Lake Balaton: Keszthely to Balatonfüred

Monday was May Day, also Labor Day and a major holiday in much of the world – especially the former Warsaw Pact countries. I knew that everything would be closed, so I had bought some yoghurt and brioches at the 05-22 market last night for breakfast. My neighbors (two Germans, one Austrian, one Swiss) all drove off to find breakfast, I know not where. Before they returned, I was packed up and on the road. Today, I would ride the length of Lake Balaton, my first major objective outside Italy. The sky remained overcast all day, but it was warm enough for me to wear my shorts. The mountains rising behind the south shore hid in the mists. Visibility only extended clearly to the middle of the lake. Obviously the water was warmer than the air, so that the vapor rising off the lake condensed into mist.

The Balatoni Körüt (bike path) extends all the way around the lake, and it is asphalt all the way along the north shore. Except for the tree roots it is an ideal facility, and even the tree roots were not so common as to make me want to get on the highway nearby. Roads, railways and bike paths all like flat land, so Highway 71, the MAU-Start rail line and the Balatoni Körüt ran together most of the time. Occasionally the bike path ran on the highway, but when it did, there was a separated bike lane or a multi-use path to separate me from the traffic. Nice.

The Lake is teeming with fish, if the population density of fishermen is any indicator. Some fished in family groups, like an outing; others seemed to set up “man camps” along the shore, with heavy, permanent tents, multiple fishing rod holders, and small groups of men drinking beer and chatting by the water. A common sight was a solitary bicycle leaning against a tree, near an elderly man tending his fishing rod alone.

Each village along the lake operated one or more multi-use parks, with picnic tables, a food concession, playground equipment and grassy areas for play or relaxation.

Halfway to Balatonfüred, I stopped for lunch at a service station that had a picnic area in a gazebo. There, I saw a curious rig for letting the customers check and fill their tyres for free: a compressed gas bottle hanging on a compressed air tube, in such a way the it is topped off all the time. When customer wants air for their tyres, they pick up the jug and carry it to their vehicle. Kind of cool.

It did not take long to cover the 74 km to Balatonfüred, where I planned to spend the night. The Babi Guesthouse sat in a quiet residential neighborhood, which promises a good night’s sleep. The place only reopened in 2017 after extensive renovations, so I enjoyed the latest in hotel comfort for a boarding house rate. I had planned to spend only one night, but the enthusiasm of Imre for his native town and its surroundings convinced me to add a night so that I could tour the town and the beautiful Tihany Peninsula. I did the laundry and hung it on the balcony on the eastern side of the building, knowing that the rising sun would have everything perfectly dry in the morning by the time I was ready to do something with it. I walked toward the shore, and found a pizzeria about 600 m from the hotel.

By staying an extra day in Balatonfüred, I committed myself to taking the train to make it to Budapest on the 3rd of May. After walking back to my room, I tried to buy an online ticket, but, as often happens when crossing a border, the Visa security algorithm rejected the transaction. I have figured out that this is caused by making online orders while travelling. The order comes to Visa from an IP (computer location) too far from the location where I am sitting online. This seems to happen regardless of whether I notify the bank of my future travel plans, because it’s not the bank interfering; it’s the Visa transaction service between me and the bank. In the past, I had to call the card issuer and get them to authorize the transaction, but it was not worth the hassle in this case. I gave up the discount for online purchase, and decided to buy the ticket at the window. This would also allow me to reconnoiter the station. Hauling 135 kg of me and the bicycle poses challenges in facilities without elevators or ramps.

The next day, the sun blazed into the east-facing window in the room, but I dozed until after eight. I made breakfast of some oatmeal and fruited yoghurt, eggs, and two bananas from the minimarket I passed on the way to the restaurant last night. Good not to have to go out for breakfast. The laundry was indeed dry, so I took it in as soon as I got dressed. I donned my short bicycle kit again and headed for the train station near the guesthouse. It had no elevator to get my loaded bike from the ticket lobby to the platform. However, I could walk my bike onto the platform from the street. It reminded me of a time before fear and fences started making access to public facilities inconvenient.

With my ticket in my wallet, I rode toward the Balatonfüred waterfront. The air smelled clean and fresh; the sun made it feel warmer than the thermometer indicated. As before, the far side of the lake lurked behind the mist that condensed when the water vapor hit the cool air. At the waterfront I found an attractive, park-like promenade area, with a yacht harbor, walkways, bike lanes, gravel paths, and manicured flowerbeds and lawns. The western end of the park was receiving considerable maintenance, probably to get ready for the tourist season. This included repaving of the Balatoni Körüt where it fed into downtown. I had to ride on the wide, bumpy sidewalk (now a “multi-use facility”), for about 150 meters. I could not mind; it meant that this town routinely kept up its bike facilities.

On a stretch of road from which cars had been restricted in favor of non-motorized uses, I was flagged down by a pair of cyclists heading the other way.

“Do you speak English?” shouted the woman with the familiar face of a tourist needing help.

“Not that it will do you much good,” I said, as I struggled to stop and disengage my cleat. People often ask me for directions in new places, but I was sure that I had not seen enough of Balatonfüred to help anyone.

“I’m sorry,” she said, as she noticed me backing up awkwardly to find out what she needed. I saw a woman in late 20’s-early 30’s, slightly overweight, but fit. Her companion (turned out to be her visiting, younger sister) was slim and petite. Both were fair with brown hair and sported club-fit bicycle kits. The woman who stopped me had lost a pannier somewhere on the bike path between there and the ferry landing at the tip of the Tihany Peninsula. I was on my way to Tihany, so I offered to call her if I saw it. She was exuberantly grateful. We swapped cell phone numbers (her name was Cheryl – how could I not agree to help?), and rode in our respective directions. I rode past the town of Tihany to the ferry landing, beyond where I had meant to ride, but now I had a mission. I did not see the lost pannier, but I did find out from the ferry landing personnel that there is a lost-and-found at the train station, and that if anyone found the pannier, it would be taken there. I called and reported that fact to Cheryl, who was pleased to know that she could check there. She was stationed at a joint US-Hungarian airbase nearby, and she could return or call when she got home. I felt good for having tried to help – and for being appreciated, of course.

I returned to Tihany to admire the church and the waterfront. The peninsula is a remarkable natural area. Only the coastline is settled. Above the coast road and bike path, steep mountains covered with woods lead to a plateau with a small lake and a protected wildlife area. Noticing the approaching storm front, I decided to make my way back to the guest house, stopping at a Tesco supermarket for some supplies for supper and breakfast. Before the sun went down, I had taken down the laundry, stowed the clothesline, taken a shower, and shaved. The Babi Guesthouse has a kitchen and dining area for guests to use. It felt good to enjoy a simply meal that I fixed myself. The rain started while I washed the dishes. I worked for a while in my room, packing, writing, and booking a bed in a hostel in Budapest. I turned in to the sound of rain beating on the balcony outside. It really is a quiet neighborhood.

Smooth roads and tailwinds,

Jonathan.

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