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Bathing With the Locals – Budapest, Hungary

Bathing With the Locals
Budapest, Hungary

I had heard all about the therapeutic benefits of the many baths in Budapest. After walking the streets exploring this fascinating city for a few days it was time to reward my aching legs and visit one.

Budapest rests on a network of warm thermal and cool mineral springs. Due to this there are many communal bathhouses, pools and spas. These are big tourist attractions, but unlike many tourist traps around the world (most of which I have been sucked into visiting) they are also popular with locals.

After consulting the concierge at my hotel, I decided the Gellert Baths was the place to go. It had been likened to “having a soak in a cathedral” and as I considered my body to be a temple (albeit one in ruins) it seemed like a perfect match. Upon walking inside the Art Nouveau building, I felt like I had stepped back in time. The 1920s perhaps. The building seemed to ooze class and grandeur. I half expected to be greeted by a man in a tuxedo with a glass of champagne and a stiff British accent, saying “come this way sir.”

Gellert Baths - Mixed Swimming
Gellert Baths – Mixed Swimming
When no tuxedoed man appeared, I walked over to the ticket booth, handed over some florints and proceeded over to the first door. I was about to walk in when a gruff old lady stopped me and gave me a very menacing look. She then pointed to another entrance.

This led me to the male change rooms. Just inside the entrance was a man who was a spitting image of Fabio. I presented him with my ticket, he took it and in exchange handed me back a small piece of cloth about the size of a handkerchief. At the end of this cloth was a string tie. Puzzled I took the handkerchief and went upstairs.

There I saw men of all shapes and sizes. Most were naked. The ones who weren’t had the handkerchiefs tied around their waists, like an apron for the penis. The aprons barely covered their fronts and like a hospital gown left didn’t cover their backsides at all. It was a bizarre sight. I felt I was in some strange club. Or a fraternity party. Eventually I disrobed and tied the little apron around my waist. It was marginally better than the fig leaf Adam used to wear around the Garden of Eden.

With my buttocks exposed to the world and my little apron in place, I headed down to the baths. Due to the costumes (or lack thereof) the baths were male only. The majority were locals and there were large groups of men chatting away, as if they were at a local bar. I was also surprised to see many elderly men in the baths. The thermal water must be good for their arthritis and any other ailments they have.

After a few minutes I realized I had been staring, and not wanting to get thrown out by Fabio I stepped into the 38-degree bath. It was instantly soothing. Unfortunately my apron became transparent when wet and thus pretty irrelevant. I guess that’s why so many chose to go naked. Making my way past naked men in serious discussion and old men doing breaststroke I found a small corner of the bath under a fountain. I laid back and took in my surroundings.

It did indeed feel like I was taking a soak in a cathedral. (Well a cathedral with lots of naked guys). The springs that supply the baths have been flowing for 2000 years and over the years there has been royalty and aristocrats soaking in these waters. Soon the warm thermal water started to work its healing magic on my weary legs and I was feeling very relaxed. So relaxed that I decided to dispense with my apron.

I got an approving nod from the group opposite me. I was now one of them. I was now truly a local.

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