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
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.
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
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!!!!