Baths of Budapest (Part II)

Okay, I know I’ve kept you in suspense about the rest of our trip to Budapest – apparently when I work three night shifts in a row and then two day shifts I become a zombie unwilling to do anything creative. But such is life, I suppose. Here’s some Pantha du Prince to accompany your reading:

2 April

We slept in for a bit, and, on such a beautiful day, our first stop was a sports bar called Champs to watch the Man U v. West Ham football game and have some brunch, since Dave’s a big Man U fan. Although I usually am not into watching football, and in fact have come to associate it almost exclusively with annoyingly demanding, drunken fans at the bar while I am working, I did get into the game, and it was pretty exciting to have Man U come back to win it with four goals in the second half. The fact that watching the game involved drinking during the day may have helped my mood, and there were a ton of hilarious English-speaking guys in there cheering along with us, which made the win all the more victorious (except for the old West Ham fans, I suppose).

Exiting the bar into the sunshine, we decided to make our way along Andrássy Avenue, a main boulevard in Budapest, with the intention of eventually getting to the medicinal baths in the park at the end of the street. As Dave and Mink walked along ahead of me, I got the chance to snap a few photos of the incredible buildings.

Mink and Dave, strolling along.

Here are a few of the sights we saw along the way:

The opera house!

Sculptures of dudes holding up most of the buildings:

A big responsibility.

The giant synagogue, called Dohány Street Synagogue:

A sketchy bus, one of the fleet of sketchy buses hurtling around town. Weirdly enough, while the trams looked pretty legitimate, these buses looked like they were going to fall apart into clunking heaps of scrap metal at any moment. We took a couple during our stay here and didn’t die, so that’s minimally reassuring:

Sketch-o-rama

This is just another random building, but I’m impressed with the film burn:

At the end of the street is Heroes’ Square, or Hősök tere, which contains the Millennium Monument and is bordered by the Museum of Fine Arts and the Palace of Art (neither of which we visited):

We eventually made it to the park, which was filled with screaming kids and souvenir vendors and was very, very green:

We finally got to the thermal baths, called the Széchenyi Medicinal Baths, which were absolutely beautiful. Of all of the things to see and do in Budapest, this was crucial, I was told, since these baths are all over the city and an integral part of Hungarian life — or at least the most important part, the relaxation part. These particular baths were pretty crowded, and the process of getting lockers and “towels” (more like thin, stained discarded hospital sheets, as Dave joked) was hectic. However, once we got into the baths and swimming pool area, everything was lovely.

This lovely lady standing watch at the door was, unfortunately, not an indicator of the overall attractiveness level of the bath patrons. The baths were filled with a shocking number of old, overweight men in tiny bikini briefs. Sexy!

We started out in the warm outdoor swimming pool with the old men playing chess and the young couples making out ferociously. It was after 5:00 pm and the sun started to set while we were there, but the baths were deliciously warm so it wasn’t a big deal that things had started to cool off. Next we ventured into the other swimming pool, which has a giant current that pushes you in a circle rather aggressively. This was fun, but also somewhat disconcerting, as the current was continuously pushing you into the previously mentioned old fat men in tiny bikini briefs. Needless to say, we moved out of the current pool after a few of these close encounters.

Next, we went to the indoor pools, which ranged in temperature from 20 to 40 degrees. We tried out all of the pools, minus the lame cold 20-degree one, and the best one had an epic marble banister around it and was a blissful 38 degrees. The water itself smelled great and was kind of foggy, since the source for the baths is a natural sulfur spring. We hung out in this pool for a long time, speculating whether the old man on the other side of the pool actually had two wives or was just rather too touchy with his teenage daughter and wife (awkward). Europeans are definitely not shy with their public displays of affection, especially when barely clothed in public baths! Thanks for that uniquely scarring experience, guy.

Our last stop was the hottest bath, 40 degrees, and it was like a Jacuzzi – very nice. By that time we’d been soaking in the warmth for hours though, so we couldn’t stand too much of the really hot pool. We decided to end our trip to the baths with that one, and left just as the sun had fully set and the lights were coming on around the outdoor swimming pools. We didn’t go into any of the saunas, even though this is apparently another important part of the experience, since they were all full of large, sweating bodies in extremely close proximity and it all looked too claustrophobic for my liking.

Fully relaxed, our skin feeling a bit weird because of the sulfur, we went back to the hotel to chill with pizza and beer again for a few hours before venturing out into the streets of Budapest (creatures of habit that we are). We added some vodka and cola to the mix to keep things interesting. Coming home from the baths I felt really strange, since I wasn’t exactly tired but it seemed that my body had never felt so relaxed before. That must be a really awesome part of living in a place like Budapest – to be able chill with your work buddies (or whoever) in the hot pools after work and before going out would be a great way to unwind at the end of the week.

We left the hotel around midnight and attempted to go to another bar called Alcatraz. The cab dropped us off outside, we took one look at the long line snaking out of the front doors – as well as the types of people in said line, representative of the Eurotrashy population inside – and said, “Screw it, we’re going back to Instant.” On our walk back to that awesome bar, we passed a sketchy bar called Coxxx with a sign on the front door for some rather sketchy services, men for men – “wet room” and “glory holes” included. I’m not quite sure what a “wet room” entails, and I’m not sure I ever want to find out. As we were making fun of Coxxx and I was trying to steal the sign describing these services, an appropriately sketchy gentleman made his way past us and through the door. We thought it better to leave quietly than be stabbed in the backstreets of Budapest, and we unfortunately had to leave without the sign.

Instant was even crazier than the night before, and there was a sweet Eurotrash dance party in full swing on the second floor. Dave was concerned because he was wearing the same shirt to the same club two nights in a row, but we assured him there was so much flannel in there that no one would notice. And, amazingly enough, there were two people that we’d seen on the dance floor the night before – those crazy people that seem to be in every bar and are literally dancing up a storm in the middle of the crowd. The guy was also wearing the same shirt as he’d been wearing the night before, and this one was considerably more sweat-stained than Dave’s. They were probably on crazy drugs, and I like to think that they had just been dancing for the past 24 hours straight. They certainly smelled like it. But, I give them mad props for their perseverance. This is one place, besides the baths of course, that I definitely recommend for anyone visiting this city!

We got back to the hotel in the wee hours of the morning, excited to snatch a few hours of sleep before taking on our last day in Budapest.

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