Sunday morning arrived like a freight train full of angry cats. Finding a half eaten kebab on my night stand as I woke up fully clothed made me realise I was about to be struck by one almighty hangover, the promise of healing spa pools was to be the only thing to get me through today. My partner on the other hand, the picture of health and non-hangover wellness, excitedly tells me it’s time to check out and secure our luggage so we can get exploring. Given that our first stop today was 40 minutes outside of Budapest, not part of our Hop on Hop off Bus tour, and I was struggling to string a sensible sentence, we booked a taxi that our hotel were only too happy to help us with.
(Note to self, and anyone reading this: UNICUM is never a good idea, regardless of what the chatty Hungarian bar man will tell you the night before!)
SUNDAY IS MARKET DAY
Ecseri Flea Market is well worth a visit, with a vast selection of vendors, with some even selling Nazi and Soviet memorabilia among other artifacts from bygone eras ranging from textiles – including very traditional Hungarian woven linen, glassware, books and decorations, to gardening equipment and various military items including helmets, military first aid boxes, badges and even weapons. Many die hard antiques dealers turn up here at the crack of dawn, eager to get the best bargains, but even arriving in the late morning we still found plenty going on. This is a popular spot with tourists and locals alike and all the vendors speak enough English to haggle (which is a given in any traditional market setting). Stalls wind down in the early afternoon, and as they began to close we made our move back to the center of town and the grand Hungarian Houses of Parliament.
A LITTLE BIT OF POLITICS
Overlooking the Danube river, on the Pest side of Budapest, sits the Hungarian Houses of Parliament (the third largest parliament building in the world) is just over 100 years old and a classically beautiful example of Neo-Gothic architecture. Standing at a height of 96 meters, it is the same height as St Stephen’s Basillica and contains 691 rooms and 12.5 miles of stairs!
Despite its Neo-Gothic appearance, it also bears Renaissance and Barroque characteristics too. In the 1880’s, a competition was held to design the building, and construction, based on the winning plan, began in 1885. The building was officially inaugurated in 1896, the 1000th anniversary of the founding of Hungary and finally completed in 1902. It is faced by two equally grand buildings – the Museum of Ethnography and the Ministry of Agriculture – both based on the runner up plans for the parliament building.
The Parliament Building is based around a central tower above a large domed roof which, during the Communist era, bore a large red star. After the collapse of the Communist party the star was promptly removed.
The Hungarian Holy Crown held in the Houses of Parliament, after being lost and stolen numerous times, and then looked after by America when, after WWII they were given to the American Army for ‘safekeeping’ from the Soviet Union. Originally being returned to their rightful owner by US President Jimmy Carter in 1978.
BATHING IN MINERALS
With a little time to spare, it was now time to sooth our aching muscles with a trip to Szechenyi Baths. Situated on the Pest side of Budapest, the Szechenyi Baths Palace is actually the first purpose-built hot spring baths of Pest (the Buda side has its own Gellert Baths). In addition to these main two purpose-built baths, there are a further two dozen smaller ones and fed by some of teh 123 natural hot springs around the city.
Despite being originally created back in the 1870s, when the deep hot spring wells were drilled under Heroe’s Square by City Park, the baths officially celebrated their 100th birthday in 2013, as the Palace of Szechenyi Baths was built in 1909 and completed in 1913. The neo-Gothic neo-Renaissance styele of Szechenyi Palace houses the baths that are more popular with the locals than the more touristy Gellert baths.
Entering the baths was like a time warp, not just a result of the classic style of the building, but the bafflingly complex pricing list and entry procedure was reminiscent of the long-gone communist bureaucracy. As if getting past the entry gate wasn’t hard enough, once inside, the complex labyrinth of alleys and hallways with signs only in Hungarian led us to believe we had walked into a maze.
Once we had conquered the Hungarian maze, located the changing room and worked out how the lockers worked, it was time to dive in, literally. Heated to around 37 degrees Celsius (100 Fahrenheit to you Americans) and comprised of 18 different naturally heated pools, 15 of which are fed directly by hot spring, the Szechnyi Baths are vast and contain a variety of minerals. These include: Potassium, Magnesium and Fluoride among others. In addition to bathing in the pools (where the locals can be found, frequently playing chess), there is also a lane swimming pool an exercise pool and a drinking pool (no, not that kind of drinking).
There was also an intricate system of sauna and ice baths situated near the mineral enhanced and ‘drinking’ pools. You would bake yourself in the sauna for as long as you could physically (and mentally) manage, before running out and diving into the ice bath in the adjacent room. Any remnants of last nights’ hangover (of which there were many) evaporated as soon as I jumped into that ice bath. Now I was feeling equal to how Sam had felt all day, what a trip! I can’t wait to come back to this city of three cities!
Budapest, you did us proud!