Famous Budapest baths, Shoes on the Danube, live music and more WINE

Budapest has often been called the City of Baths. There are so many warm spring waters underneath the city that Budapest has had great thermal baths for centuries and the bathing culture is still very lively. There are water sports held in the baths, as well as traditional aqua therapy. In recent years Hungarians have also adopted trance spa parties (sparties) where tourists and locals alike can experience the baths surrounded by music and lights. Both of us decided prior to our trip that we needed to experience these famous Budapest baths. Since these baths are open more hours than even the coffee shops(!), we decided to head there early to avoid some of the crowds.

Our amazing Budapest Jewish Quarter guide, Levi, recommended we go to the Lukács Thermal Bath. Luckily this was just 3k from our hotel. After checking in and getting our bracelets and renting an extremely small changing room we were ready to experience these amazing thermal healing baths.

Lukacs Bath Budapest

Lukacs Bath Budapest

Lukács is one of the smaller baths in Budapest and until 2011 was experienced by locals only. Tourists have now found the place but it is still used primarily by locals. The bath is a historic indoor/outdoor thermal bath spa built in the 12th century. It is an amazing complex! Large and maze-like; you can definitely get lost. There are areas that seems to need a little TLC but the overall effect is amazing.

We headed to the thermal pools first since we weren’t ready for an outdoor pool at 8 am on a dreary Friday. This area of the baths was so cool! There were 4 pools and although the plaques were done in Hungarian, we could definitely read that the pools ranged in temperature from 26 degrees to 40 degrees Celsius. For us Americans, that’s 79 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit respectively. And each pool had a recommended time limit – we think. It was obviously recommended to stay in the warmer pools for just a short 5-7 minutes.

We made our way to all of the pools and tried to adhere to the time guidelines for each. It was such an interesting place to be. The thermal pools were deep in the complex and therefore not much natural light got in so it was a bit mysterious. And of course since the thermal waters are rich in healing natural chemicals, there’s a pervasive smell to the place. Not an unpleasant smell, however, but not a pleasant one either. And then there’s the sound of running water all around you. Which, to me, is one of the most relaxing sounds there is. So this was heavenly! The people all looked to be locals – I shouldn’t make that judgement – and most were well above our age. We assumed this was because we were there so early on a weekday morning.

I really try to pay attention to people when I travel – and make up stories about them I guess. Is it fair? I don’t know but it’s fun for me…There were the 2 best male friends huddled in a corner of the cool pool softly chatting. About business? Home? Who knows? And the female retiree who’s been coming to the baths on a daily basis for years – making her way from each pool – coolest to hottest – before taking a steam. And the tourist couple that stands out like a sore thumb and keeps trying to make eye contact with the locals 🙂

We decided to give the outdoor pool a shot as the weather had cleared and when in Budapest, right? There were actually 3 outdoor pools and we chose the one with a lazy river. A lazy river?! Awesome. It also had personal lounges where you could be mostly submerged as jets pounded you with water. All the while you could take in the beautiful sky above.

Personal lounges at Lucaks

Personal lounges at Lucaks

There were a ton of things we wanted to do so we headed back just as all of the crowds were arriving at Lukács. After a brief stop for an overpriced coffee surrounded by Americans from a river cruise :), we made our way back over the Chain Bridge to the Pest side of Budapest. We’d decided that since we missed the general free city tour the previous day, we’d join it today. Since we had some time we decided to peruse the Spring Fair at Vörösmarty Square and also take advantage of the yummy smells coming from the booths there. Let me just say – this was the best food we’d had all vacation! John got a huge pork sausage with all the trimmings – potatoes and beautiful veggies – and it was the best sausage I’ve ever had (sorry, Mom!). And then I got a Hungarian version of a gyro which was a fresh-grilled flatbread, chicken that looked like it had been cooking for hours, tomatoes, onions and sour cream. I opted out of the sour cream but this thing was delicious as well! Ooh, it was so good…

Pork Sausage at the Spring Fair

Pork Sausage at the Spring Fair

We had some time before our tour so headed back to a coffee shop we’d seen the previous day. John had a hard time finding “good” coffee while in Prague and Budapest so we were hoping this place would do the trick. Café Frei boasts a menu of coffee drinks from all over the world – everything from a Bedouin Coffee from Africa to an Aztec Chili Espresso from South America. We went with a Guatemalan Hazelnut Latte for me and a Mexican Café con Leche for John. Finally – good coffee for my baby! Unfortunately it came with a side of self-directed anger. John had been pick-pocketed at the Spring Fair. They didn’t make off with anything other than some cash, thank goodness, but it still sucked. PSA for anyone reading this! These guys know what they’re doing and it can happen to the most seasoned of travelers so take any precautions necessary to protect yourself.

Angry after being pick-pocketed

Angry after being pick-pocketed

Getting silly at Cafe Frei

Getting silly at Cafe Frei

We were two for three on the free tours we’d taken during the trip – now we made it two for four. It was a large group of mostly 20-somethings and, rather than discuss a lot of Budapest’s history and sights, our guide decided to discuss the best places to drink and how to prevent a hangover and how to get home from the ruin pubs in the middle of the night. Not our thing! It was a short tour – to say the least…

One of the memorials John and I both really wanted to see is called “Shoes on the Danube”. It is located on the Pest side of the Danube and just a short walk from the stunning Parliament building. This is a memorial to the Budapest Jews who were killed by fascist militiamen during World War II. They were brought to the edge of the Danube and ordered to take off their shoes before being shot into the river that would carry their bodies away. Some of the sculpted shoes were filled with fresh flowers; other surrounded by burned-down candles. It is a moving and sobering memorial and I’m very glad I got to see it.

Shoes on the Danube

Shoes on the Danube

I wanted to just walk around the city a bit and return to the Jewish Quarter but the weather turned so we popped into a cozy little restaurant advertising Hungarian wine. Konyha was another one of those places that you just happen upon when traveling. This place was incredible! While it poured rain just outside the large open windows, John and I sipped the most amazing Hungarian wines we’d had yet! We sat for hours and talked and posted online and just hung out. It was one of my favorite times of the whole trip. And the bill? For 4 glasses of wine? Just over $11. Ok!

Wine at Konyha

Wine at Konyha

Still pouring, we literally ran right across the street to a little bistro called Castro after the famous Cuban dictator. Another awesome place! You know you’re in the right place when there’s a table of local older gentleman playing cards and drinking beer. The atmosphere and the service were just what we were looking for.

I really wanted to see some live music during this trip and we were finally going to make that happen. A lot of the churches and basilicas in both Prague and Budapest advertise nightly live music. And then there are the jazz clubs in Prague. We decided to attend an organ concert in the spectacular St. Stephens Basilica – a Roman Catholic basilica named in honor of the first King of Hungary. This church is amazing on the outside and even more incredible on the inside! It is so ornate – everywhere you look is something different and fascinating. And the way the church was lit made it mysterious and romantic and simply gorgeous. There is a pipe organ in the church that will just take your breath away.

St. Stephens Basilica

St. Stephens Basilica

There were 3 musicians – an organist, a pipe organist and a trumpet player – as well as a soloist. The music was wonderful and the sound in this venue seemed to go right through you. Beautiful music, gorgeous surroundings and the man I love – it was the perfect ending to our final day in Budapest…

Freezing cold, we literally almost ran up the hill to our hotel. But not before taking in our last unforgettable view of the Parliament building lit up at night…

A last glimpse of Parliament

A last glimpse of Parliament

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