Monday, January 21, 2008

Soaking it in Hungary

Detail of Budapest's "Heroes Square" taken just before my camera died. I can't speak for the valour of the men memorialized there, but I can tell you that the "square" looked remarkably circular to me.

You know, it’s a good thing that pretty much nothing but a leaky toilet has occurred since I’ve come back, or I’d be seriously backed up on my blogging, with all this Eastern Europe stuff.

In any case, still in Hungary – Amynah and I have become, if not connaisseurs, at least enthusiasts of European baths (especially those don’t require nudity). Budapest is famous for theirs, and so, on New Years Eve, we made our way to the Szechenyi baths. These were due to close at 1 PM, late enough that we were able to make it in under the wire. We’d have had more time on New Year’s Day, but the idea of sharing a giant hot tub with a herd of terminally hung over Australian backpackers did not appeal.

It was packed – the line up to get in was enormous. Evidently Australian back packer phobia is a more widespread affliction than I had believed. We got in line together, but I was let into the changing area first. While waiting her turn, Amynah was asked by the change room attendant where she was from. “Canada,” she replied.

“Ah, Canada,” he replied, “You are very beautiful.”

Unaware of my wife’s budding romance, I had changed into my appropriately Euro Speedo* and was entering the pools. After the spas of Baden-Baden, Budapest’s showcase baths seemed a little shabby. The ceilings had been painted over, covering up what had doubtless been lovely artwork. Mildew lurked in the further corners of the ceiling, and even the floor tiles were a little worse for wear; when I went to take the compulsory pre-bath shower, the knob came off in my hand.

The general impression of insalubrity was reinforced by the first of the mineral baths. Emanating from a natural spring, the water was greenish with a slight odour of sulfur.

The outdoor baths. A sign told us to not stay in here longer than twenty minutes. Right.

However, all was forgiven when we got to the outdoor pools. I should mention that it was cold outside, with a light but persistent snow falling throughout the day. Steam was rising from the pool in thick clouds. Being outside in a swimsuit in such conditions is not pleasant, and so Amynah made a mad dash for the pool, getting into the water while I tried to navigate down the stairs. It took me five minutes after I got in to locate her through the fog.

Once ensconced in the pool, we were able to people watch. There was no shortage of tourists like us – mainly from Italy, as far as we could tell – but it seemed to us that most of the patrons were locals, many of whom were senior citizens, and of which a large proportion were men whose abdomens could comfortably accommodate a small car, the upholstery of which could be harvested from their backs. I felt like a minnow amongst some very hirsute whales. Many of these leviathans were occupying themselves along the sides of the pool by playing chess on special waterproof boards. No word if the little guys were called “prawns” in that version.

* One day soon, I promise I will explain this.


Natalie Joan said...

I take it you didn't play any chess. Dave and I played one games, and watched a few others. Love the picture of the baths in the snow.

Mark Reynolds said...

The weather made the experience even cooler (hah!) than it would have been anyway. Thanks for the recommendation! As far as chess goes, all the boards I saw were in use, and we wouldn't have had time anyway.