That’s “KEST-heh-e” and not “KEST-hay” like the Lonely Planet book wants you to believe. You have to say it correctly or people can’t figure out what you mean. They can’t really even figure it out from the context because they aren’t used to hearing people say Hungarian words incorrectly.
We did decide to head out in a new direction from Kaposvár for the weekend, this time to the northeast. We basically decided to go somewhere near the west side of Lake Balaton, but since this isn’t really a sunbathing or swimming time of year, we looked for a place with “things to do.”
Keszthely is a city of about 20,000 residents, though it must get significantly bigger during the summer. It is right on the shore and has several beaches, along with regular ferry service to other cities on the lake. It is also the connecting city to get to Hévíz, probably the most famous and prestigious thermal lake/spa in the country. We plan to go back to that in a few months when the 77 degree water and radioactive mud can be enjoyed in a surrounding of snow-covered trees.
Our journey began without incident, walking down to the train station for the 9:21 train…with arrival planned for 11:18. We settled down in our seats in the 5th car back, of 6. The train car had some other passengers but was nice and quiet, and we brought books with us to help pass the time. Eventually the ticket checker came by. As she validated our tickets she began to converse with us…All I know is that while I was attempting to stop her conversation and establish myself as an English speaker, she said “Három” (three) and “Siófok” (a city on the other side of the lake), several times. Once she got the picture, she hesitated, flipped over my ticket and sketched a train with locomotive and 6 cars behind it. She proceeded, with gestures and drawing, to let us know that only the first three cars were going to Keszthely while the back three would be detached and go the other direction. Good thing she told us! I swear there was no mention of this elsewhere, unless it was a verbal announcement on the train station loudspeaker. But now we know!
Our plan was just to wander Keszthely for several hours. From the train station we looked for a few seconds at the not-very-clear town map that was erected nearby. We heading in the general direction of the downtown area, not exactly getting there by the most efficient route. Not too much of a detour though.
In the main square, it became quite obvious that it is a tourist city… Several sandwich boards and signs advertising various strip clubs/ ladies’ night clubs/etc., stores selling leather goods, and lots of museums! The toy museum, marzipan museum, doll museum, erotic museum, museum of curiosities… no thanks!
We did eat at the first little cafe we saw, choosing to eat inside rather than on the outdoor patio because it was probably 50 degrees. We each got a basic sandwich, and rather than getting a cappuccino, we each splurged for the XXL cappuccino. That means the standard cappuccino, but in a bigger cup filled with more milk. 😦 I’ll have to ask my students for the correct way to order extra shots in the drink. For dessert, this cafe had some enticing, delicious-looking choices and we decided to share one which was layered with pie crust, chocolate, fruit mousse, and raspberries in glaze. Or something like that.
After that, we went to the tourist information office to find out where the Festetics Castle was located and they gave us a free tourist map which showed we were very close. It was about 5 minutes we were on the castle grounds, which are free to wander. It is actually a large palace which was built initially in 1745. It escaped damage during WWII while nothing else nearby did, apparently. It is known for its library which is a beautiful wooden, ornate, two-floor room with 100,000 original volumes. Kellie and I decided to check out the ticket booth, and like usual, we couldn’t decide on what to see. They had a price list with at least 10 different combinations of tickets which I thought made it seem like an amusement park or something. Castle and tower? Castle, tower and carriages? Castle, audioguide, and photopass? Way too many options! And it was not cheap, especially for Hungary. The castle cost 2500 ft (about $12 US).That’s a tourist price.
Did you catch me say “photopass?” Yes, there is a 1000 fee to carry your camera in and take pictures of the view from the tower. After some grumbling and indecisiveness, I sort of felt that we should do “something” in the city besides just wandering, so we agreed to pay for the castle and tower admission. As we were given the bill for 5000 forints, I handed her my international teacher card and gave a questioning look. After staring at it for several seconds, she said “ok,” asked to see Kellie’s also, and gave us free admission to the castle. We still paid 1000 ft. for the tower. That pays for our yearly fees for the ID card.
Just inside we had to put on protective foot slippers and drop off bags at the guarded bag check. I was extremely hesitant about leaving my bag with $1300 worth of camera equipment, but it seemed well-staffed. As we started to walk upstairs, we realized that we could have easily brought in Kellie’s small camera if we had thought of it. I went back down and, though there was the slight language difficulty, the lady made it clear I couldn’t get the camera unless I bought a photopass. Nevermind! Back up I went.
I must say that if I had paid full-price for this palace, I would feel ripped-off! It was defintely an ornate palace, the library was incredible, and it was interesting for the 15 or 20 minutes we were in there, but for a 100-room palace, I think we got to go into maybe 10 or 15. My favorites were the library and what seemed to be a private chapel, which we saw from an overlooking balcony. A few minutes later, we left the period rooms and found ourselves in an ……exhibition of Islamic art? We decided that was enough and climbed a circular staircase up into the tower. I think it was maybe two stories up…not a huge tower, but it had a cool view. We were out pretty soon after that, and wandered into the back gardens to take pictures and enjoy the setting. This trip, I only brought my camera bag so I made sure to bring along my tripod for it’s initial use. It seems great so far.
I’m not sure how much time had passed, but we decided to head down toward the lake. We wandered downhill for 15 minutes or so, past a big park, across the train tracks, and down to the strand. I can see this place being really crowded in the summer. There was a boardwalk, some open performance space, lots of food booths closed for the season, a water park closed for the season, and lots of empty parking spots. But there were some people enjoying the view and the quiet evening, the gorgeous sky, and the accordion music a man was playing for change.
From there, we took the short stroll back to the train station, grabbed some snacks from a food stall, and got on the next arriving train which was headed to Kaposvár. It was a slower train, but just because it stopped for about 30 minutes at one stop,…when the locomotive disconnected and took off on its own. Another one came to power us after that half-hour wait. Very interesting!
I tried to read on the train, but actually fell asleep for probably 30 minutes or more. I think Kellie did too. How long ’til we fall asleep at the wrong time and actually miss our stop? (I don’t think it would actually happen because Kaposvár is a major station so the train has a lengthy slowdown and usually waits for several minutes.)