Sixty-five years is a long time, but it is still not enough time to wash away the stigma of being associated with “The East.” When people think of countries in Eastern Europe, they think of dirty, squalid living conditions, but much has changed since the end of World War II.
As a junior in high school, I was a part of a German exchange program called Friendship Connection and was unexpectedly able to travel to many places aside from Germany. The exchange student, with whom I was paired, always visited her grandmother in Hungary over summer vacation and invited me along. Although the whole trip was unforgettable, the most memorable part of the trip was being able to visit Hungary for one week.
For the duration of the trip, I stayed in the area of Tihany
, a small village at the north shore of Lake Balaton, with my exchange student’s grandmother, Lily Oma. We stayed in her simple, brick house, perched up on a secluded hillside. She did not own a car or a bike, so she walked into town every morning to buy groceries for that day’s meals. Naturally, we took a car everyday, but even with a car, it took over fifteen minutes to scale the rocky terrain into town, so I could only imagine how tough it must be for her to walk into town every day.
The town had very few buildings, but it would always seem very crowded, especially near the boulevard. From the boulevard, people had a wonderful view of the lake and could either go out sailing or just play along the beach. Every day, one of the oldest natives of the area, a man of ninety-eight years, would sail around the lake, and people would wave to him from the shore. On the northern shore, there were also many secluded beaches that we were able to go to every day to just relax or to take a quick dip in the water; sometimes with a family of swans or ducks! However, not all activity in Lake Balaton was for fun. There was an annual race across the shorter portion of the lake, and although I did not participate, many others did, and it was fascinating seeing the many people emerge from the water at the finish line. During my stay in Tihany, I was also able to attend a church service at the famous Benedictine Abbey. Although I am both an Atheist and not a speaker of Magyar, it was fascinating to experience a Hungarian Catholic service.
Last but not least, I was completely stuffed full of good food during my short stay. Every day, I was able to savour different variations of gulyÃ¡s (goulash), a vegetable and meat soup, that was usually served cold as well as halÃ¡szlÃ© (fisherman’s soup), which was just a little too spicy for my taste. During my frequent visits to the beach, I often bought fried fish and lÃ¡ngos, a deep fried bread with cheese on top, to eat. Everything I tried during my stay was very simple and homely, but very delicious as well.
Although many Eastern European countries may not be as developed in comparison to their Western counterparts, their lower rate of industrialization has gifted them with gorgeous natural areas and preserved much of their architectural heritage. Even so, people are reluctant to pick a beautiful place like Hungary for their next vacation spot because of its history. That is such a shame. If a rural place like Tihany can offer so much, imagine what the whole of Hungary can offer to travelers.
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