Experts in day tripping as we are, we set off on a sunny bank holiday morning with that generally ill-advised Top Gear/Grand Tour confidence of what could possibly go wrong only to be immediately confronted with the first thing that most definitely went wrong. As Hungarians are almost irrationally staunch about sticking to bank holiday closures, we came to realize that decent coffee is unavailable in the general area of (forever) Moszkva square and thus had to experiment with whatever came our way in Déli station. I do have a weird fondness for Déli, as I only ever take trains from it as part of some outlandish travelling, say to Balaton or the Croatian seaside, and I also believe that with the proper care and love its socialist building would look rather spectacular. This being said, buying coffee from any of its current commercial units sends shivers down my spine, not to mention the fact that bank holiday morning travelers will definitely be of the fussier kind. And indeed, we suddenly landed smack in the middle of one of the great existential terrors of life in Hungary: having the right money. Somehow the nature of the forint is such that you very often find yourself with either too much change, or a twenty thousand bill which hardly anyone accepts if you buy something for less than ten thousand. In these moments you start to question yourself and your life choices, as if your inability to dose your forints were the symptom of a more fundamental lack, a general maladroitness that will sooner or later blight your entire stay on this planet in ways you cannot yet comprehend. You nevertheless feel completely entitled to judge anyone else who falls prey to the same weakness, therefore we spent a not wholly unpleasant ten minutes sternly ogling the elderly lady who paid for her csokis csiga and espresso with five- and ten-forint coins, a shiver of satisfied judgement running through the entire queue behind her.
Finally armed with pastry and coffees, we boarded the train to Győr- our goal on the day being the fair town of Oroszlány. There are two ways of reaching it by train, one from Keleti station, which costs more and lasts longer, and another one from Déli, which lasts less (altogether one hour and seventeen minutes) and costs 1500 forints, so we felt it was a no brainer to opt for the second. Both trips are indirect, and you need to switch trains in Tatabánya, which has one of those fascinating provincial stations where the only dignified way of navigating it is to identify locals and follow them with a confident gait. Oroszlány station, on the other hand, is blissfully reassuring, as the only kind of train that ever reaches it is the Tatabánya regional connection- eight trains per day, in a roughly every two hours sequence. Our final destination was of course the floating village of Bokod, a minor social media sensation generally advertised with the ‘hidden gem’ tagline. A very well hidden one, as the sleepiness of Oroszlány, Bokod and the connecting road remained completely undisturbed throughout our stay. No one else made the trip by train, and arrivals by car could also be ballparked at around a dozen or so. This sounds heavenly, yet traffic on the roads surrounding the lake is pretty intense, made up of locals running Important Errands- we often saw the same car pass us three or four times from different directions.
The lake itself is artificial- it was created in the 60s to act as a cooler for the nearby Vértes power station, which looms rather industrially over the horizon. It is fed by the Által rivulet, and was traditionally divided into two halves, a ‘cold’ one, from which water was pumped to cool the power station, and a ‘warm’ one, into which the heated water returned. As such, it would never freeze over in winter, and became popular with fishermen, who started building small wooden huts on the shore, gradually moving them ever inward as this allowed them to fish directly from the houses themselves, without having to go onto the lake by boat. I am not personally enamoured by the idea of fish from an industrial lake, but the locals seemed perfectly happy with the arrangement- especially as the power station ceased operations in late 2015.
Having read a bit on the topic, I found several articles complaining about the tourist invasion in the area- which, as already mentioned, is pretty conflicting with our own experience. This being said, intensive visiting would probably be a nuisance, as there is zero infrastructure, bar one caravan selling beers and soft drinks and no toilets either except the ones belonging to the houses- having noticed this detail any romantic idea I had of owning one suddently evaporated with the vision of a low cost horror movie about a woman who needed to pee at night and was swallowed by the Loch Bokod monster. The houses are privately owned, many of them having metal gates right at the shore, so the number of piers you can walk onto is limited, and most insta-friendly shots are taken from one single location, which did have a small ‘waiting room’ of people with DSLRs intent on some Monday artistry. The most spectacular shots were however taken during wintertime, when the houses were surrounded with steam from the warm waters, but this is no longer possible since the power station closed, and the waters now have ‘regular’ temperatures all year round. The fishermen themselves tried to go about their business in a casual manner, with occasional exasperated, yet fundamentally tolerant glances when people walked too close to the houses. Given that it was a particularly hot day, the visual material was better suited for documentary photography than selfies, as each shot had a high risk of containing a portly gentleman in a speedo, possibly with a beer in hand, or, in a more fortunate turn of events, a fisherlady in a bright bikini with a soaked dog by her side.
The persistent smell of fish soup and gulyáses being cooked in large cauldrons did successfully whet our appetite yet a restaurant was nowhere to be found in a further sign that the good people of Bokod will fight online popularity for as long as they can. This in spite of the fact that legend has it that Bokod is where potatoes were first grown in Hungary, so someone might have really come up with the bright idea of a fish and potato themed establishment. We thus trudged back to Oroszlány through a scenic field awash with poppies and, as my legs were soon to discover, nettles. Although dating back to the Middle Ages, Oroszlány is fundamentally a typical socialist town designed to contain the miners who worked in the region and their families, with long rows of identical housing blocks, a cultural centre in the heart of town and a number of shops strewn around the main street. Of these, the two ice cream parlours seem to currently be the most popular, with longish queues of mixed composition, ranging from elderly people in Sunday clothes to mums with prams and the local cool kids listening to the Hungarian trap blasting from one of their cars (a battered Suzuki nonetheless.) The blocks are however embellished with a series of well restored murals, dedicated to core Socialist values such as hard work, atomic power and women in folk costumes playing handball. It was therefore intriguing to find the walls of the only restaurant open on this drowsy Monday decorated with the autographs of local Fidesz politicians and the town’s basketball team bearing the obvious name of OSE Lions, in that mind-bending and a little scary mixture of ideologies which is often born in self contained provincial communities. For reference, the place is called Borostyán vendéglő, looks stuck in time somewhere around June 1981 and offers very decent basic food for a fraction of Budapest prices.
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