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Bath time in Budapest

Taking the plunge in the historic thermal baths of Szechenyi and Gellert in Budapest, Hungary.

In Budapest, Hungary’s vibrant capital, you can sample spicy paprika at the Great Market Hall (designed by Gustave Eiffel), sip coffee in a genteel turn-of-the-20th-century cafe, and enjoy an affordable performance at the luxurious Opera House. Budapest has its fair share of museums and monuments, too: You can ogle the opulent interior of the Hungarian Parliament, get a taste of the gloomy Hungarian psyche at the National Gallery, and wander through a field of quirky old communist statues at Memento Park.

But for me, splashing and relaxing in Budapest’s thermal baths is the city’s top attraction. Though it might sound daunting, bathing in Budapest is far more accessible than you’d think. Tourists are welcome. The thermal baths are basically like your hometown swimming pool — except the water is 100 degrees, there are plenty of jets and bubbles to massage away your stress and you’re surrounded by Hungarians having fun.

Locals brag that if you poke a hole in the ground anywhere in Hungary, you’ll find a hot-water spring. Judging from Budapest, they may be right: The city has 123 natural springs and some two-dozen thermal baths. The baths are actually a part of the health-care system. Doctors regularly prescribe treatments that include massage, soaking in baths of various heat and mineral compositions, and swimming laps. For these patients, a visit to the bath is subsidized.

In Hungary, a typical bath complex has multiple pools, used for different purposes. Big pools with cooler water are for serious swimming, while the smaller, hotter thermal baths are for relaxing, enjoying the jets and current pools, and playing chess. You’ll also usually find a dry sauna, a wet steam room, a cold plunge pool (for a pleasurable jolt when you’re feeling overheated), and sunbathing areas. Many baths have fun flourishes: bubbles, whirlpools, massage jets, wave pools, and so on. Expect to pay $15 to $20 for admission and a personal changing cabin (about $2 cheaper if you change in the locker room). Swimsuits are the norm; nudity is optional.

Tribune Media Services

Complete Article: SeattleTimes.com

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