My latest backpacking adventure is coming to a close with one more country to visit before returning to Prague. It’s an intriguing country which is fairly unique in Europe, and one in which travellers rarely venture away from its capital.
I’m guilty of this as well. Budapest is a beautiful and wonderful city which I’ve had the pleasure of visiting two times: 2008 and 2009. During the latter occasion I went to Sziget festival, which at the time was an interesting and up-and-coming player on the European music scene.
|Sziget festival, 2009|
|Carl and I posing with a very sweaty dancer at Sziget festival, 2009|
Fast-forward six years and Sziget has become huge, an enormous invasion of ravers and revellers. I do enjoy festivals but this surge in visitors, in addition to the fact that I’ve visited before, led me to decide that I would find an alternative place in Hungary to visit. That place is bigger geographically, though with far fewer people: Lake Balaton.
|The view from the boat which links Balatonboglar and Revfulop|
Don’t get me wrong, central Europe’s largest lake is definitely a tourist destination. It’s just a very different place with a different genre of visitor, mainly Hungarians. Being a landlocked country, it is their watery playground (they actually call it the Hungarian Sea).
|Apartments and villas line the land close to the shore|
|Lake Balaton from the northern side|
The lake, which at a maximum of 14km across is surprisingly slender considering its size, has many sleepy villages which awaken during the summer to cater for an influx of Hungarian families desperate to cool off and escape urban life. Most accommodation comes in the form of rented villas or apartments, with one hostel in the town of Revfülöp on the northern side.
|The village of Revfulop|
To get to Revfülöp (which roughly translates as ‘Philip’s ferry’), I had to cross the lake from a place called Balatonboglar. Many villages start with Balaton as a prefix, resulting in some rather large names. This particular point had a free beach (I’ll talk about that shortly); with two hours to kill, I settled down against my backpack and made some observations.
|This image might give you an idea of how long some of the names are|
The main thing I noticed immediately was how many people seemed to be standing in the lake. Not just close to the rocky shore either: some seemed miles out. What I learnt upon stepping into the cloudy water was that the lake is very shallow for quite a long time. Apparently this can be a problem if storms arise, as waves can quickly form and sweep up unsuspecting bathers standing far away from the land.
|The view from Balatonboglar beach|
The other interesting point to make is that the beach itself isn’t sandy nor concrete like many of the southern European bathing spots. These beaches are grassy knolls. The bottom of the lake feels like sand when you’re walking through it; picking it up, however, will show you why it’s not used on the shore. Black silt.
|A Hungarian 'beach'|
The combination of the heat, swimming and having little to do but wait led to me becoming hungry. Hungry in Hungary: who’d have thought it, eh? A friend of mine had recommended that I try langos. What I received was a disc of thick, fried bread drizzled with a garlicy cream and smothered further with cheese. It is as unhealthy as it is delicious. The fact that I didn’t finish it might suggest to you how calorific one is.
|Langos: a 'snack' more filling than a meal|
At the risk of sinking the boat with most of a langos inside of me, I crossed to Revfülöp. This is where I learnt that not all beaches at Lake Balaton are free. The grassy areas are fenced off and a fee has to be paid in order to use them during the daytime. This money-making scheme ceases at 6pm, when many of the beaches can be freely accessed. Which is exactly what we did.
|Sunset at Lake Balaton from Revfulop|
I would have liked more time at Lake Balaton but a miscommunication (i.e. complete lack of communication) from the bus company returning me to Prague meant that I couldn’t alter my bus ticket in time to leave later. The upshot was leaving for Hungary’s second city of Györ the following afternoon. The Hungarian language is…challenging, and the pronunciation of this area is a prime example. It seemed to me that they way to say Györ closely resembles the way a child would imitate the growl of a bear.
Strange sounds were present within Györ as well, specifically a German-speaking rock band that were performing an open-air concert near the river. People flocked to see them play their hits, which I would firmly place in the ‘alternative’ category.
|The German-singing band in one of Gyor's plazas|
Györ seemed to be a pleasant place, with pedestrianised areas and open plazas. Possibly owing to the band playing, it was tremendously busy. Other than that though, and the fact that I had goulash, there isn’t much else to say about the city.
|Gyor city centre's main square: Szechenyi ter|
|Goulash: tastes better than it looks!|
Many travellers I’ve met this summer were going to Budapest…and nowhere else in Hungary. If they had been earlier in their trip, they would inform me that it is stiflingly hot and has been throughout the summer thus far. The flipside of these facts is perhaps that the natives of that city all flock to other areas of the country, specifically Lake Balaton. I’d certainly recommend a visit if time allows, simply to cool off after sweltering in Hungary’s capital.
Love you all