breakfast at the hotel ibis budapest
We got up early and headed down to the lobby for breakfast, which was included with our trip. I figured it’d be the typical hotel breakfast of a bagel and old banana, but they knew how to do it up right with the massive breakfast buffet. We had about 15 choices of fresh bread, cheese, fruit (I loved the stewed plums), unsweetened yogurt with granola, eggs, and coffee with little cancer pellets (techically aspartame). I grew very attached to the pear mug that I was to use three times while we were there.
We took the metro to Moscow Station, got really, really turned around, and finally figured out the direction of the castle. We climbed a very steep hill and went through the Vienna Gate into Old Town, which is enclosed by the castle walls.
We toured Old Town and ended up at Mátyás Church, a massive Neo-Gothic building. The Fishermen’s Bastion behind it offered incredible views of the city, especially of the Pest side and the Chain bridge.
There was also a large statue of St. Stephen (Istvan), the first king of Hungary, the very same one whose holy hand lay mummified right across the Danube, and was soon to be immortalized on a smashed forint.
parliament from the fishermen’s bastion
house decoration in old town
looking towards the elizabeth bridge, gellért hill on the right
the chain bridge with parliament in the background
looking out the window of the fortress at gellért hill
funicular and tunnel through castle hill
We walked down the long cobbled road descending from the castle and caught a tram to the Gellért Hotel, home of the most famous mineral baths in Budapest. It was starting to snow big, fluffy flakes as we arrived; we decided to climb the hill first and then warm up afterwards at the hotel if we needed to.
good old st istvan again
We started up the hill and stopped briefly to see the Cave Church, which wasn’t terribly interesting because it was fairly new. We climbed further up the hill, and the snow was getting heavier. Eventually, we were pretty much hiking up this hill in a snowstorm, and proved once again that we are hardcore.
me, being totally hardcore on gellért hill
It was a hard climb. It was no Mount Hollywood or Sliding Sands Trail, but it was hard. And it was cold. And did I mention blizzarding? We decided to call it Budapest Mountain.
We stopped for a second to take photos for a couple Australian guys who were equally hardcore at the top of the hill, and then proceeded up to see the Liberation Monument, which, from a distance, appears exactly like the waving girl statue in Savannah. ‘Liberation’ in this instance refers to Budapest’s ‘liberation’ by the Soviets in 1945; I heard a rumor that the current construction is to sandblast off remnants of Soviet decor, but I’m not sure if that’s true or not.
We went up into the citadel, and stopped in a little shop to get out of the snow. We found some really cute souvenirs, and bought about a third of the eight-million (well, 60) postcards we had promised to people back home.
we were here.
We started back down the other side of the hill, moving very slowly so as not to slip, tumble, and become giant snowballs rolling down Gellért Hill and plunging into the Danube. We found our way back to the other side of the hill through some scarily-remote areas, and ended up near a really awesome-looking playground with several long slides.
bertine making movies inside the tube-slide [here’s the movie!]
Well, of course we had to do it, even if it meant we ended up with big wet spots on our asses.
We went into the Gellért Hotel on the pretense of looking for lunch, but really we just wanted to use some swank (and free) bathrooms. We walked around the area and saw nothing interesting for lunch, so we decided to take the tram up to Víziváros or Water Town (thus named because it used to flood all the time). There were a few restaurants right near the station. We walked into one, stared at the menu board for a few minutes, then walked back out. We had absolutely no clue what any of it was. Next door, we found a cute little pizza place. It quickly became known as the Luce of Budapest.
Another thing about dining in Europe: they’re just not in a hurry like we are here. Meals take forever. They think it’s unusual if you don’t order appetizers, entrees, and dessert or coffee. You have to catch your server’s eye to get the bill, or they’ll just leave you sitting there until the place closes. Also, there’s no such thing as water on the table. You can order bottled water if you want. Coke Light comes in tiny bottles. Cappuccinos and lattes come in single-shot cups. I’m not sure how Europeans aren’t dying of dehydration on a daily basis, because we were suffering.
We had super-good pizza and coffee, and heard Green Day, Ludacris, and Gorillaz while we were there. We stopped at a pastry shop for cute little breadlike things and took a turn through the mall, which was mostly uninteresting. At that point, we decided it was time: we needed to go to the mineral baths in Budapest.
gellért baths complex
We metro’ed back to the hotel and got our bathing suits, because we’d be damned if even Hungarians were going to see us naked in public. We went back to the Gellért Baths and paid 2400 forint (about $13, discounted with the Budapest Card), and were ushered into the ladies’ half of the complex.
The baths are monstrous, and set up identically for men and women. The only shared area is the swimming pool and large whirlpool. We walked timidly into a giant locker room with cabana-like changing rooms. Two very authoritarian women (Hungarians tend to hold onto their Soviet habits, it seems) were at a table folding aprons and towels. I approached one and asked where we should go. She said, ‘Go upstairs and change!’ I asked, ‘Where do we get towels?’ She said, ‘AFTER!’
We went upstairs and again stood there timidly until another authoritarian woman in a terrycloth smock and slippers came by to direct us to a cabana. We both went in, unsure of whether we were supposed to have our own. We changed and stood there complaining about our lack of towels; if there’s one thing I’m really not thrilled about, it’s parading around in a bathing suit. Even if I am in Eastern Europe.
The lady came back and gave us a token to denote our cabana. She pointed us back downstairs. We approached the front table again and I asked the lady what to do next. I tried handing her the token, and she grabbed the strap of my bathing suit and tied it on. She then grabbed my arm and led us to the showers. She said, pointing, ‘Mineral bath to the right, swimming pool to the left.’ And she disappeared.
We showered and headed into the baths. There were two large pools with tile benches around the edges, so we sat shoulder-deep in the bath. One was 36 celsius and the other was 38 (about 100F), so we sat in the second one. It was so relaxing. It wasn’t very crowded at all. About a third of the women were in bathing suits, a third topless (generally the younger, cute girls), and the other third bare-ass naked; definitely the ones you really didn’t want to see naked, either. We did our best to not look, because it was occasionally alarming. At one point, one of them bent down and squatted to pull up her suit; Bertine was scarred for life.
After relaxing in the mineral bath for a while, we decided to see what was in the other really ornate room with the showers. On one side, we found a steam room, which was 45-50C (about 120F). It was painful to be in there. If you sat on the bench, which was above the vents, you burned your ass. If you stood, your head was in the much-hotter area. I found my best bet was to stand there, not moving, and just focus on my breathing. I felt claustrophobic from the heat and strong sulfur smell, which burned my nostrils. I could only manage about a minute in there before I had to dash out.
On the other side of the fancypants showers was the cold bath. It was a little round thing like a jacuzzi, but it was 18C (64F, although it felt like ice water). Bertine said it was the thing to go dunk in there after the sauna, so I set one foot in it and decided there was no way in hell anyone was getting me in there. We were standing on the steps giggling about it when a topless lady pushed past us to climb into the bath. As she walked down the steps, she started laughing with us, and gestured for us to follow. She grabbed her boobs and bounced up and down, dunking in the water, saying, ‘Wooo! Wooo! Woooo!’ Well, at that point, we couldn’t not do it. We climbed in. We dunked the same way she did it. I wanted to die. We went running back to the warm bath as fast as we could.
After a while, we decided to check out the swimming pool. It’s in this insanely opulent room with marble and mosaics and huge pillars that go into the pool. We joined the others swimming slow laps, Soviet-style. There was even an arrow telling us which way to swim. After doing several laps and talking, we were hanging out in the shallow end, about to head back to the mineral bath, when something happened. All of a sudden, the entire shallow end turned into a giant jacuzzi. Everybody rushed to grab their own vent on the floor of the pool, and we all just bobbed around there while the pool bubbled. IT WAS AWESOME.
I really wish I could’ve taken photos in the baths, because they were amazing. Even the pictures I’ve found online don’t do it justice. We got chased out by a security guard when trying to take photos afterwards.
We went back to the baths for a while, took another turn in the steam room and cold bath, and were finally so prunelike we decided it was time to go. We showered and were still confused about where the towels came from, so I consulted the unfriendly matron at the front again. She led us to a room where a woman was passing out bath sheets. Not towels, but sheets like you’d put on a bed. We had to swear and cross our hearts and hope to die that we wouldn’t take them back into the baths. We wrapped ourselves up and went back to our cabana to change.
We took a tram, then the metro, back to the Church of the Holy Hand to obtain our critically-important smashed forints. Afterwards, we stopped at the big Szupermarket at Nougaty Station again to pick up treats for the people back home: liquor (pear brandy and Zwack Unicum), Kinder eggs, and other candy, as well as water (since we had no intention of dehydrating like the Europeans do).
the mall of hungary (westend center)
We threaded our way back through the mall of Hungary to have dinner at a place we’d seen the night before, called Leroy Cafe. The food was amazing. We had broccoli and gorgonzola crepes, eggplant dip, vegetable toast, cream of asparagus soup, coke light, and cappuccinos.
On the way back to the hotel, we almost got lost in the metro beneath Nougaty Pu. We made it back about 8:30pm and were absolutely exhausted again. We both laid down and promptly dozed off. I woke up an hour later to take a shower, and Bertine was talking in her sleep. All night long, I heard her rolling over to drink water. That hydration thing in Europe is serious business.