Szeged to Cserkeszolo (Northern Great Plains)

 photo IMG_7406_zpstvmdzumo.jpg

Donat’s parents have got up early to go to the market for some breakfast foods. His mother has even brought home fresh flowers for the table. The spread is impressive with breads, salami, liverworst, tomatoes, sour cream, goats cheese, scrambled eggs, honey and the ever present capsicum. It’s a wonderful way to start the day and I feel blessed to be invited into this world.

And then my time in Szeged is over. I say my farewells and set off out on the road again. I am heading north for the fist time on this journey. I have instructions to follow a certain road and that it will take me to Csongrad, where I think I will camp. The ride is uneventful and I am in Csongrad within a few hours. The camping I was going to stay at is a dive (though, to be fair it turns out that there were two campings in Csongrad and maybe the second one was nice), so I decide to push on another 35km to the next camping.

 photo IMG_7418_zpshwhgamyh.jpg

 photo IMG_7420_zpszcodyhjh.jpg

Crossing the Tisza River at Csongrad is a bit of an adventure. There used to be a punt here but now there is this rather interesting floating bridge. Pontoons have been dropped into the water and a wooden bridge erected across them. The pontoons are held in place by the old punt and a few rusty old boats. With a clickety clack I follow a car across the seemingly fragile expanse hoping that the clickety clack doesn’t turn into a clickety crack. I actually wonder, for a moment, whether I am still in Europe or have now crossed into central Asia.

 photo IMG_7423_zpsl9a1ahco.jpg

Once across the Tisza River the scenery becomes more interesting. The landscape opens up and the towns separate more clearly. Churches mark my progress as they have for the past thousand kilometers.

 photo IMG_7425_zpsfcvyqwio.jpg

I pass through another small wine region with grapes lining the road. This looks like it might be a younger region with many immature plants.

 photo IMG_7426_zpsxp5vgbdt.jpg

And tractors are worked in the fields.

It’s late in the afternoon when I reach Cserkeszolo. The town itself looks like an agricultural hub. It is stretched out like some of Australia’s rural agricultural hubs. The outskirts boast a number of bars and small eateries. There’s not much of a centre here. Just a Coop supermarket and, across the road, a huge thermal spa with three hotels and a camping. Trucks roll through town day and night heading east. This highway must have a border crossing to Romania because I have noticed that the roads with border crossings have more trucks than others. Fortunately, I was able to take small side roads to avoid this highway. It added about 5km to my ride but I’d rather arrive alive than early.

 photo IMG_7428_zpsrj9yjgo4.jpg

 photo IMG_7433_zps2ty2b0jd.jpg

 photo IMG_7446_zpslqesnc9a.jpg

The camping is busy and it doesn’t take me long to work out why. For about $10 I got a shady grassed pitch, kitchen, modern clean bathrooms, fast wifi and access to this amazing thermal bath complex that also had an outdoor recreation swimming area. The baths are divine after a long day in the saddle. I soak for over an hour before hunger takes over and I get out to organise some food. The yellow/brown water is the thermal water. You can either soak in it directly or mixed with normal water, creating different temperatures. There are soaking baths, these shower massage things that feel amazing pummeling my shoulders and a jacuzzi. I try them all and none are bad. Relaxed and rejuvenated, I chill the evening away at camp ready for a monster ride across the Great North Plains tomorrow.

Warm Showers in Szeged (Southern Great Plains)

I have organised a Warm Showers host tonight in Szeged so pack camp, do a few hours work, chat with my new friend and head out to explore the city. I am meeting Donat (my Warm Showers host) at 2pm so have a couple of hours to kill in town.

 photo IMG_7380_zps0kfmlsgs.jpg

 photo IMG_7382_zps14dpo8n3.jpg

 photo IMG_7384_zps6ymmedrp.jpg

Szeged has some cool statues and I walk around admiring them. There are beautiful ladies, handsome men, fierce warriors and (I think) inspirational leaders. I am quite a fan of city statues so enjoy checking them out. I won’t bore you with photos of all of them though. Just the ones I like the best (does anyone else wish they had a body like the guy with the flag?).

I go to the museum because it is showing a WWI exhibition. Now I will be honest, I don’t know what side Hungary took in that conflict but I have learned that Hungary was right in the thick of the battles with it being the main link between the East and the West. Thought I did have a read on Wikipedia and see that Hungary was on the losing side, which makes sense given the country’s history as I have been told it by Hungarians while here. Anyway, the exhibition is small but excellent. While there are no English language translations for the stories, I can feel a deep sense of loss and sadness in the display; just as I have in all the war exhibitions I’ve visited. It shows that human life is human life no matter what flag is sewn on the soldier’s arm. Within the display there is a dark room with sandbags lining the walkway. A “man” with a machine gun holds the highest position and “heads” are popping up from trenches around the room. As I walk past the machine gun it starts to “fire” and a video display shows bombs going off and flashes from gun fire. It’s the best interactive WWI exhibit I’ve seen and, thankfully, the closest I have been to a trench. I leave deeply moved by the experience.

 photo IMG_7385_zpsczjk4zhj.jpg

 photo IMG_7395_zpsygskxfwi.jpg

Back outside I visit the Heroes’ Gate, which was erected for the men who fought in WWI. The paintings inside the gate are amazing.

 photo IMG_7392_zps29cjl5rm.jpg

I have a craving for beef and know that this meat is almost impossible to buy in Hungary at a reasonable price. But there is a McDonalds in the city centre and it has free fast wifi. So I buy lunch and call home (the wonders of Viber mean I can call home for free when I have wifi and the time difference allows). There is a group of men sitting at a table across the street drinking beer. They are dressed in super hero and Star Wars costumes. After finishing a round of beer they stand up, walk into the square and take positions. I first think they are just posing but then they capture an unsuspecting pair of girls. The girls don’t seem scared … they seem to be laughing along. A battle of good versus evil ensues with Superman the last hero standing and the other characters all laying on the ground after many “thuds” and “biffs” and “bams” are thrown their way (it’s all pulled punches not real violence). I reckon this sort of laugh should occur more often. The men then return to their table, order another round, drink it and repeat the display further down the street.

 photo IMG_7394_zpsypzd9rdk.jpg

I meet Donat outside the city hall. He’s a young guy just 19 years old and I can’t help but feel like an old man. He’s oozes cool and confidence. I met him through Warm Showers and he offered to host me for the night. Donat has just completed a month long cycle tour through Europe so he understands exactly what a cyclist needs.

 photo IMG_7400_zpsfq2a9jap.jpg

 photo IMG_7399_zpszef1upr9.jpg

After taking me to his family’s home so I can dump my bike he takes me out to see Szeged. We walk through the main street, check out his university campus, eat cake and ice cream, and visit the big cathedral. The exterior is being renovated so it doesn’t make a pretty photo just now but inside it is fabulous.

We return to Donat’s home and meet his parents. His mother doesn’t speak English but has a way about her that means it doesn’t matter. She’s friendly, smiling and thoughtful. Donat translates as she asks me about my trip, my life and my plans. Donat’s father speaks English. He seems shy with speaking English at first but soon warms up. Later I will also meet Donat’s sister but she is at work right now.

 photo IMG_7401_zpsqmelctix.jpg

 photo IMG_7404_zpsgptpxxxb.jpg

Donat’s mother suggests that we go to the nearby thermal baths. They are in a grand old building. Donat and I spend a few hours soaking in baths of different temperatures. This is definitely the way to go. I wish we had baths like this at home. But then again, I’d never get anything done because I’d always be there soaking in the warm water.

We end the night by eating pizza for dinner and watching a movie at Donat’s house. It’s so relaxing. I am grateful to them for their hospitality. I see a different side of Hungary than the one I have learned about from those who are struggling. This is the generous, more comfortable and confident side of the country. One that ought not be ignored or forgotten.

I fall asleep in my own private room feeling relaxed, welcomed and content.