Feeling “Blue” in Budapest
Pampering yourself is rarely part of the backpacking experience. However, since thermal baths seemed to be part of the quintessential “Hungarian experience”, I decided I could not exactly say I had been to Hungary without sampling this national offering. It would be like going to Finland and not stepping into a sauna (wait, I did that. Bad analogy). Budapest has around a dozen thermal baths, a tradition in the city dating back to Roman times. One of the most famous of these is the Gellert Baths, constructed in 1913 around the natural springs that feed the baths and housed in the beautiful Art Nouveau hotel of the same name.
Upon entering the spa, I had been given rather unclear instructions, something about the order in which to take a swim, bath, and massage. And then I was handed a blue shower cap, the kind you usually only find in hotel rooms, and which no one, to my knowledge, ever uses (this begs the question why they even still put them in hotel rooms, but that’s a whole other issue). For some reason, the shower caps were only required attire in the co-ed indoor pools. In the outdoor pools and single-sex thermal baths, you were free to bare your head. The only logical explanation I could find for this discrepancy was that the Gellert Hotel staff had some strange desire to embarrass their guests and prevent anyone from getting a date.
Obediently I donned my shower cap and slowly slipped into the warm pool. Although I was inwardly cringing, I tried to act as if it was perfectly normal for me to be sporting a blue plastic bag on my head. After all, it wasn’t like I was the only one. Around me, people of all ages and nationalities relaxed or floated in the warm waters, seemingly unaware that we all looked like blue mushrooms. This was ridiculous. Suddenly, an attractive man caught my eye. I instinctively tried as best I could to look good in my shower cap. I quickly had an internal debate on what was the appropriate shower cap style. I decided to go with the French look and tilted it to one side like a beret. He seemed to be donning the “baseball look”, with the shower cap low on his forehead. I noticed that the blue of the shower cap set off the blue of his eyes. He swam by me and then…
Stop the moment. I couldn’t possibly meet a guy when both of us were wearing shower caps. What would we do when we met later for drinks? Say, “hey, almost didn’t recognize you without the blue slicker on your head.” What if he wasn’t as cute without the shower cap? It wasn’t going to work. I let him float on by. Later, when I was on the bus heading back to my hostel, I saw him on the sidewalk, his head bare. His eyes still shone a bright blue.