Cowboys and Kings or The 2nd Windiest Place

Trip Start Jun 08, 2010
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Trip End Aug 26, 2010


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Flag of Hungary  , Lake Balaton,
Saturday, July 24, 2010

I started the morning with a couple of chores, including a visit to the post office. I didn't have any trouble sending mail from Budapest (my postcard actually made it to California in three days), but the Keszthely post office was a bit trickier.

Instead of waiting in line, this post office used a take-a-number-system. But they couldn't make things easy. There was an array of buttons to chose from in order to get a ticket. The buttons were numbered and those numbers seemed to match the number of windows. Above the windows were icons telling you what each window was for. I decided one of the symbols above window 3 was the one I wanted, so I pressed button 3.

My first hint of a mistake was that my number was "3003", but window 3 was serving "1252". When 3003 did come up, it came up at window 1, which wasn't for mailing letters. Apparently the number of windows matching the number of buttons was just a coincidence. It wasn't a big deal, though. The man at window 1 had some computer pad that transferred my number over to the correct window. Hopefully that's the last I'll see of that.

Missions accomplished, I made my way to the featured attraction of Keszthely's old town, the Baroque Festetics Palace. I was a little irritated by the palace pricing structure. It was a ticket for the palace museum. A ticket for the coach museum. A ticket for the model railway museum. A ticket for the "Things I Shot by Count Festetics" museum (aka the trophy museum). A ticket if you wanted to take pictures. A ticket if you wanted a brochure. I skipped the brochure, and it turned out there were no descriptions in the palace itself, so I really didn't learn anything about it, except that it escaped major damage during any of the wars in the area.

Although the palace was never damaged during the wars or otherwise abused, the building itself was unremarkable. Maybe if I hadn't just seen Eszterházy Palace, I would have been impressed, but I wasn't. Festetics Palace gardens did to better over the years than Eszterházy, though, with colorful flower beds and several fountains still going strong today. There was a good exhibit of Islamic art in the palace, though.

As for the other museums, the model railway was cute, but only if you're into that sort of thing. My favorite part of the whole place was definitely the coach museum. There was a selection of horse drawn vehicles, both wheeled and sled, from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Like most good museums, it focused on exhibiting one or two of the best examples of each category of item. It was interesting to compare and contrast coupes, with parade coaches, with hunting coaches, with ladies coaches, etc. I guess I never really thought about coaches having categories like modern sedans vs sports cars vs SUVs.

After stopping for lunch, it was on to Westernpark and the Big Country Fesztivál. Westernpark reminded me of the episode of "the Simpsons" where Homer acquires a trampoline and constructs an amusement park using the trampoline and a bunch of soiled mattresses. Westernpark had several trampolines, a "labyrinth" where the walls appeared to be tall weeds, a "petting zoo" with a few goats, a group of chickens, and some terrified guinea pigs. There was also some fake western scenery such as a line of western town facades and two tepees. I can't say I was expecting much, but I still managed to find it a bit underwhelming.

Another exaggeration was the "Big Country Fesztivál" turned out to be just a single band playing at 5pm. I arrived in time for the 4pm "Western Show", so I grabbed a seat for that. It was mildly entertaining. Mostly it was a lot of "actors" shooting off blanks to create a sense of action. There was an "Indian" performing a few horse tricks at the beginning, but the majority of the show didn't involve any special skills.

The "plot" of the show was a bank robbery. The best part was probably the beginning where the robber got an audience member to join his gang and then proceeded to throw them out as bait so he could escape. Eventually, the robber was also caught and joined his accomplice in jail. At that point, the Indian crept into town to rescue them. Of course, in the end the money was saved and everyone was caught. I'm not sure where they put the criminals, though, since a horse had pulled the bars out of the jail.

After the show, I decided to stick around for the band to see how they were. They were okay. I stayed for a song and a half. The group had a fancy bring-your-own-stage trailer, so they must have been doing pretty well on the German/Hungarian festival circuit. I was reminded of the Mariachi band in Ljubljana...

At that point it was around 5:30pm. The band had started 10 minutes late. I don't know how you start late when you're the only act and you have nothing to do all day but set-up. Plus, I thought they were supposed to be German.

Anyway, I set out for my next hotel. On the way, I saw a castle up on a hill near Szigliget, and remembered I had seen it yesterday on my way to Tihany. I had planned to go there after an early afternoon visit to Westernpark, but I had forgotten all about the castle, and I ended up at Westernpark later than I had intended in the first place. Most things in Hungary have been closing at 6pm, so I assumed the castle would be closed, but it was close to the highway, so I decided there was no harm in driving by.

It turned out the castle was not only open late, but there was a "medieval" archery tournament going on in the courtyard. Take that Sümeg. I liked the castle better than Sümeg, too. The commercialism was confined to a small area at the lowest level of the castle. The rest of the fortification had been semi-restored, but not overdone, with ample info placards with the usage and history of the various structures. Of course, there were also great views of the surrounding area, including Lake Balaton, dramatically lit by the late afternoon sun.

The earliest parts of the current construction probably date from the 13th century when the monks of Pannonhalma (with of course the sister Abbey at Tihany) were given a charter to build a fortress in the area, with many additions made over the years. The fortifications climbed up to the top of a hill (the oldest parts were positioned highest). The top of the towers was the second windiest place I've ever been in my life, the first being Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada.

The wind had been going pretty good at Westernpark, but on the hill it was crazy, and of course the higher I climbed in the castle, the windier it got. Even though my hat had a chin strap, I had to take it off at one point and stick it in my bag to keep the wind from taking it. At the top, I started to wonder about the chances of a gust sweeping me, or more likely one of the small children, up over the parapets. I took multiple shots of the same picture because I wasn't sure I could hold the camera still for even the 1/1500th exposure time. It was the kind of wind you didn't realize how hard you were leaning into until it stopped briefly and you fell forward. Even down in the courtyard, it blew the feather out of the Count's cap. I saw it blow toppings off of someone's pizza. It must have been a very challenge day for archery. I'm surprised an arrow or two didn't end up in the crowd.

After the archery awards were given out, there was a presentation of Hungarian (I assume) folk dancing. The women ended-up doing a wardrobe change after each couple's dance, so there were several segments where it was just the men. A lot of it seemed like the same sort of tapping and foot slapping I've seen in Irish dance. I watched the show until it started to get dark. I decided to leave at that point because I still had another hour to drive to my hotel. By some stroke of luck, I was able to find my hotel with no problem, so the stop caused no problems, and was definitely worth it.

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