We are delighted to present a guest blog by Jessica Kulick, professional travel writer, photographer and global couch surfer extraordinaire. You can follow Jessica’s adventures and read more of her witty insights at her blog, Of Revolt.
Photographs were graciously contributed by photographer Krisztina Fazekas. View her collection of photographs of Hungary at her website, Erre-Arra.
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Question: Are you afraid of portly old men wearing Speedos? Answer: Of course you are. Everyone is. But that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying what was easily my favorite attraction in Hungary: the thermal baths of Budapest.
After a particularly Palinka-drenched evening (which, let me be the first to tell you, that stuff is deadly: a very smooth and ever so slightly fruity liquor, usually produced in the Hungarian countryside by people who know what they’re doing), my host – a Budapest native – took my fiancé and I to recuperate in a nearby bath house known only to locals: Saint Luke’s.
Before I regale you with the miraculous hangover cure known only as “Fun Swimmie Time,” I shall furnish you with a little history: Saint Luke’s (Lukacs Thermal Bath) has been in operation since the 12th century, when knights of the Order of Saint John settled in the area to make use of the thermal hot springs as a means of curing the sick. The baths stayed in operation throughout the Turkish occupation, though the energy of the springs was used mainly for grinding wheat and producing gunpowder.
In 1884, Fülöp Palotay (don’t ask me how to pronounce it) purchased the baths from the government and so began a series of transformations: the baths became world-famous for their therapeutic properties, and patients who had come and been healed donated marble plaques that were displayed in the bath’s courtyard as a sign of their thanks – all of which can still be seen today. LET’S SKIP FORWARD A FEW HUNDRED YEARS, OKAY? We don’t have all day.
Nowadays, Saint Luke’s has much more than a simple soaking tub and drinking fountain – in fact, we spent nearly three hours there and I felt like I could have stayed longer. There is a dry sauna, a wet steam room, a cold plunge pool (extremely delightful when you’re feeling overheated), multiple thermal baths all set to different temperatures, and (my favorite) the “Fancy Pool”: a rather large (not gigantic, but definitely “I wish this was in my backyard” big) swimming pool equipped with a whirling corridor (WHIRLPOOL!), underwater effervescence (BUBBLES!), neck shower (WATERFALL!), as well as a water beam back massage hidden in the seat banks (WATER BEAM BACK MASSAGE HIDDEN IN THE SEAT BANKS!).
Saint Luke’s is not the most well-known of Budapest’s many bath houses: the Szechenyi and Gellert are the most popular with tourists, and though they’re a little more upscale, that also means they’re a little more expensive – and definitely more crowded. I really enjoyed the relaxed, easygoing feeling of Saint Luke’s: Hungarians of every age and body type were soaking in the mineral-rich baths, and all were mercifully clothed in swimsuits. (I’m shy, okay?) The heated outdoor “Fancy Pool” felt especially luxurious: nothing beats floating in blissfully warm waters, watching the sun set behind exquisite Art Nouveau architecture, letting the steam cloud your vision – it all lends itself to a feeling of extraordinary well-being.
At one point, after doggy-paddling my way around the whirlpool, I turned to my fiancé and said, “I think this is the best thing we’ve done in all of Europe.” All of Europe! He replied that it was just the toxins escaping my body and that I had no idea what I was saying. But it was true: at that moment I felt more perfectly content with myself and the world than at any other time in recent memory.
And you know what else? The next day my skin looked GREAT.
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Jessica Kulick is a freelance travel writer and photographer. Her work has appeared in such outlets as Literary Traveler, Matador Network, and Spotted By Locals. Her personal website is http://ofrevolt.com, where she blogs about offbeat tourism with a humorous and lighthearted spin.
Copyright Jessica Kulick 2012
Photographs copyright Krisztina Fazekas