Our tour of the Parliament House includes a Budapest city coach tour. We are driven past many of the major sites, including Heroes Square, which according to our guide is the nicest and biggest in Budapest.
We end up on the Buda side of the city, and our coach off-loads us for some time in the vicinity of the Fisherman’s Bastion, the Church of Saint Matthias, and the castle. The view, as promised, is spectacular, although covered in a heat haze.
What I did not expect to find in this area was a museum dedicated to marzipan. There are numerous showpieces moulded from the confection, including famous monuments, life size statues and “portraits” of famous people, wedding cakes and house furniture.
It was mid afternoon when we returned to our hotel, and the guys and I were keen to try out one of the famous thermal baths before we ran out of time. We chose the Gellert Spa because of its proximity.
This area is named after Bishop Gellert who in 1047 was killed for his beliefs – – -by being forced inside a nailed barrel and rolled down the hill which now bears his name.
Nearby is the Gellert Hotel, and the baths are located within, accessed by a separate entrance.
The spa was built in 1918 and is famous for its main galleried hall and glass roof. When we arrived, the entrance was so crowded we barely took notice of this. We had pre-purchased tickets, which was supposed to by-pass the ticket queues and get us the service of an assistant. Instead, we got tangled up with all the people trying to get in, and when we found the “help desk” it was anything but. All the same, we did come away with a bracelet which enable us to get inside the baths.
Getting into the baths was a highly confusing experience. The weather was so hot and the baths so crowded that I imagine the staff were overwhelmed. Eventually we located the changing area, although in the crush and confusion I found myself in with the men for a moment. We had paid for individual changing and storage cabins but evidently they had not given us the correct pass at the (non) help desk, and there were no lockers available in the ladies’ area, so I had to find Bill again to hand over my clothes and bits and pieces.
I was well out of my comfort zone by the time I made my way to the outdoor pool. I got a shock when I stepped out in bare feet onto the hard surface that led from the changing room to the pool. I was instantly transported back to the days of childhood – a hot Australian summer’s day and the white cement of the local municipal pool, and a giggling group of schoolgirls screaming “ouch, ouch,” as they ran across to jump in the cool water.
Except that these days I don’t run anywhere, and I certainly don’t jump into any pools. I inch my way in, a toe at a time, dreading the moment that the water will reach my chest. Even though this water was supposed to be 26’c, which should be a comfortable temperature, I was in the middle of this process when I heard a whoop from the hordes who were already in the pool. The wave machine started up. This is what this pool is famous for, and why there were so many youths in this pool. If I wanted waves, I would never have left Australia! I thought I was coming to a healing mineral spring where I would loll around watching old men playing chess in the gloom and the steam. Now here I was in the blazing sun trying to push my way into the water and getting pushed back against the edge as fast as I could take a step forward. Waddy, already in the middle of the pool, and an ex-lifesaver to boot, was laughing his head off.
The next pool we tried was indoors, a thermal pool of 36’c. This was more like it! It was a small semi-circle with seating around the edge. It was crowded, but after a while we each found a seat. At either end there was an ornate gargoyle spraying out water with great force. One can stand under it and get a back and neck massage at the same time as soaking in the thermal spring. I finally started to relax……..and then I got bored.
The next pool was much larger, a long oblong in which a group has been doing aqua aerobics. This pool required swimming caps, and they cost money – and Waddy was the keeper of the locker key. He trudged back to the chaotic changing rooms, trying not to slip over on the way there and back. Shortly after, he and Bill were in the new pool while I was still fiddling with finding a place for my towel.
“Watch this,” Waddy nudged Bill. I strode into the water confidently, expecting it to be as hot as the pool we had just left. I had not noticed the sign that this pool was ten degrees cooler.
“You b-st—d……” I yelled down the pool at him as the water reached my chest.(This can be used as a term of endearment in Australian slang).
Waddy laughed his head off. Thanks a lot Waddy. Before too long I was actually shivering.
A bit more exploration revealed another couple of hot thermal pools of various minerals and densities. The walls and floor were decorated with mosaics in colours of blue and gold. Not so busy with people, and reminiscent of how I imagine a Turkish bath looks.
By the time we left a couple of hours later, the entrance hall was much quieter so we could more appreciate its design and decoration.
My verdict? Well 60% was a traumatic experience, but most of that can be put down to the extreme weather and crowds. The thermal pools are synonymous with Budapest, and so I am glad that I checked it out first hand. I would be prepared to do it a second time, however the next time I would try the Szechenyi Bath. As for whether the baths do actually have a curative effect, well, I think you have to be a local, able to converse with the attendants, and bathing on a regular basis, to gain any benefit.
Personally, I found the gin and tonic before dinner relaxed my aching joints much more effectively 🙂
Friday afternoon 9th August 2013, Garrulous Gwendoline, Budapest Hungary