Széchenyi Fürdő: A Hungarian Bath Experience, Part 1

Thermal baths.

I looked up from the Budapest thermal baths’ website and rolled the idea around in my mind, already filled with horrible images of clothing-optional areas and the foot fungus I’d potentially contract from sharing the wet, bacteria-breeding bath floors, not to mention the fact that this required me to wear a bathing suit in public.

“Nope,” I quickly decided. “Not for me. Maybe I’ll just get a massage or something…” I immediately retracted my statement when I found out that my American modesty was no match for the Hungarians’ lack thereof on the massage table.

Still, it seemed like I was being urged left and right to go. “Oh, you’re going to Budapest? You must visit the baths and the ruin bars. So cool.” I smiled weakly, still imagining the anti-fungal creams I’d be soon purchasing at the pharmacy. Soon it became a non-question. My trepidations stood against the enthusiasm of the others, a David vs. Goliath where Goliath won. Like it or not, we were going, foot fungus and all.

A few days later I begrudgingly packed my bag for the baths, slumping around and dropping each item, flip-flops, sunblock, towel, bathing suit, in slow motion into the bag. I was not especially looking forward to the changing rooms, after reading a particularly harrowing experience involving old women and the lack of a private changing room. I played out all the worst case scenarios in my head as I ticked away stop after stop on the subway, whose somber, industrial screechings stood in as the soundtrack to my impending doom. (Was I being too dramatic? Let’s not answer that…)

The train jerked to a halt and spewed garbled Hungarian, indicating the stop. Listening for something that resembled “Széchenyi Fürdő” (the Széchenyi baths), I was unsatisfied with what sounded like “shechosngoidgiu-do” and looked out into the station. Yes, this was it. I took a breath and stepped off the train, bravely, walking my plank.

Aerial view of the baths (source)

For 3,550 florints (or the equivalent of 10 euro…or the equivalent of $15 USD), I was handed a clothes hanger and a plastic watch-like apparatus that resembled one I may have gotten as a child. I marched into the changing rooms, prepared for the worst, but when I saw separate, private changing rooms, the waters of my fear receded a bit. Whew.

I placed my things in a locker and used the watch to lock it, by pressing it on and into a button on the locker. “Fancy,” I thought to myself. Things were already looking up.

I rejoined my friend, and we set off to find our other friends, located somewhere in the labyrinth of the baths.

to be continued