After my last post, you could have been forgiven for thinking that we were done with cycling for a bit. That cycle ended in Budapest … However Denis needed to stay in Budapest to meet a person who was on holidays until this week … Friends suggested we go to see Lake Balaton, (Denis had been but I had never been), plus we could use their apartment … Lake Balaton has a cycle route approximately 200 km all the way around it … We had a free weekend …
Yes you can guess the rest!
Lake Balaton is a freshwater lake and the largest lake in Central Europe. It’s really different (for us Irish folk anyhow) in that in summer its water is very warm. It’s not deep – the average depth of the lake is 10 ft – you can walk out a good bit in very shallow water. In winter the lake often freezes over such that you can walk, skate or cycle side to side – now there’s a thought!
The northern end of the lake is mountainous, volcanic and is a major wine region, famous for its white wine, an Olaszrizling. The southern side is well developed with tourism, and was a traditional destination for Hungarian and even East Germans and others before the fall of communism. In fact it was often a meeting point for families and friends divided by the wall.
Last Thursday we took the train from Budapest to Balatonboglár where our friends, Aniko and Atilla’s, have their apartment. Who said inter-railing is just for youngsters!
Balatonboglár is on the southern shore. Our first glimpse of Lake Balaton from the train. As soon as we arrived at Aniko and Atilla’s lovely apartment we went for a swim in the lake. It was amazingly warm. On Friday morning with the fancy new additions to our cycling set up we set off in an anti-clockwise direction around the lake. I won’t do a day by day account of our trip but just talk about some highlights.
As we cycled along I was doing some numbers in my head. Hungary is a landlocked country with a population of 10 million. Assume the lake is an amenity for Hungarians plus say 10 million from neighbouring states, then a 200 km coastline is an amenity for a population of 20 million. In contrast Southern Ireland, an island nation with a 1,500 km coastline, is an amenity for a population of only 5 million, a big difference. The fact that the weather in Hungary is much warmer, the lake water is beautifully warm, it was July and school-holiday time, it was not surprising that Lake Balaton was very busy.
An early highlight for me was watching the owner of a restaurant where we had breakfast one morning, nonchalantly picking a the basket of figs from a tree in the garden and adding them for our breakfast. Seeing us in cycling gear, he asked me where we were cycling to, when I answered, he looked at me incredulously and asked if I realised how far that was!
I didn’t tell him how far we had come.
We visited Keszthely, our first stop on the northern coast. I loved their use of umbrellas and what looked like patchwork in the town to create colour. At the end of this street is Festetics Palace.
This shot looking out over Keszthely is so typical of Hungary, beautiful old buildings mixed with communist-era utilitarian construction.
On Saturday morning we cycled on to Szigliget and climbed up to Castle Szigliget, the ruins of the medieval fortress built on a volcanic hill by the Benedictines in 1260.
I loved the notice of planning permission that the King granted the Benedictines back then to build the fortress!
” … sithence barbarians and tartar tyrants destroyed our country it is hereby decreed: let fortresses be built and castles erected in all estates of our crown where our people may hide in times of persecution and be delivered therefrom … therefor an island in lake Balaton where a mountain convenient for erecting fortress abundantly and effectively suitable for these purposes be given to the church of St Martin of Pannonhalma…”
Cycling along the northern side on Saturday was much tougher than I expected. And that was after lugging the bikes with all the gear up to see the castle that morning!
On Saturday evening we stayed at friends near Balatonfüred. Our friend works as a lawyer in Budapest but in his spare time he has a small vineyard, makes wine, cheese and salami, grows an array of vegetables and fruits, and is a yoga teacher. I love where you know people for one talent and discover that that’s just one of their many.
The view from the house over the lake was beautiful. We had an appetiser overlooking the lake and dinner at a neighbouring winery. It was very interesting to taste their own wine, salami, and different varieties of peppers and tomatoes from the garden. Hungarians love peppers, they call them paprika. Interestingly they could only tell the heat of the different pepper varieties by taste not by look. I like peppers and tried different ones, one innocent looking one was fiery hot!
The land is on a hill and the house is built into the hill, the roof is covered by earth thus it is cooler in summer and warmer in winter. Below are photographs of the winery with its beautiful vaulted ceiling, which like the house they had built themselves.
On Sunday we set off again on our bikes. We had intended completing the circle of the lake and returning to Balatonboglár but then changed our mind and instead decided to visit Tihany. We went to see its Benedictine Abbey, whose charter to build dated back to 1055. This charter is one of the first Hungarian language texts. The present church was built in the 18th century, in Baroque style.
The view of the organ and of the pulpit. I was thinking wouldn’t a priest gain authority preaching from this very ornate, raised platform on the right below.
Dust is no respecter of place 🙂
Outside the church there were plaques to the boys from Tihany lost in each of the World Wars. Again, such awful waste of life!
There were beautiful views over the lake. Though this photograph was taken around 9am, the darkness was due to rain about to come.
Nowhere is safe from mosquitoes!
We sat out the rain in this very pretty coffee shop nearby.
Soon we and bikes were back on the train to Budapest. Denis and Atilla taking steps to to ensure that this was the last of the cycling!
The bikes will soon be wrapped in plastic for their much faster return journey to Ireland!