Where to begin?
For starters, it’s 5:30 in the morning on Wednesday and bright, white sunlight is streaming into the hotel room. I can hear someone sweeping the sidewalk with a scratch-bristle broom below us, slowly drowned out by an approaching bus. I’m still sleepy, but am finally feeling rested.
On Friday night, I collected the mathematicians from the Institute and we boarded a train bound for Lake Balaton. Two hours later, after a ride full of Hungarian children chattering with their parents, in a train with windows that opened for airflow (how novel!), we disembarked at Veszprém station — the “large” train station 7 km north of the western tip of Lake Balaton. (By large, I mean that it has three tracks for incoming trains, rather than a single platform, like most of those we passed along the way.) Anna collected us from the station and drove us to the summer home of her family, approximately 20 minutes away.
Many things happened at once upon our arrival. Robin, her beautiful, curly-haired golden retriever, was so thrilled to finally meet us that he tried to open the gate as Anna parked the car. Erszébet and Czábo, her mother (whom we met in New York last spring) and father, threw open the gate and their doors, welcoming us with hugs and kisses and flowers and an immense amount of food. Anna immediately ran to the kitchen and began cutting a pomegranate to feed us so that, like Persephone, we would have no choice but to someday return. This was the first step in a glorious, extravagant welcome that lasted for two days and made us perhaps the happiest, most pampered, most welcome guests in all of Hungary.
We were given a tour of the house, which I immediately fell in love with. It’s a gentle, three-story building with a gorgeous curving central staircase made of inlaid wood. (Dad, you would have done nothing but admire the woodwork in that staircase all weekend.) The bottommost floor, which is open to the back and below ground in the front, contains the kitchen and a lovely bedroom/sitting room combination, and opens onto the yard. The second floor — which is also the entrance floor at the front of the house — is a large great room with a dining space at one end, a study tucked in an opposite L-shaped corner, and otherwise contains bookshelves and several conversation areas around beautiful tables. The third floor, with the peaked line of the roof, has a beautiful unenclosed hallway that overlooks the great room and connects two beautiful, airy bedrooms. The entire house is full of windows and skylights, lavender-scented breezes waft into it and perpetual sunlight filters through gauzy, white curtains such that the rooms glow; we didn’t need artificial light at all during the weekend while the sun was up.
My favorite part of the house, though, is the back garden. The uppermost level of the yard contains a beautiful stone porch that blends into a stone-paved patio. Roses are planted in the garden at this level, along with many herbs and climbing flower vines. There is a large wooden table for al fresco dining, along with a free-standing iron fireplace with a cooking tripod over the top of it — Erszébet used this to make a traditional Hungarian Gulyas soup for us in a cauldron on Saturday.
Below the patio, multiple tiers of stone encased garden beds holding a tiny orchard of fruit trees, a selection of squash plants and greens, several raspberry bushes and tomato plants, and an extensive herb garden. At the lowest level, trees grow taller than the height of the house, laden with large, green walnuts and chestnuts that will ripen beautifully in the fall. Beyond the trees is a track for the Balaton-rim train line, and over the tracks is the family dock into Lake Balaton — there is no beach in the area where this house is, so you row out into the water and drop anchor to swim.
On Saturday, Anna took the mathematicians to the lake for a swim.
The boat can fit four people if you squeeze, so I stayed in the shade of the house to speak with Erszébet about cooking — I have a mental recipe for her Gulyas soup and another for salted pickles. I was able to mess about weeding in the garden for a bit, which was wonderful. I also got to hear several of Czábo’s stories about Anna when she was young, before they moved to the United States the first time in 1987, and Erszebet showed me several pieces of handwork that had been stitched by her mother, grandmother, aunts, and great aunts. Woven linen, colorwork embroidery, and the daintiest of crocheted lace was the mark of the day; I looked through them again on Sunday with Kristen and Erszébet graciously allowed me to take a few photographs.
This little motif of crocheted flowers was intended for use as lace edging. It’s my favorite of the crocheted pieces.
This embroidered piece is the crowning glory, though — I only wish I’d taken a better photograph. The snap below captures 1/4 of the full piece, which was originally intended as a celebratory wall-hanging for Erszébet and Czábo’s wedding, made by their aunts. Erszébet has fashioned the long piece and the two shorter ones into a table cover in their living room. The motif is a traditional Hungarian one often used to mark celebrations, but the colors are decidedly non-traditional; Erszébet asked specifically that it not be fashioned in the traditional red and black. The brown and gold are much softer and more pleasing, I think! In particular, note the initials in the top right; “signing” one’s work is mandatory in Hungary — something that I will most definitely start at home.
When the swimmers returned, we had a beautiful lunch, and then set off to explore the village of Tihany. Tihany sits at the vertical top of the Tihany peninsula, which juts into Lake Balaton from the north shore. The village (the entire peninsula, actually) is an historic district, at the center of which is a Benedictine Abbey. The Abbey was founded in 1055; its charter is the oldest extant record of the written Hungarian language, and the Abbey grounds boast the best views of Lake Balaton in all of Hungary.
Ordinarily the Abbey is open to visitors, but there was a wedding on Saturday night so we were not able to go inside. Kristen and I both surreptitiously reviewed the bride’s gown (a slim-cut, portrait-collar gown of white satin without a train) to see what we could of the lace overlay; it was beautiful but nondescript from a distance.
Since we couldn’t explore the Abbey itself, we set off wandering through the village. There were many pauses along the upper road to admire cottages with their beautifully thatched roofs and their stunning views of the lake.
We found the statue commemorating the Echo of Tihany, attempted to coax her back with some two-syllable shouts, and sadly gave her up as lost. From the point on the peninsula where the statue is located, any normally-voiced words would bounce back to the speaker off of the Abbey walls across the way. But as the landscape has changed since the mid-Eighteenth Century (trees have grown and fell, density has increased, cars have been introduced), the Echo has been lost.
We stopped to rest briefly at a fantastically hewn table with benches, before continuing our walk.
We found a gorgeous and ancient statue of King Andrew and Queen Anastasia; he founded the Benedictine Abbey and is buried in its crypt.
And then we found the embroidery shops, and the pottery shops – and went a little googly-eyed with admiration. Have I mentioned that we ladies are a little bit obsessed with hand crafts? We admired the lace for the better part of thirty minutes, while Jonathan very graciously amused himself. Then I went off in search of pottery.
I purchased a beautiful plate and a mug in the traditional glaze colors — warm brown and a deep golden ochre. The plate motif is a traditional one, glazed first with the brown and detailed with the golden color. The golden glazed mug has a motif from the 19th Century, and the detail color is a more modern reddish-brown. The pieces seem to me to be a wonderful blend of the old and the new, and therefore a lovely reminder of this American’s first trip to Hungary and Europe. I will use them often and treasure them forever. (The color combination reminds me of Erszébet’s embroidered wedding gift!)
We returned to the house in Almadi as the sun dipped toward the horizon, though night didn’t fall properly until well after 9 o’clock. Erszébet and Czábo greeted us with the beautifully prepared Gulyas for dinner, and there was much feasting and rejoicing.
I took very few photographs in Almádi, and none of the house itself — doing so seemed impossibly rude. You’ll have to make do with these poor descriptions — or visit of your own accord. A recap of Sunday’s visit to old Veszprém and yesterday’s tour of the Ethnography museum coming soon…
This post is part of my travel blogging series, Budapest, 2012. Please forgive any typos or formatting errors; I’m posting all photos, videos, and blog posts from an iPad, which lacks standard copywriting assistants like spellcheck.
To see additional photographs of this trip, you can view my photostream at Flickr. The “Tihany, Hungary” photoset is here.