Beautiful Budapest: Part 2

Part 2 of the two-part series on our weekend trip to Budapest.  See Part 1 here. 

Saturday, 4:00PM: Széchenyi thermal bath with massage

After spending over 6 hours walking around Buda, we were ready for our next activity: Float around in 74°C waters of Széchenyi thermal bath, followed by a massage.

With 118 springs, Budapest is known to be the Spa Capital of Europe.  Of the 15 public baths, we chose to go to Széchenyi since it’s the largest medicinal thermal bath in all of Europe.  We hoped it will be big enough so KD and I will have our own little nook where we can just sit and relax in the warm waters.

We took the metro going to Széchenyi since the bath is literally right outside the metro stop (also named Széchenyi).  When we got there, we were greeted by the most impressive public spa foyer we’ve ever seen:

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Waiting for the metro at Opera station, 6 stops from Szechenyi

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The foyer’s grand ceiling

Once inside, we got assigned our own cabin—a cozy 4′ x 3′ dressing room with a bench—where we can change and safely keep all our belongings.  Unlocking the cabin can only be done via an electronic key that’s strapped to your wrist (like a watch) so there’s no fear of losing your key or forgetting your lock’s combination.

Once in our swimsuits, we got a quick tour of the 15 indoor pools.  But we knew where we wanted to go: outside in the 0°C weather.  

Snow was in the forecast for that evening, and it had already started to fall by the time we made our way out:

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Can you spot the snowflakes? You can almost see them in the first few terrace arcs in the 2nd floor.

The outdoor pools were packed but KD and I managed to find our own spot where we stayed for a couple of hours as we watched the day turn to night.  At night, the steam from the hot water got so thick that we could hardly see the other people in the pool, giving us a feeling of privacy and anonymity, dialing up our level of relaxation.  Our fingers were like prunes by the time we left the pool for our massage.

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Steam and stress floating away

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The less crowded lap pool

Szechenyi at night

Szechenyi at night; Photos courtesy of szechenyispabaths.com (left) and Eduard Balogh via facebook.com/SzechenyiBath (right)

Saturday, 8:00PM: Heroes’ Square

Hősök Tere or Heroes Square is a 5-minute walk from Széchenyi so we decided to give it a visit on the way back to the hotel.  The square is so beautiful at night, but with the snow falling that evening, and on the ground, the square looked almost magical.

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The Millenium Memorial flanked by the heroes

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There are 8 heroes in this photo; 7 are Hungarian and the one wearing the black coat is mine.

Saturday, 9:00PM: Cafe Bouchon

Before calling it a night, we went for dinner at Cafe Bouchon to sample Hungarian fare.  It was busy with locals when we came in and there were only 2 “tourist” tables including ours—always a good sign.  The vegetarian plate that they offered was not very good according to KD—perhaps to be expected given that Hungarian food isn’t exactly known for their vegetables.  But the rosemary duck sausage was a delight!

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Laskagomba carpaccio/Oyster mushroom carpaccio

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Rosemary made duck sausage with sauteé potatoes and plum cream

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French with a Hungarian twist: Crepes Suzette served flambé

Saturday, 11:00PM: Hungarian State Opera at night

On our walk back to the hotel, we passed by the Hungarian State Opera which is just around the corner from Cafe Bouchon.  Exhausted from a full day of touring, the vision of the Opera House got us excited for the following day’s itinerary which includes seeing what’s inside:

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Sunday, 10:00AM: Don Giovanni at the Opera

We started our Sunday right where we ended our Saturday—at the Opera.  This time, with our tickets to Don Giovanni, we were able to go inside and appreciate the opulent interiors.  These photos do not do justice to how beautiful the State Opera really is, but I hope it gives you a good idea.

Ticket to Hungarian State Opera Don Giovanni

Our ticket to Don Giovanni which we chose not to finish because with Italian songs and Hungarian subtitles, we felt it’s better to enjoy it in another English-speaking city

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The Opera’s grand foyer

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The “winding” staircase viewed from below

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A lady soprano

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The grand staircase

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The lounge where guests gather during intermission

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Sunday, 1:00PM: House of Terror

At first I thought the House of Terror was like the London Dungeon meant mostly for kids featuring monsters in costume, special effects and staff wearing lots of Halloween makeup.  I was very wrong.

The House of Terror is in fact a museum about the horrors that the various wars and dictatorships have brought to Hungarians.  The exhibits about the Nazi occupation and the Holocaust are poignant and heart-wrenching in some parts.  We also learned about the Soviet’s dictatorship in Hungary and got a better understanding of how communism has scarred most of Easter Europe.  To me, the heaviest yet most interesting part is seeing the actual prison cells in the basement of the building; hanging from the walls of the small, dark cells are photographs of real people who once stayed and perhaps died in those very cells.  I could not help buy say a little prayer as I walked the dark corridors.

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Andrássy út 60 is a memorial to victims who were detained, interrogated, tortured or killed in this very building by fascism and communism

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Photographs of victims line the outside walls of the museum

Sunday, 3:00PM: End of our trip

We left the House of Terror feeling extremely sad given what we’ve seen.  Had I known the weight of the material, I would have switched a few activities around so we did not end our trip at such a heavy note.  But perhaps we were not meant to  leave feeling so down; when stepped out, the snow was falling again and Budapest has turned into a beautiful winter wonderland.

In the cab ride back to the airport, we passed snow-covered parks & trees, white roofs & front yards, and buzzing strip mall with people seemingly enjoying the Sunday snow.  We were thankful for two days in beautiful Budapest, for lifted spirits and for a happy ending.

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Click here if you missed Part 1 of the series.

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