One of the many stresses of traveling overseas on a budget is finding an affordable and conveniently located place to stay. You have plans to see so many places but if you don’t book your lodging in advance, you may be shit out of luck. We’ve luckily only experienced this one time having to miss a town we wanted to see and it almost happened for Lake Balaton. We had heard many good things about Lake Balaton from friends and researching, but we decided to go there last minute and we were having troubles finding an affordable place to stay. We requested a few places and by the time they received our request, they were already booked. Feeling stressed and on edge, we decided to try one more request and if it didn’t work out, we were going to have to skip Lake Balaton. Luckily, they answered our request right away and accepted us! We had a train ride that was a little over 3 hours, with the last hour riding along the beautiful blue lake with mountains in the background before we arrived at Lake Balaton.
Our hosts, Kornel and Petra, picked us up from the train station, which was one of the many nice things they did for us during our stay. Looking sweaty and gross we shook their hands and introduced ourselves. They apologized for their ‘poor English’ (like every one over here does!) but we understood them just fine. They took us to our rental which was one of the few places we’ve stayed at over here that didn’t have a million flights of stairs! The place was like a cute little beach house, the walls decorated with Petra’s dad’s wood carvings that were beautiful. They had the fridge stocked for us with homemade goulash soup, homemade jelly, fruit and vegetables picked from their garden, and Turo Rudi, which is a Hungarian candy bar. I didn’t try one but they were described to me as sweet cream covered in chocolate, Abby and Caleb tried it and they enjoyed them. I instead tried my first fig and it was delicious! They showed us the beach that was close to our place and then invited us to their home for a barbecue and to meet their children. Even though we looked and felt disgusting, we accepted the invite: who can turn down a free meal anyways?!
On the way to their place they drove us past the town square, a castle, and a museum. We also stopped at the store to get food and beers for the night. They paid for everything! Once we got to their house we went to the backyard which was honestly any man’s dream. There was an outdoor kitchen with a wood burning stove, oven, smoker and grill. There was a bathroom, dining room, storage room, and patio, which Kornel built all by himself. Immediately, he cracked some beers open for us and got Abby her glass of wine. We talked and drank and got to know each other while they prepped dinner. While talking, Kornel got out some of the last sausage that he had made. He smoked it around Christmas time for a week straight, and it had been in his meat cabinet since then. It was so delicious. The best way I can describe it is like the best tasting Slim Jim I’ve ever had, without the gut ache and feeling unhealthy after eating it. Petra had to go get the kids from her parents so Abby and I rode along with her while Caleb stayed back and helped Kornel prepare food. Her parents house had an amazing garden in the backyard with every fruit and vegetable imaginable. Their backyard looked over the beach and we watched the sun set as we were there, it was so beautiful. The kids, Bori (girl) and Soma (boy), greeted us with the biggest, blue eyes and bashful smiles. They would look at us but once we returned the gaze, they would hide and giggle, this happened most of the time we were there. Both her parents couldn’t speak English but we still managed to have a conversation through very expressive body language and a little help from Petra translating.
Once we were back we continued the drinking and ate some very delicious food. Kornel grilled pork steaks in his smoker and Petra made a couple of vegetable salads. Kornel gave us some shots of palinka, which is a custom liquor for Hungary. We had a lot of plans for the next day and were tired from our traveling but we still ended up drinking and talking until around 1:30. We felt so comfortable with them in such little time, we honestly felt like we were family from the way they treated us. Petra drove us back to our place and we had plans to see them the next day. We left their place feeling spoiled, overjoyed and lucky to have had that experience with such great people.
The second day we woke up not feeling too hungover, surprisingly, and had some bread and homemade jelly for breakfast and homemade goulash soup for lunch, We got ready for the day and made our way to the train station to take us to Petra and Kornel’s place, which was on the other side of the lake. We made it to the train station but couldn’t figure out which train to get on. And of course, there was no one working to help us. We walked to a couple different places looking for help but never found any. Feeling defeated and confused we texted Petra that we couldn’t figure out the train. She apologized to us for not giving us the train information and they ended up driving over to come get us! Seriously, cannot get over how nice they were to us. We waited by the beach until Kornel and Soma showed up to take us to their home. We went back to their place and picked up Petra and Bori and made our way up in the mountains to see the Peace Stupa. It’s located in Zalaszanto and is the biggest Buddhist shrine in Europe. It was actually consecrated by the Dalai Lama on my 2nd birthday, June 17 of 1993. We went in the temple adjacent to the stupa with Kornel and watched a meditation session which was very cool to see.
After the temple, we went up another mountain where a lot of people fill up jugs of natural spring water to drink at home. They said they usually have to wait a long time to fill their jugs because there are lines and lines of people and cars but luckily we didn’t have to wait on anyone that day. We then went to the tallest and best lookout of Lake Balaton and saw a great view of the lake with the mountains. But honestly, no matter where you were the view was beautiful. We walked down the hill and soaked our feet in freezing spring water that was supposed refresh and heal your sore feet. After sight seeing for the day, we went to the beach located close to Kornel and Petra’s home to cool down, as it was around 100 every day we were there. We went back to their place after swimming for dinner, beer, and water polo. Hungary was playing Croatia in the FINA World Finals and Kornel was a huge fan, especially since he is Croatian AND Hungarian! It was a great game, Hungary was getting their butts kicked in the beginning but ended up making a great comeback. They ended up losing and luckily, Kornel isn’t like a Husker fan and said “good for them” when Croatia won and didn’t let it ruin his night. We drank a little longer than expected, again, but went home around midnight because we had plans to go to the market around 8 am the next day!
They picked us up, again, the next day and took us to the market in a nearby town. Petra informed us that people come from all over for these markets, which happen every Sunday. There was an assortment of foods and antiques, jewelry, clothes and much more. I wanted so badly to buy so many things but I can barely fit all my clothes in my bag at this point. At the market they bought us garlic cheese and goat cheese with walnut and berries to try. It was some of the best cheese I’ve had, in my opinion, and I don’t like cheese that much. Abby and I bought some jewelry, which was the first thing we had to pay for, and then we made our way to the “sea of rocks.” There were huge rocks every where that were the remains of the ocean floor that once covered Hungary. You could crawl all over and in between them. It’s most known for it’s “moving stone”, which is one huge rock balanced on another. Caleb and I both stood on one side of this moving stone and it would teeter as we put more weight to one side or the other. Soma was pretty upset he couldn’t go with us to the sea of rocks and I understood why once we got there, it was like a jungle gym made of rocks.
It was another hot day, so Kornel and Petra took us to another beach. Before we went swimming we went to get lunch and try the traditional fish soup that Kornel loves. It’s chunks of carp in a spicy red broth made from pureed carp and tomato sauce. It was, interesting. Abby and I had never had carp before, so thank goodness Kornel told us to not swallow the bones, otherwise we probably would have. It wasn’t bad, but I definitely think we will stick with goulash soup instead. We then went to the beach for an hour or so and cooled down before we went to our next tourist stop. We went to the next town, Tihany, and had a cup of coffee to wake us up quick before we did some more walking on this extremely hot day. We saw the Abbey Church and overlooked the lake from another beautiful spot. Next, we went to one of the many castles that surrounded Lake Balaton, Szigliget Castle, that was built in the 12th century. When you first look at it from below, it looks like a bunch of ruins. But once you walked in the castle and up the stairs you realized how huge it was. Once at the top, it had a beautiful view of the lake, mountains, and surrounding villages. We went home, picked up the kids, and had beers while they prepped supper for us again. They made us traditional Croatian Hamburgers, rice, and my favorite cucumber salad I’ve ever had..still craving it! We promised Petra we wouldn’t stay and drink so late, since she always has to be the one to drive us home, and we went home “early,” at around midnight.
Another story to show how amazingly nice Petra and Kornel were to us; before we even got to Lake Balaton we noticed we messed up on booking our Airbnb’s. When we were booking how many nights we wanted to stay at Lake Balaton, we accidentally booked it one night too short. So we basically had one night where we had nowhere to stay. We messaged our next Airbnb host asking if we could come early, but they had someone else booked for that night. So, we asked Petra and Kornel if we could book their rental for one more night but they sadly had it booked for someone else as well. But since they are so damn nice, they offered their tent and their backyard to us, FOR FREE. This was before we even met them, and they were already bending over backwards to help us. We obviously said yes because we knew it would be a good and funny experience and we really had no other choice.
So on our last day in Lake Balaton we packed our bags, left our rental and figured out how to get a train and rode to their place. We had a relaxing day at their place as Petra and Kornel both had to get work done. But they had beer stocked for us and let us treat their house as if it was our own. They even let us use their washer which was awesome because it had been a little bit since we had been able to wash our clothes. For lunch, Petra and I prepared soup for everyone. I kept making sure I was doing things correctly and she said to me “just like at home”, I gave her a look and she said “do you not cook much at home?” Bingo! After eating, the whole family and us three went to the beach for the last time. Abby, Caleb and Kornel took bikes so that they could come back earlier and help get supper ready When we got back to their place they started prepping supper and Kornel’s friend Attila came over. He spoke very good English and was so smart and nice! I think Kornel was glad he was there to talk to us because it was exhausting for Kornel to follow our fast talking and trying to translate it all in his head. Abby and I were told when we get drunk we talk really fast, surprise-surprise there. We talked history, culture, and of course, politics. Attilla brought homemade brandy and we passed around shots for most of the night. At around 11, I was exhausted and had to go to bed, even though I didn’t want our last night to end and I loved the company. For once, being the third wheel had it’s advantages and I actually got a bed inside the house while Abby and Caleb camped in the backyard. Caleb and Abby continued to chat with Attila for another hour or so, and Attila was so disappointed when Caleb said he had to head to bed shortly after midnight.
The next morning Petra had sandwiches made for our train ride and coffee ready for us. After coffee, Kornel drove us to Nagykanizsa, a town 30 miles away, where his work is and where our train ride started. He showed us his workplace which was like a smaller Menard’s and gave us some more coffee to wake us up. He drove us to the train station and waited until our train left the tracks, sending us off with a goodbye wave. We were sad to leave them and hope to see them again and are SO thankful for everything they did for us.
It is crazy to think that we almost skipped Lake Balaton, yet ended up having a greater experience than we could have ever imagined because we met some of the nicest, most giving people.