I was a bit disappointed that the girl who let me into the Hotel Prima Porta in Balatonalmádi was called Rachel. She was a lovely girl, and Rachel is a lovely name, but I was hoping that my first person point of contact would have a bit more of a traditional Hungarian name like Katarina or Erzsébet to welcome me to that lovely place late on a lovely warm spring night.
Quite miraculously though, Rachel’s father who ran the place but didn’t speak English, was called Ferenc. That’s Ferenc that rhymes with Terence, contrary to what my so called friend, Paul, told me whilst we were visiting Berlin a year ago. So, Paul mate, if you’re reading this I’d like you to know that in Hungary the name Paul is pronounced as Knobhead.
My new mate Ferenc (pronounced Ferenc) laughed riotously when I showed him in my passport that my name was Terence. Though he may have been laughing at my photograph as I thought I heard him mutter under his breath the words ‘looks like a right Paul.’
Any road, Ferenc the Hotelier was a star bloke and didn’t let the fact that we had a language barrier as high as the Iron Curtain get in the way of his fondness for a chat. Through his translator, Rachel, we discussed the Mighty Magyars and their emphatic victories over the England team in the world of association football in the 1950s. We couldn’t possibly have done this without mentioning his namesake, and almost my namesake, Ferenc Puskás, the legend amongst legends who I once shook hands with. Tonight I shook hands with Ferenc the Hotelier, so that was two Ferencs that I had befriended in my life so far. Who would be next, I wondered.
We also talked of Leeds United’s magnificent win over Ferenc’s favourite team, Ferencvaros, in the 1968 Inter Cities Fairs Cup Final. He remembered it well. He had watched it on television which wasn’t fair because I reckoned he was about the same age as me but my Mum said it was on too late for me to stay up on a school night. To get my own back on him I almost pointed out that Leeds also beat them, and by an even bigger margin, in the European Cup a year later but refrained as I didn’t want to upset him for fear that he might spit in my bowl of goulash that I would surely be having for breakfast the following morning.
I bade my hosts good night and retired to my room. A basic but adequate, clean and comfy affair on the top floor of a modern, three storey, Swiss chalet sort of design of a building. The room had a balcony with a view of Lake Balaton. Even in the dark I could tell that Central Europe’s largest lake was out there somewhere. It just had such a wonderful a night time lakey feel to it that is hard to describe in words.
This really must have been the best balcony I had ever had so immediately I put it to use. I sat out there scrawling at my blog into the wee small hours as in the distance I heard the sounds of unrecognisable wild birds squawking, hounds baying and the customary chirping of cicadas that tell you you’re on holiday in a warm place. So I knew I wasn’t in Scarborough.
My Balatonalmádi balcony at Vendégház Prima Porta
(it's the one directly above my Balatonalmádi Nissan Micra).
I managed to sip a bottle of Egri Bikavér (Bull’s Blood), I listened to the haunting muse of Tárkány Művek, my all-time favourite Hungarian band, on Terry’s Terrific Travel Juke Box (my iPod) and I looked out into the darkness at the lights twinkling from the towns on the opposite shore of the lake. So far away but yet still in Hungary.
It had been a difficult journey getting to the first resting place on my trip, along the Hungarian motorway network with all its detours and road works before being thrust into the labyrinth of tiny roads that skirt Balaton’s edge, the latter stages of which had been in total darkness. It had been difficult too working out of my skin during the two weeks leading up to the start of the trip to help secure the funding for this and future ventures into the unknown.
So at midnight, on my Balatonalmádi balcony, I took a large swig from my glass of Bikavér and thanked Hungary for letting me be there. Everything I had gone through to get there had turned out to be worthwhile. Miles from home, miles from the drudgery of everyday life and miles from the consumerism fuelled society that normally surrounded me and irked me I found myself happy and content in Terry’s Terrific Travel World.
And I had found serenity. I don’t think I had ever seen a serener moment or setting.