Long time, no speak! Did you miss me? I hope so :)! I've actually been busy travelling (first a spa holiday in Turku, Finland and then a weekend getaway in Oslo, Norway - blog posts coming up on both trips!) and haven't had the chance to update properly until now. Outrageous!
Anyway, the summer is approaching, and a special place for some relaxing times in the sun is definitely the Lake Balaton area in Hungary. This post will be all about our three days in Balatonfüred, Tihany and Tapolca in the summer of 2015.
This was another one of our many Hungarian railtrips. You can read all about our other trips here (Debrecen and Hortobágy), here (Miskolc, Miskolctapolca and Lillafüred), here (Eger) and here (Gödöllő and Budapest). In case you're new to my blog or otherwise don't already know, we spend our summers living in Szeged, Hungary, and - very conveniently for us - there is a direct train between Szeged and Balatonfüred during the summer months. Needless to say, we couldn't resist getting on that train, especially since I'd never been in the Balaton area before. Also, Hungary is a landlocked country so there is no seaside, and not that many lakes, either, to be honest. As a Finn, something I miss from home in the summers is definitely swimming in lakes - especially since it's scorching hot in Hungary and you get this natural need to cool yourself down somehow. So, a few days around Balaton, or Balcsi, seemed like the perfect thing to do.
We got on the train in the morning, and around five hours later, we were in Balatonfüred. On the other hand, if you want to go to Balaton from Budapest, the train trip is around two hours, which is nothing really.
Once we'd arrived, we walked to our guest house to check in and dump our backpacks. We stayed at Bacchus Apartmanok a bit further away from the beach, and it was a lovely choice. Easy to find, a friendly owner, a spacious room, and just 8000 forint (around 28€) per night per room. Balaton in general is quite expensive compared to the rest of Hungary because so many tourists go there, but if you're willing to stay a couple of kilometres away from the main tourist areas, you can find really good deals such as this one.
Once we were all settled in, we took a walk to the beach. And may I just say that Balatonfüred completely blew me away! The beach promenade is like Barceloneta in Barcelona! Instant happiness guaranteed upon arrival! Lovely, lovely and lovely! I could've spent the whole summer there! Just look!
Perfection! I can also say that out of all the places around Balaton, Balatonfüred is my absolute favourite. It has so much to offer, it's quite big and you can visit other places close by very easily.
Something that was new and also a bit weird to me was that you needed to pay to get to the beach. In Finland, we have thousands and thousands of lakes and there simply wouldn't be any way of charging people for going into the water - I mean, who would supervise it?! In Hungary, there are only a couple of lakes, so I guess it's possible to make people pay. The entrance fee was around 1000 forint (around 3,5€), but in the evening, the gates are opened for everyone and you don't need to pay anymore.
On our first day, we just went to the beach for the rest of the day. The beach has a lot of shops and restaurants, and the general vibe is just really nice, summery and holiday-like! There are also plenty of showers and toilets on the beach side of the gates so you can change your clothes when you've had enough of swimming or sunbathing. Anyway, we had some gulyásleves, went for a swim, and just relaxed and lay on the grass, enjoying the sun. Very, very nice!
In the evening, the harbour and the beach promenade start buzzing with people, there's music, food, candy floss, popcorn, kids are feeding ducks and swans...Kids get to stay out with their parents until late, too, which is so lovely! This, in my opinion, is a big cultural difference between Finland and Hungary, or Finland and any other sunny country, because we don't really have this kind of tradition of families going out together with the kids in the evening, or kids running around outside when it's dark...It feels so pleasant to be around something like that! And what is even more pleasant is that people are not drunk! It feels so good to see that in some countries, people know how to have fun without getting totally hammered.
After consuming the candy floss pictured above, we walked back to our guesthouse and went to bed pretty knackered.
On our second day, we caught a bus to Tihany, which is a village right next to Balatonfüred. It's on the Tihany Peninsula, which is a historical district, and the most famous sight there is the Tihany Abbey, high up on a hill and visible from many places including Balatonfüred. Tihany is also full of lovely little shops selling lavender products and Hungarian handicraft, and you'll also bump into quite a few idyllic coffee shops that you'll feel the need to enter. Finally, Tihany is famous for the legend of the goats' nails, or kecskeköröm, which are interestingly shaped seashells, or prehistoric clams. Apparently there was a princess whose goats were lost in Lake Balaton, and only the nails that washed ashore remained.
|Some gorgeous views from the Abbey!|
|More lavender products.|
|Then we had some lavender pie with lavender coffee at Levendulás Kávézó - it was just as good as it looks!|
|:D :D :D A sign in the toilet :D :D :D|
|Check out the Paprikaház on the right!|
We then found our way to a mini little exhibition centre called Levendula Ház, or Lavender House Visitor Centre. This is where you can also see some beautiful lavender fields if you visit at the right time, which would probably be around May, June and July. Unfortunately, the season was over when we went in August, so we missed out. A good reason to go back...:)
|Kecskeköröm, goats' nails.|
Once we got back to Balatonfüred, we had late lunch and then wandered around in the harbour before catching the kisvonat, or the city train, for some sightseeing.
|Pickles in the sun.|
|Jókai Mór Emlékház.|
|Me with the Fisherman and the Ferryman Guard statue.|
|Julcsi with the same statues :).|
|Some of the harbour.|
|Back at the Jókai Mór house - more about this later.|
|Anna Grand Hotel that also hosts the famous Anna Ball every summer, introducing so called debutantes Rory Gilmore-style and trying to recreate something from the old times.|
|The Kossuth Lajos well with carbonated drinking water.|
|Julcsi drinking from the well.|
|Eventually we went back to the promenade for some cocktails - aaaah!|
This was a way more traumatising day for me :D! In the morning, we caught a train to Tapolca to go to Tapolcai tavasbarlang, or Tapolca Cave Lake. Not for the claustrophobic! The Cave Lake is located 18 metres below the surface and it was discovered accidentally in 1902. The so called ceiling of the cave is really, really, really low - hence the warning. The cave system is quite the labyrinth as well so it's easy to panic when rowing a boat there if you're the type. More information can be found here.
The train trip to Tapolca was fun, though, because the ticket inspector woman suddenly opened her coat to reveal several bottles of something, and asked us if we wanted to buy any of her homemade squash :D! What an absurd thing to happen! So, of course we wanted to buy her squash, and it was really good, too!
Once we'd arrived in Tapolca, we walked to the entrance of the Lake Cave to find a long, long, long queue. If you're planning on going, bring a lot of sunscreen, water, and something to cover your head with as it's quite a long wait with not much shadow to speak of.
I only have very bad pictures from the caves, but I have a video clip that I'll post here to let you see what it was like.
I started to feel very claustrophobic at some point, and from then onwards the whole thing felt quite torturous and I couldn't wait for it to be over. It's simply so cramped down there that sometimes you bump into the walls or don't know how to make the boat turn properly. Obviously it's a cool experience, but I wouldn't say that I enjoyed it that much - kind of like the crazy minaret in Eger. But, I still encourage everyone to give it a go because how can you know if it's your thing if you don't even try? Julcsi did great as the main rower of the boat, and she's my hero for getting me out of there :D. I was so happy to be out of that cave, I can tell you!
Before catching our train back to Balatonfüred for our final night there, we still had a pizza in Tapolca.
In the evening, we still managed to squeeze in a visit to the Jókai Mór villa. Jókai Mór is a Hungarian 19th century writer, whose probably most famous work is the novel Az arany ember, or The Golden Man. The villa in Balatonfüred was his holiday home, and now it functions as a museum dedicated to his work. Unfortunately, you weren't allowed to take pictures, but the garden alone is really beautiful.
In the evening we still had one more thing to do, namely touching the boots of the Fisherman and the Ferryman - they say that if you do that, you'll eventually return to Balatonfüred. I definitely want to return so touching the boots was essential!
|One more statue/memorial...|
|...and one more set of drinks.|
On the following morning, we packed our backpacks, had some breakfast on our terrace, and then went for a final swim before catching a train to Szeged - this time through a very rainy Budapest. What an absolutely fantastic couple of days! Go to Balaton if it's at all possible!
And please stay tuned for my next post, which will be all about Dublin, Ireland <3!