The steady putt of the riverboat’s engine put me at ease. It was my first time navigating a boat that didn’t have an outboard engine and I was nervous—all alone with the small craft’s wheel in my hands. I was in north-east Hungary, cruising along the Bodrog River in the famous Tokaj wine region. On the top deck, the other passengers—my wife Anita, the captain, his wife and Hajnalka Szabo and György Brezovcsik from the Füleky Winery—soaked up the early summer sun. The captain, a fit tanned man in his 60’s, handed over the wheel moments earlier. Soon, I was completely at ease captaining the boat. Thick cottonwood trees lined either side of the slow moving brown-green river, cool air blew into the open cabin and an egret swooped across the water ahead….
It’s rare that I visit a place which completely surpasses my expectations. I’ve been fortunate to travel and experience many beautiful places, yet many simply didn’t live up to the fanfare. Often destinations are too touristy or commercialized, in a state of disrepair or people are just so rude it ruins everything. It’s akin to fast food posters that portray burgers as being these towers of meaty goodness, when in reality they’re pale, floppy and flat. On a recent trip to Hungary’s Lake Balaton, Anita and I visited the Csendes Dűlő Vineyard in Badacsony. On a hot June day, this family run winery turned out to be one of those rare places—a place that keeps you smiling long after you’ve left….
There was no horizon— the line between water and sky nonexistent. Hungary’s Lake Balaton sat still and glassy under the hazy morning sky. Peach colored light crept across the water, the June air was already sultry with pleasant warmth. At 5:30am, the only sounds were bird calls and the occasional whir of an old fisherman’s cast. Cafés were closed in the historic town of Balatonfüred, and I lumbered about the Tagore Promenade in a bleary-eyed, un-caffeinated state. Sitting on a bench at the shore, I watched a trio of swans glide across the water. I could see the Tihany Abbey glowing softly in the distance on its perch high above the lake….