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The Good Life in Aggtelek National Park Part 119: Túrkeve Sheep Stew Festival

great bustardI do not understand how my colleagues get sent to the beer festivals to represents the park, but I, the vegetarian, get sent to pig and sheep killing festivals. While the dawn bloodbath is sickening, we always manage to meet interesting people. The Sheep Stew Festival in Túrkeve was no different. What we all supposed would be outgoing Minister of Agriculture Sándor Fazékas' last hurrah, turned out to be a mandatory event for all the national parks but neither the minister nor anyone else from the ministry came. In any case, we were all there and manned information stands for 2 days.porozlo aquarium

Kata and I took the opportunity on the way down to stop at the Giant Freshwater Aquarium in Porozló - a place we have passed several times but never had the chance to explore. Set upon the bank of Tisza Lake, the aquarium occupies a large above and below ground area. The grounds host aviaries, pelicans, swans, turtles, a golden jackal, giant tortoise, fallow deer, Rakaca sheep and other caged animals. I never realised pelicans were so huge! The aquarium itself consisted of about 20 smaller tanks of various fish and an otter area that just broke my heart. I do not understand why an aquarium built to showcase local and Hungarian species has Asian instead of European otters. More importantly, the areas for the otters, and in fact all the animals, are miniscule compared to what might be considered at least a minimal comfort zone. The glass tunnel through the large tank was amazing though, with giant carp and other fish swimming over your head.

The view from the top of the facility's tower across the lake is also great. The basic entrance is about 2000 huf/adult. 45-minute boat tours and a 3D film are also available. Avoid the coffee at the bufé, it is crap (how on earth could they make salty coffee?). Although there were signs urging people to conserve water and paper towels, the planners could have just as well incorporated waterless urinals and water tap aerators. Furthermore, the small gas-powered tractor used to collect trash could just as easily be a bicycle and trailer.

It was not clear if any dinner possibilities were available near the accommodation in Dévaványa, so when we spotted the Nimrod Bio-Hotel in Karcag we took a look. Fully expecting exorbitant prices for organic food at a 4-star hotel, we were pleasantly surprised to find not only reasonable priced food, but even comparatively cheap. Main courses were about 1500-1600 huf, coffee 300-500 huf. I had a dish of spinach-ricotta-filled homemade pasta in tomato sauce (1500 huf), and Kata had (they were out of tofu, so as a second choice...) gnocchi with mozzarella balls and roasted cherry tomatoes (1800 huf). I also had a glass of one of my favourite white wines, an organic Italian Riesling from the Dobosi Vineyard (200 huf/dl) in Szentantalfa along Lake Balaton. We finished off the meal by splitting a Somlói Galuska (700 huf). Most ingredients are organic. We also stopped here on the way back home for coffee. Both times the service was excellent. Truly a gem in the countryside.

We stayed at one of Körös-Maros National Park's visitor centres, the Sterbetz István Great Bustard Protection Centre. The accommodation is basic, but fine for school groups. The first night we walked around and saw the water buffalo and grey cattle in their pens for the evening, and then out across the grass to an observation tower for a peek at the great bustards and experience a beautiful red sunset. The road between Kunújszállas and Dévaványa is perhaps the second worst road in Hungary (after Szendrő-Irota), but it is a gorgeous stretch of road lined by a canal and huge stretches of wild poppies.

anim sajtAt the event, as usual we took some time to walk around and meet and chat with local producers. Just across from us were the folks from Anim Sajt, cheese producers who I met last year at a pig killing festival. We bought another chunk of their delicious hard aged Trappista cheese (4800 huf/kg) and a slice of their cream cheese-parsley-red pepper-filled smoked cheese. Kata had a long chat with Kati Boda (70-363-6876,, a  goat-milk soap producer from Dévaványa, and bought a bar of rose scented soap, one of chocolate, and a liquid soap for me that is supposed to be good for psoriasis. She also had a long chat with Vilmos Csillag from Zalaegerszeg who makes all sorts of medicinal herb essences. The jewellery makers from Mezőtúr were very nice and make some very beautiful sarkanyfuvesproducts. The guy representing Parajdi salt was also very friendly and informative - I bought some lavender bath salt from him last year.

Before we left on Sunday, we visited the Túrkeve Thermal Bath for a couple hours of well-earned relaxation before the 4-hour drive home. The folks here were very helpful telling us the routine and where to go. Day tickets are only 1500 huf, and there are discount tickets for just the afternoon or evening. Considering the crowds at the festival and it being a long holiday weekend, there was plenty of room and we did not feel crowded. We avoided the 7 indoor medicinal pools and stayed in the 38C one outside in the fresh air. There are also large grassy areas for sunbathing, an adventure pool for kids, and a place for caravans. One unusual pool was filled with smooth rocks one had to walk across - I guess some sort of foot massage which was not unpleasant.

We had huge potato-dough tortillas for lunch-dinner at the Betyár Batyu Mozgóbolt where all the tortillas were named after different Hungarian outlaws. We shared one with fresh vegetables and sheep cheese (1300 huf), and another stuffed with homemade lemon grass and rhubarb jams (1000 huf). The setup was very professional and friendly, and the food was good and filling.