The first two countries where I had spent time on my trip didn’t require me to get out of my comfort zone and speak anything other than English the whole time I was there. Even if the people didn’t speak much, they could usually help with directions or know enough for me to be able to order food in a restaurant.
Hungary changed all that.
I was staying in Ljubljana and needed to be in Budapest for two days time and so was looking for a small town to visit along the way. I read about Lake Balaton online, and having never heard of it before, I thought it might be fun to go somewhere a bit different.
Lake Balaton is the largest freshwater lake in central Europe, and I’d read it’s where the majority of Hungarians like to go on holiday to escape the heat of the bigger towns.
The entire town was bizarre.
As I stepped off the train I felt like I’d wandered onto the set of Tommy, and I was soon to discover that the town was just as weird as the film.
With only a few scribbled down directions I’d frantically made in the train 2 minutes before arriving, I walked out of the train station and straight onto a street with no shops, no people, and apparently no street name.
I walked up and down the road for a good hour in 40 degree heat just trying to find out what the name of the street was, before giving up and going back to the train station to cry.
After spending a few minutes feeling sorry for myself, I told myself to man up, got out my kindle and went onto Google maps to find the vague direction in which I needed to walk.
It was on this walk that I started to notice the insanity of this whole town.
My stress and unhappiness turned into confusion and laughter as the shops became progressively stranger as I neared my hostel.
It took me about three hours in total but I eventually found my hostel. Of the twenty or so people that were staying there, not one of them spoke English, including the owner, so it was interesting trying to communicate with her throughout my stay there.
I didn’t mind the fact that it had taken me ages to find the hostel, I wasn’t too bothered that nobody spoke english, but the one thing that drove me absolutely crazy was the fact that there was no internet!
For some bizarre reason, when the internet goes down in one place in Balatonlelle, it goes down everywhere. This meant every single restaurant, bar, etc had no wifi. This apparently happens once a month and lasts for about a week at a time.
There is no way I could ever live there.
Still, I decided to make the most of my time offline, and set off to spend my only day there exploring the lake.
It was, well, pretty anti climatic to be honest. I was walking around thinking THIS is where everyone in Hungary goes on their holiday?! Don’t get me wrong, it was a nice temperature, there were lots of patches of grass to sit on and sunbathe, tons of pretty restaurants and bars – that was all great. It was just the lake itself.
Walking around Lake Balaton feels like you’ve entered a time warp. It has the strange atmosphere of a seaside town in the seventies. There are blackboards up everywhere with the day’s activities written on them, people walk around with knotted handkerchiefs on their heads pitching tents on the grass, there were people walking around with megaphones announcing classes that were taking place and everyone was sporting strange and dated clothing.
This is obviously not the seventies, and Lake Balaton is far, far away from the sea. However, this didn’t stop everyone from behaving like they were on a beach. Everybody lies on towels in the mud to sunbathe, makes mudcastles, and swims in the dirty-looking water of the lake.
I went for a walk around in the water, and although it worked well at cooling me down, it wasn’t particularly pleasant. I much preferred sitting in the shade with a book, having a drink and people watching – and believe me, people watching by Lake Balaton is one of the funniest things you can ever do!
I am glad I visited Lake Balaton. It gave me the opportunity to see a part of Hungary that I doubt I would have otherwise experienced. Although the language barrier was tricky, and the lake itself wasn’t exceptionally pretty, it was nice to get away from the online world for 24 hours and relax in a completely unique environment.
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