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20060828_P_0094 diary pic
Colonnaded interior pool in the Gellért Baths
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Ornamental ceiling in the Gellért Baths
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Tram trundling across the Széchenyi Chain Bridge

Comfy bed, tasty breakfast, another lazy (great!) start. I uploaded a few more pictures and then we went out for another day of city sightseeing around Budapest. Our first stop was the parliament, but we were too late for the 10am tour and the queue was too long for the noon tour, so we left it, for now, and instead we went for an amble towards the centre of Pest. At the large Vértanúk tere, Martyr’s Square, we stopped to take a look at a curious statue on a little bridge of a former PM, reformist communist Imre Nagy. Behind this was the large open square surrounded by tall fin de siècle blocks occupied by banks and offices.

We strolled through the surrounding streets to arrive at the St. Stephens cathedral. We looked around inside and took the lift (!) up to the top of the dome, a two-stage process. This brought us to the top inside the dome, in the cavity between the outer layer – we were surprised to find it was made out of wood – and the stone inner layer. We walked out and around the top of the dome, which made me feel a little vertiginous, as usual, and Ness of course loving it. From here we had great views over the city. We met an elderly Australian couple now living in Vancouver and talked about our problems getting Morty sold (yes – he was still at True North).

From here we ambled on, towards the river, where we had lunch, tasty goulash and “gnocchi”, at one of the cafés. These, along the promenade, were rather more elegant than the usual tourist jobs. Between the promenade and the riverfront was a busy road, out of view below us, and the more picturesque tram tracks running alongside at the same level as the promenade. From here we continued to follow the LP walk, not a tour, just taking us past some main sights. We walked up a busy pedestrian street full of shops, mostly aimed at tourists, and this brought us out by another one of Budapest’s beautiful bridges.

On this side of the river, Pest, we first took a look in the market hall, a large station-sized hall in the manner of London Victoria. Inside it there were plenty of market stalls, some with colourful fresh fruit and veggies, big melons, others aimed more at tourists than locals with strings of dried red chillies (paprikas) and garlic all over the stall’s front, and selling the famous Hungarian schnapps, Zwack Unicum. There were still some remnants of a genuine market activity though. We crossed the Szabadsághíd, the Independence Bridge, and headed for the Gellért fürdő (baths), located behind the once-grand Gellért hotel. These baths, accessed through an entrance on the side of the hotel (there’s a separate one for hotel guests no doubt), were much less folksy than the Széchenyi.

The baths were a large complex of open-air pools and indoor thermal baths. The entrance hall was in grand Art Nouveau style, and beyond it was a warren of corridors and rooms. We navigated the system, from a private changing room where we could leave our stuff, and then into the indoor pool and separate semi-circular warm pool. There were a quite a few people but it wasn’t crowded, and it we just enjoyed swimming up and down, the length of the indoor pool, and soaking in the warm pool. Oh, before going in we had been able to wander round a bit to take pictures. The thermal baths were divided into separate sections for men and women and we split up to visit our respective sides. Suddenly it was like entering a Turkish or Roman bath atmosphere. There was an ornate tiled hall with two warm pools - 36° and 38° respectively – with a statue of angels with pouring amphorae as a fountain you could sit under. The locals were going about with a loincloth, a mini-apron, and the tourists were wearing swimsuits.

On either side of the hall there were further chambers: a three-stage sauna, a steam room – in which I could only manage a couple of minutes as it was so incredibly hot – and a cold pool – aah, super – and various other kinds of showers and rooms. Massages required a separate ticket, which I didn’t go for. We met up again a bit later in the semi-circular pool. Ness had not tried the steam room and sauna on her side. First we went outside to try the outside pools. There was a bubbling bath on the side, and a main central pool which turned out to be a wave pool. We had timed it just right as they only switched on the wave generator at certain times. It instantly transformed everyone into kids, playing and jumping and riding the waves. Great fun! Ness then headed back into the thermal baths to find the bits she had missed earlier, and I went to get our wallets from the changing room and bought a couple of beers and two cheesy pastries and scoffed both (I had intended to keep one for Ness), sat on a lounger outside, waiting for Ness to come back.

There was the customary group of Swedish men knocking back the cans of beer. We had had a great couple of hours chilling and bathing in great surroundings, and can definitely recommend it! We crossed back to Pest, across the Independence Bridge and took the tram along the riverbank up to our neck of the woods, not bothering to get a ticket as we weren’t sure where to get one. We headed for the self-service Turkish restaurant we had seen yesterday, on our way to Firkasz, figuring it might be the sort of place Budapestians would head for, and yes, it was busy with locals, young and studenty as well as office workers, but the nosh was rather disappointing – Ness had a rather better choice than my slivers of kebab meat on a bed of bread. Still, it was food, quick and cheap. Back to our hotel and Ness curled up in bed (“B, B and B”) while I spent time on the laptop, taking care of more pictures. An excellent day in Budapest.