Water way to go

Ann Donald takes a dip in the bath houses of Budapest.

The chill winter winds may dampen your ardour for the ‘Pearl of the Danube’, but secreted beneath the mayhem of museums, galleries and boulevards there lies the preserved and magical world of the Turkish bath house. Despite Budapest’s drastic Westernisation over the last three years, the baths remain a sanctuary of stability; the population continuing to seek refuge and relaxation within their watery depths as it has done for 2000 years.

Fact fans may note that 70 million litres of mineral waters tumble daily from the Buda hills at temperatures of up to 70 degrees centigrade. The custom of bathing has enjoyed mixed fortunes over the years, declining with the Roman Empire, then reviving and becoming an integral part of life when the Muslim religion of the invading Turks made bathing


obligatory before prayer— five times 3

a day. Though perhaps not showing the same enthusiasm as previous

; conquerors, I held with the premise = of ‘when in Rome . . .’ and ventured forth to the Kiraly baths on one of its

single-sex days.

Before immersing yourself in the steamy heaven, you have to overcome two barriers: the first being the head-to-toe crimson curtain which envelops you at the entrance, the second being how to

- i decipher the available treatments

written in golden Hungarian

hieroglyphics. However, the magic word gyogyffirdo and one finger pointed aloft should communicate to the sullen cashier that one person would like to wallow in a Turkish bath for an unlimited amount of time. Directed upstairs, the initiate is handed a flimsy white butcher’s apron by a strapping attendant who then escorts him or her to the wired overhead cubicle and chalks a mysterious sign on the tiny blackboard outside.

Not being aufait with the etiquette of bathing, I had come armed with a swimsuit, but a glance at the fleeting naked forms outside indicated that I could dispense with my Speedo Red Flash. We were clearly talking au nature]. Trying to exude an air of nonchalance while clad in such stupid attire is a hopeless task, so once in the shower area, it’s off with the apron and on with that

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CZECHOSLOVAKIA ' KRAINE r I" Q\ I” ,6 me amuse s THE ~onTHER~/ o BEND UPLANRS ,’ ' \"_ ”” ABUDAPEST a”’ ’{ gl‘gsaé‘kfigg': I,’ } THE GREAT PLAIN l ,I t \ v” \ TRANSDANUBIA Q | V o 0“ 90 t G " r I 4 9 too km 8 E R B I A

hey-I’m-completely-at-home-with- my-own-nudity look. A quick shimmy into the hot and slightly sulphurous-smelling pool, a moment’s orientation and I can focus on the 15th century surroundings and the neighbouring spectrum of female flesh floating alongside. These particular baths are seemingly favoured by Budapest’s granny clubs distended, wrinkly bellies and breasts wobbling contentedly in this watery cellulite city.

The central stone pool measures about ten metres in diameter with smaller satellite pools varying from icy to boiling to dip in and out of at your pleasure. The low. domed roof with scattered star-shaped apertures admits the minimum of light, intensifying the whole hidden-world atmosphere. After an hour‘s Iolling, there‘s the option of resting on some surreal garden furniture in the steam room, a beefy masseuse on hand to knead out any remaining woes from yourbody.

At the risk of turning into a permanent prune. I sampled two further baths: the Gellert and Szechenyi. The former is adjacent to a ritzy hotel and attracts a

corresponding clientele to its spacious 19th century interior. though the sight ofan elderly Budapester complete with zimmer, handbag and swimming-cap is not unusual. What the Gellert lacks in atmosphere it compensates for in the beautiful mosaics and carved pillars flanking the pools. as well as the treatments for everything from gynaelogical disorders to a sensory deprivation tank. The main attraction at the mixed Szechenyi pool, meanwhile. is the group of pensioners engrossed in a game of floating chess.

Another noteworthy bath-house is the male-only Rudas, reputedly the most striking of all Budapest pools with its chapel-like interior of vaulted Cloisters and dark. 16th century recesses. It‘s also a popular 1 gay haunt.

It is difficult to describe the feeling j of utter relaxation and pleasure of bathing without sounding like an extract from a Henry Miller novel. Suffice it to say that it does wonders for the circulation and I can heartily recommend it without a trace of embarrassment.

I pound although there are Addresses . i bureaux and touts at every Klnly Baths F611, 84, I 6811an there station. Your best bet is

for 10 minutes and 150 forints for 30 minutes. At the time of writingthere were 130 forints to the

Accommodation The official tourist agency Ibusz operates a 24-hour accommodation service.

Szechenyi Baths Allatkerti krt. ll. Gellert Baths Gellert Hill.

1 A return flight in October

from London to Budapest is£l90. The same journey

Rudas Baths 1 Dobrentci by train costs £13()_ "n,ch lc’ 9- is also a Eurotrain Eastern v0 8 , Explorer ticket for £190 6 hula” i which calls in at London.

Gyomfdo Turkish baths. I Amsterdam‘ Berlin‘ Gozlurdo Steam room. ! Prague, Budapest, Kadlurdo Tub bath. 7 Vienna, Zurich , mpmmo Mild balh- Strasbourg, Brussels and 3180118 Sauna. i London. Mam Massage. I Contact student travel

' specialists Campus Travel Pnces ! at The Hub, Hillhead A baslc ticket for the : Street. Glasgow. 041 357 Turkish baths. including l 0608; 90 John Street. use of the steam room. Glasgow. 041 552 2867; 53 costs about 100 forints. A Forrest Road. Edinburgh. massage costs 80 forints 031 225 6111.

with the youth agency Express at V Szabadsagter 16. which will book hostels, hotels and private

I Puhficafions

The Rough Guide to

- Hungary by Dan

Richardson and Charles Hebbert (Rough

f Guides/Penguin £7.99).

Informative. helpful and newly revised to bring everything upto date. It is

one of the latest batch of books to be published in

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the other new ones cover Prague. Provence. Greece and Thailand.

L”- 78 The List 12—25 February 1993