DAYS 24 & 25 – BUDAPEST: A HOT BATH, THE BUDA SIDE, AND GLOVES

On day 24, we continued our journey through Budapest. We had conquered many of the biggest sites the day before, so it was a quieter day and I had planned the afternoon to be free to do enjoy the famous Hungarian Thermal Baths. We spent the morning visiting the Chain Bridge, which is a well-known bridge connecting the two parts of the city together. There used to be a “Buda” side and a “Pest” side, separated by the Danube River, before they joined into one city. The Chain Bridge connects the two sides together and has hundreds of locks on the various rails of the bridge, placed by visitors with their names on them.

We tried to find the Gresham Palace, and after 15 minutes of walking around the block it was supposed to be on, we gave up. I later found out the palace had been turned into the Four Seasons. I guess a palace in a sense, but certainly not what I was expecting?!

We also visited the Parliament, and to our surprise, found a ceremony going on just as we were walking up. There was a change of guard procession, all done in Hungarian (of course), and a crowd of people gathering to watch as the stilt like military men performed. These are the kind of things that are cool to just stumble upon walking the streets through a new city.

Our final stop for the morning was the Shoes on the Danube River, a Holocust Monument consisting of 50 pairs of bronze shoes to commemorate the Jews who were killed when the Nazis came to power in 1944. While the majority of Jews were sent to concentration camps, some were shot right along the river, their bodies falling into the water. It was a realistic, sad, somber memorial. A reminder of how quickly things can change.

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We ended our day at the very famous Széchenyi Baths. Since I had such a great experience with my Turkish Bath, and I assumed this would be similar, I was hesitant to experience the Hungarian version, thinking it might alter my opinion of ‘baths.’ But, as I’ve often said, it’s never worth turning down an experience. And so we made the two-mile trek to the bathhouse.

The bathhouse was in an elaborate building! It looked like it was hundreds of years old, standing proudly on a hill. We entered and looked around the lobby, finally finding a board with the various tourist packages. We settled on an option that was roughly $75 USD per person and included unlimited tea and fruit, time in the thermal baths, and a 30-minute massage.

We were escorted to a unisex locker room where Tony and I were given one small dressing room to change into our bathing suits and leave our belongings. I hadn’t planned on needing a swimming suit this trip, since after all, it is December, so the night before we came up with a not-so-flattering option for me (since Tony thought going in my birthday suit would be offensive to the locals). I would wear Tony’s boxers and a baby tee. Essentially, I was wearing more clothes than I would on a hot summer’s day, but at least I wouldn’t offend anyone. So we changed, put on the overly sized green bathrobes provided, and attempted to find the ‘thermal baths.’

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The building was three stories, and we spent considerable time on the elevator going up and down, trying to find the hot baths! Finally, after walking around aimlessly, we found them and, to my surprise, they were a bit underwhelming. The entire ground floor was dedicated to the baths, which appeared to be large hot tubs with no jets. The floors, the walls, the ceiling – everything – was covered in white tile. It looked like a sterile operating room, with tubs of warm water randomly placed in the floor, each one a different temperature to suit everyone’s needs and comfort. It did not smell like a hospital though. The smell was…different. I can’t put a finger on exactly what it was, but it wasn’t chlorine, or body odor, or soap. It was a little bitter, perhaps, with a hint of sweetness. But whatever it was, it wasn’t a clean or fresh smell in my mind. The waters come from hot springs, and are full of minerals, so I can only assume that is what was contributing to the strange odor.

We spent the next hour and a half dipping in and out of the baths. As recommended, we started with a cooler temperature bath and moved our way to a hotter temperature. The warm water was heaven on our very aching bones, and before we knew it, we had to head upstairs for our massages.

The massage, I must say, is one of the best I’ve ever had. There were five scents available for the oil the masseuse would use, and we got to choose to our liking. In the room, which was made of large pieces of thick plastic hanging from the ceiling, was a large piece of foam, about the size of a double bed, covered in a crisp white sheet. It was on the floor, no stand or anything below it to lift my body in the air. I simply went in and laid on the foam, right on the ground. The masseuse then worked her way around me, kneeling on the foam next to me. The thirty minutes passed and before we knew it, we were back home, climbing the 98 marble stairs once again.

So all in all, the experience was well worth it. Nothing in comparison to my Turkish Bath, and not nearly as exciting as I thought it would be. But a good experience? Yes. And relaxing? More than you even know.

The next day was dedicated to the Buda side. We had completed our tour of the Pest side, and were excited to see what Buda had. We knew it was smaller from our readings, and much, much hillier. That we could see from the riverbank. So we journeyed across the Chain Bridge by foot and purchased tickets for the Funicular Railway, a train that climbed to the top of the hill and back down. At the top, we visited the Buda Palace, Matthias Church, and the Fisherman’s Bastion. The streets of Buda were equally as cute and we enjoyed just walking through them, stopping at the local shops and cafes.

We ended the day, and our time in Budapest, at a Christmas street festival on the Pest side, where we had hot wine. It was bittersweet, as Budapest has become one of my most favorite cities, and certainly the most enjoyed on this trip.

After I got home and laid my gloves on the table, I knew that the miles they had seen wheeling through Eastern Europe were well worth it, full of priceless memories and experiences that can only be had firsthand. I had purchased two pairs of gloves in Prague, just eleven days earlier. Both pairs (one which had already been discarded) had holes and dirt covering them. I was thankful for those gloves though…I can only imagine what my hands would have endured without them. But most of all, I was thankful that I had the opportunity to be doing this very trip.

Please feel free to read Tony’s perspective of our trip at http://www.whereistony.com.

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