Monday, June 05, 2006

Holiday in Budapest (June 5)

Today is Pentecost in Hungary (which makes sense since Shavuot was last Friday) so even the museums that wouldn't normally close on Monday are closed today. So I went to the places i new wouldn't be closed. I started off at the Dohány synagogue. The complex is massive and impressive; it's a really beautiful building. I graves of the 2000 Jews who died in the Budapest ghetto are really moving. I also enjoyed the small museum next door.

Afterwards, I went for lunch at a restaurant recommended to me by my fellow traveler on the train: Bagolyvár. It's up by the main city park and run by the same people who run the famous Gundel restaurant next door. Three major distinctions: 1) all the staff are female, 2) there's no dress code (I didn't bring a suit and tie with me), and 3) it's a lot cheaper. I ordered the menu for today: beef soup with carrots and small noodles; a pork cutlet breaded, fried, and filled with cheese, onions, thinly sliced sausage, and (I think) a paprika sauce; and for dessert, a wonderful sweet cheese pastry. They described it as a cheese strudel, but it wasn't strudel shaped. It was square but the casing was strudelteig (or filo). It was covered in powdered sugar, but what made it really come together was the sour cherry sauce, whose tartness really countered the mild sweetness of the dish. All together (along with the rolls, the paprika-onion-garlic butter, and the diet coke) the meal came to about 4500 forint (or 22 dollars).

Afterwards I wandered through the main city park. It was quite nice, actually, a great place to take kids. There was a pony ride, you could drive model boats in the pond, there was a zoo, and even an Italian circus. Across from the circus was the city-run spa. I saw they took credit cards (I'm having trouble with ATMs here), so I went back to my hotel, grabbed my suit, flip-flops, and went back to the spa.

This is a huge complex, with both outdoor and indoor sections. The hard part was figuring out how to use the locker room. I was given an electronic key that recorded what time I entered. I made my way to the locker room where the attendent assigned me a locker and gave me a key. I got my suit on and made my way outside to the big pool. I ran into a group of Americans and we started talking. The air was cool but the pool was nice and warm. Then I started hearing Hebrew and found that there were three bus loads of Israelis visiting the spa as well.

After about 45 minutes outdoors I went inside to try the medicinal baths. There are a series of pools, all co-ed, with varying temperatures and kinds of water. The first pool I came to had eucalyptus oil, so the room was redolent with the smell. As I went further along, the pools became warmer, with the warmest being 38 C (which I couldn't do more than wade in). They had two saunas; one at 40-45 C, and another at 50 C (which I couldn't go into).

As I was sitting in one of the "medicinal pools", a large group of Americans came in. They were on some tour and they strongly recommended visiting the circus. I asked them why? Oh, it's great, they said. They have lions, a giraffe, trapeze artists. I said I didn't speak Hungarian. That's no problem, they said, it's an Italian circus.

Around 6 pm, I decided I'd had enough, and went to shower and change. As I left they read my electronic card again and told me that since I'd only spent 2.5 hours in the spa, I was entitled to a refund. So instead of costing me 2000 forint (about 10 dollars), it only cost 1700 forint (8.5 dollars). Not a bad deal.

I think I'm going to try the Király Baths tomorrow (they're supposed to be very Ottoman in decor, which is appropriate since that's who built them in the 16th century).

A few last words about Budapest. Yesterday I was thinking about the differences between Budapest and Vienna, implicitly comparing it to Paris, but now I've decided the city it most resembles is Buenos Aires. I'm not saying the cities look the same. Rather, they have the same faded glory, the same wide boulevards, the same fin-de-siécle buildings that are slowly crumbling away.

Even the subway in some ways reminds me of B.A. Particularly the M1 line, which runs so close to the surface and has the sort of narrow square shaped cars that resemble the ones I remember in B.A. The M2 line, on the other hand, is quite deep, with long, long fast-moving escalators; the kind you might see in London. One odd thing is that while in Paris, the metro signs would tell me how long until the next train, here they tell me how long it's been since the last train left this station.

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