Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Horse Riding Weekend at Lake Balaton: Horses, Hootch, and Wife Beating

Last year we spent Eldest Daughter’s birthday week in Scotland in one of those big estates you can rent through the British National Trust (www.lhhscotland.com/House63.asp). When I sent the link to a friend, he remarked that it looked like the sort of place where one stands in the doorway and announces, “Release the hounds.” This year timing and budget required something a little closer and a little cheaper. I had been looking at a website featuring the Austrian equivalents of the Spanish paradors (www.schlosshotels.co.at), but everything, while beautiful, was just a little too rich for my palette. I looked at Lake Balaton, in Hungary, and found the Kocsi Czarda Galopp Horse Riding Village (www.kocsicsarda.hu/index_e.htm). I made a reservation in English via e-mail and we were set.

The place specializes in horse riding holidays, so I hoped we could do a short trail ride or something all together. But the weather was not so cooperative. On Saturday, when we arrived, it was too late to organize anything as the guides were all preparing for the evening horse show, so we figured that might be fun and agreed to go. This involved riding in a horse-drawn wagon down the road a piece. The demo was impressive, with these guys (and one young woman) in traditional Hungarian horseman costume (which I must say, involved these gaucho-style palazzo pants that would get them beaten up except the fellows themselves were definitely butch), standing on their horses (while the horses were lying down) twirling these incredible, huge cracking whips. And the horses just laid there, real mellow. Apparently, there is some lore about hiding in the tall grass of the Hungarian steppes which I really must look up as it’s certainly a romantic image.

We were plied with palinka (a Hungarian fire water brandy drunk in shots) and wine and Tokay (a sweeter wine I always say I don't like, but actually sort of do). There was a donkey, and the kids (and I) each went for a spin. Then there was the Wife Beating portion of our program, and I got volunteered (by one of the cowboys, not The Spouse) to stand there and be whipped while the other tourists all record the event on their video cameras. You do feel the whip, but really it just cracks very loudly and then wraps around you rather softly. It looks worse than it is. Then, they make you kneel down so they can stand with one foot on you, which should be totally humiliating except by now you’ve had so much hooch that the whole thing is just very silly. I had the giggles.

Dinner back at the Holiday Village featured one of those gypsy bands that knows every song ever written and a troupe of dancers who came in with several changes of costume, did their thing, and blew out again. One of the cowboys rode in on his horse, and did a shorter version of the show we had just seen with his whip and the horse lying down and all. Yes, inside the restaurant. The kids loved it.

When I made the reservations, whomever I corresponded with (Reception Guy?) said it was two hours from Bratislava, but it’s really closer to three as this place is on the southeastern side of the lake. We drove to Gyor and went south on route 82 to Veszprem, which is a lovely drive, even in the rain, although Birthday Girl got carsick and queasy both ways as the middle part of that road gets a bit windy. At Veszprem we made our way clockwise around the lake to Zamardi (which is just west of Siofolk).

But on the way back we discovered a car ferry that runs from Szantodrev (one town west of Zamardi) to the Tihany peninsula on the northern shore. Reception Guy said it ran on the hour, but we showed up at 11:28, were the last car on the boat, and had crossed the lake by 11:48. It is a very narrow lake. Tihany is a lovely little town, full of tourists now and probably overrun with tourists during July and August. It is perched on a hill, and there are plenty of restaurants where you can sit and look out over the shallow, blue water of the lake and the charming holiday homes and hotels along the shore.

The Holiday Village is 12 period-style cottages that each come with your own stable (in case you wanted to BYO Horse) and can accommodate five people. It is very reasonably priced: I think we paid 12 Euros per person per night. Meals were extra. Get the menu, as it’s simple, but cheap. The kids even ate their food, which was a miracle.

Now the complex is on a rather busy road, which could give the impression you are staying at a highway truckstop, but the layout is clever, and you don’t really realize how close the traffic is when you are in your cottage. There was a small refrigerator and a two-burner hob, if you got tired of the restaurant. There were wood beams and embroidered tablecloths and antique-looking farm implements and window boxes full of red geraniums. The whole place really was as cute as it looked on the website. I would go again and stay longer.

As for Lake Balaton, I have the feeling that during the summer the whole area resembles the Catskills in Dirty Dancing. That could be fun in a cheesy way.

Galopp Horse Riding Holiday Village
Siofoki ut, Zamardi-felso H-8621
Lake Balaton, Hungary
+36 84 349 010


Post a Comment

<< Home