Monday, November 7, 2016

Kektura: Köszeg to Lake Balaton

Sopron
I started my hike on October 3rd, directly after a presentation I had given in Germany. Thanks to Deutsche Bahn I arrived much later than expected in Sopron where I had planned to spend my first night in Hungary. As I had breakfast in a little park in town I was approached by a talkative old man who praised Germany in German: "Germany is the best country in the world. Angela Merkel is a great women." and so on. Apparantly he had once lived in Germany. And soon it became apparent why he was so talkative: He wanted some money. I tried to offer him some grapes I was just eating, but no luck. "The town is full of grapes but I need money to buy beer...." I gave him two Eur and he happily left. By the way: This was the only time in Hungary I was begged for money.

Balaton Bumm on the right
I was excited to do my first resupply in Hungary at a Lidl  and immediately discovered some interesting Hungarian specialties: The Hungarian type of Top Ramen Noodle soup with Gulasch flavour and a candy bar called Balaton Bumm! The noodle soup was ok but Balaton Bumm became one of my favourites - what a name! Then the hiking started at Köszeg at the Austrian border with some more positive surprises: The trail was incredibly well marked and there was forest everywhere. Free camping was dead easy!


Maria Ut portal
Unfortunately, the weather did not quite cooperate in this first week - it rained a lot and out came my favourite blue garbage bag as a rain skirt. This photo shows me under the "portal" of Maria Ut or Maria Trail, a pilgrimage trail that traverses the whole of Hungary on its way from Romania to Mariazell in Austria, a major pilgrimage town. Maria Ut more or less parallels the Kektura for long stretches and I used it various times for short cuts or detours to resupply. Other than most pilgrimage trails I know it is real hiking trail that stays in the woods most of the time.
In Sümeg I escaped the cold weather and ventured into my first Hungarian restaurant. Although it was a rather upscale place the prices were very reasonable for German standards and I was delighted to discover that a glass of wine costs less than 1 EUR! Not to mention the delicous deserts of which I ate two generous portions. That combined with two glasses of wine made hiking relatively easy for a while...
The landscape in this section is rather uneventful: Lots of forest and mostly flat - a rather pleasant than exciting hike.

"To" means lake and "Fürdö" is a bath
But a real highlight was soon to come: Heviz, a spa town which boasts the world's largest natural and active thermal lake. Even in the coldest winter the water temperature here never drops below 24 degrees C and on this balmy day in October I was swimming in 32 degree C water! The lake and the entire spa complex is plain huge. It attracts a mainly older clientele and despite having been renovated it still exudes some sort of Soviet-style elegance. The water has a strong sulphuric smell and it takes a while to get used to the slimey algae that cover everthing but it still was a very pleasant experience.