Dateline: Budapest, Hungary.
I tried to sleep in this morning but the shingles had other ideas so I was up relatively early. That doesn’t mean I was moving any too fast. I have a lovely king size bed to wallow in here at the Castle Hilton Budapest. I did get moving and had some breakfast while I tried to decide what to do with the day. At one point, I was going to try to make a quick run to Graz, Austria to see my friend Laurie Middaugh who is spending the summer there, but a quick perusal of train schedules showed that it would be about 12 hours round trip for about a two hour visit and it wouldn’t work well with her schedule there so that idea had to be scrapped. It’s Monday so all the museums are closed. I decided to explore the other things that have drawn people to Budapest for centuries – the waters.
Budapest sits on a number of natural hot springs and for centuries the locals have been building elaborate bathing complexes and spas to take advantage of this abundant natural resource. The shingles neuropathy has been acting up so might as well soak in a hot tub. Hot showers have helped somewhat all the way on. I made my way down the hill through the Buda Castle gardens which are terraced into the hill and then down the promenade on the west side of the Danube. A couple of things about the urban woods of Budapest – again, as I noticed in Germany, no squirrels. There’s also a colony of some sort of particolored ravens or large crows with a grey body and black wings who feel they own the place. They likely predate the Hapsburgs, so they’re right.
A few hundred yards down the river are two of the large and prominent baths – Rudas and Gellert. I was in no hurry so I decided to try them both as a compare and contrast. My first stop was Rudas. It has a pool, but its main attraction is it’s traditional Turkish bath, under a dome constructed by the Ottoman Turks in the 16th century and fed from hot springs directly under the building. It all smells vaguely of rotting eggs due to the sulfur content of the water. The hot tubs are about 106, the warm about 95. Steam/Sauna/Massage available. Only the pool is co-ed. The Turkish bath is male only some days, female only others. After a couple hours, I continued down the road to the Gellert baths, built in the early 20th century as an Art Nouveau fantasia for upper class tourists. It’s huge, had a whole complex of indoor and outdoor pools and lots of fancy spa amenities. I didn’t like this one as much. It’s very much a tourist destination while Rudas was full of locals, mainly older men self treating their arthritis.
Having killed a number of hours between the two, I headed over the river, stuck my nose in the central market (Think Pike Place Market, but more crowded), and then walked uptown to the main Budapest synagogue and holocaust memorial. There’s a huge new holocaust museum that’s been constructed but it isn’t open yet as it’s caught up in politics with Viktor Orban and disagreements between his view of history and the Jewish community’ s view of history. The story of the Hungarian Jews is heartbreaking. They had mainly escaped the holocaust until quite late in the war when a new Nazi sympathizing government took over and gleefully helped ship off 600,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz in six months. There’s a museum and memorial in town to all who were killed by the Nazi and Soviet regimes which I’m going to try to go to tomorrow.
Then back through the central business district, where I stopped at the Budapest Eye for a ride. It’s nowhere near as large as the London Eye but it’s still a nice view from the top. I also picked up a Harry Potter in Magyar to add to my collection. I am such a nerd sometimes. Then a late lunch and back to the hotel for a nap. Dinner at Jamie Oliver’s Budapest restaurant which is only a couple blocks away. The food is edible, but I don’t think Jamie is in the kitchen.
I owe a story. Here’s a quick one. Exploring European capitals brings it to mind. Back in 2007, Frank Thompson and the CenterStage gang organized a group London trip. With 20 or so of us going, it brought the costs down quite a bit so Tommy and I signed up. It was over New Years week so it was quite cold but the weather was clear. On New Years Eve, we had a group dinner at some restaurant in the West End. After Dinner, everyone went their separate directions. Tommy and I had heard about a gay nightclub doing a NYE thing just across the bridge from Westminster and the Houses of Parliament. So we went off there, got there about 9:30 and settled in for drinks and people watching. We left about 1 am and walked out the door and into a seething mass of humanity. We were only a couple of blocks from the London Eye, site of the new years fireworks. We were caught up in the crowds heading home after. There was only one way to go, with the flow of people. Besides, the bobbies had a lot of streets blocked off for crowd management. We looked at each other, shrugged, and thought Oh Well. We managed to not lose each other as we were carried along. Ultimately, we were pushed into Waterloo station, were able to access the Underground, and made it back to Tottenham Court Road in one piece. Tommy did remarkably well with the experience considering his past. When he was in his 20s, he was at Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street. Someone in the crowd near him pulled a knife and there was a general panic. Tommy lost his footing and was trampled. He wasn’t seriously injured but it did add to his spinal issues later in life and his chronic hip and low back pain. The PTSD was more of an issue and ever after he tended to get very antsy in crowds where he wasn’t sure if he could control the situation. He also never wanted to go to Mardi Gras again. We went to NOLA a whole lot of times over the years. For New Years. For 4th of July. For Labor Day. But we never went to Mardi Gras.