Revisiting Balaton

In times ancient and long-forgotten I spent a short holiday in Csopak, lake Balaton,  Hungary. The place was in the past a trades union hotel, subsidized for workers. For those of you not familiar with this concept this is when they give the workers something fairly good and cheap or free to distract them from the thought that life could be better. This was the old system which in some ways worked and in some ways didn’t. Under the present system, the subsidies go straight to the bosses to boost profits and the workers see none of it.
When recently I had the opportunity to visit again I was curious to see how much the place has changed, along with so much else. The first impression of the hotel was that it had been lovingly refurbished, in I guess about 1978. The large name on the wall said Oliday Hotel the change to a capitalist system perhaps having been too much for the absconding letter H. I suppose the signs of the way the wind was blowing were there when I first stayed. You could order the capitalist breakfast which meant you got an extra fried egg. In fact, the Holiday Hotel (perhaps I should say Oliday) was fine in a sort of “Communist” chic way. It is very near the waterfront, nice enough dining room and grounds. Csopak is famous for its wine particularly olaszrizling. Nice to sit out on the hotel’s terrace with a glass or two.
“Since July 2020, Csopak or Csopaki wine has become a European protected designation of origin (PDO).” (WOW Hungary) There are wine festivals in August and it is good wine and cheap. There was a festival while I was there which was pretty good although the wine was considerably more than you would pay in wine bars or the hotel. Unfortunately, this tends to be the nature of these things though I have to say it’s still cheap. Nice atmosphere as well.
Probably the most noticeable thing for me was the way they have privatized the waterfront. There are turnstiles with ticket checking. The hotel gives you a ticket but you can only use it once a day which means you have to plan logistically. You can go on after 5 pm without a ticket but of course, it’s getting cooler then. There are bars and restaurants that open to the street and the waterfront but you can’t sneak through, I tried. So if you forget your sunglasses you can’t go back for them. Of course, you could buy new ones, perhaps that’s part of the point. Trouble is you end up going home with fourteen pairs. I do object to the privatization of public space a friend told me that in Italy it is virtually impossible to access the beach. The Balaton is going the same way. I get sick of places that try and squeeze every penny out of you.
In the hotel, we had to book a full board. Now the full board is not normally something I would normally go in for. Apart from anything else, it takes away the fun of looking for little interesting restaurants. You always feel you should get your money’s worth. This leads you to the temptation to eat too much. You end up taking your beach body, perhaps in my case dockside body, home to find its doughnut-shaped, again. The food was fine, although by English standards not as piping hot as you might like. Hungarians tend to eat their food at a cooler temperature. Of course, if you don’t get there at the get-go things cool down even more so you need sharp elbows to be at the front of the queue. On the whole, the food was fine. Just for a bit of a change, I did have an excellent hot dog at one of the lakeside bars and an excellent hamburger, expensive by Hungarian standards at another place. In fact very expensive, when did hamburgers get expensive? They also brought the highest-priced smallest can of bee I think I have ever seen. This I promptly threw back at them and got a proper one at a sensible price. At the price they were asking it must have been made from virgins’ tears and filtered through golden Yak hair. We had turned up at another place that sang to us, at about dinner time to be told that the kitchen was shut even though there seemed to be plenty of people eating.
I sometimes, (often) wonder at Hungarian customer service. They too often seem to resent your presence, perhaps a hangover from the Stalinist past. The rooms at the hotel were OK with a little balcony. The first night a TV was blasting out in the neighboring room at 12 pm so we banged on the wall. Not too hard as they didn’t appear to be very robust. The TV was switched off. Unfortunately, this allowed us to hear the full repertoire of coughing from the other side followed by stentorian snoring from the room that the TV noise had come from. But, as with everything you adapt. The Balaton itself is well worth a visit. It is very shallow, 9 to 12 meters at its deepest, and you can wade out what seems like miles without getting out of your depth. This is great if you learning to swim or if like me you’re not that buoyant and have a tendency to sink.
There are cycle paths all around the lake and places are not far apart if you want to explore. Don’t risk the roads Hungarian drivers view cyclists like bulls view matadors. You can eat at excellent fish restaurants. However, the fish are freshwater types which seem very bony after sea fish but if you don’t choke yourself you’ll get used to them. These days the lake has massif Chinese catfish which are not my favorite. I prefer the Pike Perch which is often served curled up in a half-moon shape.
One of the highlights for me was when we hired a yacht, with an instructor, and I had my first ever go at sailing. I managed not to hit anything and got us back in one piece. Its a cool experience and highly recommended, although it’s traditional, I would advise staying off the rum though. The lake is clean and a good place for family holidays. Not only that it’s cheap as well. Don’t let your kids swallow the fish bones. Enjoy. (Alan Durant, 2021)
Írás nekik: Alan Durant

Why do people on the island of Tilos live so long?

A few places in the world are called “Blue Zones.” The term refers to geographic areas in which people have low rates of chronic disease and live longer than anywhere else. Tilos is among these.

There are a great many theories as to why the people of Tilos and some of the surrounding islands have such longevity, diet, which is light on the consumption of meat, environment, social interaction. They eat a lot of legumes and have a couple of glasses of wine a day. Choose your own glass size.

I talked to a chap well into his eighties who had lived the majority of his life in America although he was originally from Tilos. He had returned to the island basically to die as he was in very poor health and bedridden. After six months he said he felt somewhat better and was able to get up and move about. Slowly but surely he improved and became healthier, he said. He had moved back to Tilos about fifteen years earlier and now he is, for his age, a picture of health. I asked him what he thought the secret was. He said that in the mornings he drinks Greek coffee. This is not crack of dawn style morning either but a more leisurely when you feel like it morning. I am not a lover of Greek coffee because of the sludge in the bottom of the cup but I suppose you could filter it. With his coffee, he has typically goat’s milk, yogurt, and or cheese and fruits. He might have herbal tea instead as well as his coffee, whole grain bread, and local honey. He would then go out and work in his garden.

It should be pointed out that a lot of the food on the island is locally produced and organic. He would generally have a late lunch followed by an afternoon nap. He said that he had a friend nearby who would come and share his bed from time to time. As he said he’s not really that old. These quiet leisurely late afternoons produce a heart-healthy routine enjoyed by long-lived cultures and creatures throughout the world. They greatly reduce the risk of heart disease. A light dinner of bread, olives, vegetables and wine is followed by evening visits with neighbours and a bedtime of around midnight. The result is that many Tilosians live long and healthy, with fewer instances of cancer and heart disease than other races and very few cases of dementia or depression. They cook, garden, walk, drink wine, enjoy sex, and socializing well into their later years and are 10 times more likely to live past 90 or even 100 than people in most other countries.

Tilos has a few “top longevity foods:” feta cheese, lemons, and herbs like sage and marjoram that Tilosians use in their daily tea. They don’t tend to subscribe to the normal Greek love of eating goats and lamb or mutton. The Tilosians do eat some goat meat, but not often.

I have a theory that the tea is especially good for you, Greek mountain tea which is basically sage probably has health-giving properties.. Does it make you wiser? I ask myself. If it does perhaps I need to drink more of it. Of course some people put the extended life span down to the slightly higher levels of background radiation locally, a subject on which I don’t feel qualified to speak. There are springs that you can bath in with slightly higher radiation levels than normal but who can tell. Strip off and go out after dark to see if you glow to be on the safe side.

Others have suggested that periodic fasting as practised by the greek orthodox church, holds the secret to longevity, (Drew Price The DoDo diet) Only trouble is the desire to eat passing strangers, or is that just me? In my opinion the amount of exercise has to play a part. Luckily there is still an absence of readily available Ubers. In addition to exercise, getting adequate rest and a good night’s sleep also seem to be very important for living a long and healthy life. Its got to be good for you.

Just because I love Greek big beans I decided to throw in a receipt for the more adventurous of you. What you need half a kilo of butter beans (soak them in water overnight if you get them fresh but you don’t have to if they are tinned) 2 onions thinly sliced I try and make an effort not to include the tips of my fingers. 2 zapped tomatoes 4 garlic cloves peeled (good way to peel them is put them in a jar with a top and shake vigorously. 2 tablespoons tomato paste mixed with a bit of water, some people prefer ketchup but there is too much sugar, not to mention salt, for my taste. 3/4 cup olive oil I know its expensive, (not if your in Greece but then better let a Greek do the whole thing) Parsley Salt and Pepper to taste What you do. Soak the beans overnight, the longer, the better. Of course don’t bother if they’re tinned. Preheat oven to180C. Drain and rinse the beans and boil in water for about 40 minutes to an hour, until they are soft but not mushy. Of course if you are using tinned beans you can do them straight off the bat. To make the sauce you Sauté the onion in a bit of olive on low heat until soft and add the garlic cloves whole. If you want a stronger garlic flavour you can mince the garlic. Add the mashed up tomato, the tomato paste, parsley, salt and pepper to taste and about ¼ cup olive oil. Let it simmer until sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Once the beans have boiled, drain them and put them back into the pot, (for fresh beans) otherwise straight from the can, add the sauce and mix gently. Pour the mixture in a pan and spread evenly and then pour about another ¼ cup olive oil over the beans and bake for about 40 minutes until beans are tender. Accompany with feta cheese, good bread and of course wine. You might not live forever but it will be as good as or even better than if you did.

(Alan Durant, 2021)

Tarifa to Tangier

On a previous occasion, I was in Tarifa and I failed in the attempt. The attempt is to get the ferry from Tarifa to Tangier. Not you might think the most difficult thing to do.

At the first attempt: I racked up at the ferry port with its little booking office with four or five people taking their ease in it. I asked for a ticket and was informed that I would be very welcome to a ticket, but, unfortunately, that there wasn’t a ferry. This didn’t seem like a very good deal to me. I asked politely why there wasn’t a ferry. They told me that it was broken, el ferry está roto. When will it be fixed I inquired, although in the back of my mind lurked the Spanish concept of manana., Soon they said. How long has it been broken I asked, three months they said. At this point, I gave up the idea of trying to get to Tangier.

But hope springs eternal. It’s funny how while sitting disconsolately on a dockside, wondering how far the walk is to get a beer, that obscure thoughts pass through your mind. I mused, is the name Tarifa anything to do with the word Tariff?

Perhaps in the olden days, they used to exercise a levy on goods going to North Africa or coming to Spain. (Apparently not). Also, I idly wondered, do Tangerines have anything to do with Tangiers? (Yes) I think that Jaffa oranges get their name from Jaffa in Israel/Palestine so perhaps this so. (Also yes)

With the speed of a winged Hermes, we come to the, relatively, present-day unless of course, you happen to be reading this in 2525 in which case it counts as a historical document.

I like Tarifa. It has a very cool old town with winding allies, Moorish buildings, a fort, good beaches, and good restaurants, what’s not to like as they say. The more modern town has a sort of surfer vibe while staying Spanish in essence. Kite surfing is popular due to the regular high winds that blow across this part of Spain. It’s good to sit on the beach to watch them but there is no way you’d get me up on one. The fortified town has seen more sieges than you can shake a stick at.

My favorite story, all be it sad, is of In Alonso de Guzmán defended the town in 1296 Guzmán held Tarifa’s castle against the siege of the Moors and Don Juan, the kings rebellious brother. Guzmán’s son had been placed under the care of Don Juan, who threatened to kill the captive unless Guzmán surrendered the city. According to legend, Guzmán rebuffed the demand with dramatic words. According to one rendition, “I did not beget a son to be made use of against my country, but that he should serve her against her foes. Should Don Juan put him to death, he will but confer honor on me, true life on my son, and on himself eternal shame in this world and everlasting wrath after death.”[3][4] Guzman reportedly threw down his knife for the besiegers to use in killing his son. They don’t really make men like that these days. Maybe it wasn’t his favorite son?

So more time than I care to think about later I make my second attempt to cross to Tangier. Now the ferry terminal is efficient and works well, though you might have to queue. I did see some Americans who cut it too fine left on the quayside so arrive early. The ferries are also fine. It takes about 45 minutes. Mine was a catamaran or do they call it a hydrofoil? If it gets rough these tend to be canceled. I suppose they tend to bob about too much. As it was, it was rough enough for me. I saw someone fasten their belt around the rail on the bar to stay steady, but perhaps they’d been at the vodka.

Prices seem to hover around the 40 Euro mark. Immigration formalities for Morocco are conducted on the ferry, pick up a white form at reception or from whoever sold you your ticket and fill it in with your passport details, then look for the small police office on board to have your passport stamped with the date of entry and unique identity number. Often there is a queue, this is true for getting on the ferry as well, There seemed to be a lot of jostling and cutting in (a Moroccan specialty). Experienced ex-rugby players would be at an advantage in this scenario. I can never be bothered and usually stay in my seat until the crowd thins.

If the ferry has docked and you are still in the queue, you are now in the third world where time stands still motivated by the slow progress of officialdom, you must have your passport correctly stamped or you will be nabbed by police when disembarking the car deck and sent back in disgrace to have this error corrected!

Tangier weirdly enough was made an international zone in 1923 under the joint administration of France, Spain, and Britain. It was a tax haven and became a destination for what could be politely called the Bohemian set and less politely an assortment of drunks, addicts, and characters of what might once have been called of low moral fiber. This state of affairs lasted until 1945 when the Moroccans got Tangier’s back. for many heady decades, this cosmopolitan enclave was under international administration when all imaginable pleasures were to be had here. This has left a mark and impression on the place.

Starting in the 1950s, the demi-monde descended in droves. Errol Flynn, Ava Gardner, Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton, and Francis Bacon all did their bit to establish Tangiers as the last word in louche, only for some writers to go still further with their X-rated forays into derangement (Burroughs) and depravity (Orton) These days the place has had something of a makeover. There isn’t the same amount of sleaze and it’s more than a little safer than it was, OK a little of the adventure and exoticism might have gone but perhaps that’s a sign of the times. Not that the current clean-up has erased every last trace of Tangier’s essential dissolution.

In the air, along with regular whiffs of kif hashish, there persists a distinctive quality – raffish, bohemian – which has led a new generation of creative, Francophone’s to the fore, to make their homes here. There is the slightly annoying fact that you will probably be offered hash every time you shorten your stride or trips to see the cannabis fields. Equality in this is denied to women however as they are never offered recreational drugs, often much to their annoyance.

Hash is still illegal in Morocco, though it’s often hard to tell, so take care. The Moroccan police are not known for their kid gloves. There were also countless times that I was offered someone’s virginal sister and on one occasion someone’s virginal mother as well. Now I’m pretty sure this is a rare occurrence and certainly one to be avoided at all costs. For me, one of the joys of Tangiers is North African food. I went to a restaurant in 13thC. Villa in the Kasba where the meals start with flatbread and 10 separate dips, zucchini marinade, rice with herbs, beans in garlic, sweet carrots, diced potatoes, Moroccan salad, olives, aubergine dip, and (a herb like spinach). Then comes the main course, barbecued lamb with couscous followed by dessert.

Tangier’s charm also lies in its architecture often with vibrant colors. Just immerse yourself in it and you will really enjoy it. Do’s Look at the Mosque and so on but for me even more so look at the really nice and interesting traditional house that ordinary people live in. Try the orange juice but probably a good idea to avoid the ice. Spend plenty of time in the Kasbah Track down some traditional Arab live music but belly dancing tends to be designed to extract cash from tourists.

With most attractions concentrated along the coast and in Morocco’s north-east, rail travel makes a lot of sense. Trains are safe, punctual, cheap, comfortable, and a great way to see the county. I do enjoy traveling by train.

Dont’s: With mosques, houses, police stations, and even lampposts and bins painted in an electric shade of blue, the place is a dream for photographers. Moroccans themselves don’t like to be photographed and remember it is a Muslim country so show the utmost courtesy and reticence towards women although many people are westernized. OK if you really want to buy a carpet who am I to say you nay. But taxi drivers will offer to take you to their “uncles’ carpet shop where you will be given a hard sell and lots of tea to endeavor to get you to buy a carpet. If you know about carpets fine but even then make sure you walk out with the one you looked at. Some taxi drivers seem to have hundreds of “uncles” and you can lose a day being carted around all of them.

If you want a carpet do some research, especially if you want it mailed to you, and no matter what they say you will definitely not be able to sell it for a vast profit in England or America or anywhere.

You can have a drink if you want but not everywhere and you should be discrete so as not to upset local sensibilities. It’s a trip well worth doing as with most cities employ a little caution, enjoy and ditch the diet.

By Alan Durant