Today it was time for us to leave Budapest behind and move on to the next stage of our Hungarian adventure: Lake Balaton. We are staying for two nights in a town called Keszthely (pronounced "Kes-tay") on the northern shore of the lake. Trains from Budapest to Keszthely take around 2.5 hours and depart from a station in Budapest which we hadn't been to yet: Déli pályaudvar.
This station is on the Buda side of the river, which was too far for us to walk with our suitcases, so we checked out of the apartment at around 09.30 this morning and walked to Keleti in order to catch the metro. This was our first experience with using the metro in Budapest, and it all went well. There are big purple machines where you can buy tickets (in English) and a single trip costs 350 forints, which is just under £1. A train arrived almost straightaway, and it only took around 10 minutes before we were arriving at Budapest Déli.
Here we needed to use another ticket machine in order to purchase our tickets to Keszthely. These cost around 3,800 forints each (just over £10), which included a surcharge for travelling on an intercity train and also a seat reservation. The ticket machine spat out multiple slips of paper again, but we felt like we were beginning to get the hang of Hungarian train tickets now and managed to work out that we had been allocated seats 104 and 106 in carriage 5.
The train was already on the platform, so we set off to find the correct carriage and our seats. It seemed like a nice train, with plenty of space for luggage, and not too busy. The "not-busy" part changed once the train stopped at the first station - Kelenföld, a Budapest housing estate - and hundreds of Hungarians, who were seemingly off on their summer holidays, got on. We were slightly disturbed when a lady came up to us and claimed that she had reserved our seats. She showed us her ticket, and it did indeed say that she had seats 104 and 106. Tim showed her our ticket, which said the same thing, and she said she would resolve it with the conductor. It turned out that she was on the wrong train, having reserved for a later one. Phew!
Once the train had left Budapest, it didn't take long for the journey to become scenic, as we travelled along the entire southern shore of the lake. Our seats were on the wrong side of the carriage to get the best views, but it was still really pretty The train became a lot quieter after Siófok, one of the first stops on the lake, where most of the Hungarians got out. The southern shore of the lake is the party side, with Siófok being described in the guidebook as the Hungarian Ibiza. We had intentionally chosen to go to Keszthely, knowing that it was on the quieter, northern side
The train arrived in Keszthely around 13.30, by which point we were some of only a handful of people left on it. It was a walk of just over 2km to the apartment I'd booked, which was in one of Kezthely's suburbs. Tim successfully navigated us through a maze of small streets, and we arrived just after 2pm to be greeted by the owner... who didn't speak a word of English. Luckily she did speak German, so we were able to check in without any problems.
The apartment isn't quite as big as the one we had in Budapest, but it's still really nice. There's a combined sleeping/living area...
...then a separate kitchen and dining area.
It was really good value again too, at just £45 per night
Once we'd unpacked a few things, we set out to explore Keszthely. The main sight in the town is the Festetics Palace.
The palace was built in 1745 and was the home of the local landowners.
You have to pay to go into the palace itself, but it's free to wander around the grounds.
And the grounds are really pretty, full of fountains...
...and a rather murky-looking lake.
From the palace it was easy to walk down the main street and into the centre of Keszthely.
It was a pleasant place and seemed pretty quiet.
At the end of the main street is the large church of Our Lady of Hungary.
We walked from the centre of town back down to the station, because I was nervous about trying to buy our onward train tickets to Zagreb. Yet again, because these were international train tickets I couldn't buy them online in advance and I had struggled to find even any reliable information about what the price might be online either. There are several trains a day which run directly from Budapest to Zagreb, and these all follow the route along the southern shore of lake Balaton, stopping at a nearby station with the catchy name of Balatonszentgyörgy(!) The only useful information I'd managed to find online was that, although the train to Zagreb stops at Balatonszentgyörgy, you can't actually purchase a ticket from Balatonszentgyörgy to Zagreb in Balatonszentgyörgy station, because there isn't an international ticket counter there. So we were hoping that we'd be able to purchase the tickets in Keszthely instead.
Before we left the apartment, I'd written down the details of the train we wanted, in the hope of overcoming any potential difficulties with the pronunciation of Balatonszentgyörgy Happily, it all went well. There turned out to be a girl on the information desk in Keszthely station who spoke a little bit of English, and she was able to help the lady on the ticket desk understand what we wanted. Within a few minutes we had successfully purchased the correct tickets, which turned out to cost about £14 each. Again, doesn't seem like bad value for an international train journey!
With the tickets successfully purchased, there was just one important thing we needed to do: actually see the lake
Lake Balaton is the largest lake in Central Europe, and larger than all the other European lakes that we've visited.
It's so big that you really could imagine that it was the sea, and there were certainly lots of tacky seaside stalls selling inflatables as we made our way down from the town to the shore.
The only thing which made it really clear that it was a lake and not the sea were the many swans and ducks
Although it was early evening by this point, it was still absolutely boiling hot. We strolled along a pier out into the lake for a while, before heading back to the apartment to cool off