour standing in appropriate places like entrances and in the armory. I never realised that the back of the knights’ legs were exposed. The armour comes in all varieties from shining silver coloured to dark and patterned.

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Inside, each room has been dressed to its appropriate purpose. The armory has lots of armor on display and, instead of locking it away in cabinets, security videos protect it from potential theft. This makes for a more pleasant visitor experience. The herbal medicine room even has a display of fresh herbs that must have been picked or bought over the past couple of days. It smells amazing. There are interactive digital displays on which you can select your language (Hungarian, German or English) to read information, play games (like puzzles or memory games) and interact with digital artifacts (like a spell potion book or a 3D model of the castle at different points in its history). It’s the best museum-like place I have been to since the War Museum in Seoul and challenges that museum as the best I have ever been to. There’s no long boring fact-based information plaques, just lots of actual exhibits and short sharp interactive story telling.

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You can go pretty much everywhere in the castle and experience it fully. Want to sit at the grand banquet table? People do (the table is obviously not original). Want to sit in a window seat and watch the world go by? You can. It’s everything a story-telling place should be: light, friendly and accessible. There’s even a machine that allows you to send digital postcards with you in the photo.

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I climb the tower and look out over the mountains from where I cycled. It’s a great view. Looking down into the castle itself isn’t too bad either. I can imagine archers and lookouts protecting their people from up here. It would have been a good advantage over adversaries.

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Castle seen I follow the signed cycle path into the city and then through to Miskolc-tapolca where I have booked a room in a pension. It’s a cute burnt orange property above a pizzeria and convenience store. The owners/managers do not speak any English but are experienced so show me to my room. The room is in the attic level of the building but not cramped. It’s panted an odd mix of aqua and purple with huge decorative flowers painted on the walls. It’s a twin room with two simple low beds and some storage. For $20 a night it’s perfect and comfortable, despite the eclectic decorations.

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But what I really want is not my room but the cave spas. Peter mentioned these and I cannot wait to go there. They are just a five minute stroll from the pension. Entry fees are greatly reduced after 4pm so I join the small crowd of people waiting for the clock to tick over. And then I am inside.

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The cave baths really are baths inside a cave network. Of course the baths themselves are lined with tiles but everything else is genuine cave. As always, there are a selection of temperatures and bathing features. There’s these awesome shower things that are high powered enough to massage your shoulders. And there’s a dark cave lit only by the light coming through the entrance.

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The main bath in the cave becomes a fantastic whirl pool for fifteen minutes every hour. Jets push the water around the whole network of caves so that bathers can float around. It’s fantastically relaxing and fun.

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Unlike other thermal baths that I have attended, this one is not so much a relaxing place as it is simply enjoyable. Children play, families get excited about the experience and couples cuddle (some look like they are doing much more in the dark cave). There are few places to actually sit in the baths, with them mostly being for walking around. But it is worth visiting because it’s a super cool experience. (And if you haven’t worked out, that photo is of me under water).

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Relaxed and content I end the day with dinner at the pizzeria downstairs from the pension. I did think about trying the fried trout that Peter recommended but the bufes were sold out and the only one that had some looked like it wasn’t going to be fresh. Instead, I have a very indulgent three course meal of garlic soup, Hungarian style pork medalions with American style hot chips, and a chocolate pancake. It’s actually quite delicious. And for those interested in what something like this costs … 3740HUF or $AU17 or 12 euros. Definitely not enough to break the bank as a treat.

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