Monday, 3 January 2011

Budapest's Széchenyi Baths

Trudging through snow while wearing swimmers is one thing; trudging through snow wearing swimmers and no shoes is quite another.

I'd been given slippers at the hotel, along with a towel and soap, along with the warning that they "tend to get slippery in the snow". That turned out to be true, and I'd given up trying to stay upright.

We were at Budapest's famous Széchenyi Baths, the largest complex in the city and located within the City Park. It's a massive complex with a huge outdoor pool. Tourists usually head to the Gellert Baths but the concierge promised that the Széchenyi experience was something special. And he was not wrong: the outside temperature hovered around -5ºC while the water was between 36ºC and 38º. This meant that there were vast plumes of steam rising up from the water, making it hard to see beyond the perimeter.

Lobby area

After changing in one of the dozens of small booths inside, we held our breaths and dived outside, found a small patch of stone bench not covered in snow to dump our towels, and jumped in. It was scalding below neck, and freezing above (and even snowed lightly throughout). It sounds awful but it was fantastic, exhilarating, refreshing and warmed you up from the inside all at once. Plus, you're surrounded by an ornate, neo-Gothic 1920-era building (housing 14 more smaller pools), there is a bunch of men nearby playing chess, there are lovers taking advantage of the steam cloak to get amorous and the occasional screeching tourist to laugh at as they poke their bare feet through the snow or slipped over in their hotel slippers.