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New Europe

Day Seventy-five: Budapest

Evening on the Puszta 
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Hungarian Grey cattle at the trough.
Michael Palin - New Europe I'm taken off watering and put onto cooking. First of all helping to split logs for the fire and later to cut up onions and peppers and put them into a big cooking-pot of goulash. The knife they give me could barely cut butter and I'm aware of the hard men of the Puszta looking at me with ill-concealed despair as I struggle to peel an onion.

With the goulash eventually bubbling away, they find something they can entrust me with, scattering paprika into the pot. So well do I do this that I'm put onto stirring.

Meanwhile, a herd of tall, sleek lissom horses, straight from central casting, gallops into view accompanied by the csikos, who are top of the hierarchy out here on the Puszta.

They wear a loose robe in the same indigo blue as the Tuareg of the Sahara, but they wear it with a black waistcoat, a broad black hat with a feather inside its upturned brim, and a pair of knee-length black leather boots.

Despite their slightly camp attire, these are men who are well in touch with their masculine side. Without a saddle in sight they gallop about cracking fearsomely long whips, and sending well-fed dogs yelping happily off to round up equally well-fed cattle. Others leap, not just on their horses, but on each other, forming perilous pyramids on galloping horses. One man, standing bareback, controls five cantering horses at the same time.

Once the frenetic performances are over, and the goulash is done and the beers are out and the dying sun is just a scab of red above the horizon, a great peace descends on the plain. The immensity of the land mirrors the immensity of the night sky and voices drop and for a moment the only sound is the gentle clink of cow bells. This is one bit of the Puszta experience that can't be faked. And it makes the journey here worthwhile.
Evening on the Puszta 
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file size
Tasting goulash with the csikos, the Hungarian cowboys.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Seventy-five: Budapest
  • Country/sea: Hungary
  • Place: Hortobágy
  • Book page no: 181

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