The Puszta: Hungary’s Wild Northeast

In early October we had a Fulbright trip to Debrecen, Hungary’s second largest city, which is in the northeast part of the country very close to the Romanian border. I took the train there, transferring in Cegléd, and met the other Fulbright folks who had come from Budapest. It was great to see everyone again!

Our first stop was the University of Debrecen, which must have one of the most beautiful main buildings of any Hungarian university. It is airy and has lots of stained glass and skylights. We learned about the university’s role in the 1956 Revolution, and saw the great maces of all the faculties; I’d hate to have to carry one of those around! We also got to see the room where the Faculty Senate meets; now this is a place for a Senate meeting, with lovely stained glass to look at during interminable debates!

Next we headed to the Reformed College, where we learned some history about its links to the 1848 Revolution (meetings were held in the chapel, for one thing). We toured the museum and the library, which had great collections of historic manuscripts and books. We also looked at the beautiful Reformed Church, and climbed the tower to see the view of the city. This has become one of my favorite things to do everywhere–climb the towers for the view! (Below is a gallery of pictures from Debrecen; if you scroll over them, you’ll see descriptive captions. I am trying this method for a change of pace, as it gets messy to insert a lot of photos!)

Our second day we headed to Hortobágy National Park, one of Hungary’s UNESCO World Heritage sites, which preserves and presents for tourists the traditional way of life on the Puszta, or Great Plain. (For more about the park, see this.) We toured the Herdsmen Museum, which exhibits the lifestyles and work of sheepherders, cattlemen, and the famous horsemen of the Puszta, as well as the crafts such as the distinctive hats and honey cakes. Next we watched the horsemen who ride standing on the famously handsome Hortobágy horses, and also get their horses to lie down and sit up (really). Then we took a carriage ride out to see the sights of the Puszta. The park preserves and showcases not just the traditional Puszta way of life, but the (now) heritage animal breeds that were raised there. These include longhorn gray cattle, Mangalica pigs with curly brown hair, water buffalo, and hairy sheep. These animals are said to produce superior meat, which is, of course, now very expensive and sold at fine restaurants only. There was a festival going on at the park as well, so we got to see people making goulash the traditional way, in a big pot over the fire. We then ate our goulash at the park’s traditional restaurant, followed by giant donuts for dessert! After this, I rolled back onto the train and headed back home to Szeged, happy to have had another fun adventure with my new Fulbright friends. Below is a gallery from the park. The herder is my favorite face of Hortobágy, although the pig is a close second!

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