By continuing your visit to this site, you accept the use of cookies. These ensure the smooth running of our services. Learn more.

rudas baths

  • Budapest

    [archive post] Got back from Budapest, would you believe, on Sunday night. Five of us had an altogether enjoyable time. The itinerary included candlelit meals in a lakeside restaurant, Wagner opera for L1.50, and two hours in an astonishing 400 year old Turkish bath - wearing nothing but a pseudo masonic apron which partly covered the privates but left the hindquarters quite exposed.

    It's nowhere near as picturesque as Prague, but somehow more real. The people friendlier. The National Gallery is on Heroes' Square where we saw some fine Spanish paintings. Decorated Art Nouveau buildings characterise the city in a style they are pleased to call "Eclectic" which seems to mean pretty well anything the architect took a fancy to could be incorporated into the building.

    The Rudas baths is at the foot of Gellert hill, close by the statue of 'the popular queen' Queen Mary. Time Out said it was the loveliest, the most ancient, and had the cleanest water. It's quite gloomy inside: tiny star shaped windows in the domed roof send light streaming down on to the pool of hot spa water below. Five smaller pools cluster round the central one, containing water of varying temperatures. Water pours everywhere: from carved spouts into the pool and from great rusted taps. The room is filled with a great hub-ubb of conversation. Young bodies and old bodies cluster round the edge of the pools, disappearing from time to time into the steam room or the saunas which vary in temperature from hot to oven roasting. I chatted to a fellow who turned out to be assistant to the cultural attaché at a certain French speaking embassy. It was a curious feeling: we spoke in French about music. Suddenly (as his foot stroked mine) he asked me back to his house. Perhaps it would have been a kind of adventure. But I said no. In a side room off the main spa pool aimable masseurs pummel their victims off-handedly. I lay on a foam mat on a sloping aluminium table (much like the ones you see in dissecting rooms) and relaxed utterly.

    With minutes to spare we dashed over Elizabeth bridge into the town for the Valkyrie. The opera house is gliterry and magnificent - we were high up 'in the gods' on the third balcony. My first experience of Wagner, the company was under-rehearsed there were some stunning moments. Wherever we went not having much German - which is the main language apart from Magyar - was a bit of problem. From the sublime to the ridiculous - we were so starved after the opera we went into Macdonalds on Moscow Square (even M&S and Tescos are there now). I meant to order 2 No. 5s but somehow ended up with a tray of 5 No. 2s (if you see what I mean)... Also went to an enjoyable Mozart concert at the elaborate green and silver-gold art nouveau music academy. More French chat as a lady befriended me and pointed out her dashing son and his girlfriend.

    More than once we and ate far more scrumptiously gooey cream cakes than was good for us. We trekked out to a one-time monastery where they had an astonishing collection of 19th century printing equipment which I attempted to demonstrate, much to the consternation of the guard. The museum also houses a bizarre collection of womens underwear through the 20th century which would have had the building's former inhabitants in quite a tizz. And there are baboushkas still in Hungary - mostly in the museums, homely bodies in woollen stockings waiting to pounce if you so much as breathe over their precious glass cases.

    On the last day I left the others to a cable car ride in the Buda Hills to bathe at the Gellert Hotel In its heyday this magnificent place was popular with European high society. My valuables were locked in a safe deposit box and an elaborate ritual with keys locked up my clothes but my (hired) swimming costume was stolen when I spent some time in the spa. An ancient gentleman made a pass at me in the steam room, waving at me in the strange two-handed Hungarian way...

    We wandered round the Lechner's museum of applied art - a dazzling white moorish temple to Hungarian 19th century taste. At a quarter to five we realised we were due back at the hotel for the 7.30 flight home. William and Peter were fuming more or less aimably in the minibus outside. By 10.30 we were home, me clutching cherry brandy chocolates and Hungarian merlot, with a stash of memories of a busy but hugely enjoyable few days.