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Lake Balaton and Tihany Abbey

sailboats on balaton

I took this picture of Lake Balaton, "the Hungarian Sea" on an afternoon when passing showers stippled the water's surface with doubt, and ivory-sailed sloops raced before the storm winds. It's hard not to look at a map of Hungary without finding your eye drawn naturally to this immense body of water in the western half. The blue of the map fails to do justice to the temperament of the water, however: we watched the lake flow from greys and silvers through turquoise and every potential shade of dark blue we've known.

Our Hungarian friends took it all in stride: a popular bathing resort and vacation destination for people hailing from as far away as Germany, Balaton is a resource many Hungarians appreciate in terms of its economic potential. From the eyes of a gringo traveling not only from the New World but from West Africa, it was a jewel the color of jade and the scent of daisies. It was as dynamic as the magnificent Lago Atitlán in Guatemala, but far grander, and it seemed to me to have the spiritual feel of Lake Okeechobee in Florida, without the gators.

We found ourselves at the Abbey of Tihany (pronounced roughly, Tee-Hañ), on a geologic aberration on the lake's north shore. It reminded me of Xiloa in Nicaragua, a peninsula jutting into a lake, cradling within its boundaries another small, freshwater lake. The abbey itself dates, in its earliest incarnation, to the 11th century, and the day we visited, was overrun with tourists: almost all of them Hungarian. It's impossible to miss the abbey's charm: who wouldn't want to be hunkered down over a stack of books, reading to the shrill call of the tea kettle as the winter winds whipped out of the grasslands over the lake? In solitude comes revelation, I've always found, and Tihany whispered such promises under the veil of the summer breeze. We find our God in Nature, and hear best when no one else is talking.

The abbey hinted at austerity that approximated the starkness we found in Rocca Calascio in Italy, where an octagonal chapel suggested fellowship among adversity. But it was hard to feel afraid when, on all sides, the warm, welcoming waters of Balaton beckoned. Even on Pentecost Sunday, at the feet of crosses set on the hillside to invoke the Crucifixion, Tihany was welcoming and warm, never mind a summer shower.

This is why we travel.


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