I am on a rickety train, inching my way to Debrecen from the tiny village of Panyola in eastern Hungary. We are picking up speed now – making headway at perhaps 20 miles per hour. The 60 mile journey will take nearly three hours, with stops at every small town along the way. But I don’t mind; I have all the time in the world. Slow travel allows me to soak in the landscape.
I spy on backyards with enormous vegetable gardens and farm fields planted with chest-high corn and golden wheat, rippling in the breeze like a giant inland sea. The train spooks a pheasant, elegant in his turquoise cravat, who flees into a field of golden sunflowers. Hungary is the world’s leading producer of sunflower seeds and oil, and Szatmar county, where I have been been lounging for the past ten days, is its epicenter. In this achingly flat landscape, where rivers undulate toward the Ukrainian border, I have recovered my sanity and some of my physical strength. Read More
Most visitors to Hungary focus on the popular tourist destinations like Budapest and Lake Balaton, but with the help of my Hungarian friend, Zsuzsa Mehesz, I’ve had the great good fortune to see untouched parts of the country. On my most recent visit, she packed me into the car and headed for the Zemplen Protected Landscape in the northeast corner of Hungary. We began with lunch in the Tokaj Wine Region, a small plateau of volcanic soils near the Carpathian Mountains, so famous for its sweet wines that it has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Even under dingy skies, the view of vineyard-covered rolling hills from the Yellow Wine House Restaurant was stunning.
Before getting back on the road we strolled through the vineyards, our shoes sinking deep into the loamy brown soil as we parted the leaves on the undersides of the vines, searching for clusters of fruit. We didn’t have to look hard; bunches of chartreuse grapes hung heavy on the undersides, promising an abundant harvest. Read More