Taking a bath
It’s cool and cloudy today. It seems like a perfect day to check out the thermal waters of Budapest.
We stuff our backpacks with towels, bathing suits and flip-flops and head across the Danube over the sage green Liberty Bridge. There is ample sidewalk for bicyclers, skateboarders, people with cameras, river gawkers, and regular pedestrians. We stop where someone has long ago pasted a sticker that says “good kiss spot”. An enormous tourist barge with a life-size chess board on deck emerges from under the bridge. I notice the locks (signifying the commitment of an everlasting Budapest love) that couples have fastened on the curley-que iron railing. I think about finding a lock before we move away from Budapest ♥
Gellért Baths are housed on the Buda side of town. They were built in the early 1900’s using the abundant thermal healing waters (minerals composing the waters are sodium, magnesium, sulfate and more) that dub Budapest as the “City of Spas”. At the entrance in the ornate building we receive our electronic bracelets that will admit us into the bath area and keep our stuff locked up. We wander back to the changing areas, don our suits and flip-flops, and meet at the bottom of the steps. Now to find the waters is a bit of a maze that is not made clear even with the use of the map – until you understand it. The indoor swimming pool where mostly older people are swimming (bathing caps are obligatory here) and sitting under the lion heads emitting warm water from their mouths is the first pool we find (we don’t go in). We pass by “cabins”, massage and health “treatment” area (we do not indulge here), shower areas, and finally find the thermal baths. There are four – you visit two at a time. We first go into the 35° C and 38° C baths, switching back and forth between the two and relaxing on the underwater benches at the source of the heated water. There are all ages, sizes, and languages in the warm and minerally fragrance-free H2O. Tucked in a corner is a tiny scintillating 18° C pool – I try to go in and can’t make it past my knees – it’s frigid! There is a steam room with blue lights under the two-tiered blue and white tiles benches. The steam is so thick that you feel as though you must clear the air with your hands in order not to sit on someone’s lap. We spend a few minutes here, inhaling the heavy air, then go back into the hot waters for a few more plunges. Crossing to the other side of the original swimming pool, we find the other two baths and alternate between 33° C to 40° C situating ourselves under the Art Nouveau cherubs holding their turtle. This side feels older to me as I wonder at the tile patterns, lion drinking fountains, beautiful glass ceiling, the weightlessness of my body, and my wrinkly fingertips that tell me it’s finally time to go. We have been in the baths for over an hour (Chris’ sciatica has been temporarily relieved); we both feel loose and a bit wobbly as we cross back over the bridge and back to our place in Pest.