Taking the Waters

See our gallery of photos tagged with “budapest”.

One of the highlights of our time in amazing Budapest was the entire day of Wednesday, which included renting bikes and “taking the waters” at Széchényi public baths. The bikes were a welcome mode of transport for both of us, as our feet were majorly tired from two long days of walking around the city. We first biked through the city center (much of which is equipped with very efficient bike lanes) out to Heroes Square and then backtracked to an indoor fruit and vegetable market where we bought the makings of a fabulous picnic lunch (ham, bread, nectarines & an assortment of pickled things).

We ate our lunch on Margaret Island, which is a beautiful, car-less park in the middle of the Danube. We found a great spot next to a fountain that was spouting in time to classical music (a mini Bellagio, if you will). It was a lovely spot made all the better with some very interesting people watching. There was a very tan man in a Speedo who was sunning himself, cooling off in the fountain and — my favorite part — tending to an elaborate system of keeping his beverages cool. He had rigged up what was basically a homemade fishing pole to which he would attach a bottle of juice where the bait would normally go. He would hoist this over his shoulder, carry it over to the fountain, and leave it there with the bottle sitting in the water to keep cool. Then, every ten minutes or so he would return to get the drink, bring it back to his towel, and transfer another beverage back to the fountain. He managed to keep himself quite busy — and us quite entertained — with this whole process.

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And then … the baths …

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect during our visit to the Hungarian baths, but it ended up being a very memorable and enjoyable way to spend the afternoon. Although there are some tourists who stop by this bath, it is still widely used by the locals, so it felt authentically Hungarian. The building itself is quite grand — with beautiful gardens and an impressive entryway. Once we figured out how to buy our tickets, we were guided toward the changing cabins. Upon entering this area, we were greeted by one of the many bath attendants. These chaps wear short white shorts and a white smock-ish top. Picture Chris Kattan’s Mango from SNL minus the gold sequins and fuschia. The first attendant we encountered directed us toward the towel rental desk and then up a flight of stairs to the collection of changing cabins. When I first heard “changing cabin,” I pictured a lovely poolside cabana, but this was more of an indoor locker room with rows of small, curtained rooms that barely fit two people. Anyway, once at the top of the stairs, another attendant greeted us and led us to our cabin where we changed into our suits. After changing, you again flag down the attendant, who locks your cabin and gives you a bracelet to wear to prove it’s your cabin when you return. So it’s a bit of an elaborate process, but it all went off without a hitch.

Then, you make your way down to the baths. There are two main areas that make up the baths: an indoor collection of warm and cold thermal pools, and an outdoor collection of three swimming pools. We headed outdoors first, where our first stop was the warm “relaxation” pool. Imagine a huge swimming pool that is slightly cooler in temperature than your average hot tub — and is full of all ages and body types just floating around and taking in the therapeutic waters. It makes for phenomenal people watching and it really quite relaxing after three days of fairly aggressive walking and biking. There are also chess tables set up along the walls of the relaxation pools, where groups of mostly older men were gathered for quite significant periods of time.

Next to the relaxation pool is the swimming/laps pool. This was closed during our visit, so we didn’t see it in use. And finally you have the cool water fun pool. This is where most of the kids were splashing around and having fun. There is a current pool in the center, as well as several areas with giant jets. So the whole place adds up to this interesting mix of water park and relaxation spa. And it is set in this grand, ornate yellow building with balconies and hanging flowers. It’s quite an experience.

After enjoying the outdoor pools, we went back inside to sit in some of the thermal pools, which range from 20 degrees to 38 degrees celsius. Some of the pools appear almost green, which they say comes from the minerals naturally present in Hungary’s underground springs and are supposedly beneficial for treating arthritis and other maladies, which contributes to the popularity of the baths. One of my favorite scenes was that of a water aerobics class going on in one of the indoor pools. There must have been 20 or so 60-something women in this pool — all in brightly colored swimsuits, bikinis and swimcaps — holding these mildewy-looking foam dumbbells and doing full-on water aerobics.

We enjoyed this whole scene and experience for about two hours before rinsing off, changing back into our street clothes, and hopping on our bikes to return to our neighborhood. We finished the day off with showers and dinner at the awesome outdoor beer garden across the street from our apartment. All in all, a great day!

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What is it?? Round I – Official Results

The correct answer was a pickled pepper stuffed with sauerkraut, bought from this nice woman at her pickle stand in a public market in Budapest, a couple blocks off of Andrássy Út:

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You can see the pickled peppers for sale in the bottom right of the photo. We actually had a little trouble ordering these, as the woman working behind the counter did not speak any English, and thought that we wanted two tenths of a kilogram* of peppers, as opposed to just two of them. While they were tasty, a full plastic bag of them may have set our stomachs a-rumblin’.

Allison is the winner, with extra credit given for providing the correct Hungarian name of the dish. Austin and Sarah came in a close second, impressing us with their reference to a patented technique for making them, despite initially omitting the fact that they are pickled.

Stay tuned for “What is it??” Round II!

* – note that unsurprisingly, everything here is metric. We’ve had 200 milliliter portions of wine and 500 milliliters of beer. Ordering drinks in this way strangely reminds us of graduated cylinders in Chemistry class. “I’d like 150 ml of your finest champagne, please!”

What is it??

This is a new type of “interactive” post we plan to have on our blog from time to time. Here’s how it works… we take a picture of something, and you have to guess what it is. Post your best guess as a comment in the blog, and we’ll let you know who the winner is. Pretty easy, huh?

Today’s post is a picture of something we bought in Budapest at the market down the street. Quite tasty. Can you guess what it is?

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Beguiled by Budapest

See our gallery of photos tagged with “budapest”.

We arrived in Budapest on Monday morning and easily found our way to the quite comfy apartment/hotel that would be our home for one night. This was a wonderful place to arrive after a bit of a loud night at the hostel in Vienna. We got ourselves situated, took showers, and then headed out to explore this beautiful city.

I must say that I am a bit in love with Budapest. This is one of the most beautiful cities that I have ever visited and it now ranks as my second favorite place in Europe — bested only by Paris. The architecture is amazing, the food delicious, the city easy to navigate by foot or public transport, and the history so rich.

On Monday afternoon, we headed out on foot and walked all over the city, exploring some of the main avenues, the Market Hall, and walking along the Danube on the Buda side of town. We walked over the Chain Bridge back to the Pest side and decided to stop into a beautiful building just on the other side of the river. It turned out to be the Four Seasons Budapest, but was originally built in 1906 as the Gresham Life Insurance Company. The building sustained significant damage in Budapest’s 1956 uprising and then was pretty much neglected until it was rebuilt as the Four Seasons (finished in 2004). This is just one of the examples we’ve seen of old buildings being restored from a state of decay or extreme dinginess. We’ve noticed several other buildings in the central part of the city that are undergoing restoration. Additionally, there is a major project underway to expand the city’s underground system. We keep saying that it will be interesting to see what Budapest looks and feels like in another 10 years. Not to mention how fascinating it would have been to visit here 10 or 15 years ago.

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So back to our living arrangements… After our one night at the schmancy place, we changed locations to the new place that would be our home for the remaining three nights of our stay in Budapest. We had found this place through HostelWorld and thought that we would be staying in a private double room in a hostel. Turns out that we have our own one-bedroom apartment — complete with kitchen and washing machine — in an old apartment building in Budapest. It is so cool! It is a classic Budapest building, where the main door on the street enters into a courtyard that is ringed by different apartments on all sides. We had read about this type of set-up in our handy Rick Steves guide and he even encouraged us to venture into a random building’s courtyard to experience it ourselves. And here we were being led into that exact type of building by the lovely proprietress, Georgie. The building is a bit rundown inside the courtyard and we weren’t sure what lay in store for us upon our first entry, but it’s a very nice apartment inside and we love the fact that we are staying in a building where real Budapestians live.

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What else…

  • The underground trains play a snappy musical tune for each arrival and departure, instead of the standard “mind the gap” or “doors closing” that you might hear in other cities.
  • Paprika is actually the pepper itself, not just the spice made from grinding peppers. (I had a stuffed paprika for dinner last night.)
  • The baths are amazing. We will write a whole blog post about those tomorrow. We spent this afternoon “taking the waters” at Budapest’s public Széchenyi baths.

Stay tuned for more detail from Budapest tomorrow! There is too much to capture for one sitting.