Lake Balaton

Lake Balaton rests in a warm, revered part of the hearts of every Hungarian I have ever met. It is a large lake, about 60 miles long and 5 miles across two hours driving distance from Budapest. It is here that everyone runs to escape the summer heat and humidity, and spend one, two or three weeks by the water. The lake bans private motor boats, so sailboats flit joyfully between each other like butterflies. Everyone enjoys  memories of family vacations, learning to swim, and first loves from here.

In the communist era, official worker residences dotted the coastline. Once every couple of years, workers would get the chance to take their families to the lake for a week of swimming, fishing, eating and drinking. In the modern era, there are still a few holdovers from the past, but large parts of the lake’s development look more like Germany than the Black Sea. Groups of friends and family rent houses, spend weeks in the area seeing friends from all parts of Hungary encamped around the lake.

The average depth of the entire lake is just 10 feet. Most of the south shore is walkable out to a kilometer from shore. This makes for near-perfect beach and swimming fun for 3 to 5 year olds, of which we have two.

On Monday, we took a car ferry to the central peninsula on the north coast. The town of Tihany is simply beautiful.

It was here that we stumbled onto the Rege cafe (Rege Cukrászda), which is tied with Nepenthe in Big Sur, California for my favorite cafe/restaurant locations in the world.

I’m not generally interested in sweets, but my Black Forest Chocolate cake (lower right) was absolutely special.

The music video below has the song “The Balaton Summer”, which is a haunting tune that fully encapsulates the feeling of this place. It’s sung by one of Gabi’s favorite singers, and I knew it from her Hungarian iTunes collection. If we return for a summer in Hungary again in 2010, we will almost certainly take a house somewhere in Balaton and have at least a little Sunfish to go sailing on.

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