The old Turkish bath

Yesterday afternoon Zsolt and I continued our exploration of the Hungarian bathes. Yes, we’re still in Budapest (Erd) and haven’t returned to Pecs . . . the plan after his graduation was in fact to just go home and get to work in Pecs (sorting immigration stuff, getting paperwork in order, doctor appointment arrangements, going for ice cream, drinking tea, etc) but instead we were lured by the promise of a spa-filled weekend to stay on at his sister’s a little longer. So essentially I’m computer-less and sketch pad-less, meaning this post will be short because I’m on borrowed time with a borrowed computer – and Zsolt’s fingers are itching to get back and check the latest sport news. By the by, Hungary won and gold medal for some kind of swimming race at the world championship. Thumbs up for Hungary.

So, yesterday afternoon we rode the bus, then the tram into Budapest and walked along the Danube toward Rudas, an old Turkish bath erected (1550) during the era of Turkish occupation in Hungary. Hungary’s past is filled with troubles, the Turks being one of them . . . but I’ve got to say, the introduction of these hot-water baths was certainly a GOOD thing for the country. All the wars and deaths and strife: very, very bad. Hot water to float in: good.

We’re walking along the Danube toward this decrepit building that I had assumed was abandoned. The windows were blackened with dirt, panels of glass broken away, and the exterior walls had many crumbled patches. This was, in my mind, another instance of beautiful architecture neglected. Budapest is stuffed full of beautiful architecture, but unless you’re talking ‘city center’ it’s almost guaranteed the striking buildings and boulevards are in desperate need of paint.

Anyhow, we arrive at what I’d assume was an abandoned building until Zsolt says: “This is it,” and we head through some grimy glass doors into what I’d describe as the entrance to an old movie house . . . bad rug, ticket tellers, a waist-height gate guarded by a teenage girl looking at her nails, pop music blasting from the snack bar. Not so charming. Not so spa-like.

But hey, apparences can be deceiving, and we’ve seen pictures of the interior – so with hope and curiosity, two bath tickets were purchased.

And in we went.

Whew. Beautiful. Creepy. Beautiful. It’s like you’ve suddenly transported in time and come back to a place, long long ago, when rooms were built not for purpose but for impact – and it was believed (much like old churches) that the aesthetics of a room can create spiritual awakening. Walking into the dark, humid bathing room (unlike other spas, this place is centred around only one room – and not too large either, just enough for maybe sixty people to comfortably mill) there is a round pool in the centre with posts all around, and above the pool is a dark dome with holes along it’s ceiling coloured with stain glass. Sunlight shines through these holes, and depending on where you stand, beams of light and colour shine into the bath like rays through a cloud. Quite impressive. And around the large bath, one for each corner of this square room, are smaller pools ranging from 28, 30, 33, and 40 degrees in temperature. Plus the steam and sauna.

So, in this dark space with colourful beams of light, we dipped in and out of the water, making circuits. I’d say it’s a cozy little bath, and far better than I’d expected based on first impressions. The only missing element – something I so miss from the Nordic in Canada – is silence. Without the acoustic damper of open sky, everyone’s voice bounces and resonates around the bathing room . . . the only escape from the voices is to either arrive really early, or stick your head under the water (not advisable in a 40 degree bath!).

But regardless it was lovely and we had a wonderful time. Today we’re going to some place called Gellert. I again have little idea what to expect. But hopefully it will involve more floating. Life is better when floating. 

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