Saturday, December 15, 2001

Museums and Thermal Bath Time

Museum and Thermal Bath Time

According to the Budapest Sun, there was a special exhibition at a museum, which is just around the corner from the apartment. It is dedicated to the coffee houses of Budapest, past and present. Being dedicated coffee drinkers and having won the Starbucks “Most Loyal Customers” award, we felt obligated to check this out.

Also within one block of our apartment is the Opera House. Ron wanted to see if there were still tickets left for the Nutcracker. We stopped there on the way to the museum, but they were sold out. There is also a second version, a modern version of the Nutcracker playing at another theater, a couple of blocks away, so we stopped there. They too were sold out for all performances. Yet another theater across the street is featuring the play Funny Girl. We thought for sure it would have to be in English, not being able to imagine the songs being translated into Hungarian, but it is indeed in Hungarian with an electronic libretto displayed on a scoreboard type instrument over the stage. This is the way we saw the Chinese Opera when we were in Beijing. After a short while, you forget about what the words are because it is too distracting from the action to keep looking back and forth. The action was much more worthwhile anyway. They still have tickets for the show, but limited dates, so we will see if we can make it with our busy social schedule.

Finding the museum was a bit tricky, since it is within a block of existing stores, and the building does not shout, “Hey, I am a museum here.” What did shout out to Ron at least, was the video store on the corner that rents movies in English, but he held off for the time being. In the museum, the cost was four hundred forints each, about $1.50.

Most of the display contained photographs of the inside and outside of coffee cafés. Nothing was in English, so we could only stare. The information in the paper described the exhibit as “as one of the most important forums for everyday civil life.” We have found through experience that café is a term they use loosely, since many of the ‘coffee houses’ also sell snacks or full meals and sometimes liquor also. The photos were interesting and were probably nostalgic for some of the old timers of the city. In the second room, displayed were paintings done of coffee houses. Some were abstract, but the colors and composition made them fascinatingly interesting. In glass cases were cups, coffee pots, and coffee machines that were once used in the various cafés along with a quarter of the complete interior of a café that is being reconstructed now. The last room held other interiors and of course, a little booth that was selling coffee. Surprisingly, we did not partake there and we went elsewhere.

While I went looking for a store that sold cigarettes, Ron waited in the warmth, physical and psychological warmth of the video store. We went to a coffee house in the area and it was bustling with people. A dozen of them were busy filming cups of coffee for either a print ad or a new menu. We never found out for sure, but in the time we were there, they had to redo the foam on the cappuccino three times to get the picture just right with the chair situated at an artistic tilt. All of this was being shot onto a computer.

It had been a week since we arrived and we had not been to the thermal baths yet. I wanted to go, but did not think that Ron should yet with his cold. He suggested that I go and he would come back to meet me.

There are a dozen thermal baths in the city or surrounding areas, drawing on the hot thermal spring waters that flow under the city. Arslan, the Turkish ruler of Buda, built the first in 1565. His fear was that the population would stop bathing when the city was under siege. Today, some are very luxurious and expensive places that provide every beauty service imaginable, but the ones that we like the best are those that date back to the 16th century and were built by the Turkish. They have high domes and open-air cupolas. The Kiraly is open to men on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, while the Rac admits men on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. On the alternate days, women are admitted. The Gellert, which is also a hotel, admits men and women at the same time, but they have two different areas for them. The Gellert is luxurious without the high cost, but is a bit pricier than the other two. At the first two, for seven hundred forints ($2.50), you can relax in one of four pools that range in temperature from very hot to ice cold, use the steam bath, or sauna and then shower. Then entry entitles you to an hour and a half of relaxation after depositing your clothes in a locked cabana. If you prefer, massages are available for an extra seven hundred forints per fifteen minutes. This is living!

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