Aaah: Sink neck-deep in hot min­eral water in Bu­dapest’s baths

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE - By ASSOCIATED PRESS in Bu­dapest, Hun­gary

The buzz about Bu­dapest has been steadily build­ing since Hun­gary joined the Euro­pean Union in 2004. Tourists and multi­na­tional com­pa­nies alike have grav­i­tated to the city’s hum­ming core. But the for­mer im­pe­rial cap­i­tal owes at least some of its pros­per­ity to cen­turies of ex­pe­ri­ence with slow­ing down, tak­ing a breath and sink­ing neck-deep into bliss­ful re­lax­ation.

For the har­ried busi­ness trav­eler — or any­one else who could use a respite — an es­cape to one of the city’s seven pub­lic ther­mal baths pro­vides a sooth­ing glimpse into that his­tory while be­ing just a quick sub­way ride away from the city cen­ter.

The Ro­mans were the first to har­ness the area’s hot If you go springs, set­ting up a re­gional cap­i­tal here partly be­cause of the steamy min­eral water bur­bling below ground. The ru­ins of those grand tem­ples are still vis­i­ble in the north­ern part of the city. More than 1,000 years later, the Otto- mans es­tab­lished the city as a trad­ing post dur­ing their 150year rule and built two baths that still op­er­ate.

The old­est, the Ru­das Baths, fea­tures an oc­tag­o­nal room dat­ing to 1550, with one main pool en­cir­cled by four smaller ones of vary­ing tem­per­a­tures. A 9.1-me­ter dome cov­ers the stone echo cham­ber, where steam wafts up through col­ored beams of light com­ing from the plate­sized pieces of stained glass in the ceil­ing. The sul­fu­ric water, which has sup­posed cu­ra­tive prop­er­ties, can be so pun­gent that it stings the nose, and the smell lingers. So lather, rinse and def­i­nitely re­peat.

If you go to Ru­das for the his­tory, try the Szechenyi Baths for the grandeur. Built in stages in the early 1900s, the gilded neo-Baroque fa­cil­ity is one of the largest ther­mal spas in Europe.

Or­nate, blaz­ing yel­low build­ings form a court­yard that en­closes three huge nat- urally heated pools. Classical stat­ues of re­clined bathing nudes sur­round the pools, which are open year-round and sim­mer be­tween 26 and 38 C. It’s like soak­ing in the world’s fan­ci­est hot tub.

Another 15 smaller pools in­doors range from a chilly 18 C up to a skin-tin­gling 40 C. Also in­side are saunas, steam rooms, silent re­lax­ing ar­eas and mas­sage ser­vices. Be pre­pared to get a lit­tle frus­trated with the lock­ers, since the elec­tronic key, al­ready con­fus­ing, was bro­ken on sev­eral of them dur­ing one re­cent visit.

Sec­tions of both spas are avail­able un­til 10 pm, but for early birds, some parts open as early as 6 am. For­tu­nately, the water at Szechenyi smells much less than at Ru­das, so a dip there be­fore a break­fast meet­ing is that much eas­ier.

Bu­dapest baths: Ru­das is closer to the city cen­ter, at the Buda end of the El­iz­a­beth Bridge. To reach Szechenyi, there’s easy ac­cess via the first un­der­ground rail­way line in con­ti­nen­tal Europe, the M1. Both baths cost 4,700 forints (about $16) for a day pass with a locker. De­tails: www. szecheny­i­bath.hu or en.rudas­furdo.hu.

AP PHOTOS

Left:

Vis­i­tors swim in an out­door pool of Szechenyi’s ther­mal bath and swim­ming pool in Bu­dapest. Right: Vis­i­tors play chess in a pool in Bu­dapest.

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