I love to experience something in a place that you can’t experience anywhere else. Or anywhere else that you know of.
In Hungary, it is the Szechenyi Baths in Budapest. A vast wonderland of pools ranging in temperatures from freezing cold to luxuriously warm, with a host of saunas and steam rooms.
The baths are set in a palatial trio of ornate and architecturally stunning buildings, dating from the 1800’s. Basically, you feel like you are with Louis XIV. When Gracie noticed all the ceiling paintings and high archways with cherubim, she said, “Looks like Louis has been here.”
When I say baths, I mean really big pools. Like swimming pool-sized pools, especially the pools outside.
Who is at the baths? Everyone. I heard German, French, Italian, Hungarian, Ukrainian, Russian and other languages I couldn’t figure out. And mostly adults, I saw only a couple of kids among the hundreds of grown-ups.
The largest people group: old Hungarian men. In speedos. Lounging. Floating. Playing chess in the water. Steaming in steam rooms. Me and the boys.
It is a bit alarming at first to step into a small sauna, take a look around through the puffs of ever-puffing steam, and realize it’s you and a bunch of old men. Sweating. But when in Rome…
Special health benefits accrue from particular pools, saunas or steam rooms. I loved the eucalyptus steam room. And couldn’t figure out the health benefit of the infrared sauna with changing colors – blue, then green, then blue. There’s the sulfur pool, which is supposed to do something for you, although I have no idea what it is. My kids said, “it kinda smells.”
No worries, because outside there is a big pool that is nice and warm, and in the middle it has a giant whirlpool. Think “lazy river” at Wild Waves, but without the inner tubes and a lot warmer.
Once, at the last minute, I tried to get out of going round and round in the whirlpool. I made a dash for the exit area and thought I could make it. No, I smashed into the low wall and had to go around another time.
Honestly, I could use an annual pass to this place. I was so relaxed I thought I might drown in the pools. Except whatever is in the pools makes you a little buoyant. And cures your “arthritis, overproduction of gastric acid, and disturbances of metabolism.”
Best part? Huge water features that spurt out hard streams of water. You can stand in front of a stream and get a nice massage — head, neck, upper shoulders.
What to wear? The smallest bathing suit you have. The general rule is the bigger you are, the smaller your bathing suit. I felt completely overdressed in a tankini top and skirt bottoms. Clearly I had too much of my body covered up. I looked like a medical patient compared to everyone else.
When it was time to go, Curtis said, “Why?” It’s the kind of place that you think, oh, an hour here will be fine. And after 2 hours you think, do I ever want to leave?
So when you come to Budapest, pack your speedo, and leave plenty of time to visit the Szechenyi baths.