Just Like Tennessee

Trip Start Jun 08, 2010
Trip End Aug 26, 2010

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Flag of Hungary  , Veszprém,
Friday, July 23, 2010

First stop today, the castle at Sümeg. Originally built in the 13th century, the Hungarian king stayed there briefly during a Tartar invasion, and the castle saw action during the Turkish occupation of Hungary in the 16th century. The current version was probably more reconstructed rather than original. It was yet another Hungarian landmark looming down from a hill as you drove into town. I think Hungary must have purposefully laid their roads out in this fashion. It's just too much of a coincidence. There was an optional "Burg-taxi" from the parking lot up the hill to the castle, but I decided save a few bucks and walk. It turned out to be a much shorter than I expected, so some of the castle's height may be an optical illusion.

The castle, including the fairgrounds at the foot of it, was possibly the most commercial place I've been on this trip so far. It had (in the summer at least) a permanent mini-Renaissance Fair going on, although more from the standpoint of people dressed in old timey garb trying to sell you old timey things or get you to play old timey games than in the sense of exhibiting authentic medieval customs and crafts. There were also speakers hidden around the castle playing cheesy sort-of-medieval music, mostly with drums and bagpipes, but there was some Enya. I probably shouldn't admit it, but the music did kind of add to the atmosphere.

Inside the castle buildings, there was a small museum with an assortment of arms and a few everyday items from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. I waited for several minutes with a couple from Australia outside of one of the museum rooms. One of the castle employees told us we needed to wait, presumably for other visitors to exit. We had no idea what we were waiting to see as the sign was only in Hungarian and German (German seems to be more prevalent than English in the western part of Hungary). It turned out to be an amusingly corny wax museum of a dungeon. There was also a pile of clothing and weapons, so presumably you could do some sort of dress-up thing, but I didn't stick around to find out.

I did buy the Hungarian version of funnel cake on my way out of the castle. It was a cylinder of dough, maybe pretzel dough, sprinkled with granulated sugar. Not nearly as oily as the American version, so it was probably better for you. It was also reasonably priced (under $2). I also got an inexpensive gift for a friend. Sümeg may have been just shy of a tourist trap, but it did have good value for the money.

Speaking of tourist traps. I've definitely been caught in one. On my way to Lake Balaton, where I'll be spending the next day or two, I drove by Westernpark. Seeing the name from the highway, I couldn't pass it up, and I turned in to take a look. Adjacent to the parking lot was a group of buildings with a "wild west town" facade, draped with flags of the US, Texas, and Hungary. The "saloon" had speakers blasting country music. As I was taking pictures, "Rocky Top" the state song of Tennessee (one of the many places I've lived) came on. The singer had a foreign accent I couldn't quite place because he was trying to sing with a Nashville twang, probably Hungarian or German. I didn't end up going into the town because I noticed tomorrow they will be having a Big Country Fesztivál, and I intend to return. They got me...

I arrived at Lake Balaton with plenty of daylight left. Since I'd resolved to return to Westernpark, I had to do some quick schedule reshuffling and decided to head over to Tihany a day early. Tihany was a small town on a chubby peninsula jutting out into Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Europe outside of the Former Soviet Union and Scandinavia. In other words, the largest lake most Europeans can easily reach by car or camper. The main attraction (other than beaches, which seem to circle the entire lake, and thermal baths) was the Abbey.

The Abbey was founded in 1055, and it's charter contained the oldest surviving example of written Hungarian. For much of its history, it was not actually ruled by an abbot, but it kept the title for historical reasons. It was able to repel the Turks and avoid occupation in the 16th century, making it the location of the only intact royal burial site in Hungary. Today, you could visit the main chapel and a small museum devoted to the abbey history and the life of a Benedictine monk.

The Hungarian royal buried in the abbey, King Andrew, spent time in Kiev during a period of Exile. Some time around 1050, Andrew's wife was supposed to have brought monks from Kiev to the area. Those monks lived in cliff-side caves near the abbey. I had read in my guidebook about a hiking trail to these caves, and wanted to go see them.

There were a few small problems with this idea. First, there weren't any good maps of the trails. The only one I found at the tourist center was sold out, and the general area maps didn't clearly demarcate the trails. All I knew from my guidebook was I wanted the "green" trail. It turned out, there were several green trails denoted by various green shapes. Also, the trail markings were not always clear about which way you should go to continue on the trail when given a choice.

After many false starts, wrong turns, backtracking, and cutting across a field on something I wasn't sure was actually a trail, I found the correct path and ended up in the proper direction. The caves were not spectacular as cave-monasteries go, much of the structures were buried by 20th century landslides, but they were definitely worth the hassle for me as the were the first I'd seen in person. Also, it had been a long time since I'd been hiking on this trip. The way back to my car was less convoluted, but longer and required more climbing than I think it should have. With all that hiking, I finally started to feel like Hungary was hot.

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