Thursday, 9th August 2018
A leisurely start to the day, partly because of the promised temperatures of 34º, but also because, unusually for us on a train trip, when we are often up to catch an early train, on this occasion we had a second day to explore/enjoy a location, so we were able to get up for breakfast at 08:45. Although we like to walk, the heat and Robert’s enthusiasm for different forms of transport prompted us to buy one day travel passes which cost 1,650 Ft [£4.59] each.
We were pleased that our first experience of the Budapest Metro was catching Line 1 from Deák Ferenctér. The Budapest metro is the oldest electrified underground railway system on the European continent, and the third-oldest electrically operated underground railway in the world. It was predated by the 1890 City & South London Railway (now part of the London Underground) and the Mersey Railway.
Line 1 was completed in 1896 and the older stations are a charming step back in time with tiled walls, tiled names, curved wooden storage cupboards and barriers between the lines. The platforms are short and the trains are just two carriages long.
The metro took us to Heroes’ Square [Hősök tere], one of the major squares in Budapest, noted for its iconic statue complex featuring the Seven chieftains of the Magyars, as well as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. So many celebratory statues seem to include charioteers, it seems.
The City Park, behind Heroes’ Square, includes one of Budapest’s thermal spa baths but we had planned a visit to the Gellért baths later in the day. Instead of having a coffee in the park we took a modern tram, which was pleasantly air-conditioned, to the New York Palace Cafe.
Matilda had wanted a coffee here [apparently the most beautiful café in the world] to compensate for the slightly dubious offering at breakfast. However, the heat and her increasing thirst meant she was not prepared to queue, despite the unquestionably grand and beautiful interior.
Budapest is renowned for its ruin pubs, bars which are housed in derelict buildings, the oldest of which is Szimpla Kert. Remarkably, Robert’s route from the New York Palace Cafe to the Basilica led us there. This place proves that decor is over-rated: it is situated in an open courtyard with stairs going to the upper levels, water sprayed finely around to cool everything down and array of incongruous yet somehow appealing artefacts.
From here a walk to St Stephen’s Basilica which is undoubtedly splendid, with significant amounts of gold leaf, but reminiscent of other such cathedrals. It is almost unbelievable that these places of worship across Europe were built without the benefit of electricity and hydraulic lifts.
Robert is about to embark on his first ever cruise, but he is determined not to take part in the cruise organised tours. Just looking at the tour parties, massing together, blocking the way of local people going to try and pray in peace proves his point. It reminds him of taking students on school trips. The parents had paid for the group to have a guide to explain the culture and the history of the place. The boys, with uninterested faces just slouched around talking and were completely disrespectful towards the lovely guides escorting us.
Our final destination for the day was the Gellért spa baths. Matilda was sceptical about going to thermal baths on such a hot day but it proved to be surprisingly refreshing. We noticed that many people had flip flops on and it wasn’t until we walked across the floors outside that we realised quite how hot the ground was. If you ever go, take footwear to insulate your feet.
The outdoor pool features waves at five minutes past each hour. But you have to wear a swimming cap to go in the indoor pool and it was good to see that people who wanted to do so were happy to don this less than flattering item of attire, regardless of age and pretentions to glamour.
Of course we had to have a beer here and whiled away the time people-watching.
The range of swimming attire was entertaining in itself and not always flattering. However every body tells a story – the tan lines; the tattoos; the scars; the walks; the struts; the ones who want to cover up with a towel and ones who want to flaunt it. Matilda accepts she will never have her 18 year old body back, but can trace her life through the stretch lines and the grey hairs.
Lesson for the day: love your body: it tells your life story and is a part of who you are.