Budapest-Jetlag & The Restorative Power of Water

First thing I learn, Buda was one city and Pest another. For a while it was Pest-Buda. Cannot say why this changed, but will find out. This, I learned from our tour guide who met us early today after breakfast.

By some fluke we happen to be staying in a four star hotel. Enjoy its art deco design, prismed sunroom and garden, where I write to you while sipping Hungarian beer. Breakfast was a fabulous buffet: lots of meats, sausages and salamis, (of which we left for others), cheese slices, fresh fruit: watermelon, pineapple etc., grilled vegetables, fried eggs and omelets, Muesli, pastry and very characteristic (I can tell already) loads of sliced garden cucumbers and tomatoes.

Our tour guide, Betty, a proud and quirky Transylvanian, in cotton-embroidered dresses, sun hats accented by a modest amount of jewelry, quickly shared some of her political and religious views. She explained to us some of the deep resentment her people have that, as one writer put it, “My Transylvania is not my Transylvania anymore.” In her opinion, Romanians have usurped Hungarian culture and language, partially by encouraging Romanians to populate Transylvanian and take over labor jobs. Betty said, “They say, ‘When in Rome do as the Romans do,”‘ meaning that the Transylvanians should speak Romanian, but she add wryly, “We are the Romans,” translation, “We were here first.” Think Native Americans being told, When in America, do as Americans do—speak our language, and you get the picture. How do people come together under such circumstances?

Interestingly, Betty said it was not necessary for Thomas to do a prayer at our meal, although, he did one anyway, wanting to give thanks to our host and to remind us to be open. This seemed to please her. She talked about the epiphany of seeing for the first time words on a page, side by side, which said God could not be both omnipotent and all good. Moreover, Betty does not think of God as a human being, and commented that although her church practices communion, it is not an act of taking in the body of Jesus, but an act of remembrance. All signs point to a modern Unitarian.

After taking in some spectacular views of the Danube and greater Budapest through the stone windows of Buda Castle and from the lion-guardian Chain Bridge, we preceded to The Walk of Heroes, a monument built at the millennium to celebrate the founding of Hungry in the Carpathian basin. It won first prize at the 1900’s World Fair in Paris and for good reason. Seven rugged medieval chieftains form a formidable semi-circle around a pillared statue topped with Gabriel who holds St. Steven’s crown having come to him in a dream of Hungry. The medieval men and their sturdy horses appealed to me: the Gary Coopers and John Waynes of their age, with their heavy stone gear, sheathed broad blades, animal skin capes and steads, one, bedecked with antler headgear, points splayed outward like tusks for defensive purposes. Quite a fierce spectacle, much different than the staid countenances of our American forefathers. Betty corrected Thomas when he suggested that the heroes wandered into the area, Hungary was very much an intentional settlement of a people.

Next, we said good-bye to our guide who dropped us off at the Central Market and gave us very good instructions on how to handle the tram and underground trains. Still, suffering from jet lag and heat, we were anxious to find water, lunch, and a place to sit down. Thomas and I shared a meal of pickled vegetables. Rapaciously gobbled down red cabbage, yellow cabbage, grilled yellow peppers, and a cold butter bean and leak salad dressed with vinaigrette. Just what I wanted, having been bereft of vegetables the day before. We shopped for souvenirs, particularly the paprika of which there are many varieties, sweet and hot.

The last stop of the day, by far my favorite, the St. Gellert Thermal Bath and Swimming Pools. The baths were originally all-male pools made by a famous factory known for its hand painted windows. I cannot describe the grandeur of the arched and blue-tiled pools punctuated by cherubs on either end and carved faces looking downward from the ceiling. Let’s just say I felt like pampered Roman, ironic given our previous discussion with our guide. Four thermal pools had varying temperatures 96-104 F degrees, each labeled. 104 degrees sooths away all stress. Stunning figurines and gargoyles pour or spit water; one can sit under for a nice water massage. There is also a regular, although ornamented, indoor pool that opened to the sky; the shallow end bubbled underneath me as I swam. Thomas took a turn in an outdoor wave pool outside bordered by gardens. We spent hours in the restorative waters, the perfect way to finish the day, except for the added bonus of the cooling air, walking the bridge over the Danube and riding the tram along her dark waters with its balustrades of castles, palaces and churches.

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One Response to “Budapest-Jetlag & The Restorative Power of Water”

  1. Alice Crowder Says:

    Excellent local color! Look forward to your next installment. Was particularly envious of your afternoon in the pools. Downtown STL is same as ever–summery, dirty, and high-decibeled! Hope you enjoy the rest of your trip as much as the start 🙂

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