Everyone who goes to Budapest tells you that you have to experience the baths. However, there are so many that it is difficult to choose. Also, many seem to have separate pools (and even separate days) for men and women. Neither of us can see any point in going there on our own.
So I ask the lady at our hotel to recommend one that is mixed. She suggests Gelert built in 1918, which introduced mixed bathing at the beginning of 2013 which explains the contradicting reviews on Trip Advisor! I check out the Gelert website and learn that we can have a locker or a private cubicle. We can also have a tub bath for two for 63 euro or a chocolate spa (???) for 40 euro.
We manage to find parking in the street behind the baths, which has parking meters. We have enough coins for two hours. A man walks past and explains in English that our car is parked in the wrong direction and we could get fined. In Paris, all that matters is having a ticket!
We opt for a private cubicle for two for a total of 10,200 forints (about 34 euro) which is already quite expensive. We’re given a plastic watch each and told to go to the second gate on the right. There our watches which contain an electronic chip are scanned and we go through a turnstile.
We follow a very long and winding corridor up and down stairs until we find ourselves in an area with private changing cubicles. A lady takes my watch and holds it up in front of a cubicle identifier and tells me it’s number 134.
The cubicles are actually very small but I’m reassured to see there is wire-netting above and I can leave my valuables there without having to worry about theft. We have to leave by separate doors but join up again outside.
There is a large pool in the middle at 26°C and a smaller one on the far side at 36°C. The air temperature has dropped to about 21°C and the sky is now overcast. The pool is lovely and warm. A group of American teenage girls decide to try out the very cold tub next to us. Just watching them is dissuasive. The Hungarians remain stoic.
After a while, we get out and go to the larger pool. It’s feels very cold compared to the 36° and we have to swim to keep warm. We’ve soon had enough and think it’s time to go. I’m convinced the same pools must exist inside so we go searching.
And they do. A few more corridors take us to the main inside pool. This time, I wear goggles and cap so I can swim properly. I do the first length and start swimming back again. There is pratically no one in the pool. Someone grabs my arm. I eventually realise what the man is trying to tell me. You won’t believe this but the direction in which you are supposed to swim is AROUND the pool and not up and down!
There is a smaller 36° pool so we try that for a while then get out. We can’t find the showers so we go back to our cubicle and get dressed. We make it back to the car just in time.
Great big fat raindrops start falling and don’t stop for about another hour by which time we are back in our hotel, having stopped off on the way at Auchan (one of France’s most popular hypermarkets!) to buy some tokai wine, cheese, tomatoes and bread for dinner.
However, I have to say that I much preferred the wonderful spa experience we had, quite by accident, in Switzerland a couple of years ago near Lake Constance. There were ten or so baths at different temperatures with lots of whirlpools and even one with rapids. We felt really great when we finally got out.