Friday, June 22, 2007
Szechenyi Gyorgyfurdo (and other Hungarian tonguetwisters)
[The Szechenyi Baths]
So today was a day I set aside just to have fun.
I started out by heading out to the appropriately named "Moszkva ter" (it looks as if it hasn't changed at all since the days of communism) to catch a tram to the start of a journey into the Buda hills.
My first stop was the Budapest Cogwheel train. Built nearly 100 years ago, this carries passengers up to the top of the hills overlooking Budapest. But this beautiful ride up through the Buda suburbs was merely the first step towards my main goal: Gyermekvasút -- the Budapest Children's Railway.
This was railway is run by boys and girls scouts interested in a career in the railway system. While the locomotive's are still run by adults, everything else is done by the children. This includes signaling, selling and punching tickets, bringing the train into the station, etc. Here's an old photo (they don't use this type of locomotive anymore):
[Scout wellcoming a train into the station]
The train runs once an hour, which meant I had about 45 minutes to wait, so I decided to get an early lunch. I remembered there was a "Buffet" five minutes away at the top of the cogwheel railroad, so I walked back. The menu was full of things like liver, brains, and tripe, and I eventually settled on stuffed cabbage, though I was sort of worried what it might be stuffed with. As it turns out, I needn't have worried: they were out of it. I made a new choice: Hungarian stewed beef with "flour pellets." Come on, wouldn't you be curious too?
What came was a fair-sized portion of beef with sliced dumplings in paprika sauce with a dollop of sour cream on top. Not nearly as bad as it could have been. The sauce was mild and even tasty (though I could have done without the sour cream) and I didn't feel heavy or stuffed afterwards (or naseous for that matter, and really, is that all one can truly ask of a rural "buffet" diner?).
I headed back in plenty of time to see the train come in and watch the little kids take the tickets and motion people on board. I have lots of photos, but you'll have to wait til I'm home to see them.
I got off the train half way through its course through the hills in order to walk to the Erzsebet lookout tower, the highest point in the region. It was a streep fifteen-minute walk to the top, but the gorgeous views were worth it.
[Erzsebet Lookout Tower -- recently renovated and restored]
Instead of hiking down or walking back to the train and waiting half an hour for the next one, I read about a different option: the chair lift. There's a chair lift running from the base of the hill to the top. It takes about 15 minutes to travel in each direction. To get on, you stand in front of it, as the chair comes you sit down and pull the restraining bar down from over your head. And that's it. It's amazingly quiet. You can hear birds and animals in the forest as you ride down the hill.
[The Budapest Tourist Agency's picture of the chairlift]
After that, I just caught a bus back to Moszkva ter and my circuit was complete. All in about three and a half hours.
I headed back to my hotel to get my swimsuit and a towel and then it was up to the Szechenyi Gyogyfurdo, or the Szechenyi Public Spa. I came here last year and really enjoyed it; I wanted to make sure I spent more time there this year. After changing into my bright orange and yellow flame-striped bathing trunks (which always gets funny reactions from people in Eastern Europe), I headed out to the main pool (see picture at top). The hot pool with the fountain is for waders, while the big swimming pool in the middle requires a bathing cap.
After about 15 minutes of being burnt by the sun (very bright today, no sign of yesterday's storm), I headed inside to the thermal pools. I spent the next two hours moving from pool to pool, just soaking. After about two hours I headed back to the outside pools, and found a place where I could float in the shade.
I was getting ready to head inside when I realized I had never checked out what was on the other side of the main swimming pool. It turned out to be another wading pool, but this one was a little different. The water was a little bit cooler, and there were two concentric tiled rings in the middle. The outer ring seemed plain, but the inner circle was a jacuzzi, so I found a place inside when someone got up to leave. It was like a cool jacuzzi, with all the bubbles but none of the heat. After about five minutes, though, it stopped, and everyone sighed and got up to leave.
I was about to head inside to change, however, when I noticed something odd about the outer ring: it had been transformed into a whirlpool. I got back in and let the current whip me around. Water was jetting into the circle to create a strong current. It was a blast. After that, I went inside and changed and went home to change for dinner.
A good friend who knows a great deal about wine recommended the restaurant Voros es Feher on Andrassy utca as a good place for a meal and wine. I found it, although I think they have recently changed their name to Classe, and just had an absolutely wonderful meal.
I ordered the duckbreast (medium) over chantarelle risotto with grilled vegetables. To drink, I got a Weninger (red wine) and a bottle of mineral water. The duck was excellent, not fatty at all, and very tasty. In the future, though, I think I may order it medium rare. The risotto was wonderful as were the veggies. The wine paired nicely with the duck (though less so with the risotto).
I decided to order a dessert and thought the cottage cheese pudding with lemon mousse sounded light and interesting. It was. The lemon mousse had the consistency and appearance of light whipped cream, but a nice lemon taste. The pudding, which I really had no idea what to expect, was creamy and there were little specks of real vanilla bean in it. The combination with the lemon worked very well. The whole thing came to 4000 Hungarian Ft. (a little more than $20); not bad at all. Well worth visiting if you're in Budapest.
Tomorrow morning, I'm going to catch the train to Esztergom (assuming the weather holds).