Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Budapest Review: Szechenyi Baths

Ruth and I were in charge of deciding where to go in Budapest. We both wanted to go to a Turkish bath (Eleanor, aka Fish, was an enthusiastic supporter). Neither of us had a clue what they’d be like, but the Let’s Go review (and we are serious Let’s Go fans ever since our daughter became one of their crack researchers) heartily recommended them and they were open (did I mention it was a holiday and cold?).

There were a few problems: some of the baths are open only to one gender any given day, and neither Edward nor Eleanor had a swimsuit. So Ruth and I combed the listings until we found Szechenyi Baths, which was open to both men and women. David found a pair of shorts we could use as men’s swimming trunks, and Eleanor improvised a swimming costume out of the clothes she had along.

The entrance to the baths was in a gracious Austro-Hungarian building. In the lobby, waiting in a surprisingly long line to buy tickets, David and I were stunned at how expensive it was (and no discounts for students or children!), but decided, since we had no other options for activities that holiday afternoon, to splurge.

We seriously doubted the wisdom of that decision a few minutes later when, all in our swimsuits, we wandered around trying to find the swimming pool. Someone finally understood our confusion and gestured to a door. A door to the outside.

Outside? It was ten degrees below freezing and we were going to swim in an outdoor pool?
That is snow on the benches.
We had paid our money, though, and we were determined to at least try it, so we marched our kids out (barefoot, I may add) through the snow to the edge of the pool.
Note the ice encrustation on the rail we used to enter the pool.

Ah! Despite the snow and ice all around them, the pools themselves are fed by hot springs, and are delightfully warm and cozy. Billows of steam drift across the pool, briefly clearing so you cansee the statues of Greek water myths, and then closing back over you. Once I’d figured out how to keep track of Isaac and Eleanor (someone always hanging on to each of them), it was delightfully, surreally enchanting.

There are three outdoor pools, each one a slightly different temperature. One is for swimming, one for soaking, and one for playing (it has a current that whisks you around and around). Later, we discovered about twelve more pools inside, each one different (mint-infused, cold, for water aerobics, another current pool, etc.), and we tried every one but our favorites were the outdoor pools.

By the time we were ready to leave, our towels were frozen into stiff boards, but we didn’t even care. I felt pleasantly limp the rest of the day.

If we go to Budapest again, will we be going to the baths? Yes! We may not do anything else, in fact.


Thought Catalyst said...

What wonderful memories this brings me. I loved visiting the baths in Budapest. I loved visiting there and would love to go back! Enjoy, Ariel

Annette said...

I didn't know you'd been there, Ariel! We would have asked your advice.

Thought Catalyst said...


Ariel and I have had a great time getting caught-up on your blog. Thanks for writing!


Annette said...

Thanks for reading it, Jim! We're excited to hear about your trip.