Saturday, October 21, 2006

…And bring your swimsuit

News Flash: Our Budapest friend Inna’s mom just bought a ticket, non-stop from NYC to Budapest, for $500. Another friend has found a March ticket for $400…

So yesterday was my “day off” from writing and I spent most of it at the Szechenyi baths in City Park. For those of you who don’t know, Budapest is famous for its natural thermal baths. Going to the baths is a national pastime—Hungarians are serious about it. Each bath has a menu of options, not just swimming pools, saunas and thermal baths but massages, mud baths, and a whole universe of treatments that I have never heard of, but which sound like they might involve electricity. The beautiful part is the baths are incredibly cheap, so anyone can and does go: grandmas, tourists, mechanics, businessmen, young mothers, teenagers. In fact some Hungarian companies give employees bath vouchers as a benefit (jealous).

This was my second Budapest bath experience. The first was the Gellert baths—those are the ridiculously lavish baths in Buda where Matthew Barney filmed the last installment of the Cremaster cycle.

Here’s what they have going for them:
-Crazy elaborate mosaics, gorgeous statues, sculpted pillars, painted ceilings, fancy wallpaper
-Art nouveau overload
-Pool of sparkling water
-Turn-of-the-century outdoor wave pool
-Classy sunbathing terraces
-Feeling like you’re in Daddy Warbucks’ mansion

The Szechenyi baths are a tiny bit more proletarian, but still housed in a palatial building in the center of a peaceful park.

-Beautiful outdoor swimming pools, complete with neoclassical sculpture fountains
-Old Men playing chess in the hottest outdoor thermal pool
-Amusement park whirly ride periodically appears above bath roof
-Current pool that carries you around in whirlpool style
-Labyrinth of indoor pools and indoor saunas, all different temperatures. I couldn’t find the end of the baths. Perhaps they don’t end.

I’m just saying, bring your swimsuit.

Post Script:
The other day we passed by some Americans, having the Quintessential American in Budapest conversation:

American Dude 1: So, the bar was like, three bucks. Dinner was…what, that whole dinner was, fuckin', seven bucks. The ice cream is…
American Dude 2: 50 cents. No, less.
American Dude 3:(drunk) You guys, my dad is like, really rich. He’s really…he’s just rich.

It was sort of charming, in a way. At least it wasn’t the Quintessential British Stag Party in Budapest conversation:

British Bloke 1:(drunk) Did you see the teats on that one? I like that! Fancy a shag with her, mate.
British Bloke 2: (also drunk) They do dress like sweet whores here, don’t they? Jesus, Mary and Joseph. (vomits.)
British Bloke 3: (of course drunk) Better go to the baths tommorow lads, do a bit of a detox, wot?


jessamynit said...

I am jealous!
it looks like you get to swim in hearst castle, but better, and older.
long live the proles!

garth said...

I once went to an all-night psychedelic party in the Rudas baths which I think are in Buda. It sounded like a good idea, but then when I got there it was basically a bunch of drugged out people playing volleyball with promotional balloons from Galoise, while crappy electronic music filled the room and "experimental" films were projected on the big screen. Only the novelty of the setting- a lavish 18th century bathhouse saved- mitigated the idiocy of the whole thing. I recommend going to the Rudas during the daytime when you can soak in peace.

Ganch said...

I hear there is a bar in the meat packing district that is a spa by day and a super exclusive bar by night. Puke. having a rave in a spa is for tardots. That's my new word for retard.

Anonymous said...

gotta say - one of the most memorable concerts we've seen in Budapest was at the Dandar Baths during the Fall Festival. Here's the picture of the baths - water drained out, nearly naked bathers expelled, hipster-clad Accord Quartet placed on the pedestal, and audience placed where you see the water in the picture. Mood lighting included, contemporary classical music performed. Somehow the setting was just right... All I could see from my vantage point was the heads of the rest of the audience on the other side of the divider, and when the music got boring, I amused myself by imagining that the people on the other side were naked... Highly recommended. (inna)

garth said...

If you had any doubts about how NOT cool the bathhouse rave was, you can check out thisphoto gallery.