Our main reason for coming back to Budapest was to do the things we ran out of time to do last time. The main one was a trip to the thermal spas. The one we opted for was the Szechenyi Baths which are in the Varosliget park. When you read reviews on various websites there are mixed reviews. We can see why.
The Baths themselves date back to 1913 and consist of 15 indoor pools, 3 outdoor pools and 10 saunas and steam rooms. The water has a high mineral content and is naturally heated (like the waters at Bath) and so is meant to be good for you. The pools range from a scalding 40 degrees down to a freezing 18 degrees. The idea is that you pop in and out of them going from hot to cold (if you are brave). To be honest, at home we have the same set up where Karen runs the bath (at 40 degrees) and once it has cooled down to 36-38 degrees, I pop in and soak in it until it goes cold and reaches 18 degrees. You don’t need 15 baths for that, just one will do!
The set up is a bit strange with a juxtaposition of the modern (RFID wristbands which allow you access to lockers, changing rooms and any treatments you have), the old (the building looks pretty much as it was when it was built a hundred years ago) and the archaic (It’s only a couple of pounds to hire a towel but you have to pay a ten pound deposit on the towel, in cash and only in the local currency). Still, if you are happy to go with the flow, you can have a great day.
What is nice about the place is that all shapes, sizes and ages of people go there. When we did something similar in Bath the vast majority of people where either there as couples, or girls’ days out. (There were also what looked like 4 Japanese men who I assumed were in town on business and decided to pop in to see what all the fuss was about. They stood out like a sore thumb). Here it is very different. Families, couples, grandparents with the grandchildren, girls’ days out and even stag do’s (yep, you heard me right, stag do’s).
The first (more sedate) stag do was from Britain (we think Essex to be precise). We were soaking in a very pleasant 36 degree pool when 4 of them came in. Around the octagonal pool were saunas and steam rooms, each graded by how hot they were (so 40-50, 50-60, 60-70 degrees). You could immediately see that “Vindaloo on a Saturday night” mentality kicked in and suddenly it was a case of let’s go for the hottest. They didn’t last long. We on the other hand went for the Korma option and went for the 40-50 degree room. We didn’t last long. When you breathed in your nasal passage and lungs were scorched with red hot heat. There was a sign outside warning users not to stay in the room for longer than 10 minutes. We lasted approximately 45 seconds.
We had also booked massages. After a bit of confusion walking about we eventually found where we were booked in for a 30 minute relaxing aroma massage. Now when I normally have a massage I have it at the Penthouse Salon in Ormskirk where the lovely Fiona de-knots my shoulders. It’s usually in a quiet room (except when the trains go past) with a bit of soothing music, scented candles and a heated table. These massage rooms were like the sort of cubicles where you are seen to in A&E….in the 1960’s…in Soviet Russia. No lovely soft towels to keep you warm. A very large tea towel was placed on the bed and then you straight on it. If Ryanair did massages, this would be how they would do them.
There were 2 masseurs; a pretty lady and a scary man. I guessed how this was going to play out. My masseur was called Nagy. He was probably in his late fifties, was wearing white shorts, a white vest (not a singlet, a proper “keep you warm in the winter”vest) and white crocs (or the Hungarian equivalent). He was bald but with a full moustache (and it wasn’t even Movember) and wearing tinted glasses. Nagy looked like he had fought in a war. I’m not sure which war, but he looked like he could kill a man with his bare hands. I was about to let him use his bare hands on me.
I lay on the table and he asked if I had any problem areas. I said my shoulders and he added “and your lower back and neck”. Well, yeah, I suppose so. With this information he set to work…on my calfs. I’ll say one thing for Nagy, he was fast. When we arrived they had tried to sell us the 1 hour massage instead of the 30 minute massage. I’m not sure if the half hour massage is just the hour long massage done at double speed, but boy he got into those knots fast.
He moved from my calves to my ankles and then my feet (as they are all connected, as any connoisseur of songs of the Deep South will understand). Now I am to say the least ticklish. Nikki, my sister, learnt from a very early age that the best way to get me to agree to anything was simply to sit on me and tickle me into submission. So when Nagy got to my feet I was nearly biting the table not trying to laugh. 30 seconds later I was biting the table in pain. He performed what I can only consider to be a micro-reflexology session on my feet. When Fiona does it, she gently caresses my feet and massages sweet smelling oil into them. When Nagy did it I recoiled on the bed at least six times as I felt the balls of my feet crunch as he massaged them. When my toe actually cracked he did say “sorry” and then continued.
He moved onto my back and shoulders. Oh joy. He pulled my trunks down a bit (don’t worry reader, this is perfectly normal. Fiona does the the same. I wear very high waisted trunks/underpants. I model myself on Simon Cowell. However Fiona tucks a towel into them. Nagya just let my bum hang out). Like a heat seeking missile he found the knot in my shoulders. I tried to relax but the more he worked on them, the more I found myself becoming like Clive James as my shoulders moved up to my ears and my neck compressed into my body (Google Clive James, kids. I could say Sandi Toksvig, but that’s a bit of a Radio 4 reference).
Once the neck and back were completed that just left one thing. My bum was hanging out of my trunks anyway and a few seconds later I felt Nagay’s elbow driving into my right buttock (again, don’t worry reader, this is a completely normal way to release any tension in the glutimis maximus (bum cheek). I think bums are out of range for most masseurs in the UK, Fiona will be glad to hear). Cheeks released, he pulled up my trunks and asked me to sit up and face the door. I obeyed (for fear of my life) and he then twisted my arms behind me. Finally, his piece de resitance. “Relax your neck”. I would do if you didn’t have hold of my head. Wobble, wobble, wobble…crack!. Then the same on the other side. With that, I was free to go. It may have seen a bit like torture at the time, but I do feel a lot better..for the moment. How I will feel in the morning is another matter.
I met up with Karen again (who seemed to have had an altogether “blander” experience) and we did a few more pools (including a Hungarian stag party and a blow up doll in a bikini. I haven’t got time to tell you about it here. Give me a drink when I get back and I’ll regale you with it then).
After nearly 5 hours in the pools we headed home. Interestingly enough people appeared to be giving us plenty of room on the metro. It may have something to do with the faint whiff of mushy peas and baking soda which the water had left us with.
Today’s cake was kiraly szelet. It was almost like a trifle in a sliced cake form and had sponge, jam, fruit, custard and cream in it. I’m afraid I couldn’t find a recipe online, so I suggest that you just buy a box of Birds dream topping and improvise!