Sunday, 3 August 2014

European Adventure: Day Six - Heviz

For the first time on the trip we had a tiny bit of time to sleep in - which meant not having to wake up until 7:00! Dad, Brian and I met for breakfast at the hotel which was pretty disappointing. I know breakfast isn't a big thing in Europe, but this spread was just sad. A few slices of cheese, some breads, sliced meats and fruit. You had to pay for this, and if you wanted eggs it was extra. I stuck mostly to bread, but Dad and Brian didn't seem to mind the eggs. Communicating with the server was a challenge and involved lots of pointing and gesturing. Walking through the resort in the morning made me realize just how huge this place is. There are units everywhere! The main building is cute as are the exteriors of the buildings -  but the actual rooms and amenities aren't that great. Brian said it reminded him of some family summer camp. Dad didn't mind it and could see the appeal for European families as it had a lot of great family features. Maybe I would have felt differently if our unit was better and I hadn't been in town with the purpose of sightseeing. 

After getting ready for the day Dad, Brian and I drove into town to pick up Ivan and Iva. It was a nice experience to see the town and what Heviz was like. It was a cute and reminded me of the typical small tourist town as it was lined with shops and caf├ęs. We had decided to do Budapest Monday, and spend that day (Sunday) exploring the local area that the resort was located in. 

Once we were all squeezed into the car (pretty much like sardines since European cars are smaller) we decided to make the lake our first stop. This area has two lakes - one which is the largest in Europe and is more of a recreational area and a second which is a thermal lake. We went to the recreational lake first which was a busy area. Hungary has no traditional oceanfront so the lake is their version of a beach complete with a boardwalk full of shops and restaurants. The area of the lake that people can swim in cost an admittance fee and it was full of families and pool toys. We walked along the water (the non swimming side) which had a bunch if little booths like a small marketplace set up. There was a trolley train that would take you around the area to the main attractions but the information was all in Hungarian. We waited for about 35 minutes and it never came so we opted to drive it ourselves. 



Ivan and Iva 


Brian on their "boardwalk" 

This area of Hungary is full of roundabouts which made me laugh and think of mom every time! Mom has a deep hatred of roundabouts and just doesn't get them. At one point she hit one with Paige in the car and Paige still giggles over "Auntie Erin's Roundabout Swear words". A few months back we even used our kitchen and family members and played a "roundabout game" to try and help mom grasp the concept to no avail. The GPS also gets a bit confusing when it comes to them as are called "rotaries" and her instructions are silly. When it wants us to take the far exit (the one to the left) she says "go left on the rotary" which if you take that literally is not a good idea! Dad and I agreed Mom can't drive a roundabout with this GPS or she would be the person who actually went left and drove the wrong way in the circle! Driving in this part of Hungary was fine - there weren't too many cars and the GPS was helpful. It made me a little less worried about Hungarian drivers after the taxi experience the day before.  

Using a photo of the trolley map and keeping an eye open for the trolley stops we were able to find the Festetics Palace/Helikon Castle on our own. This palace in Keszthely is the third largest Hungarian palace and despite being two hours away from Budapest is the most popular with visitors. It functions as both a museum and an events centre (events take place in the palace ballroom and the photos make it look beautiful and magical). 

The palace is massive - and houses many smaller museums and exhibits. There is a hunting museum, an aquarium/gardens, a coach museum, the actual castle and a miniature train museum. Depending on what you wanted to see there were various ticket groupings. We chose the palace and coach museum bundle, plus we had to pay extra for a photo pass so that we could take photos inside. What a money grab... 







Just as we bought our tickets a school group of about 100 or more students came in for a tour. There was a small cafe/bar outside the palace so we sat there for 45 minutes having coffee and waiting for them to get a head start. It was a beautiful place to sit outside of and drink coffee (in my case hot chocolate). In front of us was a beautiful fountain along with these small sitting areas inside a group of trees - it felt like little hobbit holes. Surrounding the Palace is a nature reserve park that includes trees (hundreds of years old), beautiful flower gardens, and more fountains/statues in addition to the ones at the front. Just as we were finishing up our drinks the thunder rolled in and a downpour began - making it perfect timing to head inside for the tour. 

Fancy coffee


From the official website here is a brief history of the Palace:  "Christopher Festetics began the construction of the Festetics Palacein 1745. The two-storey, U-shaped, 34-room Baroque palace was rebuilt several times in the 18th and 19th centuries. 
Between 1883 and 1887 Tassilo Festetics II had the northern wing demolished and a new wing built which was joined to the old one by a turreted central part. Thus, he almost doubled the size of the palace. The building was covered with a mansard roof, and fitted with central heating and plumbing. After the modification of the facades and the interiors, especially the staircases, the palace acquired its present form." (http://helikonkastely.hu)




There were 18 rooms available to tour inside the castle and each one was gorgeous and opulent. A beautiful stairwell with a red plush runner led us upstairs through sitting rooms, hallways, a chapel, a music room (still used today for performances) and the most amazing personal library I have ever seen! (Trinity College in Dublin wins for academic library). The hallways were long and beautifully decorated with crystal chandeliers and gold wall fixtures. Along them were windows which looked out over the palace and surrounding areas. A few of the rooms were wood paneled in dark mahogany, but most were bright and airy with fancy wall papers and artwork. 








The library was breathtaking! Both Brain and I (book lovers) were amazed of the overall look and feel of the room and agreed when we win our 50 million Lotto Max jackpot our house will have the same type of room! 

From the website - "The collection is Hungary’s sole intact aristocratic private library, collected by the Festetics family for 200 years. It includes prints from the Hungarian language area as well as cultural treasures from Europe’s significant printing houses. The first palace built by Christopher Festetics already housed a library. While reconstructing the palace, George Festetics had a whole wing built for his library, where the books were kept on Neoclassical bookshelves made of Slavonian oak. George Festetics expanded the collection with works on Hungarian literature and science, the philosophical literature of the age of Enlightment, the newest works on economy, and a remarkable amount of newspapers and magazines. The books, which were invaluable in themselves, were bound in artistically decorated leather bindings. The family employed librarians and took care of the library’s maintenance and growth. The library, together with the ever expanding special collections, consists of more than 86.000 items. The adjacent small library houses books on economy and sport." (http://helikonkastely.hu)

Beside the large main library there was a smaller cozier library to the side with a pocket door carved out to look like books on a shelf. You can get a special ticket that allows you access to the library and the ability to research/read books on-site. If we had more time that would have been tempting just for the experience of handling and seeing one of these old, beautiful books.


I love this door! 





After finishing the tour we walked along the exterior of the palace and over to the coach museum. I wandered around a bit, but it wasn't really something I was interested in. Plus they had free wifi so I checked my email and FaceTimed Mom for a few minutes. Though I have a roaming packing I am trying to make as many phone calls via FaceTime to extend the minutes as long as possible.


There was a stunning coach at the back of the museum which looked like something out of Cinderella - that would be something fun to ride in - especially to come home to a grand palace like that one! Apparently there was a winter sleigh at the other side but I missed that one. 



Using the Wifi we searched for a restaurant on TripAdvisor. Both Iva and I found the same top-rated place Jobarat Vendelgo . It had the most reviews and all of them were positive, so we figured it was worth a try. It was a cute little restaurant in a residential/industrial area that had a great outside sitting area. We sat inside (away from the sun) and had another bit of a language barrier ordering. But everything got communicated through pointing and some key English words. The food was delicious! I had a breaded pork dish with croquettes and a salad topped with something similar to tzaki - despite being a picky eater I am making an effort on this trip to at least try some local cuisine. Everyone loved their food and it was a yummy Hungarian feast. 

After our very late lunch we decided to head to either the pool at our resort or the thermal lake. The group was split on which one to do so we decided to look at the lake first and then make a decision. The thermal lake was intriguing to me, but the rest of the group thought it may be a bit dirty and smelly. When we got there and looked it didn't seem too bad and everyone agreed that since we were in the area we had to at least try it. 

The Heviz Lake is the largest thermal lake in Europe and is surrounded by a large nature conservation. There are areas of different temperatures but it's mostly around 38.5°C. Inside the lake are water lilies from the 19th century and leaves which are supposed to protect the mud at the bottom which has medicinal benefits. The lake is attached to a medicinal spa which has ties to a rheumatology clinic. The lake has been known to assist with various illnesses and ailments and was packed with older people. In order to use it you have to buy a pass with the minimum being two hours. There are various packages you can buy many of which include spa treatments like massages and pedicures, but we went with the basic package which allowed use of the lake and facilities. 






There was a communal change room which was very high tech. After buying a package we are given a wristband which kept our time. After changing (in the small private change booths) you held your wristband to an electronic panel which assigned you a locker number. Once at your locker you locked it with the wristband keeping your belongings secure. 

We went into the lake first which was really warm. It wasn't like a hot tub but more like a warm bath. The water was pretty clean, and there wasn't any smell. Other areas looked a little muddier but the one we were in was nice. We floated in there for almost an hour and my skin and joints felt relaxed and rejuvenated. After getting out of the lake we went over to the mud bath part but no one was brave enough to go in. I was tempted but there were ducks swimming there so I changed my mind. We ended our spa experience with a dip in the salt pool which smelt awful! The sulfur smell was overpowering, and the water just felt strange. We didn't spend much time in there but it definitely helped my skin a bit. After getting changed we went back to our resorts to shower and change before meeting up in the town square. 


Being goofy with the camera! 

There was a free concert event going on so the town was packed. People and cars were everywhere and restaurants were full. We walked around a bit to listen to the music and look in the shops before deciding where to eat. We picked a place and sat down but the people next to us gave us an indication that it wasn't worth staying. So we left and Ivan asked someone in a near by shop where good pizza could be found. Apparently I was the only one who got the memo about no more Italian food until Italy! The shop clerk said the restaurant was about 100 meters from the local church which was 15-20 minutes uphill from where we were. Once we got to the church - nothing. So we asked someone else and was told another 10 minutes uphill. By the time we were all up there and sitting down we were exhausted and hoping this pizza was worth it. Sadly it wasn't. It wasn't awful but it definitely wasn't great and not worth the 30-35 minute uphill walk. 

Once back at the resort I talked to my mom for a few minutes before collapsing in bed. It was now after midnight and we had to be up by 6:00am to leave for Budapest. Little did I know that schedule was to be the norm for the Hungary portion of the trip!  

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