Fall Weekend at the Balaton

First, a programing note:  We’ll spend the next week in Bled, Slovenia (Daniel has his fall break from school) and I won’t be doing any posts.  Look for a full report when we return.

Last weekend, we enjoyed a long, 4-day break at Lake Balaton. The weather was glorious for mid-October; likely the last warm stretch we will get as we head into winter.  The lake and warmer weather gave some beatiful, foggy mornings as you can see in these two panorama shots.

The first day, we went for a hike in the hills behind the house.  There is a large ridge that run behind the house, which you can see part of in the photo.  I’ve always wanted to scale the hill, and we finally consulted the map and found what looked to be a suitable trail.  It was only 3-4 kilometers, but it took much longer than expected.  The first part (up) was very steep, as you might expect.  The kids did great, though (Matthew was napping, which also meant that I didn’t need to lug him up in the pack). Once at the top, the going was much easier, though the trail isn’t used much and is poorly marked, leading us to take a number of wrong turns on intersecting hunting trails.  Also, the top is tree covered, so you don’t get much of a view, with the exception of a brief glimpes of the Balatonederic church we had on the descent.  Still we had a good time and were happy to enjoy the beautiful weather.







The following day we traveled to Sárvár, a small city about an hour north from the lake.  We spent the morning at the Sárvári fürdő (bath), a set of pools and spas. The Sárvári fürdő has a particularly nice area for children, with areas that both Matthew and the older ones could enjoy.





After the kids splashed around for a few hours and lunch, we wandered through the town.  The town has a beautiful park with an old castle on the grounds.  The castle buildings still function as a museum and government buildings.


Friday Night Lights

Or, more accurately: Sunday Afternoon, No lights.

In the US, many communities rally around their high school’s football team.  In Hungary, the community gathers to watch the village soccer team play.  In August, we were fortunate to be in Balatonederics (our home village at lake Balaton) on a Sunday when the village team had a home game.

On a morning bike ride, we knew there would be a game as some of the streets around the field were blocked off and vendors were already staking out their territory near the field. At 2PM, Daniel, Matthew, and I walked to the field for the start of the match.  Here you can see the teams gathering at the start of the match:

Balatonederics is in the blue, while the visitors from the village of Nyirád were in the red.  As you can see, the teams wear nice uniforms and there are officials assigned to the match.  The teams are not affiliated with the schools, and the players’ ages vary greatly; the captain of the Balatonederics squad (standing next to the referee) is probably about 50 years old and played as one of the center defenders.

These two pictures show the vendors outside the stadium and the villagers gathered to watch the game.  The vendors sold mainly toys, though there was some food and drinks and also pony rides. The gameday was quite windy and chilly, so I think the crowd was rather small and business was slow.

Above is one action photo from the actual game.  We’ve played on the field on non-game days; it’s bumpy and dusty and makes for some uneven bounces.  Overall, the quality of play was pretty good given the small sizes of the villages involved. The most skilled player (to my untrained eye) was actually the old captain for Balatonederics. He didn’t move that well but was always in a good position and handled the ball very well.  Daniel though that #11 in the center of the picture looked like former president Franklin Pierce, so we referred to him as such throughout the match. Balatonederics seemed to be the better team, but neither team scored, at least up until the 80th minute when the rains came and Nagypapa fortunately drove over to pick us up.

Bicycling to Szent Mihály Kápolna

With the harvest finished last Sunday, the family was able to spend the morning on a bicycle trip.  This trip took us 10km along the Balaton bicycling path to Szent Mihály kápolna (St. Michael’s chapel), a small church atop a hill at the edge of lake Balaton.  The trip was pleasant; as you would expect the path along the lake is flat for the most part.  At about half way, we stopped for a break at a small cove by the lake that offered this pleasing view:

You can see the Badacsony hill, our previous bicycling destination, in the distance.  Part of the path we rode upon is shown here, with a glimpse of the chapel atop the hill in the background:

Once at the hill, we pushed our bikes to the top.  Here are a couple of scenes from in and around the chapel:

Harvest (szüret)

As I mentioned last week, the grape harvest at the lake was last weekend.  Overall, it was great fun, but also a lot of work.  Here’s a not so short recap of how you start with grapes and wind up with a barrel (or more of wine).

First, obviously, you must cut down all the grapes.  The have some clippers that you use to cut the bunches of grapes (you can see Panka holding a pair in the first picture).  The kids (especially Panka) loved helping with this part.  The picking was 2/3 done when we arrived on Friday afternoon, but we finished the rest up that evening.

When the bucket of grapes is full, it is taken to a machine that grinds up the grapes.  The bucket is poured in the top and then when you crank the wheel, it basically just smushes the grapes and also separates out most of the stems. What is left is a large container of grape soup with peels and a few stems floating around.

Before the end of the evening, nagypapa checked the sugar content of the grapes to determine how much sugar he will need to add to the barrels at the end to get a good fermentation (this is your chemistry lesson for the day).  We also got to enjoy some of the juice.

The next morning (Saturday) we began loading the smushed grapes into the press.  Bucket by bucket we carry the grapes and load them into the press.  Most of the peels and remaining stems get caught up in the wooden slats of the press while the juice runs down, goes through a strainer, and is collected in a bucket. Once the press is full, a wooden disc and some blocks are fitted on the top and you can begin to press the grapes.  This takes a while, since once it becomes hard to press any further, you can wait 5 or 10 minutes and the pressure diminishes a bit allowing you to press further.  The whole operation took 5 or 6 hours, and once the first pressing was done, all the remaining grapes were loaded on top for some more pressing.  At the end, all of the remaining grape material feels solid, but spongy, sore of like an eraser.

In the middle of the pressing, we enjoyed my favorite Hungarian meal, bableves (bean soup), thanks to nagymama.

During and after the pressing, all of the collected juices are taken to the cellar and poured into barrels.  This harvest produced over 300 liters of juice.  I’ll try to report on the quality of the final product (the wine) next year!

Balaton village churches: Nemesvita

We’ll be back to the lake this afternoon to finish up the harvest of the grapes this weekend.  Before we go, here’s part 3 of my tour of village churches in our area.

Nemesvita is the next village north from our home in Balatonederics along the slopes of the Kesthely hills.  Nemesvita is further from the lake with no direct lake access and fewer nice views of the lake, and thus has few vacation homes (other than a very nice horse ranch/resort) than Balatongyörök or Baltonederics did. The village consists mainly of narrow roads wandering up the hillside, with simple, stucco-covered homes. The templom in Nemesvita stands rather high up on the hillside, offering inviting views as it rises above the village.  From up-close, it is a bit run down and not as tidy as the others so far, though on the Saturday that I biked there I was able to hear some glorious organ music blasting from the church as someone practiced. It was great to just rest and listen to the music a bit, and I found myself surprised that these small churches in the small villages have organs that sound so grand.

Without further ado, here’s a set of photos from the village:

Working the land

We just found out that the grape harvest at the lake will be next weekend.  I’d been planning to finish a draft and post about the grapes before the harvest, so I guess I’d better get that out now…

The Lake Balaton region has soil and climate well suited for the production of  wines, particularly white wines.  It comes as no surprise then that a large part of the arable land in the region is dedicated to growing grapes (as you may have already gathered from my pictures in previous posts).  The harvest is approaching next week, but I already had a glimpse into the work that goes into caring for the vines this summer.  Dora’s parents have a small vineyard of there own; it was larger but they’ve slowly cut back to make the workload more manageable.  One of the tasks that I helped with when we first arrived was covering all of the vines.  The grapes are delicious, and flocks of birds can sometimes decend on a vineyard for a tasty meal.  Thus, nets are draped over the grapes and clipped at the bottom.  Fortunately, most of the grapes survived me and my constant snacking as I helped clip the nets.

I’m not sure what kind of grape this is (they have several varieties).  Perhaps riesling. They also have a grape called muscataly (muscat in English, I believe) that was particularly ripe and delicious.

A row of the grapes covered with the nets.

A close up of the nets clipped at the bottom to cover the grapes.

In addition to grapes, they grow a lot of fruits and vegetables too.  I’ve seen some large, modern farm operations in the area, but there are also a lot of small plots worked by villagers.  Here’s a picture of a small plot just down the road from Dora’s parent’s house.  The older gentleman (and others that I’ve seen) cares for the land with the help of his horse and wagon.  On this day he was cutting some hay; last year he was doing it by hand with a scythe, this year I saw him out with a weedwhacker.

Weekend at the lake

Last weekend, we traveled from Budapest back to Lake Balaton for a couple of days while the weather is still nice.  We started out on Saturday morning and drove to Fonyód, a nice village on the south side of the lake that has a market on Saturdays.

The market had lots and lots of stuff, everything from your typical flea market goods to homegrown produce.  Most of it is open-air, but here is one scene from a building devoted to selling meat.  Unfortunately, the picture fails to capture the aroma of the building…

The kids also got some treats.  Here are Dani and Panka enjoying kürtőskalács, a warm, fresh spiral bread coated with sugar and other flavors (in this case, one vanilla and one with nuts).

The kids also became official Europeans, acquiring their first soccer jerseys.  Bonus points award to anyone that can identify the two players (answer will follow toward the end of the post).

Once we returned to Balatonederics, we enjoyed a wonderful lunch of grilled pork, complements of the “grillmaster” nagypapa (Hungarian for grandpa).

On Sunday, we went for a short hike in the hills near the house.  Here are the kids in the forest.  Also, you can (almost) see the answer to the earlier quiz: Frank Ribery of France and Wayne Rooney of England.

Our destination was a lookout tower atop a hill the overlooks the lake.  Here Dani at the top of the tower, with the omnipresent Badacsony looming in the background.

After our hike, it was back home for dinner, then to the beach for a quick swim before heading back to Budapest.

Balaton village churches: Balatonederics

I’ll have a post on our weekend activities by the lake in the next couple of days, but for now here is the second installment in my series on village churches, at our home village at Lake Balaton, Balatonederics (the first installment is here).

Like many lake communities, Balatonederics has a mixture of permanent village homes and vacation/weekend homes.  The lower part of the village (where the church is located) is densely populated with a few thousand people.  As you reach the upper slopes, you get more fields and weekend homes.

At the center of the village is the templom (church).  Balatonederics’s church seems to be quite well maintained.  Here are a few perspectives:

View from above (actually from our driveway)

View from the outskirts of the village

Another shot from just within the village

Close-up view

Bicycling to Badacsony

One of our last undertakings of our summer vacation at Lake Balaton was a biking trip to a town called Badacsony.  Badacsony lies at the base of an impressive hill of the same name.  The flat top of this vulcanic landmark can be seen from miles in any direction.  Here is a view of our destination, taken from our home on the morning of our journey.

Overall, the ride is somewhere between 12-15 km one way.  The ride is mainly flat, and Daniel and Panka managed the round trip ride with only minimal complaining (Matthew enjoyed the ride from a seat on the back of my bike, including a short nap on the way home).  The route follows the Balaton körüt (translation: circle), a 204 km loop around the lake.  Most of our ride was on dedicated bike paths, though the last part followed some less-travelled village roads. Here is a view of the Badacsony from one of the small villages at the base of the hill:

Once in Badacsony, we had a well-deserved lunch.  Badacsony is a fairly popular townn to visit, so it has a nice walking path populated with small food vendors, seen below. After lunch the kids all played on the playground and we enjoyed an ice cream (more on ice cream later…) before heading back home.  Here is a scene from the village:

Balaton village churches: Balatongyörök

My father-in-law likes to drive to regions around the lake taking pictures of birds.  He has some great shots, but I could never really understand the patience it takes to get these pictures.  Lately, though, I’ve begun to understand better, as I’ve taken up biking to local villages to visit and take pictures of the village churches.  Every village I’ve visited, even if just a small collection of 20-30 homes, will have a church at its center.  These churches are usually simple, elegant structures.  I’ve been able to get to 5 or 6 different villages so far, and periodically I’ll share pictures from these trips.

The first visit is to Balatongyörök. Balatongyörök is probably the least traditional of the villages that I’ve visited, since the village hillside is situated directly above lake Balaton and is now populated by large vacation homes.  Still, the old church remains, with a great view of the lake (unfortunately, I couldn’t get any shots of the church and the lake because of the adjacent forrest).