After sleepy syrup filled breakfast, we travelled across the river early in the morning to a foggy Buda. Traffic lights peeked through the mist, yellow trams zoomed into view and the majestic Gellért hotel stood defiantly in the white smoke.
Located right next to Gellért hill, overlooking the Danube on the riverside, Hotel Gellért rose to life in 1916, animated by it’s Art Nouveau style and it’s where Wes Anderson stayed and was inspired to create ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’. And if you’re familiar with Anderson’s fictional structure, you can spot the resemblance from miles away. It’s not difficult to see why Anderson was so taken by the hotel; Gellért boasts high glass cupolas and wrought iron decorations, its coloured peaks elegant and attractive from even across the river. Inside, pillars and arches bow above you, artistic mosaics and intricate stain-glass windows ornately decorating the floors and walls. And for any visitor, a trip to Gellért’s thermal baths is compulsory.
Known to help cure various illnesses and diseases, the thermal baths are like bathing in a massive cup of tea. Dark halls and passageways connect the baths, curved rooms lined with lockers and benches add grace to your standard grubby hair ridden local pool – this place was just something else. With high ceilings embellished with more stained glass, rooms and pools emerged upon exploration. Frankincense seemed present in the warm air, random memories of trips Bulgarian monasteries evoked as we flip-flopped in our bathing suits to soak ourselves in the baths.
The first pool was the most beautiful; blue mosaic walls curved up and above, adorned with regal patterns, marble statues and extruding arches and fountains. A tiled walkway divided two pools, historically separating men from women. Today, each pool is heated differently, here the left heated to 36 degrees, the right to 40. Sceptical, I dipped my ghostly white toes into the massive pool of tea I was about to submerge myself into; imagine a gigantic bath, shared with several other gawking elderly Hungarians.
If it gets a bit too steamy for you, and if you haven’t even entered the neon-lit steam rooms, there’s an outdoors pool – considering I arrived in the dead of Winter, you can imagine the shock my body received as I frantically skipped out of the building, into the cold, to get back into warm water. Reaching 0 degrees, the pool’s comparatively extreme heat billowed steam into the air. The sight was magical, something that you could imagine in some Icelandic heated pool out in the icy open. The sun finally peeked through after hiding behind the snowy clouds and fog, and one could’ve stayed in that steamy outdoor bath for hours.
Given more time, the Gellért would’ve made a great day out on its own, relaxing, bathing, doing absolutely nothing but immersing one’s self in hot water. But alas, we finally travelled home to rest with several Hungarian pastries in hand, ready to fill our grumbling stomachs after clearly over-exerting ourselves sitting in the hot pools for three hours.
Going back on ourselves, dawdling back over Liberty Bridge, we carefully ascended 235 meters up Gellért Hill up to the famous Citadella, a fortress built after the 1848-49 War of Independence that never managed to see a battle.
But the paths upward coated with thick ice proving the walk more than tricky; imagine ascending up (a much smaller) Corcovado, Rio de Janeiro, but with a less overwhelming summit. Nonetheless, that’s not to say the view wasn’t stunning. Fog, although mostly cleared by the late afternoon, still submerged parts of Budapest, lingering around Hungarian parliament in the far distance, leaving the rest of the city exposed in all its beauty for us wee travellers to see.
Pics of me, sorry.
As night fell, the sun setting as we ascended, dotted monuments, churches and famous buildings of Pest radiated a royal amber glow, protruding amongst the not-so-special houses, apartments and buildings that lined the majority city. Streets glowed hues of red, blue and white as cars streamed up and down during rush hour. Budapest’s famous bridges were illuminated and reflected in the Danube, creating stripes of green, white and gold across the black of the night-filled Danube.