Date: 25 October 1999

Subject: Budapest's Baths

The baths are, of course, the trademark of Budapest and we were happy to indulge! Actually most of the baths are either men only, or alternated days men or women... so that only left a few open to us, since we preferred to go together.

They take their baths very seriously in Budapest -- these are medical spas as well as turkish baths. Many are very beautiful and most are quite old. Both the Romans and the Turks built baths in the city (which was two cities then!)

The first one we decided to try was Lukas Baths. We found the Lukas Baths area pretty well, but we walked past the building complex several times before we figured it out (no gigantic signage!)... and even then it took us some time to find the ticket booth. Our little bit of German helped us then, because the other languages on the information signs were Russian and Hungarian, and I am helpless in both of those! Finally we paid and got lost AGAIN, but eventually figured out what building to go into. This did not look like a spa or medical facility in the states... the courtyard almost looked like an abandoned building, but inside it was active.

We still didn't know what to do or where to go and at every step through the locker room, the little changing booths and the hallway to the actual baths we got lost! But then we got in and WOW! We didn't know what to expect, but this was marvelous! 4 baths: 40C 38C 36C and 24C (that's about 103F 99F 95F and 70F) sauna and steam room. They all had domed roofs and the 40C room had a beautifully tiled ceiling. It was filled with locals! It was VERY relaxing! We returned to this bath, and will again! (it cost $2 each!)

Another day we went to the "BIG FAMOUS" baths at Gellert... the building was huge and elaborate, there were english signs and it cost almost $6 each! Although the brochure said the baths were mixed, they sent us off to separate, identical bath complexes. Gellert Baths Instead of swimsuits we wore these bizarre little aprons, which were far more ridiculous than nudity. There were only two pools, and not very hot at that... the mineral content was very low and it was tourist HELL! The mens had about 3 Hungarians in it, a bunch of German and American kids SCREAMING, and a bunch of American CEO types on holiday. It was yuk. We tried several times to get to the baths at City Park, but they were closed when we got there and we liked Lukas so much we were happy to return there.

We did try to do the tourist thing and go to the Village Museum in the nearby town of Sentendre, but everything went wrong and after spending an hour or so walking around the cute little town, but not able to make it to the museum (and having some good ice cream, which is rare over here!) we headed back to Budapest, only to have a confrontation with a conductor that was expensive. It was one of those frustrating travel experiences where we were TRYING to do the right thing, and she was doing her job, but the language barrier and lack of signs and bad information from locals got us in trouble. It really bothered us.

Also we found a free internet access room at the University, which we took advantage of several times!!!!

It was cool being in Budapest... I remember learning in school when I was about 12 that there were two cities that merged to become one Buda and Pest. I thought that was really neat, but it seemed so very far away!

While we were in Budapest the US and Romania Foreign ministries decided to relax the visa requirements, so we decided to go! One of the things that this brought up was the subject of guidebooks. We really needed to get a Lonely Planet guidebook for Eastern Europe. I hate guidebooks, but I also hate not having one. Guidebooks are great fall backs in emergencies when you can't figure things out, but they are dangerous because the temptation is to not learn anything, just do what the book says. And they are often inaccurate.

We had two guidebooks with us, a Rough Guide Europe and a Lonely Lonely Planet Hungary Planet Hungary. Both were disappointing. The Lonely Planet was especially frustrating just because of how negative it was. Instead of a 'have a good time in Hungary' book it was more of a 'this is why Hungary sucks' book. I know, Lonely Planet is so terrible as to have become a bad joke -- their accuracy is pathetic. But in many ways this is a recent phenomenon, in the last 8 or 10 years the owners have stopped travelling and started building a huge company. They know that most of the people who read their books never leave home and they write towards them. But many years ago they wrote the first and best book about Eastern Europe. So we figured we should get it. Problem was it was about $35!

We were in our third bookshop asking about it, and when the attendant said he didn't have any in stock, the guy behind me said, in a Chicago accent -- I have one I will give you. He tore out the Hungary chapter, because he needed that, and gave us the book. It was great! Here we are tearing pages out of a book in a book store!

The next day we headed out to Debrecen in the far east of Hungary. (Debrecen is pronounced like the Washington state Senate candidate: Deborah Senn.) It was a fascinating little city with a university and we wandered a while and reveled in the inaccuracy of the guidebooks before checking into a convenient and cheap hotel.

We woke up in the morning and headed for Romania!!!!




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PRESENT PHYSICAL LOCATION:  Codec Internet 'club', Cluj-Napoca, 

Transylvania, Romania  (live webcam at http://webcam.codec.ro/)

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