In Hungary – Miskolc

If you’re visiting Debrecen for a few days, when you’re through with the sights of the second city how about a trip to the fourth – Miskolc, found about 25 miles south of the border with Slovakia in the north east of Hungary?

In common with its British counterparts, Miskolc is an old industrial city where little industry remains so, as you’d expect, it’s rather less exciting than its larger neighbour to the south but that’s not to say that a journey isn’t worthwhile. Taking the number one tram from the railway station will soon bring you to the city centre – while the main square (dominated by 1960s buildings and a SPAR supermarket) is nothing to write home about, stray a little off the main street and there are some charming discoveries to be made.

The Szinva Terrace is typical of Miskolc’s lovely spots – built on the site of an old carpark in 2005, this little street combines a spectacular modern fountain, a bubbling river channel, some fun sculptures of a group of young female shoppers and the ‘locks bridge’ – typical for a Hungarian town, the bridge’s railings are covered in padlocks, attached there by couples expressing their undying love for each other. A little further up the main road is Elizabeth Square – home to one of the city’s old medicinal baths in a building that wouldn’t look out of place next to Brighton Pavilion – it’s fountains are rather playful too, shooting up into the sky in elaborate patterns. The squares in front of the ‘wooden church’ and the Mindszent Church are also lovely – it goes without saying that they are  replete with several elaborate fountains and the latter has possibly the oddest sculpture I’ve ever seen – judge for yourself!

Up on Avas Hill hill overlooking the town are two further finds – the Gothic Protestant Church has a romantically overgrown churchyard filled with the mausoleums of Miskolc’s city fathers, and just above that is the 1960s TV tower which has a viewing platform where you can get a better look at the city. Descending back into the town check in with the tourist information office on the main shopping street, because if you’re lucky you might be able to join one of the scheduled tours of central Miskolc’s genuinely breathtaking location – the Greek Orthodox church, which has the largest and most incredibly elaborate ‘iconostasis’ in central Europe. One of the panels contains a portrait of the Virgin Mary donated to the small Greek religious community by Queen Catherine II of Russia. Someone with more knowledge of Orthodox Christianity will have to explain the significance of the many adornments that surround the portrait – silver ears, legs and noses?

Once you’ve had your fill of the city centre sites jump on the northbound number one tram again for a visit to Diosgyor, about twenty minutes away. Head left  off the main road when you leave the tram, pass the church, and you’ll be on the path up to Disogyor’s medieval castle. Starting off as a military installation, it eventually became an elaborate Royal Palace much favoured by the female rulers of the region. Today, however, it is a charming ruin. Inside the surviving buildings there are dioramas and information displays to keep you occupied for an hour or two, and of course you can climb one of the towers for a commanding view over the surrounding countryside. I should also mention here that if you’re a bit peckish after climbing all those stairs then I can definitely recommend somewhere to eat. The Talizman restaurant just down the street from the castle has a lovely shaded courtyard where you can dine in style, and they do a mean Gypsy-style pork dish – I speak from experience! My photos from the trip can be viewed here on Google+.

Miskolc is easily accessible by train from Debrecen’s main railway station – direct trains take you door to door in around an hour and thirty minutes and pass through the beautiful wine country along the way. A seat in one of the plush air-conditioned first class carriages will set you back a staggering £7.50…