Spring and autumn are some of the best times to travel in Europe. Tourist crowds are gone leaving the great European cities vibrant and full of locals. This is very true for Stockholm, a city that basically shuts down in the summer time when most Stockholmers are traveling to place they’re sure will have sun or relaxing in their summer home out in the Swedish countryside. If you want to feel the real “vibe” of a city in Europe, come on the shoulder seasons.
So with a weekend open in the beginning of October, I decided to take a solo trip to the capital of Hungary, Budapest. This city has been on my radar for many years as one of the must see destinations in Europe. Hungary has a long and impressive history with a significant “dark period” under Soviet control. In 1989 when the USSR disbanded, Budapest was a city that rivaled Vienna in beauty but had been put through the communist ringer for over 40 years. As an American and long-term resident of Europe, countries caught in the middle of post WWII have always interested me.
Budapest has come a long way since 1989 and has managed to revive its charm while living with some “left overs” of the communist era. Over a three day period I wore myself out with my Budapest travel guide trying to soak up all the city had to offer. I visited most of the major sights: Basilica of St Stephen, Castle Hill, Parliament Building, Grand Market Hall and I even saw Ronald Reagan. I also had two very unique experiences in the Rudas thermal baths and trying AirBnB as my option for accommodations.
Budapest is well known for its thermal baths located throughout the city. Some are elegantly decorated; some are like amusement parks for families. The Ruda Baths are recognized for their history with a concrete dome dating from the 16th century when Budapest was under Turkish occupation. I like to think of myself as a pretty open guy who is willing to try new things. With that mind-set, you can often find yourself in very peculiar situations and especially so when travelling abroad. So, I decided to try the Ruda baths as it supposedly offers the most “traditional” bath experience in the city (I’m usually a sucker for traditional). Upon entering the baths, each man (women are not allowed) is given a “loin cloth,” a wrist band a locker number. Two of those items are pretty self-explanatory. And the third, well that’s where things got interesting…. Men in the baths are asked not to go naked but everyone is required to wear a piece of cloth that makes you feel like a Roman in the times of César. The loin cloth is basically a napkin with a string that goes around your waste – Business in the front, “party” in the rear. So, I changed into my outfit and entered the main bath complex which is a huge room under a gigantic dome. About 100 men were soaking in various temperature baths around the room and the protocol is to start with cooler baths and work your way up. So, as the rule following guy I am, I started on the left side of the room and worked counter clockwise entering the five different baths with the last one being 42 degrees Celsius (107 Fahrenheit).
Now after you’ve done this for about thirty minutes your body feels like a boiled egg waiting for that plunge of cold water relief. To help you with that, big wooden buckets are perched around the room. You walk up, pull the string and get drenched by five gallons of ice cold water that makes you want to scream like a girl, but you can’t because your surround by a bunch of guys wearing loin cloths. Ah yes, back to the loin cloths. It’s pretty odd being in a room with a bunch of guys whose bare backsides are in plain view where ever you look. Even more strange for me was the Russian, Hungarian, German languages being spoken around me with no English speakers with in ear shot. This was a locals place and I guess one would question whether this would be the best place to strike up a conversation trying to make friends anyway… I chose the “quite option” and enjoyed my one hour soaking time and departed Rudas bath with a just one of many memorable experiences from Budapest.
Another first for me on this trip to Budapest was using the AirBnB online service that connects travels to people who rent out rooms in their homes to make a little extra money. This offers a unique and inexpensive way to truly live like a local which I try to make a hallmark of all my travels. The other great part is the money goes too directly to people of the city, not international hotel chains. My AirBnB experience was “interesting” in that I stayed with an Italian family that lives in Budapest part of the year and Rome the other. I used my room as you would any hotel, spending most of my time out sightseeing and staying in the room to sleep and get cleaned up. I would highly recommend this for those adventurous travels who really want to get the “feel of the place.”
In the end Budapest was all that I hoped it would be – Interesting history, fantastic food and unforgettable cultural experiences. In our modern world, cities and people are becoming more and more homogeneous. Budapest has all the makings of a city continuing down the path of ultra-tourism similar to Prague. KFC’s, Full English Breakfast, knock-off Louis Vuitton, and Zara’s on every other street corner. I think I even saw a Starbucks which amazes me because their coffee sucks compared to everyone other option in Europe but I digress… Budapest is a great city and I hope to return to experience it’s old world elegance mixed with moden charm.
For more images of my trip to Budapest, please visit www.ErikFunfar.com