Tapolca was the antithesis of Tihany. I was the only tourist there. I was probably the first foreigner they had seen since the Turks were there in the sixteenth century marauding and destroying stuff. The town was nowhere near as picturesque as Tihany but it was a lovely little town and completely unspoilt, enjoying post Communism prosperity and boasting a Cave Lake.
Tavasbarlang is hard to describe as anything other than a lake in a cave which is explored by fee paying visitors partly on foot and partly in little boats with paddles. With its narrow passageways and its low ceiling it was like a cross between the Cu Chi Tunnels near Saigon and the canals in Venice and my visit there was worth every hard earned Forint that I parted with despite the bruises all over my head and elbows, incurred by trying to navigate a small boat along subterranean canals that were only centimetres wider than the boat and with ceilings several centimetres lower than where the top of my head would have been if I had sat up straight. I would have called it a white knuckle ride had my knuckles not all been grazed and bleeding.
Out and about in a boat in a lake in a cave in Tapolca.
The cave had been very easy to find so I felt really bad about the trouble I had put the waitress to in the restaurant I had popped into for a spot of pre cave lake goulash soup. The only words of English that she seemed to know were cave, lake, soup and flagellation. A pleasant if slightly intimidating woman, she tried to draw me a map to show me the way there but I think I was just too scared of her to understand. I’ve found on my travels in the past that even the simplest of hand drawn maps can be so helpful but hers let me, and her, down badly. It comprised of nothing more than three parallel lines on the back of a Tapolca bus ticket. I looked at her blankly in hopeless bewilderment. She looked at me angrily in angry anger and then she walked away saying ‘Später’ which I took to mean ‘Would you like to come up to see my etchings later?’
If only the poor girl had known how to say ‘Just over there’ then all this language barrier difficulty malarkey would have been totally avoided.
It was also in Tapolca that I discovered that the Hungarian words for Town Square were Fő Tér. From that point onwards I made it my goal to take a photer of the Fő Tér in every town I visited.
What I love about travelling is that the most complicated bits are always the most interesting bits, the most amusing bits and the bits I retain the most vivid memories of.
The complicated bits of Tapolca were the dialogue with the poor waitress and manoeuvring my little tin boat through the tiny tunnels of Tavasbarlang. I have no problem with caves, I have no problem with lakes and I have no problem with little boats. I even have certificates at home, issued by Glasgow College of Nautical Studies, to prove my competence as a boatman. But the roofs of the cave’s flooded corridors were so low and they were so narrow that it was almost impossible to steer my boat with the ridiculously long handled wooden paddle that they provided. What I really could have done with was a tiller. But where would I find a tiller in Hungary?