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Art Camp in South Hungary

My early autumn adventures are not about to end early, as I have just arrive to Sümeg with three fellow painters to participate as a guest of honour in a weeklong painting camp. I haven’t mentioned this before, but one of my passions in life in painting, and for a more than a year now, after painting by example, I have officially become an ardent student. I did not choose to enrol in an official curriculum but started to take one-on-one classes from painter teachers, as I think my drawing skills need further development so that I can become a better painter. 

We arrived yesterday to the well-known artists’ camp in Sümeg, that my fellow colleagues dubbed as ‘alcohol camp’, playing with the similarity of the words in Hungarian and suggesting that quite a large quantity of wine is consumed during these days, as it is usual in artistic circles.

The artists’ camp in Sümeg was established by multitalented museologist Kálmán Dargay in 1920, which means that its tradition goes back almost 100 years. During this time, for a few decades the artistic scene was not particularly vivid, but nowadays the camp enjoys a renaissance. Well-known artists István Csók and Gyula Rudnay had been regulars with their students, although in the first years the infrastructure was not fully developed and artists found lodging by the locals.

The camp is located by the foot of the castle, above the old grange and stables built in 1720 by bishop Márton Padányi Bíró. The ancient stone building has long corridors from which the rooms open. It is a spacious, grandiose area, with wooden flights of stairs and a giant common room with wooden beams.

It the stables there is plenty of room for the animals under the tall arches, and you can feel that time stands still here. The owner, who is an excellent rider, manages his land of many acres and continues the tradition of horse breeding, schooling and hunting. Besides horses you can find other farm animals, for example goats as well.

The first morning we were invited to the mills of Nemeshany, a small village 12 km from Sümeg, where one of our fellow artists recorded the local artisan scene and the life of Gábor Rádóczy Gyarmathy on film. I woke a little late but felt like I need to get moving, so I took my scooter out and started on an adventure into the unknown. Most of the people thought that my idea was a little funny and I’m sure the drivers on the road appreciated the crazy scooter lady as well… After the GPS installed the directions I was happily speeding along the fields. I found a few really lovely villages along the way. I find these small villages exceptionally attractive, where I stopped once in a while under a walnut or plum tree – just to make sure, that I won’t die of hunger.

As I wasn’t always sure that I’m on the right way I asked a few locals once in a while, then headed towards my expected goal. During the longest scooter ride of my life so far, in this lovely September day, it was elevating to experience speeding as if I were perfectly united with the landscape, to immerse the local colours, scents and feelings. When I got to the fourth village in the row it was elevating to see the name on the plate I had been longing to set my eyes on, so I turned towards the mill. The owner, Zoltán Csizmadia, after a kind and helpful welcome shared the story of the family and the house built in 1907, and the way the business was handed down from father to son, proudly. He received the Podmaniczky prize for the renovation of the house.

The second day our host, a young friend of his, and Mr Rádóczy put on their period dresses and went to the dog stalls, where more than 50 hounds were waiting excitedly for the hunt to start. We wouldn’t have missed this unique and interesting opportunity where we could experience something exceptional, which I could only capture in a few photographs.  

One afternoon we were invited to the former mayor’s wine cellars where he welcomed us with his own delicious vintage. This time we could taste an exceptionally delicious selection of white, rosé and red wine, each item winning our approval in the airy sunset mood.

To top it all we gathered up to visit one of our other host in his Tuscany-inspired garden, where we enjoyed his wonderful white wine in abandon and closed the lovely night with a fantastic barbecue.
The day after we returned to the farm, from where the Zala hills, Szigliget and the corner of the Balaton can be seen beautifully. A heavenly spot for landscapes, we spent all afternoon painting, along the vineyards and orchards.

Another morning we went to see the Visitation Franciscan church in the centre of the village, where the famous Mater Dolorosa statue can be found, which has immense history. The local vestryman introduced us to the church which dates back to the 1600s, he also showed us the hidden, enclosed areas that are not open to the public. We could take a peek into the everyday life of a monastery, the dressing rooms, the dining room and even to the smallest spaces. The church and the statue have had the reputation for centuries of being a place where miracles happened after prayers to the Virgin Mary. It was an elevating experience to see this in its reality and I wonder, that besides faith, what is the explanation?

Apparently, the church had been destroyed by fire twice, but the wooden statue always survived scratch-free. It was interesting to see how the surface of the wood changed after hundreds of years of hopeful prayers touching the hands of it. We learned that on the 12th of each month there is a vigil, while on the 13th and 14th of September, on the saint’s day hundreds of pilgrims arrive to see the famous statue, there is even a direct pilgrimage train from Budapest for this weekend.

I feel immensely lucky to being let in on the vigil, which started at 10 pm, where after the prayers and special celebrations of the clergy, slowly the people gathered up, and led by the clergymen, filed out of the church and into the streets, taking a respectful circle around the square and then back to the church. I was exceptionally sorry that I didn’t have my camera with me, as the triumvirate of the priests carrying a huge cross and the frankincense filled air had a mystical, unearthly atmosphere.

Our last day was spent by finishing our landscapes, and, as the artists went fishing to the lake in Zalaszentgrót, the cooking of fish soup in the garden and the celebrations and dancing until the small hours. While we were waiting for dinner, we tried to cease the fire of a candle that was set in the middle of a target by using a gun, which task, to be honest, no one managed to accomplish. Although I have never been fond of firearms, this has a reminiscing, unique atmosphere, on that particular evening in the garden by the stalls.

After the eventful time we had, before we set out to travel home, we went to see the castle, which I was sorry we only did at the very last minute. A magnificent view welcomed us, besides the panorama, in the courtyard the castle life came into life, I have never seen a castle so well-preserved and well-equipped.

Sadly though, but we had to go back to Budapest, as we were invited as VIP guests to the Romeo and Juliet musical, in the Sportaréna. Due to our late arrival, we only got there for the second part, but we didn’t mind, as the show was really good. We continued the crew party with dancing until the early morning, and then the next day we visited the goose liver festival, where after 40 minutes of queuing we got to taste the famous Hungarian goose liver paté.

Although it was an ad hoc affair, we experienced real culinary pleasures. After such an eventful week and doing my chores in Budapest in the next few days, I am very lucky to say that tomorrow, as an after-holiday, we are going to be the guests of Annabella Hotel in Balatonfüred for two nights. I can’t wait!

We got to Balatonfüred by 6 pm, which I almost felt a pang for, although it had only been a week since I was here last. We had dinner at the hotel, followed by a pleasant evening stroll, and then in the morning, after rising a little too early, we took a bike trip in the area. We discovered the slightly more hidden parts of the previously unknown Felsőörs, from where we enjoyed the beautiful panorama on the lake. We found a lovely field where we took off and picnicked in the wonderful early autumn sunshine.

We took a walk in the garden of the almost empty Kisfaludy Baths, where we could see a few swimmers daring the 20 degree water. I considered  swimming before the sauna, but at the end I was left with the smaller pool, with the same water temperature, in the garden of the wellness area.

We had the buffet dinner at the hotel and then walked over to a cosy restaurant at the Tagore promenade, for a glass of welschriesling, before closing our day with an evening walk and colloquy.

My plans of a refreshing swim in the lake for the next morning went astray, as I caught a cold from the sudden cooling down of the temperatures, so I had to lay my ambitions. After the pleasant breakfast we saw the current exhibition in the Villa Vaszary, titled “Rivers, Lakes, Seas”, featuring the unforgettable works of Munkácsy, Szinyei Merse, Vaszary and Courbet, among other well-known artists from the last century.

Then we had to go to the must-have Rege confectionary, with its breathtaking Balaton panorama, before the time for farewell arrived. I was expected at home, but before then, I went to the meditation of a women’s healing club, in Budapest. I felt like I needed the self-care, as I was to travel to Warsaw the day after, for my daughter’s 10th birthday.

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