Too Busy for Balaton Biking?

When I do something like go biking in the Lake Balaton area at the beginning of the school year (and a little over a month before a big trip to the U.S.), I can imagine people saying, “Biking at this time of year? You can’t be very busy.” Well, no, I am extremely busy right now, but I make time for this and am glad. Besides, I see no reason to prove that I’m busy. Being busy isn’t always good; some projects, some aspects of life require slowness. So anyway, heck, I went.

In August I had gone on a shorter bike trip around Tihany (a historic village and peninsular district at Balaton). It left me wanting to come back. So when I saw the announcement for an all-day trip, I signed up. I thought things would be somewhat hectic work-wise, but not extremely so. As it turned out, the trip came during several crunches (deadlines, rushes, requests). But oh well! I had paid for the bike tour already! Nothing to be done! (And my advice: When in a crunch, take a bike trip. You come back with energy and perspective and can roll through the things you need to get done. Or at least that was the case this time.)

Getting out to Balaton from Szolnok isn’t all that easy. You have to go to Budapest and then transfer. Doing this early in the morning wouldn’t have gotten me to the starting point on time. So I stayed in Budapest on Friday night. In the evening, I led a service at Szim Salom, then went to my hotel. Around 6 a.m. I headed out to the Déli train station, then caught the train around 7.

It took a little over two hours to reach Balatonfüred. From there I walked to the bike tour’s starting point. It turned out to be a big tour, broken into several groups (by ability level). These bike tours are run in Hungarian and generally draw Hungarians, which is great. No English-speaking nonsense. (I’m kidding—I love the English language—but it is important to me to be speaking Hungarian in my free time.)

When I arrived, Felső Tízezer’s “Semmi pánik 2” was playing over the loudspeaker (maybe from the radio or a Spotify playlist)! I signed in, found my group, met the leader, and waited for things to get organized. After a few announcements and photo shoots, we took off.

We had a great leader and a spirited group. Before my first Balaton bike tour, I didn’t think I liked biking in groups. I love biking alone because of the reflection and quiet that this allows. But one advantage of the group is that you get to experience it together, traverse terrains you never would have known of, and learn from a pro. We went up and down steep dirt-rock paths. We flew through fields. We cycled through many a lovely, old, hilly town. Saw vineyards, cows, horses, rolling hills, the lake in the distance. All day long. There were refreshment stops along the way where we could have a (delicious) snack. At the end, we had dinner and wine-tasting at a restaurant.

The trip had another wonderful aspect, which I was only vaguely aware of in advance: its theme was the 2022 coming-of-age movie Együtt kezdtük (We started out together), which was set and filmed in the Balaton area; one of the main actors, Toma Hrisztof, was in our group. As it started to dawn on me what was going on—the teenager in our group, Gábor, adores the film and had all sorts of questions for Toma throughout the day, and we visited some of the actual shooting sites—I was actually glad that I hadn’t realized in advance, because it was such a nice surprise. Toma is kind and thoughtful—he took interest in the rest of us and asked me lots of questions about how I learned Hungarian, what brought me to Hungary, etc.

And I just looked and saw that the film will be playing at the Tisza Mozi here in Szolnok beginning this Thursday, so I got a ticket! How exciting: to see the film after visiting some of the filming sites and spending the day with one of the actors and with others who showed so much excitement about the film.

The bike trip ended on a happy note. A delicious beef stew, tasty local wine for dinner. Lots of conversation. Then a few of us took off to catch the earlier train (at about 6 p.m.) and talked along the way. I had originally planned to take the later train, which would have gotten me back to Balatonfüred by 9, but this seemed like a good ending point. The panzió where I was staying had a reception office that was open only until 8. The owner had agreed to give me the key later, but it seemed simpler to check in on time. Then I could relax and maybe leave earlier in the morning than I had planned. I had a lot waiting for me when I came back.

That is how it worked out. I checked in at the lovely Aqua Panzió (where I hope to return) around 7. My room had a little balcony with a view of Tihany, so I relaxed out there for a while, then planned my return trip to Szolnok. It turned out that if I left Balatonfüred at 4:50 a.m. and didn’t miss either of the two transfers, I could get back to Szolnok before 9, which would allow me to reassure and feed the cats and then catch up with a translation. In the morning I woke up very early, dozed off again, and woke up at 4:30. I got up, scrambled, got out the door by 4:40, walked briskly to the train station, and caught the train just barely. Everything went well with the train transfers and the plans; I finished the translation and will soon be going to a klezmer concert at the Szolnok Gallery (formerly one of Szolnok’s synagogues). Then I will still have the whole evening to get ready for tomorrow.

This is probably my last Balaton bike trip of 2022, because so much is happening in the next two months, and then the weather will get cold. But boy was it great.

I will sign off with a video of birds on, around, and above Lake Balaton.

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  • “To know that you can do better next time, unrecognizably better, and that there is no next time, and that it is a blessing there is not, there is a thought to be going on with.”

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    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In April 2022, Deep Vellum published her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.

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    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

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