We left Vienna and commenced the drive to Budapest. Our driver would stop in Bratislava and Pannonhalma Arch Abbey on the way.
Budapest is the capital and the largest city in Hungary. With a population of 3.3 million in the broader area, this is not going to be a quaint European town but the historic center were we stayed certainly has charm. The city has the Danube River run through it and is a designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The monuments are many and include the Hungarian Parliament, Buda Castle, Fisherman's Bastion, Gresham Palace and the Széchenyi Chain Bridge to name a few.
Known as the "Little Paris of Middle Europe", the city reflects 1,000 years of history. There are actually two cities: Pest side on one side and is noted with the the largest parliament building in Europe, riverside promenades, flea markets, bookstores, antique stores and café houses. Buda sits on the other side and has the famous Buda Castle.
As we did our research, it became evident this is a city of many thermal baths. I did decide I could not be in Budapest without visiting one of the large baths. Since I knew how to get there, Metro Line 1, I went to the Széchenyi Thermal Baths - the largest in Europe with three outdoor and fifteen indoor pools.
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I bought packs of Metro tickets so it was easy to take a tram or the metro to various areas of the city. With the excellent tram network, it was a very easy city to get around. I particularly liked Tram #2 which runs from the Margaret Bridge, along the river by the Parliament buildings, near our apartment, and then down to the Grand Market. I did ride it out to the end of the line, but there was little to see at the end of the line.
We were impressed with the architecture, however, much had been destroyed during World War II, In fact, all the bridges were destroyed by the Germans, although the stone lions that decorate the Chain Bridge survived. What became apparent as we learned more was how relatively recent some of the major rebuilding was.
In 1949 Hungary was declared a communist People's Republic. The new Communist government considered the buildings like the Buda Castle symbols of the former regime, and during the 1950s the palace was gutted and all the interiors were destroyed. The Hungarian Revolution occurred in 1956. Soviet military occupation only ended in 1991. After than time there was steady rebuilding.
We had read up on the Budapest Baths, the large, ornate, pools and thermal baths. There are a number in the city. We had had reports from previous travels that the water is not clean, but I do not think that is the case. The water to the medicinal pools is freed by thermal springs, with lots of minerals... that is what makes them medicinal.
I went to the Széchenyi Baths, which opened in 1913, because they were the largest, and also there were located in City Park, and it was an easy metro ride to get to the baths. Well before we left Budapest everyone found an excuse not to go, so off I went.
Lots of warning notices to wear a bathing suit. At one time there were separate men and women steam bath and bath sections, but in 1982 the baths became mixed. There are three outdoor pools and fifteen indoor pools.
The Széchenyi Baths are fed by two thermal springs, and the temperature of the water is 74 (C) and 77 (C) respectively. The waters include sulphate, calcium, magnesium bicardonate and fluorite. I sat in a couple of the medicinal baths but it just seemed like warm water, and I did not have enough time for a 30 minute soak in each.
It is a process to get in. You buy your ticket and then get a plastic medallion to wear on a wrist strap. Then you find the locker rooms on the lower floors. You make a deposit for the towel and then head down the hall way looking for one of the bays. There are numerous bays of lockers, each holding 60 or so lockers. You change and wait. Then the locker attendant arrives. At that moment all thirty or so people all try to get his attention. It is very confusing, but he eventually opens a locker, you put your clothes in it. There is a number inside the locker. You are told the memorize it. He writes another number on a chalk board and then closes and locks the door. That's it. No keys to lose. Just a number of the locker and the number to remember that is inside.
When you leave it is a repeat. You try to find your bay, they all look alike. You wait for the locker guy to arrive. Then you, and everyone else tries to get his attention. You point to your locker, he opens the door and asks you for the number that is inside. If you are right, he leaves and you remove your clothes.