We first came to Lake Balaton during an excursion at an Esperanto event we attended in Hungary in 2008. The excursion we went on not only included a trip to the lake, but also a tour of a nearby vineyard and a visit to a rather unusual cave. 10 years later we couldn't remember the name of the cave, but when we were doing the research for this holiday, Tim came across a mention of it in the Hungary guidebook. It turned out that the place we'd been was the Tapolca Lake Cave and, as Tapolca is less than 20 miles from Keszthely, it seemed like it might be possible to fit it into our itinerary this time around as well.
So it was that we made an early start this morning, to catch the 09.03 train from Keszthely to Tapolca. The train fare was unbelievably cheap (about £1.26 each) and the journey took around half an hour. Tapolca is a small town, although it seems pretty.
Apart from the lake cave, the main attraction is Malom-tó (the mill pond).
There was indeed a very large mill wheel here.
...and we found another yellow church too
Because the lake cave is such a popular attraction, it's recommended to book tickets in advance. This was easy to do online and cost us 2000 forints each, which is around £5.50. We were booked in for a slot at 10.40, so after we'd spent a bit of time admiring the mill pond, we made our way towards the caves.
I had read online that before you go into the caves themselves, you have to go around the visitor centre. What I hadn't realised when I booked online was that a) you have to do this as part of a guided tour and b) the guided tour is only available in Hungarian!
It was probably a very informative visitor centre, but the finer details of cave formation were lost on us
It must have taken about 45 minutes as we moved from one exhibit to the next, trying to make as much sense of the English and German translations on the walls as we could. Some bits were obviously about the discovery of the caves...
...others seemed to to be about the animals that live in the caves...
...and some were anybody's guess
In the end, Tim jumped ahead of the group and ran into another guide, who spoke some English. He showed us this map, which demonstrates how the different caves run underneath the town of Tapolca.
He also explained that while we were in the Lake Cave, there is another cave system called the Hospital Cave, which is used every day by patients of the local hospital with respiratory conditions, due to the very pure air inside the caves Personally I think if I was taken to hospital with respiratory problems and they put me in a cave, it might just about finish me off
Anyway, the English-speaking guide said that we could skip the audio-visual display in Hungarian that the rest of our group was about to be subjected to and go straight down to the caves themselves. We started off down the staircase...
...and joined the short queue to wait for our turn.
By this stage I was starting to have some doubts about whether rowing a small boat through a cave was what I really wanted to be doing on a Friday morning. This is my I'm-not-sure-I-want-to-be-in-this-cave face.
The cave waiting room itself was actually quite impressive.
We were probably there for about 10 minutes, until we got to the front of the queue.
As the name suggests, the Lake Cave is a system of underground caves, filled with water.
When you get to the front of the queue, you are helped into a small boat, handed an oar, and left to your own devices.
We agreed in advance that Tim was going to sit in front and row
Meanwhile I sat behind and tried to take photos (which was actually quite hard!)
The water in the cave is beautifully clear (and it isn't too deep, so if you did manage to capsize your boat I think you could stand up!)
Tim did a good job of rowing
As you progress further through the cave, the main difficultly becomes that the ceilings get increasingly low.
In some places the passageway is too narrow to use an oar, so you have to propel yourself along with your hands.
It was definitely more enjoyable when there was a bit more space and you could admire the views
The narrowest part was right at the end, but we made it through it one piece and were soon up in the open air once again. Phew! I think once a decade is probably enough for a cave-boating experience We decided not to buy the automatic photo which had been taken of us as we passed through.
It was around midday by this point and so time to move on to the other place on our itinerary for the day: Badacsony.
The train fare from Tapolca was less than £1 each, but unfortunately when we stepped off the train we could feel a few raindrops starting to fall. It had begun to get a bit cloudy while we were inside the cave, and it looked like there might be some storms after the heat of the past few days. We found a pizzeria to get some lunch while shower passed over, and by the time we had eaten, things were looking a bit brighter again.
Badacsony isn't a big place, but it's right on the lake
We walked around for a while, enjoying the views, before buying tickets for a boat back to Keszthely.
Again it was very good value (less than £5 each). The journey took two hours and we were able to sit outside, making the most of the nice breeze on the lake as well as the views
It was definitely more relaxing to be on this sort of boat on a lake rather than the rowing boats in the cave lake
We've had a great time in Hungary, and I think it's fair to say that we've had some pretty varied experiences Tomorrow we will be moving on to Croatia, where the language should hopefully be a little easier to understand