Festetics Palace Hungary

2018 Grateful 27

I have a newfound respect for homemakers, those who don’t venture into the world of paid work but rather stay home, keep house, and look after their families. I’m not talking about the wealthy, tennis-playing, charity-championing socialites who’ve probably never lifted anything heavier than a Hermes Birkin bag (the one by Japanese designer Ginza Tanaka has a whopping $1.9 million price-tag). I’m talking about the likes of her-next-door; she who works every hour God sends tending to her crops, her vegetables, her chickens…and her ageing mother. It’s damned hard work for very little return (if you’re counting the forints). She ageless – not because she looks amazing but because I can’t put an age on her. She’s seen the better part of at least sixty summers, but I could be wrong on that. She’s an authority on all things rural and the other day popped in to give me an in-the-garden lesson on weeds. She’d seen me looking at the flowerbed wondering what to pull.

My cider vinegar hasn’t exploded. My walnut and zucchini bread was a hit with my weekend visitors. And all things cherry are still being enjoyed. And while the cuts on my fingers have just about healed, the callouses live on.

I’ve noticed that I’m getting a tad obsessive about the garden and what it produces. Given my druthers, I’d stay here all summer, experimenting with jams and juices and trying to find the sweet spot in the oven  – that minute between just done and done burnt. But I need to be careful. I’m an introvert. People require energy that sometimes I find difficult to muster. And if I give in to my natural inclination, l mightn’t talk to anyone (other than himself) from one end of the week to the next. So when I have visitors, I get out. I show them around. I go do stuff.

This weekend, we hit the market at Hévíz again, I was seriously attracted to a statue of Our Lady but my friends, practised marketers themselves, said that the 100 000 ft ($360/€312) the chap wanted for it was ridiculous; 15 000 ft would have been more reasonable. And, they said, it wasn’t 100 years old either. I’d done as I always do – I’d fixed a price that I’d have been prepared to pay for it before I asked how much it was. I’d 30 000 ft in my head. It was still there as we left. But I did spot a very unusual picture of Jesus and Mary. Unusual because he looks remarkably young – a teenager even. And she looks all of the 17 years she was when she gave birth. [The crucifix I was given by a mate who inherited it with his flat – it creeped him out.]

Jesus and Mary

Heart of Jesus, through Mary thy Kingdom come

From there we went to Keszthely, to see the ceramic studio of Szalay Imré. This master potter is famous for his tiled stoves. Such is his reach that a ceramics chap in Melbourne, Australia, has been working on introducing the traditional Hungarian stove down under. In our rather disposable world, littered as it is with cheap, mass-produced tat from China and Turkey, it’s great to see such traditional crafts becoming more and more popular. We have two chimneys, neither of which is in a room we want a stove. But if we can figure out a workaround for the winter garden, perhaps we could have one there.

Szalay Imré Hungarian tiled stove

Szalay Imré Hungarian ceramic tiles

We had the dogs with us, so we popped into Festetics Palace for a wander around the gardens. This Baroque palace began its life back in the mid-1700s and is really quite something. Such is its understated grandeur that it forces you back in time to think of days when it was a single-family residence and what life must have been like back then. [Upstairs. I’d have been upstairs.]

The last family members to reside in the Festetics Palace were Tassilo II’s son, George III (1882-1941) and his family. His wife, the Polish Countess Maria Haugwitz and their son, George IV (1940- ) left the palace in 1944.

We toured it a couple of years ago and I must dig out the photos. That was in the dead of winter. This time, we had the glorious sunshine of the Hungarian summer.

Festetics palace keszthely

Festetics Festetics palace keszthely

The view from the front lawn, though, is less than inspiring. Maria must have been long gone or else I’m sure she’d have lodged an objection to the monument to Communist architecture that drags the palace into the twenty-first century.

Grounds of Festetics Palace

I hadn’t appreciated the grounds before. They’re beautiful. And curiously, the occasional stone marker tells of trees planted by various heads of state from around the world. The one that grabbed me was a tree planted in 2004 by the then president of Vietnam. The Google translation I found of the event calls the tree in question ‘a sad lollipop’. Another calls it ‘a sad lizard’. Whatever it is, it’s a szomorú vörösfenyőt in Hungarian.

Festetics Palace Hungary

Festetics Palace Keszthely

The views of the palace vary – I had little trouble deciding what I would have done with my days, had I been in residence. Leisurely mornings reading under my choice of tree. Or perhaps taking tea in my choice of drawing room. Then planning the menu with the cook and deciding what I’d wear to dinner that evening. I might have spent some time in the library checking some random fact or other. Or even brought out my watercolours and tried to capture the house I called home. And this really was someone’s home in the last 80 years. How times have changed. I wonder what George IV is doing these days? Born in 1940, he’d be nearly 80. Curious minds want to know.

It was a busy week and a busier weekend. For the company of those who take me out of myself, I’m grateful.

Next week, I leave. We’re taking a road trip through Spain and Portugal, so this blog will be pretty quiet. If you want to come along, subscribe to email notifications of my travels from www.anyexcusetotravel.com. If not, I’ll see you when I get back.

 

 

 

Zala Springs

2017 Grateful 4

I’m lazy. I can be very lazy. And sometimes my CBA attitude has a price. I’d heard tell of Zala Spings, the golf course complex that opened near the village back in 2015. It’s just off the main road to Zalaegerszeg and if you’re heading to the thermal spa at Kehida and take the back road through Zalacsány, you’ll see it, too.

I noticed it last winter but wasn’t at all impressed. It looked like a poor attempt at emulating the K Club, or Mount Juliet, two rather spectacular golf courses in Ireland. I’ll fess up. I was feeling a tad superior wondering how Hungary could ever compete with Ireland or Scotland when it came to golf courses – the tradition just wasn’t there. But, of course, the competition was only in my head. It happens sometimes.

Friends in the village had told me that their recent visitors had been to dinner there and while a little pricey, they said they were impressed. I pooh-poohed. Impressed with the food maybe, but the course? Nah.

Of the visitors we’ve had to date, none has been a golfer. We’ve passed the golf club numerous times and have never ventured in. Until yesterday. And I was wrong. Yep. Wrong. The place has potential. It ranks as No. 1 in the list of 100 golf courses in Hungary and has had some interesting reviews.

Zala SpringsFirst of all, it’s not a golf club, it’s a golf resort. Situated about 2 hours drive from Zagreb, Budapest, and Vienna, it’s a prime location for golfers who like their style or timeshare travellers who want to spend 4 weeks a year on what could well be (become) a championship golf course (five Par 5 holes and lots of water hazards would make for a challenging round of golf). The 2-4-bedroom apartments are ready to move in to and judging from the site plan we saw, lots more are to be built, assuming there’s a demand. The website isn’t clear. I’m not sure if you buy the apartment and then they rent it for you or whether you just buy a time share. But either way, if you’re in Zala country, it would be quite the place to stay.

Green fees will set you back about €60 but it seems you can buy a day pass which presumably will let you play all day for a few euro more. The Pro shop is a tad on the expensive side, possibly catering to the fat pockets of golfers on tour. The entrance is quite impressive and the airiness of the clubhouse is rather lovely. Yep – I was definitely wrong.

Their New Years offer is a steal – overnight stay, gala dinner, dancing till dawn, all the wine and champers you can tipple, and then breakfast the next for under €100 per person sharing. An attractive proposition but I’m not sure I’m ready to mix with the country club set just yet.

Still, it taught me something, a lesson I’m grateful for: I need to rein in my dismissiveness until I’ve actually checked whatever it is out in person. Lord only know what else I’ve been missing. I really must visit that Doll museum in Keszthely.

 

 

Still unpacking

Nearly ten years after I first posted on this blog, I’m still unpacking. That might lead you to believe that I have an incredible amount of stuff, moxie loads of things I’ve acquired over the years. I haven’t. Not really. I regularly purge and rid myself of the tat I mistook for taste. But these purges are less frequent these days, as I prefer to spend my money on experiences.

A friend visiting the village recently, commented on the range of things in the house, things I’ve brought back from my travels – art, books, stuff – that are now on display. I hadn’t given much thought to it, until today.

I’ve just finished painting the guest room – the ensuite with the balcony. Funny how this isn’t exactly what people imagine when you mention living in a rural village in Hungary where the butcher has just done his weekly run through the village and I didn’t have time to stop him. I slept through the breadman’s run this morning, too.

The house came with a lot of pine (ugh) furniture and it’ll be a few years before I have the wherewithal to change it. Likewise, the pitched ceiling in the guest room, is also a pine job – and having painted the upstairs landing (and taken two weeks to do it) I can’t summon the energy to tackle a ceiling of this size. Hence the white curtains and bedspread with their gold thread, woven in a village in Romania and laced together by a lovely old néni I met in Káptalantóti at the Sunday market, Liliomkert, in the good company of MI.

I noticed as I was putting stuff back, that almost everything has memories. The orange blanket I bought on the first of many trips to visit the lovelies B*C in Haarlem, the Netherlands. (I still think that Bloomendahl beach is one of Europe’s undiscovered gems.) The carved Buddha I bought on my first trip to visit the inimitable S&D in Hawaii. It’s a home from home, a place I know I’ll be welcomed and fed. The throw I brought back from Valdez some 16 years ago – it still has a label on it. (It’ll make a lovely lap cover for visitors wanting to enjoy a morning cuppa or an evening cocktail on the terrace – village life ain’t boring, it’s just laid back). The friends I made in that small Alaskan town live all over the world today, and we’re still in touch. You can’t get warmer than that. The blown glass dish we bought in Croatia this summer, on holiday with the intrepid J-Gs. The old biscuit tin or the copy of the Vogue cover I picked up at my favourite market in Bath, in the company of one of my favourite women in the world, the amazing MC. The cross-stitched cloth I found on my first road-trip to Eastern Hungary with the lovely KG. A bronze candle holder that my sis-in-law brought me back from Spain for my birthday. A José Fuster watercolour that screamed at me in Cuba. Even the duvet set has memories of a year spent in Oxford.

There’s new old stuff, too. The tapestry I bought on an online forum that turns out to have been stitched by a friend’s grandmother about 100 years ago. The tin figure of Our Lady that I found in an old wardrobe. A First Communion certificate dated 1948 from a child of a few owners back. Embroidered doilies that I found in a drawer. It all ties together nicely – in my head at least.

But it’s not about the stuff. I could have dressed that room in 10 minutes, had I had a mind to. They’re not just things – they’re hooks on which I hang sheathes of memories that warm me, keep me safe, and make me smile. I’d like to get new bedside lamps. I have a picture in my mind of what I’d like – they’re on my market-hunt list. They’ll have stories of their own. I’d like to get some new furniture or do something with what I inherited. But I’m in no great rush. Something will come to mind, when the time is right. Today, I’m just enjoying the trip back in time.

Hitting the spot

Where has the summer gone? Is it my imagination or is time flying by ever so quickly, much quicker than years ago when it seemed as if we’d all the time in the world to do whatever it was we had to do. Perhaps it’s a side-effect of the aging process. Or perhaps it’s because many of us don’t have weekends any more. With growing expectations from employers that we be online and available nearly 24/7, the days blur into weeks and the weeks into months and the months into years.

Some time ago, a colleague decided to take two weeks’ holiday. He told the boss that he’d be unavailable. He was going somewhere to switch off: no laptop, no smartphone, no connection to anyone other than those he was with. He wanted a break. The boss was a little piqued. Surely he could find time in the day to check his emails? And if it took an hour to answer them, was that too much to ask? My colleague needed to get with the programme. To come in line with twenty-first-century living. He needed to live up to expectations. But my colleague was adamant. He got his two weeks.

Not being part of the structured work system, some might argue that I’m on a permanent holiday. I can work from wherever I have an Internet connection. The downside is that I’m always working and rarely, if ever, am I completely offline for more than a couple of days. My choice. My lot. My decision. But summer has a way of being summer. In Ireland at the start of the season, I was basking in a cool 14 degrees when friends in Budapest were melting in 40. At breakfast one morning I noticed how everyone was in their summer gear – sundresses, shorts, t-shirts, sandals – even though it was cold and wet outside. No matter the weather, summer is summer.

I know I’m in summer mode when I start to plan everything I want to do over the three months or so from June to August. I make a list of places I want to visit, seasonal restaurants I want to try and other summer-dependent spots I want to take in. The plan being that once tried and tested, I can then take my summer visitors to enjoy them, too.

But invariably, there are some gems I discover too late, just as they’re about to close, their money made, their season over.

A friend of mine recently spent 11 days walking around the Balaton – some 244 km. She’s a natural researcher and had done her homework before turfing up to some village or other. She wanted to discover the best of what’s out there so that she could then share her finds. Two in particular are worth noting. For next year.

The lakeside village of Vonyarvashegy is on the north shore of the Balaton and is home to about 2000 people. The strand is well-tended, a lovely open spot offering access to the lake for people with disabilities. Popular with German tourists, it has a bigger-than-usual restaurant offer, perhaps the smallest of which is The Spot Grill & Bar. In its third year of operation, this little gem opens from 21 May to 10 September, offering trout, chicken, salads, and the requisite Balaton burgers. Probably tired of people dithering between ordering a burger or a langós (both summer favourites), the chef decided to join the two and instead of a burger bun, has encased the patty in a langós. Genius. The desserts, both of them, are seconds material. The tiramisu (the Italian pick-me=up) could have come from Treviso, Italy, and the cheesecake, served in a glass, is delicious. The cocktail list is decidedly upmarket with the Cosmopolitan made from cranberries – something hard to find in Hungary. Added to the excellent food, the simple décor, and the fresh feel of it all is the excellent service. Robert has it nailed – always available, never intrusive, and very helpful. The Spot could hold its own just about anywhere. Class all the way.

The much smaller village of Káptalantóti swells in size for the Sunday market, Liliomkert. Hundreds of visiting tourists and summer residents (mainly German) descend on the place, turning the village into an obstacle course and the local fields into parking lots. With everything from a jar of honey to a kitchen dresser on offer, the place is a mecca for those looking for a piece of Hungary to take home. Nestled in the heart of the Badacsony wine region, the village has several vineyards of note, my current favourite being the Sabar Borház.

The enterprising local tourist board has organised a hop-on, hop-off wine bus that leaves the village 7 times daily every two hours to visit local vineyards.  A daily ticket will set you back 1500 ft. A must for next year. This year, I settled for a stop-off at Istvándy Winery. The restaurant was booked solid, which is no wonder, considering that everything on the menu is locally sourced – even the beef, which come from the herd of grey cattle looking over the fence. The panoramic vista of the Balaton and the vineyards is stunning. And, testament to the attention this family-run business pays to its customers, those of us sprawled on picnic blankets (supplied) on the hill below the restaurant didn’t feel the slightest bit cheated. As we ate our toasted sambos (mangalica pork and trout were the two on offer that day), sipped our grape-juice fröccs (so tasty I could actually fool myself into thinking I was drinking wine), and enjoyed the view, it struck me that life couldn’t get much better.

The summer is nearly over. The cool evenings are setting in. And as the autumn raises its head over the parapet, I can enjoy my favourite time of year knowing I have a head start on what I’ll do in summer 2018.

First published in the Budapest Times 8 September 2017

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