Friday, June 25, 2010

Spa Day in Budapest

9:15 am and we we`re out the door with a taxi to the train station. A short time later we were esconced in our seats to Budapest. We reserved places but the car was full of either Italian or Mexican teenagers, so we moved to a quieter car where we could spread out.

Unlike the train to Salzburg, the route to Budapest passes through mostly flat plains and fields, silver-leaved trees, yellow flowers and partly sunny skies. It looked warmer than Austria, and sure enough when we arrived, it was.

Last time I was here I had a lot of trouble using my atm card, but this time it worked with no problems whatsoever. The guidebook warned against using unlicensed hacks by the train station, but we had no choice as our hotel was well outside the center of town and we have an ungodly amount of luggage (my small carry case and bag couldn`t fit in the trunk of the Viennese taxi). I negotiated a fee of 5000 forint and hoped that meant I wasn`t being ripped off too much (he did keep muttering how much beyond the castle district our pension was after quoting me a rate to the castle district).

The pension is small and charming on a quiet side street. Our single room is on the first floor above ground with windows facing the street, with one double bed and a single (for me), and a en suite toilet and shower. No internet in the pension (just wifi, but I didn`t bring my laptop, so I`m typing this on the computer in the lobby of the Mercure Hotel - after buying a soda for the privilege, my first diet coke in three weeks).

There`s a tram that stops near our hotel, but we didn`t have tickets so we walked 10 minutes to the nearby square. Since it was already 2 pm, we stopped for lunch at self-service cafeteria. I made the mistake of getting the vegetable soup, which was awful, but at least the rice was inoffensive and the fried cauliflower was tasty.

To buy a single ticket for the tram, we could only use coins, which then had to be placed one at a time in a slot and then levered into place. After much ado, we managed to get three single use tickets and we were office to the metro where we got 72 hour passes (much simpler to use and acquire). After all the walking yesterday, we all wanted to go to a spa, so I suggested the Szeczenyi in the main city park.

They made things easier than the last time I was there. Then they scrawled the number on my wrist in chalk on the inside of my locker. Now, they gave me an electronic wrist-watch like device that was coded to my locker and which I carried on me. I changed into my trunks and went out to the pool.

What I love about this spa is the wonderful setting: a beautiful beaux arts palace with three large outdoor pools. The first pool is heated to 36 C and has people playing chess. The second pool in the middle is for laps and is tepid. The third pool is only 30 C and has two concentric circles in the middle. Every fifteen minutes they alternate. The middle circle has bubbles that come out of the seats, while the outer circle has powerful jets of water that create a whirlpool effect. Both are a lot of fun.

After about 45 minutes, I left the outdoor pools and went indoors. I started with the mineral water pools. They vary in temperature from a low of 30 (for people getting out of the sauna) to a high of 40. One had a distinct smell of sulpher. I spent a fair amount of time there, and then headed to the thermal pools. These also varied in temperature, and they also had steam rooms (varying in temperature from 40 to 60 C) and saunas (from 50 to 70 C). They also had two aroma therapy rooms, but I couldn`t tell what the aroma was supposed to be.

I hung out in this section for about two hours, moving from pool to pool and room to room. There is really a dramatic difference in the spa culture between the Czech Republic and Hungary. The latter is far more communal: no doctor`s prescriptions or medicinal treatments. Just everyone hanging out together. I prefer the Hungarian approach.

I left the spa around 6:45 pm and found Annie and Cherie waiting for me in the lobby. They were ready for dinner, so we walked to Bagolyvar, just two blocks away. We stopped by Gundel and I picked up a card to make reservations for Sunday Brunch. Dinner at Bagolyvar was as charming as I remember. Annie and I very much enjoyed our sour cherry soup starter, but this time they had a little walnut meringue floating in it. I've always had trouble figuring out the spices, but Annie recognized the clove.

They ordered a better main course than I (fish). My stuffed cabbage had far, far too much paprikash. We hoped to get dessert at Gerbeaud, but we needed to find an internet cafe first, so we`ll have to do that some other day. We finally found internet in a hotel populated entirely by Israelis and British stag tours.

If the weather is good, we may go bicycling tomorrow.

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