Ten Essential Rules for Spa-ing in Budapest

If you haven’t had your décolletage massaged while learning that Hungarian girl toddlers aren’t allowed to sit on the floor during the chilly months because they might contract a cold through their gynecological parts- then friends, you haven’t lived.

The following are ten rules for a successful foray into Budapest’s spa life:

#10: It’s rude to stare at the scantily clad masses.  Avoid this by taking in the elaborate, art nouveau decor.  Don’t let it bother you that the naked baby cherubs are often making out with each other; the world is not totally run by ex-Breitbart guys and art doesn’t always have to imitate life.

#9: Definitely, definitely, definitely get a face massage/facial, because she will rub warm scented oils all over your upper parts until your eyeballs roll back in your head and your toes start to wiggle with glee.  Try to figure out why you’ve never done that before while becoming as relaxed as you’ve ever been in your life.  But also,

#8: cough a little bit, and disgustingly like you’ve been doing all week since that stupid flu you had.  This will prompt the facial lady to open up about Hungarian health beliefs, including the spectacular nugget noted above.  Enjoy it immensely when she struggles to find the right English to describe the parts through which babies catch colds before finally settling on “ovaries”.  But don’t enjoy it in a mean way because she is the nicest lady ever and she is giving you one of the top hours of your leisure-time life.

#7: Go back to the baths.  Hop from pool to elaborately tiled pool because they’re all different temperatures and you haven’t yet figured out Celsius stuff.  Settle in to a wall seat and watch couples do more forehead-to-forehead cuddling than you’ve ever seen in your life.

#6: And then make some American friends.  They’ll invite you into the sauna, which is a clearly labeled but ridiculous Fahrenheit of 195º.  Pretend you are the most amazing living creature in the world, which is a tardigrade, and then let that center you in the heat until your hoop earrings get hot enough to burn your neck like a curling iron gone rogue. This will take approximately 45 seconds. Refer to rule 5, which is

#5: never, ever, ever wear earrings into a sauna, dummy.  Just don’t.

#4: Head back outside to the thermal pools because it’s winter and super-fantastic to be comfortably outside in a hot tub, especially one that has jets strategically placed in such a way that if you enter the whirlpool, they vigorously churn you in a large circular pattern like counterclockwise butter.  This one will make your face hurt from all the smiling until the wolf pack of college kids drunkenly takes it over.  One of them will cockily be wearing a Borat onesie, until he isn’t anymore.  Feel free to try to catch a glimpse through the bubbles, but remember:

#3: a frat boy is a frat garçon is a frat Junge no matter where you are in the world, so maybe actually don’t bother with the looking at him.

#2: Because remember, the statues here are incredible!  That one with the woman in the throes of ecstasy as the swan’s beak envelops her naked breast is an interesting specimen, and it’s right there by the side of the pool as if the entire place has been built around your ability to see it!  There’s also this baby riding a fish with some teeth.

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And finally,

#1:  tell your friends, man.  This place is swell.

Whiskey and Bathwater

February 23, 2017

So I sauntered into breakfast today to meet Naomi (actually this was yesterday at this point) all confident because we’d made the executive decision to just suck up the rude waiters and cross the street instead of trekking all over kingdom come for two hours looking for an egg.  Or in my case, a Chinese noodle from the Shang dynasty.  And I’ll have you know I looked that up to make sure I was specifically citing the earliest dynasty I could pronounce so I could be historically accurate in my disdain.

(Side note: I meant “kingdom come” literally, mind you, because we’re staying in the castle district.  This means our hotel is 700 years old, has a coat of armor in the greeting vestibule, and all of our furniture has claw feet.  Also, the wifi password is “dragon”!  The Game of Thrones fangirl in me gave an excited Dothraki war cry when I first laid eyes on it all.  As the knights of the round table sayeth(ed): castles are dope, y’all.

‘Course now that I’m typing this, I really want to know what “kingdom come” means so I’m looking that up for your research pleasure.  Oh!  That makes sense.  It’s the short version of “thy kingdom come, thy will be done” from that “Our Father” prayer.  And definitely not whatever Urban Dictionary says.  End side note.)

Anyway, the waiters here greeted me at the register, lined up six across with the most withering collective look I’ve seen since the Mean Girls movie, and in no uncertain terms told me that my friend was not here and I should go away.  It took some gumption-gathering to walk right back in, but holy moly was it the top decision of the trip so far.  There are eggs here, prepared in a fancy French cheese concoction!  There’s also a Parisian Johnny Cash crooning Folsom Prison songs in an absolutely non-bluesy slow jazz way, and I’m so pleased.  This is how you start your day.

And then: baths.  For this one, I really wanted to have a mud treatment because I jumped in a pit full of the estuary’s decomposing microorganisms during a field trip in Charleston in 2004 and my skin glowed for DAYS.  Lukacz Medicinal Thermals was my choice because they supposedly did the dirty mud stuff.

Fail.  Apparently you need a doctor’s note.

Still a good time, though.  Lonely Planet describes it like this:

“The waters of the Lukács Baths are meant to cure just about everything — from spinal deformation and vertebral dislocation to calcium deficiency. Vibe: For serious spa fans only”

Right?

So as serious spa fans, we hoofed it another three miles to the Szechenyi Baths, which are (say this in your breathiest, most reverential voice) sooooooo mint. We passed this cool stuff on the way and then soaked for hours, nailing it so hard with the detox that we celebrated with retox at the local pub.

This did not go over quite as well as it should have: I vaguely remember a strenuous, grunting tug of war with the castle hook-and-eye locks which were meant to keep medieval doors fastened firmly to the floor (we each had one hook in both hands and were firmly braced with our fingers wrestling determinedly near the ground, feet braced widely for maximum strength, and thigh muscles taut and aquiver) then bolting when we heard an ominous screech and then-whoops- found a doorbell.  Regardless, we tumbled happily into our clawfoot beds and satisfied, slurred it a night.

Budapest, I say to you: cheers!

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Budafesses

Tuesday, February 20, 2017

“Budafess!” texted Chuck last night, and I was pleased because “fess”, of course, is the French-Canadian way of saying “buttocks! eh?” (if you’re mimicking French-Canadians in a stereotypical way that includes always saying “eh”… which is something I haven’t actually heard from them as much as, for example, “nice fesses, there” which brings me back to my point.)

Budafess pleased me because today was the day I was going to the naked baths!  And these baths- let me explain:

So apparently for over a thousand years, thermal springs have busted up all over Hungary with their healing mineral waters.  Budapest is Spa City, and they even have these crazy raves called “sparties” during which the mixed-sex crowd downs drinks in giant, pool-sized natural hot tubs while DJs spin and light shows dazzle.  Though I no longer own a bathing suit with sequins, I was totally up for this experience until I found out they only happen on weekends and we’re leaving Friday morning.  More’s the pity.

Anyway though, Naomi and I checked a local place out last night and it was GREAT!  After, that is, we got over the shock of the coed locker rooms.  It worked out fine what with the initially-hidden changing closets, but my first glance of the goings-on- with the people in all their dripping wet skivvies- reminded me that not all cultures are as wickedly Puritan as ours.

That’s where naked bathing came in, too.  Turns out Tuesdays are women-only, so you can romp around romper-less with n’er the hairy eyeball casting judgments.  I was sort of terrified of this but had talked myself into doing it in the name of life experience, and also in the name of liquid courage, which- and more on this later- is exceedingly easy to come by in Hungary.

(SIDE NOTE: in these baths, there’s an outdoor dome that looks over the Danube on one side and into cliffs on the other.  It’s a fantastic place to hear about the story of St. Gerard, who tried to convert all the locals to Christianity in 1100 AD or some other such nonsensical year.  This went over VERY not well so he got packed into a spiked barrel and shot down said cliffs instead.  Spiked things and shots- and more on this later- are exceedingly easy to come by in Hungary.)

But before all the naked fesses: breakfast.

Breakfast is not as easy to come by here as you might think.  After two miles of passing bistros that wouldn’t open until 11, we finally docked at a vegan place at which Naomi was immediately at home.  This worked for a bit as I worked on a water, but tofu and I haven’t always been besties so I figured I’d hang ’til the next stop.  Sadly, the next stop was Shanghai microwave center, where I’m almost positive an Austro-Hungarian prepared my meal at the height of their empire and put it patiently aside for me in 2017.  It took three minutes of nuking and a lot of good humor to get a portion of that in my gullet.  Luckily next door there was hot breakfast to-go wine.

Seriously.

We only went in for a coffee, but “is coffee common here?” asked Naomi.  She’s been having trouble getting anything not espresso-based.

“No,” replied the woman.

“Okay, so, um… what is?” Naomi followed, and,

“Palinko,” she said.

That’s booze.  Booze!  At breakfast.  Plus we were offered three shots at lunch. No wonder the spas offer hangover packages.

No spas for us yet, though, since Parliament was right across the river and looking like this:

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There was also an expressive whiny statue and the Hungarian History Museum, where I didn’t learn anything because I don’t speak Hungarian.  Cool sabres, though.

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Then we walked around some more looking at things like the Ronald Reagan statue, which why?  WHY?  Bronzed Gipper in Budapest: why?  Okay, I’ll tell you, because for us nerd types it’s actually fascinating and immediately after I wrote that question I looked it up.

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Turns out there’s a big monument in that square to the Soviet occupation, which is at least temporarily over but still commemorated because of some long-standing bilateral treaty and the fact that when Estonia took down a Soviet monument ten years ago, stupid Putin applied sanctions.  So these hardy and left-leaning Hungarian artists (persist, ye mighty!) erected this other cool sculpture of a man standing on a bridge with his back to the Soviet symbolism and his eyes toward the Parliament building, a deliberately democratic (magnificently and purposefully built to face down the palace across the river) piece of work.  (Side note: before I knew this tidbit I thought the guy looked like Colonel Sanders rather than a famous anti-Soviet resistance hero and I climbed what I thought was a real bridge and posed with him, an act of which I am currently ashamed.  You will not, if my druthers are had, ever lay eyes on that photograph.  And to the gods of humanity, I apologize.)

Anyway, Ronald Reagan is apparently also a recent sort of protest addition, and he’s looking at and walking toward the Russian thing like he’s going to blast right through it or throw jelly beans at it or something.  But without historical context, it’s just weird.  At the time, I snapped a photo and ambled toward the other weird statue in the vicinity, which unbeknownst to me would make me cry.

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Hungary, like the Philippines and lots of Europe and some other countries we know, has been fighting a bit of a hateful nationalist virus lately.  It’s depressing and I don’t want to go too much into that side of it, but the tears were actually for the heart shown by people determined to put truth and the goodness of humanity at the front of things- same way I feel when I’m stateside. And when Budapest’s right-wingers tried to commemorate Nazi occupation (and with it, the swift complicity of their own government’s role in the Holocaust) the people came out and said noooooooope.  They put this up, in every imaginable language:  img_4716

And these:

And that’s when I cried a little.

When all was said and done, I didn’t get to do the Budafesses today.

Still feels like I got some naked truth, though.

Basketball, Baths, and Budapest

So about a month ago, Lauren and I were completely ignoring a girls basketball game (because we were working at it, and you can) when I decided it was cold and I wanted to take a bath- one of those baths with all the rejuvenating minerals and whatnot that are advertised with words like “thermal springs” and “once in a lifetime”.

“Where do you take those baths?” I asked Lauren.  She sang back something Sound of Music-y, because that’s another thing we do at basketball games: non-sequitur singing.  I paused my game of Candy Crush and searched the Internet.

“Bam!  Budapest!  Wow, it’s only like $500 for a plane ticket.”  (Side note: this was purely because the layover has been suicide bombed as recently as seven months ago and the State Department warning looks like this:

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but I figured as long as I didn’t go into too much detail with people like parents, I’d be okay.  This has worked out well so far in that the most dangerous thing in the Istanbul airport turned out to be the price of a sandwich.)

Anyway, exactly one staff meeting later Naomi also decided it was a good deal, and despite our having spent zero time alone together outside of an ice skating excursion that lasted the better part of five minutes a couple of years ago at Rob’s, we booked a trip together.  If you haven’t met Naomi yet, when she walks toward an elaborate gate she looks like this:

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and as it turns out, we’re great travel buddies because we both like baths and castles and we walk really fast.  That’s what we did today.

Budapest, mind you, is visually pretty stunning.  Forget that, though, if you haven’t eaten for twenty hours.  I ordered a Hungarian bistro plate (translation: MEAT.  and a radish) and some spicy chocolate coffee (translation: shot of caffeinated brown Tabasco sauce) in my first epicurean foray, and there was definitely a castle and a dragon statue outside that I could have been looking at instead.  We got there, though.  And despite my initial disgust at the protein platter, I was well fortified by the meat and livers of every animal in the zoo for the seven mile walk that followed.  Here’s what we saw:

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fullsizerenderDecent architecture and whatnot, right?

At some point it got dark, however, and we decided to seek out a bathing spot. Quite frankly, it was all I dreamed it would be.  For two hours we perched ourselves in a natural hot spring on a cliffside overlooking the Danube with a couple of friendly Irishmen (horse racing journalist and rickshaw novelist, if you can believe the small talk of strangers) and talked British menagerie/torture chambers and virgin queens.  Went for drinks afterward in the desolate Monday night Buddha bar while a desperate hawker asked if we wanted “suspicious things”.

No thank you, sir.  I’m quite happy with the way things are right now.