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

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The Time that Didn’t Fly in Vienna

 

We were giddy with excitement. There was just a half hour to go until noon, when the Ankeruhr (Anchor Clock) was set to reveal all 12 of its Viennese personalities, complete with music to match. We were still in Stephensplatz, in the heart of old town Vienna, so with a twist and turn of the map to face the correct direction, we were off to find Hoher Markt.

Unsure of what it would look like, I was slightly taken aback to see it hidden between two buildings (on what I would later learn was a bridge that connected the two) and smack dab in the middle of a construction site.

 

I pleasantly cropped out the construction site for you; you're welcome.

 

I thought it was cool that the hour was displayed on the top of the figure’s head, in Roman numerals, and an arrow at the top of the numeral indicated the minute, which moved as the figure crossed from one side of the clock to the other during the hour.

 

Checking my watch, I saw that it had taken us a whopping 5 minutes to reach the clock. Seems we were there slightly early (a trait inherited from my father; the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree). Surveying the area, I saw a group of people standing with their backs against an adjacent building. Where they there to see the clock “show?”

Sunglasses – check. DLSR cameras – check. Backpacks – check.

Tourists it is.

We dutifully took our places next to them, giving each other silent high fives for our luck in staking out a prime location. Just as we were setting our cameras to the “continuous picture” mode, I looked up in horror to see a large construction crane swinging metal right in front of the clock.

“No, please, no!” I breathlessly whispered, “They couldn’t have done this an hour ago?”

The rest of the waiting crowd shared my sentiment, as the consternation jumped from group to group and swelled as the time ticked closer and closer. Waiting seemed doubly tedious with the stares and annoyed glances from the Viennese, eager to get on with their day and away from the tourists.

I  glanced at my watch: 11:59. 

“This thing better get a-moving. Any minute now…” Just then, in the nick of time, the crane delivered its load and backed away, leaving us tourists to breathe a sigh of relief.

The digital flash of light on my watch showed 12:00. We collectively leaned forward, cameras at the ready, waiting.

This was the time when you could have heard a pin drop, had there not been a cacophony of construction and traffic noises.

 

12:00:30. Nothing.

12:01. Nothing.

12:03. Nothing.

I was beginning to doubt whether I had gotten the time right. “It was 12, right? Not 1? Maybe they only do shows in the summer?”

12:04.

“Oh gee, this is going to be very disappointing if nothing happens,” I thought with such drama reserved for job offers or other such important things.

12:05.

Creeeeeeeak.

Bing.

Bing.

Bing.

And 5 minutes after 12:00, the show began. (Evidently this apple fell very, very far from the tree) The mood in the air was such that a chorus of applause could have rang out at any second, but we were too busy focusing our cameras.

 

 

Thanks to my settings, my camera was happily snapping continuous pictures in rapid succession, only the clock wasn’t moving so rapidly. Had the figures been whipping across the clock at the speed of a pitched baseball, the pictures would have turned out great. (I had assumed it to move a little faster than literally a snail’s pace, but you know what they say when you assume…) When I realized I was taking 50 pictures of the same figure, I turned off continuous mode in defeat and accepted my fate of manual mode.

 

12:00 - Joseph Haydn

 

1:00 - Marcus Aurelius

 

2:00 - Charlemagne

 

3:00 - Leopold VI and his wife, Theodora, Princess of Byzantium

 

4:00 - Walther von der Vogelweide, Medieval poet

 

The first five figures were great: different music for each, shiny costumes, the excitement of what the next character would be. But after the first five, things began to get a little old. It was more of, “I’ll wait till the figure is in the middle of the clock, snap a picture, then wait a full minute for the next figure.”  (prepare yourself for a slew of pictures)

 

5:00 - King Rudolf von Habsburg

 

6:00 - Meister Hans Puchsbaum, architect of the Viennese cathedral, Stephansdom

 

7:00 - Emperor Maximilian I

 

8:00 - Mayor Johann Andreas von Liebenberg

 

9:00 - Graf Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg, war general in the 1680s

 

10:00 - Prince Eugene of Savoy

 

11:00 - Empress Maria Theresa and her husband, Emperor Francis I of Lorraine

 

After a quarter of an hour, the 12:00 and 1:00 figures appeared on either side of clock, resuming their positions as the clock went silent. Though I was happy to have “crossed it off” my list, I was more happy to get the heck out of there.

After all, we had a Sachertorte waiting for us…

 

What’s one unexpected thing that’s happened to you on while traveling?