We woke to a cold house. The electricity had gone out about 4 am. What heat we had built up had quickly dissipated and my hot flushes weren’t coming nearly quick enough to keep me warm.
We had it all planned. We left in plenty of time to get to the garden centre in Balatonkeresztúr before it shut at 5 pm. Time enough to pick out some fruit trees (quince for me, plum and peach for himself), have a quick look at the Christmas offer, if it had been tabled, and then drop me at the station in Zalakomár to catch the train to Budapest. The timing was planned with a precision peculiar to anal Irish women and the military. We departed on schedule. We arrived on schedule. But winter hours kicked in last month and the place now closes at 4 pm. We arrived at 4.01.
With the guts of an hour and a half before I had to catch my train, we had time on our hands and nothing to do with it. We decided to check out the lake at Balatonmáriafürdő. Bracing ourselves for the biting cold, we walked the pier at the ferry port and watched the remains of the sunset leak out over the water. Named after Bernáth Aurél, the Hungarian painter born in nearby Marcali, the promenade juts out into the Balaton, no doubt lined with fishermen in the summer. At 4.30 pm on a Tuesday evening in late November, with temperatures hovering around zero, there was no one but us and the ducks. Bernáth seems to have been quite the ticket. He maintained that there are five reasons people are generally interested in paintings (translation by Google):
1. ha szabadban készül, 2. ha öröklik, 3. ha egy kiállításon felháborodásból beszakítják, 4. ha ellopják, 5. ha pornografikus
1. if they are outdoors, 2. if they inherit, 3. if they are being outraged at an exhibition, 4. if they are stolen, 5. if they are pornographic.
He took a six-month honeymoon around Europe in the 1920s and after it painted the piece Riveria – my art covet for this week.
There’s something magical about the Balaton in winter. when the only colours breaking the grey-blue palate are the gold of the rushes and the reds and oranges of the setting sun. Judging by the number of restaurants, cafés, pensions, and hotels, the town must heave in the summer. And given that most signs we saw on the jetty were in both Hungarian and German, a large portion of visitors must be from Németország. With one government-run beach and seven free ones, the town seems to have plenty to offer. As it turns out, the one we stopped at was a free one, at the boat harbour, Hajóállomási strand, where the ferry runs across the lake to Szigliget. But from a little research, the one I’d like to revisit in late spring/early summer is Őrház utcai strand – I need to see if the town’s publicity photo does it justice.
I’d also like to catch the Balaton Old Boys in action. Playing locally since 2010, these old boys are hell-bent on reviving 1960s guitar sounds. What began as a three-man band has grown into a cultural association. From the smallest acorn comes a big Oak tree. There’s also a small museum chronicling the journey the town made from a vineyard to a bathing centre. It’s open from May to September, so plenty to come back for in early May before the hordes descend.
Back in the car, we thawed out just enough to make the thoughts of another walk appealing. And again, in Balatonberény, we had the place to ourselves. Across the lake, we could see the lights of Keszthely flickering in the distance. Still blustery and bitingly cold, it was magical. This Balaton town is probably most famous for its naturist camping site. On the go since the late 1980s, it’s Hungary’s oldest naturist site and in addition to pitches, it has a motel, mobile homes, and holiday cottages. If I’m reading the website right, it seems to be pretty much self-contained with everything from coffee shops to bars and buffets restaurants, a grocery store, and a laundry facility, You can play volleyball or table tennis or even chess down on the beach. And all in the nip, but from the photos, clothes appear to be optional…mmmm.
We took the Old Route 7 back to Zalakomár with talk of travelling on that road the whole way to Budapest next year, just to see what gems the motorway has us missing. What started out as muttered curses for getting the opening times wrong turned out to be a lovely couple of healthy hours discovering something new. Village life, I tell you. It just keeps on giving.