Monday, July 05, 2004

Budapest, Hungary—Day 156

Today Sarah and I had quite a day. We started off by visiting the Hungarian National Parliament (on the Pest side of Budapest) and took a 10am tour of the inside, which turned out to be pretty impressive. We weren’t, however, impressed with the way that you had to get tickets for the tour. There were these chain linked fences that you had to stand behind and the guard would only allow five people at a time to go buy tickets—but it was very confusing to figure out what line you were supposed to stand in the first place, and what happened once you got your tickets. I went in search of breakfast while Sarah waited around for the tour after we got our tickets and when I came back, it was time for the tour.

The inside of the Parliament was really magnificent and they have the Hungarian crown jewels there which are impressive considering how old they are supposed to be! The tour lasted about an hour and afterwards we went and looked around the indoor market. The market was huge and filled to the brim with stall after stall selling all sorts of Hungarian goodies. We picked up a few things to take home with us and then ended up at a Scottish pub for lunch (don’t’ ask me how!) We then stopped back at the hotel to grab our swimming gear.

Why? Well we were headed to the infamous Hungarian baths. We chose the natural hot spring that we wanted to go to and luckily the subway station was right outside of the Szechenyi Baths. We headed in and found a long line of people waiting. For what though, we weren’t sure. So we stood in line too and realized that we had to not only buy tickets for the baths, but had to specify what baths we were going to be using. Miraculously, the couple standing in line in front of us just so happened to speak fluent English AND Hungarian, so they happily translated things for us, helped us get our tickets and our things put away in a safety box and showed us where the changing rooms were.

When you buy your tickets you are given a little token that you scan upon entering the changing rooms—that’s how they know how many people are in them at a given time. On your way out, they drop your chip into a little box which records you going out. Then they give you a slip of paper that tells you just how long you were in the baths and depending on how long it was you can get a refund by presenting your little piece of paper back at the ticket booth!!

The changing rooms were something I have never seen before. After you rent your towel (you can bring your own) you are then shown up to a room, sort of like a little cabana of shorts. There are tons of these little changing rooms lining the walls of this huge room and you are allocated your little room where you can change and then leave all of your other belongings in them. Then you are given a number and a little key that corresponds to your cabana. You then have to find the man (in very tight white shorts I might add) who then comes and opens your cabana up again so you can change back into your clothes!

We changed, locked up our things and found the couple waiting for us to show us exactly where the baths were. Turns out that the baths were not just one, or two, but like twenty different ones—thermal baths all of different temperatures and all for different purposes (some to swim laps in, some for “fun”, some for just pure relaxation, etc.).

After winding through the maze of indoor baths, we found ourselves outside. We thanked the couple for helping us and set down our things on the bricks surrounding the pools and got in. The water was absolutely PERFECT and we were delighted in not only how crazy it was getting in (all of the little things that you have to do!) but in the people surrounding us—never have I seen so many old Hungarian men in such little swim suits!  It was really fun and we spent almost three hours hopping in and out of the baths, spending our time out of the water reading and of course people watching.

The bath we were in was the “fun” bath which meant that there were all sorts of jets that produced bubbles and currents. There was a circular ring around a central small bath section in the middle of the “fun” bath and every so often these jets would come on which would create a strong current going around and around the center bath. It was so much fun—you would get sucked in and it was very hard to get out of the circling whirlpool of water, and hard not to bump into anyone as you got pushed along!

We finally decided that we had had enough sun and after going through with all of the steps it took to change and get back out into the real world, we relaxed in the park with our ice creams. We then took the subway back to our hotel and walked to find where you could get a river boat cruise. We found a tour that left at 9:30 and decided to go have dinner and then come back for a cruise down the Danube for Sarah’s last night here with me. So we did and got distracted by several shops along the way as well as with finding dinner, which took quite a while. We were both starving and were happily stuffed as we walked back to the river.

The cruise that we took was really fun—just a short hour long trip down and back on the Danube. It was really nice because it was all at nighttime which really changes the atmosphere of Budapest when everything is lit up. It was really beautiful and the boat was small so it felt more like a personal tour. We cruised past the sights that we had seen during the day, including the Parliament Building and the Buda Castle, and with the warm summer breeze and the twinkling lights, there really could have been a more perfect way to end the Eastern European leg of this trip.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.