In 1920, the Treaty of Trianon left the Kingdom of Hungary landlocked, cutting off the country’s direct access to the Adriatic Sea. Lake Balaton, still located within the newly drawn borders, would now serve as the Hungarian sea. Last weekend I accompanied my boss, her husband, and fellow native English teachers at my school to the largest lake in Central Europe – Balaton.
Prior to 1989, Lake Balaton served as the meeting point for Germans separated by the Berlin Wall. East Germans were not allowed outside of the Eastern Bloc, so West Germans would come meet their friends and family members here. Remnants of frequent German visitation are prevalent around the lake. Announcements not only include English, but German as well.
Our first destination was the small town of Nemesvita (translation: royal life – vita [vitalis – Latin]), a village of 300 or so. Ágnes (Ági) and Ferenc (Feri) have a roughly 200-year-old holiday house here with stone walls and a thatched roof. Last year I went to Skanzen, which is Hungary’s largest open air museum. This museum displays typical Hungarian houses from the past – this time I was experiencing it for real. The second we arrived, pálinka was served. For those of you who are not familiar with this alcohol, pálinka is a Hungarian fruit brandy. It is served anytime and anywhere. Seriously. Anytime. Anywhere. My coworkers – J.P., Danielle, Chaz – and I then helped Ági prepare one of Hungary’s most popular dishes: goulash (Hungarian: gulyás / pronunciation: goo-yash). We cooked the gulyás on an open fire outside, adding to the traditional nature of our trip.
Because I am a light sleeper, I spent the night in a neighbor’s unoccupied house. This decision would prove beneficial when I found that I was the only one awake and fully ready at 8AM. I took this time to walk around the village by myself, taking in the absolute peace and serenity village life has to offer. Several people were out and about and, apparently, I was a sight to be seen. I am not sure if it is because I am obviously ethnic, a stranger, the fact that I was lugging around two cameras, or all of the above that everyone stopped and stared. Do not get me wrong: people were friendly, just a little bit confused. I greeted them all and even stopped to talk with one woman I photographed.
When the rest woke up, we prepared breakfast (most of my trip comprised of eating… I gained nearly five pounds in three days) and made our way to Castle Sziliget which dates back to the 13th century. We were treated to spectacular views of the dormant volcanoes, nearby villages, and the lake. Hungarian poets have written about the beauty of this scenery.
Afterwards, we made our way to one of the many ports on the lake then to a wine cellar. Hungarian wine is quite popular and vineyards cover the mountainous northern region of Lake Balaton. Unfortunately for me, some things that I dislike are innately Hungarian: alcohol (pálinka, Unicum, wine), peppers, and onions. Each time we entered a cellar, my friends aided me in my quest of being polite, but refusing to actually drink. Every time our hosts looked away, I poured my wine into my friends’ cups. I suppose everyone won. The only wines I can stomach are sweet Merlot and this mystical concoction called jégbor (ice wine). Jégbor is produced by grapes which have frozen while still on the vine. Ice wine can only be picked in harsh conditions, at a moment’s notice, and within a few hours. Due to this risky process, this type of wine tends to be much more expensive than regular wine.
On Sunday we went to Cave Lake Tapolca (Tapolcai-tavasbarlang) which is a cave + a lake – shocker, I know. We went into a boat and rowed/pushed ourselves forward for roughly 15 minutes. Note: To the guy with the blue eyes who spoke English to us, feel free to become my boyfriend. We walked around Tapolca for a while, went back to Nemesvita, then made our way to Tihany – a place I have now been to three times.
The generosity and love I continue to experience is mind-boggling. I fear I will never truly be able to express my gratitude, but I will keep trying. Thank you.
News: I am actually going to experience village life for seven to ten days in July. Chaz and I are going to Nemesvita to teach English. If this past weekend is any inclination of how our experience will be, it will be a good one.
A Lesson From Miss Jennifer: If you are full, leave a little food on your plate. If not… you will be given more…