As I prepare for my last day in Budapest, I am beginning to feel the pangs of bittersweet parting. Slowly Budapest has beguiled me. This is a modern city, bustling with people and traffic and trams. The main streets were built during the later years of the Hapsburg Empire, so they are wide and imperial, lined with grandiose buildings that make the average citizen feel insignificant. A city with a mishmash of architecture around every corner, and a new discovery lying in wait.
One of those discoveries was a bar recommended by one of the Hungarians running the hostel. Szimpla is a “ruin bar”, in which a bar or club sets up in an abandoned building. They are all over Budapest. Supposedly they are secrets that only people in the know can find, but Szimpla looks rather established, with a sign outside. Inside was a mishmash of decor made out of creative materials (like a sculpture made out of chairs or a couch made out of a bathtub sawed in half), and mismatched furniture. The atmosphere was rather cozy for an abandoned building and a great place for conversation. The beer was relatively cheap and good; one glass here equals two in the States and cost roughly US$2.00.
A group of us visited another bar in a similar vein in the rooftop of a worn-out shopping mall. The inside was rather industrial, and gave off a creepy horror movie vibe, with bright red and orange industrial lights illuminating the rooms in bizarre ways. We stayed on the roof, joining the locals as they cheered on the Hungarian soccer team in a championship game against Lyon, France. Sad to report, Lyon trounced Debrecnec 4-0. Unlike in the US, where the fans will start leaving in the 3rd quarter if their team is losing, the Hungarian fans stayed to the bitter end, waving their flags and cheering. The game was taking place in the national stadium just 10 blocks from where we were, so police were out in riot gear as a precaution.
Along with the local nightlife and soccer scene, I experienced another side to Hungarian culture – the Turkish bath. Part of the influence of Ottoman rule in the Middle Ages, Hungarians love to soak the day away in the local baths. There are public baths all over the city. I visited a famous one called Szechenyi. The building itself is magnificent – grand imperial Hapsburg architecture again. Fountains, sculpture, and arcades everywhere. A luxurious setting for the locals to relax and catch up with friends. The baths are NOT a giant bathtub; they are more like a public swimming pool on steroids. Inside are a number of various mineral baths of different temperatures, and there are also spa services available, such as massages. I skipped these potential delights for the three outdoor pools. The pools are different temperatures: a cool lap pool, a warmer pool with fun features like a current-driven whirlpool, and a very warm pool where the majority of locals were soaking. A place to chat with friends and people-watch. There are even men soaking in the pools playing chess! (And looking very serious about it.) I spent almost two hours here, and it was just what my fibro body needed. When I left, my feet and back were no longer in pain, the fatigue was gone, and I was rejuvenated the local Hungarian way!