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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  

Hungarian Flag HUNGARY


October 5. BUDAPEST  "Bathing in Budapest"  The sleep wasn't as bad on Saturday night, so our stay out late plan must have helped.  We even made breakfast, not that it much to get excited about.  A fellow American, who was traveling with his wife, hadn't been so lucky.   After chatting with him at breakfast I retrieved a couple of extra pairs of ear plugs for them. 

The time on our Budapest card was running out and it hadn't paid off so far so we planned to put it to some more use. But our first stop of the day was at the magnificent Széchenyi furdo (baths).  This lacy complex of nine indoor and outdoor baths  stood at the end of Budapest's historic yellow subway line.  The subway itself was an historical attraction.  Just steps below Andrassy Street the 107 year old subway is one of the oldest in the world subways.  The two car train runs more like an underground street car than any modern day subway and stops frequently down the length of Andrassy Street to the City Park where the baths are located. 

We found our way in through a side entrance in the large pastel yellow with white trim building, bought a ticket and separated into the men's and women's dressing areas, both part of a larger room.  The dressing areas had a very utilitarian look about them with rows of lockers and benches.  The hallway outside had scales lined up and pay-by-the-minute hair dryers hanging off of the wall.  The staff were dressed more like hospital workers and the stark white walls made the place feel more like a therapy center than a spa.  Other services like massages and treatments were available as well.  We looked for the place where towels were supposed to be rented but found nothing and finally gave up.  

Stepping out into the indoor pool area from the changing room we were met with a small cold pool.  Everyone else walked straight into the pool and out the other side while a few people were lingering to the sides.  I followed everyone else while Rob skirted around the outside.  The room split off into two warm pools with a mild yellow tint.  They were mineral baths and their mineral content was listed on a placard.   We chose the one to our left first, it was deeper.  The crowd was an assortment of people from bikini clad teenagers to furry big men in speedos.  There didn't seem to be much pretense about the bathing ritual and people just milled around and occasionally moved from one bath to another.  We eventually moved to the shallower and, it turned out, hotter pool with jets that blasted into your back. 

After a good long mineral soak we made a move quick move to the outdoor pools.  The communal wet pathway to door made us wish we had flip-flops on and combined with the chilly weather outside we wasted no time making our way into the warm water again.  The large courtyard was completely surrounded by the yellow and white building and white renaissance statues adorned the pools.  We jumped into a warm crescent shaped pool and sat on the steps.  A narrow piece of tiled wall extended into one side of the pool where small groups of men were huddled in the bathing caps, playing chess on waterproof boards.  A much larger pool lay in the center of the courtyard but it was unheated and, as such, not very popular.  

Curiosity got us to quickly slap our way across the pavement to the other large crescent shaped pool at the other end to see if it were any different.  It was slightly cooler but had the added attraction of geysers bubbling up in the middle, a hot tub like set up in the middle, a small waterfall for massaging your back, and powerful jets spouting from above water level that also made for good back and head massaging.  People of all ages were teetering on the group of under water geysers, trying to sit on them but frequently getting blown to the side.  It was a strange sensation but I am not sure if I found it so relaxing.  When the geysers died down the area around the hot tub, enclosed with a separate circular wall, was cranked up and became an swirling frenzy. It definitely was not relaxing but was loads of fun as the powerful current swept us along with our feet up off the bottom.  The jets streaming off of the side of the pool were the best of this pool's features, in my opinion. That warm water beating against my head, neck and shoulders was very relaxing.  After another brief stint in the hotter outdoor pool we retired to the mineral baths again and gave it one last soak before trying to figure out how to dry off and get dressed.  The sauna was too crowded and much too hot to actually dry us off.  Water was just traded for sweat.  In the end, we just dripped dried and got dressed partially wet.  We'd spent two hours soaking in the glorious bath compound and were infinitely better for it.  Budapest was getting better!  

Feeling relaxed we made our way to the Applied Arts Museum to see the 19th-20th century glass exhibit. It wasn't a large museum but had a fantastic collection of glass that covered the various styles of glass making in chronological order.  The largest section was devoted to Art Nouveau glass and took up most of our time.  From there we headed to the National History Museum which did an excellent job of covering the periods of Hungarian history, again in chronologically laid out displays loaded with information and items from each period. 

After the history museum we stopped in a art deco cafe for a pick-me-up.  It must have had its original furniture and that slightly worn and lived-in look gave it charm.  It was the way we had started to feel about Budapest.  What seemed grimy and degenerate when we arrived now felt more like a city with well earned scars of history that was still recovering from years behind an oppressive Iron Curtain.  Beneath some of the graffiti and deteriorating facades were some lovely buildings and the foundation of a glorious city that was tarnished but had not lost its charm.

En route to our now regular dinner restaurant we stopped  by the imposing St. Stephen's Basilica whose dome stands 96 meters high.  People were entering for mass and we quietly joined them.  The lights were dim and the interior of the dome was softly aglow and the acoustics were powerful.  As the mass came to an end the basilica became dark and the main altar was brightly lit.  The altar lights dimmed and the room became dark again. The altar on the far left became bright and slowly dimmed. And, finally the altar on the far right became bright and dimmed.  The room lights slowly returned. It was a dramatic display and gave the impression that the basilica had just crossing itself!  We couldn't understand the priest but just as we expected the mass to draw to a close everyone turned the altar at the far right as it brightened once again.  It was the altar of St. Stephen.  Stephen (Istvan) was Hungary's first King, crowned on Christmas Day in 1000.  Now the patron saint of the country his "Holy Right" (right hand) is kept in the basilica.  The ceremony continued as one person after another got up to speak to the congregation.  We started to feel like interlopers, after all Stephen was never our king and we didn't exactly know what kind of special tribute this mass had turned into, so we quietly slipped out and continued on our way to have dinner.

It was Sunday night and the area around our pension was promisingly quiet.  Still, we were restless and decided to splurge on another movie.  The mall was still pretty lively for the end of the weekend and as we sat and waited for "Bruce Almighty" to start we watched the disco-like bowling alley throb with noise across the way.  The pins were lit with blue lights and neon decoration accented the dimly lit lanes.  A cafe/bar looked out into the courtyard of the mall.  The whole place was bustling with young people socializing.  It was like a club with bowling lanes, the hip sister to our Polish bowling alley with the posh Italian restaurant.

October 6. BUDAPEST We had originally thought we would leave on Monday but Budapest had grown on us and we extended our stay.  We kept the sightseeing to a minimum and had a casual day of shopping and walking.  

Our first stop was to find the mint and complete our numismatic mission for crisp collector bills.  The people at the National Bank were very accommodating.  Our next stop was to get train tickets to Zagreb, Croatia for the following morning.  That was easily accomplished and followed by a coffee in the elaborate McDonald's/McCafe complex inside the station building.  The golden arches never seems so nice.  Across the street we grabbed kebabs for lunch but sadly our kebab standards had been deteriorating since Poland, as odd as that might seem.  Still, it was a cheap lunch and it wasn't a burger! 

We spent some time perusing the shops of Vaci Utca without much success and then caught a street car across the Independence Bridge to visit the lavish Art Nouveau Gellart Baths.  We didn't go bathing this time but did the quick tour of the opulent indoor swimming pool surrounded by white pillars and tile.  The actual mineral baths were meant to be even more spectacular in their tile work but understandably the 5 cent tour didn't include ogling at nude people while they were bathing.   The Gellert baths were sex segregated in the mineral bathing area, which is why we'd chosen Szechenyi for our bath experience.  Gellert had outdoor pools as well but, in comparison, the Szechenyi courtyard was the more impressive.  Gellert had a bit more upscale feel to it though, with its fancy attached hotel.  There were still more baths in Budapest as well but time only permitted us to see these two most famous.   

From the Gellert baths we hiked up to the Citadel to get some perfect views across Budapest and especially of the castle complex.  The weather had been nice on off through out the day and after several grim and wet days I was shooting photos like crazy whenever the sun came out.  We even retraced our steps to the Pest side and photographed some of the old Art Nouveau buildings, the Opera House, and the Romantic-style Great Synagogue (1859), the largest synagogue in Europe.   Our scramble ended at Cafe Lukacs, this time with some live music playing.  And, of course our last day in Budapest would not be complete without dinner at Pozsonyi Kisvendeglo, topped off with some Hungarian Takaji (a sweet wine) - it was our two-year anniversary after all.  Then it was early to bed for our early start the next morning to Croatia.

POLAND Warsaw Sept 16-17 Krakow Sept 18 Sept 19 Sept 20 Sept 21-22

CZECH REPUBLIC Prague Sept 23 Sept 24-25 Cesky Krumlov Sept 26 Sept 27-30

AUSTRIA Vienna Oct 1 Oct 2

HUNGARY Budapest Oct 3 Oct 4 Oct 5-6