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.


And finally,

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



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.


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:


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.


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.


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.


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.

The Grudge

So, it’s the dead of winter here.  And while that means a very different thing in Barcelona than it does in Portland, my attitude of “meh, it’ll be like 50 degrees warmer there so a sweater, a light purple jacket oughta do it” was idiotic and ill-conceived.  50 degrees warmer than when I left is still only 50 degrees.

I’m freezing, and at the depth (assuming depth is the proper opposite of height here) of fashion.

This is not my first go ‘round with frigidity and a purple jacket, mind you. In college, I had an ugly one that maintained serviceability in that I spent most of my money on Ushuaia and Strange Pleasure shows and couldn’t afford another.  Amy hated that jacket and snuck it into the box to Goodwill.  Hence the frigidity: of her cold, cold heart.  It was the 1990s and I am not over it, Amy!  And I still want my life-sized cardboard Han Solo back, destructive college neighbors who also once stole my shepherd’s pie!

Anyway, here I stick out like a sore plum.  I kept an eye out yesterday because I wanted to know if it was my imagination or if truly I was the only one dressing like an Easter egg.  After 12 miles on the ‘dometer, though, it was clear that the only other women in colored coats were matchy-matchy together and I don’t have a lesbian partner as an excuse. Even if Shakira is potentially in town.

So I’m channeling both Amy and Chrissy today.  I’m not a “shop your buns off” kinda girl but I’m even less a “freeze ‘em off” one.  And since the line of designer shops here could be the setting for a Shannon Doherty/Jason Priestly television sequel, I’m going to make the old friends proud.

I don’t know to whom Shakira was singing, but it’s just goosebumps underneath my clothes.  I might wanna fix that.

Addendum: I did find a jacket and it is way more toasty, but after hours of shopping ineptitude- I stood in three different lines at the “I forgot the cable that attaches my camera to my computer” store before finding an actual cashier- I decided a hotel nap was more attractive than wandering.  And it was, until magic hour hit and I remembered that I was only a few blocks from the Mediterranean and hadn’t yet moseyed on down.   So I strapped on my jacket and hauled out the Fuji and wandered around taking pictures of interesting buildings and the occasional anatomically correct iron lion.  So there’s that, and it is pretty.   Here: