Although no stranger to public pools, I had never been to public baths before. The phrases ‘taking the waters’ or ‘holidaying in a spa town’ have such a romantic and nostalgic ring to them, especially as they are so often followed by ‘frequented by royalty’. So, I simply couldn’t miss visiting the famous Széchenyi Baths in Budapest.
Despite being over 100 years old, these baths the youngest of the spas in the city. Budapest is blessed with many thermal springs – even the zoo has one, with many animals having their own thermal baths (and, apparently, a very high reproductive rate). On a glorious spring day I stood outside the belle epoch beauty. Even the entrance was a work of wonder.
Inside was all high ceilings and chandeliers. The change rooms were controlled by authoritarian attendants who roamed the corridor. One ushered me into a small change room, returning later to lock my clothes away. I shared my change room with half a dozen others - this was no place for false modesty.
And so, to the waters. Outside were two enormous baths (one at 30 degrees C, the other at 34) and a lap pool. Inside were another 15 or so, each catering to different needs. Being such a glorious day, I headed outside. Simply stepping in to the warm water felt relaxing. Compared to chlorinated pools of home, the water felt soothing. Steam rose around me, as I gently bobbed in the water. Soft bubbles in one spot rose from the floor in one spot to caress my feet.
Between them the two enormous spa pools had an incredible array of jets, all at different angles and pressures ensuring no part of the body was missed. Despite being crowded, there was room enough for all, and enough jets and fountains to share. Many simply relaxed in the sunshine. In one corner of the pool, two men sat playing chess.
I ventured into the lap pool - a word of warning, take a cap or else the attendant will blow his whistle and send you away - but afterwards back to ‘medicinal waters’. Despite spending all morning here floating, swimming, drifting in endless circles in a whirl pool, I didn’t turn into a prune and my hair didn’t turn green. Indeed, my skin felt incredibly soft, and my muscles so relaxed it bordered on ridiculous.
One day I will return in winter, and float in the waters as the steam rises around me to greet the falling snow.
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