Saturday, November 22, 2014

A soak in the famous Gellert baths and a visit to the opera house


The next morning we walked across the nearest bridge to our hotel to visit the Gellert Baths in Buda. The complex was built between 1912 and 1928 in an elaborate Art Deco style. Budapest sits atop many hot springs so there are lots of baths in the city. The GellĂ©rt Baths complex includes thermal baths where the temperature of the water is between 35 °C and 40 °C.The thermal baths are decorated beautifully with mosaic tiles. We started our day in the swimming pool lined with columns. The pool was fairly busy with everyone swimming the most sedate breastroke I have ever seen. They were going around in a loop on the outside of the pool leaving a space in the centre. I did swim a few lengths in this space being ever mindful that I could hit someone in the middle of their somnolent loop. Finally, I gave up and enjoyed sitting in the thermal pool at one end of the baths.

Next we decided to go to an outdoor pool. We found that the wave pool and another pool were closed in the winter but after running around in our bathing suits in the freezing cold we found another hot spring pool. It was lovely, especially since it was outside. From here I climbed a few steps and eased myself into a barrel filled with extremely cold water. I had a really lovely tingling feeling when I got out but quickly raced to the nearby sauna. After another barrel experience it was time to find the old thermal pools.

The Gellert Baths were originally separated for ladies and men. From January 2013, all the pools were mixed, so people can enjoy every section together, although it still has the two different parts. We ended up in the men's thermal pools starting in the 40-degree pool and moving to the 36-degree pool. It was lovely enjoying the heat and admiring the beautiful Art Deco green tiles. We did take a peek in the ladies' section with the same pools. It was a little austere but apparently it had been bombed and after the war there wasn't the money to repair it to its original condition. A sauna, steam bath and another cold plunge and we were finished.

It was a lovely experience to visit these baths. If we had wanted to make a day of it we could have opted for massages, facials and everything else that a spa offers. I was quite content with our visit.

After a quick lunch in the market — cabbage roll accompanied by gypsy violins — we took the subway to the Opera House to see the splendorous home of the Hungarian State Opera. Built in the 1880s, when Budapest was co-capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Hungarians took every opportunity to make their opera house more opulent than anything the Viennese could muster. The building was magnificent with everything covered in gold leaf. We visited some of the royal boxes and apartments, where the royals entertained. In one of the rehearsal halls we were fortunate enough to watch a chamber group rehearsing.

At the end of the tour we returned to one of the bars with a very high ceiling and ornate decorations. Behind some thick velvet curtains was a room that resembled a wide corridor with seating all along it. This was the smoking area and also the area where secret assignations were made. Then we were treated to a female opera singer singing from Madame Butterfly and a second song, a waltz, during which she picked a man from the audience to dance with her. He got right into the spirit of the song and it was a bit of fun.

Our afternoon ended in a coffee house across from the opera. Budapest is filled with these beautiful rooms, all with high ceilings and ornate decorations, where you sit in very plush chairs, to drink your coffee. Of course the whole experience wouldn't be genuine if you didn't have a pastry with your espresso, a raspberry tart and some apple strudel. Lovely.


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