Hungary Winter Drive – From Siofok to Simontornya

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Jokai Park in the morning sun

The next morning, we wanted to take a last look at Lake Balaton before we checked out of our hotel. The beach was a short 5 minute walk from our hotel through a little park.

We were rewarded with a lovely view of the lake in the morning sun along the Siofok shoreline. The previous night was bitterly cold and there was frost covering the grass on the ground adding to the mystic feel. The lake was so still and serene, save for a raft of ducks swimming in the cold waters.

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The sweet serenity of Lake Balaton

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Frosted grass at the lakeside

After spending a fair bit of time admiring the beautiful waters, our daughter started to freeze up and so we headed back to our hotel to check-out. Our next destination was the little village of Simontornya, about an hour’s drive from Siofok.

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We chose the slightly longer route, passing by Iregszemcse and Tamasi, for no particular reason, except that we wanted to enjoy the countryside drive. The only issue was that the sun was shining almost directly into my face, which made it difficult for me to keep my eyes on the road.

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Countryside roads glistening in the morning sun!

Besides that little inconvenience, the drive itself was enjoyable indeed, passing by gorgeous fields and little villages along the way!

 

 

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Kisboldogasszony Templom at Iregszemsce

In no time, we found ourselves pulling into the Fried Castle Hotel at Simontornya. If you were looking for somewhere to have a relaxing retreat in the Hungarian countryside, then this is definitely the place to be.


This is part 11 of my Hungary Winter Drive blog series,  look out for part 12 where I share about our wonderful time at the Fried Castle Hotel at Simontornya, a steal at only US$300 for three people for three nights with meals provided and a wonderful Palinka party!

My wife and I enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship over a nice home-cooked meal. If you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!


2017 Hokkaido Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

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Hungary Winter Drive – Festetics Palace, Keszthely

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I’m glad we took pictures at the palace the day before, because the next day it was blanketed in thick fog

The day after St. Nicholas Day, we said goodbye to our wonderful hosts, and headed to the Festetics Palace at Keszthely to explore the museums there.

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Thank you Feri for being a great host!

The sprawling palace grounds were very well maintained and I imagine in summer would be packed with families having their picnics. That morning, however, the whole town was blanketed by a thick freezing fog, and it was certainly a good time to hide indoors and enjoy the exhibits.

The palace houses a handful of museums which would take a full day to complete. Because we only had the morning available, we decided to take the basic pass which includes the Palace Museum and the Coach Museum.

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Lovely period furniture and decor

The Palace Museum charts the history of the palace and the noble Festetics family who lived in the area for a few centuries. We get to see some of the wonderfully conserved rooms, each with their own character and stories, furnished in the styles of different historical times.

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Only one corner of the library and already amazing

The impressive palace library, with its 19000 books collected by the Festetics family over 200 years, is probably the highlight of the museum. Many of these books are of deep historical significance and still used by scholars today.

There was also a wonderful modern section of the museum with beautifully designed displays detailing the intriguing history of the Festetics family. We enjoyed playing around with the interactive elements and multimedia games!

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Well designed modern exhibits detailing the Festetics family history

After exiting the Palace museum, we headed towards the Coach Museum which was housed in a building a short walk away across the beautiful palace grounds. The Coach Museum houses an impressive collection of horse-drawn carriages, sleighes and even hearses. All of them have been beautifully maintained and are in pristine condition.

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The Coach Museum is a must for every carriage lover!

Only two museums visited out of five, and we already took up the whole morning! It was a real pity that we did not have the time to linger on, as we wanted to make the drive to Siofok before nightfall.

And so, with that, we bade farewell to the quaint town of Keszthely!

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Thick freezing fog meant that we could hardly see the palace!


This is part 9 of my Hungary Winter Drive blog series,  click HERE for part 10 where I share about our drive past Tihany, the little village whose housing prices are more expensive than those in Budapest!

My wife and I enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship over a nice home-cooked meal. If you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!


2017 Hokkaido Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

Hungary Winter Drive – St. Nicholas Day in Keszthely

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Excuse me Santa, can I take a picture with you?

After two nights in Szekesfehervar, the next leg of our journey would see us drive a full circuit around Lake Balaton, which is the largest lake in Central Europe. With an area of 592 square kilometres, it is almost the size of Singapore!

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Our destination for the day’s drive was Keszthely, at the western corner of the lake, which is an important cultural and historical hub in the region. It was a lovely drive, and we took a few detours off the motorway because we wanted to catch a glimpse of the beautiful lake!

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Down the little alley for a first glimpse of Lake Balaton

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Looks more like an ocean rather than a lake!

Not the best vantage point of the lake, I know, but better than nothing. This was our first view of Lake Balaton and we were immediately struck by its vast expanse. Compared to the seaside, the waters were so calm and gentle. You could barely make out the silhouettes of the hills at the opposite bank of the lake, and they seemed to blend in perfectly with the skies in the horizon.

After getting our Lake Balaton fix, we quickly made our way back onto the motorway to find our accommodation for the night – Beata Apartment, a homestay at a suburb just a short drive from Keszthely town.

This was the first time we have tried booking a homestay, and I must say it was a memorable experience. It took us a bit of time to find the exact location, but we were given directions by a helpful neighbour who pointed us the way to the house.

Our hosts, Feri and Beata, were super hospitable, and their house gave us a very homely feeling.

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A homestay with that homely feeling!

After settling us in, Feri told us that the 6th of December was actually St. Nicholas Day in Hungary, and we had arrived just in time to observe the festivities at the town centre at 4pm that day. Grateful for this information, we made our way back to town to check it out!

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The lovely town square at Keszthely where the St. Nicholas Day festivities were held

We were not disappointed. At the town centre, crowds were gathered in anticipation, with a real festival atmosphere with lovely games stations set up for the kids to play for free!

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How do I fire this crossbow?

There was also the requisite nativity scene, as well as a little barnyard maze made from hay for the little kids to get themselves lost in.

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Not quite mazerunner

Finally, the highlight of the afternoon – Santa’s arrival on a horse-drawn carriage! He brought his bag of presents and distributed little sweets to all the children present. It was certainly unexpected that we would luck our way to the St. Nicholas Day celebration, and we were extremely grateful for the recommendation of our hosts.

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Hello Santa!


This is part 8 of my Hungary Winter Drive blog series,  click HERE for part 9 where I share about our visit to the wonderful Helikon Kastelymuzeum at the Festetics Palace!

My wife and I enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship over a nice home-cooked meal. If you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!


2017 Hokkaido Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

 

 

 

Hungary Winter Drive – Szekesfehervar Forever!

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Sunrise view from our hotel room @ Novotel Szekesfehervar

The next leg of our trip was a two night stand at the historic city of Szekesfehervar, which translates to “white castle of the (royal) seat”.  This beautiful city was the capital of Hungary in the middle ages, and is just an hour’s drive to the East of Budapest. I kid you not that even after 2 days exploring its lovely streets, I was still hesitant to even attempt saying “Szekesfehervar”. The next time you meet me, test me on my pronunciation!

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Along the way to Szekesfehervar, we decided to take a short detour to Lake Velence, the third largest lake in Hungary and apparently a very popular place for the locals to take a holiday. Unfortunately, the villages along the lake seemed like ghost towns in the winter, with not many shops open. After trying for some time to find a restaurant to have our lunch, we gave up and decided to head to our hotel at Szekesfehervar to check-in first.

We were quite bowled over by our lovely room at the Novotel Szekesfehervar. It was a two-level concept, with the living room and a toilet on the first level and the bedroom with the attached bathroom in the loft on the second level.

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Definitely one of our favorite hotel rooms ever!

Needless to say, the two girls were star-struck by that fairy-tale spiral staircase. That huge window which spanned two levels also provided a wonderful view, especially when it started snowing. We spent a fair bit of that afternoon just gazing out of the window in wonder.

The other great thing about our hotel was its location. As we would soon find out, the historical walking street was just a stone’s throw from the hotel, as well as the main shopping mall in the heart of town, Alba Plaza. There, we found some nice food at the food court, and took advantage of the Christmas sales to purchase some reasonably priced walking shoes for ourselves.

As you can see, our daughter had a fair bit of fun admiring the falling snow:

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It’s snowing in the streets of Szekesfehervar!

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Can I bring some of these snowflakes home as a souvenir?


This is part 6 of my Hungary Winter Drive blog series,  click HERE for part 7 where I share about our visit to the lovely museums in Szekesfehervar the next day!

My wife and I enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship over a nice home-cooked meal. If you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!


2017 Hokkaido Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Hungary Winter Drive Blog Series

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Frolicking in a Simontornya Wine Cellar

The last time I was in Europe was 16 years ago when I was just a wee boy. Okay, maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration – that was when I completed my higher education at the University of Birmingham, UK. It was an incredibly memorable 4 years then, living in Europe, experiencing the 4 seasons for the first time in my life, and exploring the rich cultures of the different peoples and lands which make up this great continent.

After those 4 years, I felt that it was time to explore Asia, and that I did for the last 16 years. It was now time to go back.

My wife had never been to Europe. Neither have my kids. Before this trip, my wife did not even know any thing about Hungary. My daughter only knows what it means to be hungry, but nothing about Hungary. She kept asking, “is Hungary in Europe, or is Europe in Hungary?” It was time for their eyes to be opened.

Okay I admit, I had an ulterior motive. The first time I visited Hungary in the days of my youth, I fell in love with the beautiful Budapest, so steeped in history, so rich in culture. Above all, I fell in love with the Beef Goulash soup, and I wanted to bring my wife there to taste the real thing, and learn how to cook it for me back home in Singapore. This was my grand evil plan. 😛

The other great thing about Hungary is that the cost of living is very reasonable compared to some of the other countries in Europe. We managed to get great deals for our travel itinerary:

  • 4 day 3 night Dream Trip package from Rovia / World Ventures at a 5 star hotel in the Hungarian countryside with 3 breakfasts and dinners provided, for less than US$100 per person. Look out for an upcoming blog post where I will share about the wonderful time we had on this package tour.
  • 10 day car rental for an incredible price of S$250 from Rentalcars.com. We booked a Citroen C3 hatchback, but were extremely blessed to get a free upgrade to a Toyota RAV4 SUV.
  • Our other hotels were booked from Agoda and Accor at less than S$100 / night on average. Yes, where travel is concerned, I spread my nets wide and grab only the best deals haha.
  • Oh, did I mention, extremely competitively priced air tickets from British Airways, which were made even cheaper because of the Rovia Price Pledge Promise!

So do join me as I detail the various aspects of our trip in my upcoming blog posts. Thank you for taking the time to read!

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The Beautiful Lake Balaton

 

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The Crucifixion Scene Depicted at Tihany Abbey


This is part 1 of my Hungary Winter Drive blog series,  click HERE for part 2 where I share about my unfortunate injury just the night before we fly for Hungary.

My wife and I enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship over a nice home-cooked meal. If you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!


2017 Hokkaido Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

Hokkaido Winter Drive – Niseko to Lake Toya & Noboribetsu

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The next morning, we enjoyed a wonderful buffet breakfast spread at the resort and watched with intrigue as the snow plough worked hard to keep the driveway clear of snow.

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There were some incredibly brave souls who were determined to have a go at the ski slopes in spite of the hostile weather and the ski lifts not being in operation. They must have taken at least half an hour to trudge up the slopes and only 1 minute to ski down. Pretty hard work for a fleeting moment of pleasure.  It reminds me of how at amusement parks we have to wait 1 hour just to take a roller-coaster ride that lasts less than a minute. The lengths we humans go through to pursue our passions!

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After breakfast and when the weather calmed down a little, we set off for what would be the most entralling leg of our winter drive, heading towards the Noboribetsu Hot Springs.

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Driving through the highlands that morning was truly magical, with the snow glistening in the morning sun.

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At some points, save for the tire marks and the marking posts lining the sides of the road, it would be practically impossible to make out where the road ends and the fields begin. It simply looked like a single sheet of winter white, the colour of the ground perfectly matching that of the cotton clouds in the sky.

We reached Lake Toya around noon-time. Wow, what a scenic place!

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Lake Toya is a volcanic caldera lake within the Shikotsu-Toya National Park. With its crystal clear waters and little islands in the middle, it is so beautiful that it is impossible to take a bad photograph!

After lunch we continued on our journey towards the Noboribetsu Hot Springs.


This is part 6 of my Hokkaido Winter Drive blog series, click HERE for part 7 where I share about our walk through the valley of fire and brimstone!

My wife and I enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship over a nice home-cooked meal. If you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!


2017 Hungary Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

Hokkaido Winter Drive – Jozankei to Otaru

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Day 2 of our road trip was an incredibly scenic drive through the hills to the port town of Otaru. This leg was a truly magical experience, passing by dams, lakes, and ski resorts, taking us through all sorts of snowy roads and tunnels. We took our time here, as we wanted to soak in the breathtaking sights around us. A good place to take a first stop is at the Jozankei dam. We found a nice parking spot on the right side of the road just after the tunnel that leads to the dam. This was a great place to take photos, on both sides of the road:

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Sapporo Lake @ Jozankei

After we got back in the car, the weather suddenly took a turn for the worse. It was snowing heavily, to the point where we could not even see the road. This is where I would advise all drivers to slow down and to keep a safe distance from the car in front. Navigating these driving conditions can be tricky, especially for those of us who have never driven in snow before. Make sure that your rented car comes with snow tyres, and remember that if you brake too hard and start skidding, you need to release the brake until the tyres regain their traction with the road. This can be rather counter-intuitive, as when the car starts skidding, our reflex response is normally to press harder on the brakes. This would be a mistake, as it would cause the car to skid even more and we will find ourselves in a nasty accident. Do be extra careful when going down a windy slope, make sure your car does not pick up excessive speed as it might make it very tricky to navigate the sharp turns.

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Heavy snowfall as we enter a tunnel at Jozankei

When the roads are completely covered in snow, it can also be quite hard to figure out where the the sides of the road are. Do look out for the red and white striped arrows at the top left corner. These arrows will guide tell you where the side of the road is, and will help you get your bearings right. These arrows will also sometimes flicker with green or orange lights, and I believe that these give you an indication that the the road is bending to the left and right respectively. (someone correct me if I am wrong here!).

Do also look out for the roadside grit salt boxes. The salt helps to lower the melting point of water to help melt the snow on the road. These are only to be used in the most extreme of conditions.

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Remember to give oncoming cars enough space to pass!

After passing the lake and before getting back into civilisation, you will pass by another dam – Asari Dam – which is less scenic, but interesting nonetheless as you will experience a very interesting 360 degree loop in the road, which I presume was the most efficient and safe way to quickly drop the altitude of the road.

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Sun rising at Asari Dam

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360 degrees road ramp a la Hot Wheels play set

From here, it is a short drive to Otaru, using the Sasson Highway where we had to pay a 240 yen toll. You will have the interesting experience of driving under people’s residences:

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The road to the leads to the basement??

Very soon, we arrived at our hotel for the night – Hotel Authent Otaru.


This is part 3 of my Hokkaido Winter Drive blog series, please click HERE for part 4 where I share about our walk down the popular Otaru Sakaimachi shopping street!

My wife and I enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship over a nice home-cooked meal. If you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!


2017 Hungary Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series