Travelling Light

Budapest, Hungary: A Visit To Szechenyi Baths

Szechenyi BathsWe got up early the day we went to Szechenyi Baths, because entry is discounted before 8am. Despite the discount, the entry fee is steep for our limited means – about $17 Australian for each of us. Still, YOLO and all that. We’ll do it once.

The Szechenyi Baths are located in Budapest City Park, near where we are staying, so we had a lovely early-morning stroll through the park to get there.

The Budapest area has around 125 hot springs, and Szechenyi is one of the most famous thermal baths. The buildings are opulent and well-maintained, containing a wide variety of pools and steam rooms, and there are also large, hot water outdoor pools, too.

The concentric circles in this outdoor pool (which has a constant temperature of 36 degrees C) are a circular spa with water jets, surrounded by a whirlpool loop. Maybe the loop is designed for swimming against a current, but the water is too warm for serious training, so people generally just ride it around and around. Our inner children were utterly delighted with it!

The entrance lobby features a statue (we thought it might be Neptune) in a huge archway. The vaulted domed ceiling was decorated like something you might find in a church. Everywhere in the building, the ceilings were enormously high. Leading away from the entrance lobby in both directions were high ceilinged, sunlit corriders with tall windows that actually open.

It’s amazing that so many buildings here, even city office buildings, are an array of open windows on these summer days. In Australia, business buildings are air-conditioned year round, even the older ones of a similar age to those here in Budapest. The windows of the older buildings in Sydney are nailed shut, so that even if you wanted to turn off the air conditioning and open a window, it wouldn’t be possible.

In the face of all this Baroque splendour, the security system was thoroughly modern. We were issued with stylish lime green waterproof wristbands, which operated the electronic gates (not all that remarkable) and the lockers. (Now THAT was impressive!)

The first pool we saw was rectangular and 40 degrees C, and behind it was a semi-circular one at 34 degrees C. Popping back and forth between the two was necessary, as you can’t stay too long in the 40 degree pool. Tom ventured into the peppermint-scented menthol steam room, which was 50 degrees C, but Jenny decided the vapour stung her eyes too much, and retreated to the pools.

The architecture was stunning, with columns, arches, and vaulted ceilings everywhere. The rooms with pools went on and on, and it took us quite some time to discover how to get to the outside pools!

We were expecting the outside pools to be Australian heated pool temperature (around 27 degrees C), and were braced for a shock, but the first outside pool we entered was 36 degrees C (just like a wrm bath), and we were in Heaven. Towards the middle was a gigantic spray fountain, and standing under it was like standing under the shower (in a chest-deep bath). Truly a unique experience! Tom spent a lot of time in a meditative trance with the water pounding on his head.

By this time, we were getting hungry, so we went to find the kiosk (as it would be in Australia). We were excited to discover a “Bufe”, only to learn that a buffet is not necessarily “all you can eat” in Hungary. It more readily translates as “cafeteria”, where you select food and then pay for your selection at the register. The decor almost made up for the disappointment, though.

And then it was back to the pools! Fortunately, the water is shallow enough that there is no need to wait half an hour before swimming. Mind you, it’s not very energetic swimming – more lounging, really.

The sound of thunder prompted the life guards to tell everyone to get out of the outside pools, but it was like trying to build a sandcastle too close to the waves – every few minutes, another two or three people would have the bright idea to come outside, and not all of them spoke Hungarian, so they were ignoring the announcements. We did the right thing, and moved back inside.

Even at the level of small details, the buildings were lovely. Tom particularly liked the “mermaid” feature tiles in the showers.We eventually dragged ourselves away in the late afternoon. The pools were becoming more and more crowded, and apparently there is an evening “party crowd” of young folk who rock in late in the day and boost the numbers.

We needed to get an early night, because we had a train to catch the next morning, to Szeged.