Budapest To Balaton

Map of Lake Balaton
Map of Lake Balaton

Heroes and Children

Our apartment in Budapest was within walking distance of Heroes’ Square that celebrates the thousandth anniversary of the Magyar Conquest. The central column has a representation of the Archangel Gabriel on top, holding the double cross and Hungarian crown. Quarter-circle colonnades to the left and right feature Hungarian rulers, generals and freedom fighters. It is in a central position in the Pest area of the city and surrounded on one side by various embassies and on the other sides by a museum, parkland and a large, indoor swimming pool. A natural attraction for families at the weekend.

On our last Saturday in the capital, it was crowded with small tents, a music stage and large screen and a host of kiddies’ entertainment areas. I strolled up there after breakfast, showed my covid inoculation certificate to collect an armband and was allowed to enter.

Minstrels, clowns and musicians wandered through the central area where young children flashed by them on small tricycles. A large area contained street signs and traffic lights for them to be supervised learning the highway code. The small tents contained educational games requiring both physical and mental concentration.

A quartet on stage played the latest Hungarian pop songs. When they paused, a man in traditional dress appeared playing the strangest bagpipes I’d ever seen. In Hungarian they are called Duda! I watched while he took them apart to show a family how they worked and let the children have a go. What a lovely way to spend a Saturday morning and it didn’t cost anyone a single forint!

Leaving Day

We wake to a dull and dismal Sunday morning, but it’s time to leave Budapest and head south-west to Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Hungary. Balaton derives from the Slavic for “mud swamp” but I know there’s a yacht called Balaton so, surely, it can’t be that bad? The German name for it is Plattensee, indicating it is shallow. The average depth is 3.2 metres (10 feet), that’s close to the 4 metres of the Mar Menor near my home in Spain.

The big difference is that Lake Balaton freezes in winter! In 1927 Hungary’s first biological research station was established on its shore.

The Attraction Of Balaton

During the 1960s and 1970s, Balaton became a major tourist destination. It was visited by ordinary working Hungarians and especially for subsidised holiday excursions for labour union members. It also attracted many East Germans and other residents of the Eastern Bloc. West Germans could also visit, making Balaton a common meeting place for families and friends separated by the Berlin Wall until 1989.

Tourist attractions include bathing, swimming, sailing, fishing, and other water sports, as well as visiting the countryside and hills, and wineries on the north coast. We visited the Fodorvin family winery in Aszofo during our stay to buy some Hungarian wine and flavoured palinka. They opened especially for us and gave us a 10% discount.

Staying With Arthur

We travelled down the southern shore and round to Keszthely to stay with British immigrant Arthur in Gyenesdiás. He kindly offered one of his semi-detached villas for us as a base to explore the area. Sunday lunchtime, the sun broke through the clouds and he took us to a lakeside restaurant complete with a soothing, live jazz band playing while we ate. Over the next three days he became a good companion and friend, and Magda will tell you more in her next article.

One of my highlights of the visit was our visit to Heviz to swim in the natural, thermal lake. I had a slight crick in my neck so I first saw a doctor to ask if I would also benefit from a session of physiotherapy. After a thorough examination for about 20 euros, he said “No Mike, just take it easy!” I interpreted that as slowing down on the generous portions of Hungarian food!

So, from Budapest to Balaton and next to Slovenia but little did we know where we would end up!