Taking slow, languorous laps of the thermal waters, under a ceiling of aquatic mosaics, I wondered if this was what being in a seraglio would have been like.
Around me were women of all ages, luxuriating in the waters of the women’s only thermal pools. I was a bit surprised to be honest that the sexes were separated, was everyone here particularly prudish?
And then I noticed that all the women over the age of about 60 had stripped off and were calmly working around from thermal pools to sauna rooms as naked as the day they were born. Totally and utterly starkers. All the younger women were well covered up in swimming togs. Let it not be said that the young have cornered the market on shameless, body flaunting behaviour; the senior citizens of Europe would no doubt take great delight in proving this wrong.
The baths were delightful, a succession of pools and sauna rooms of varying temperatures. I started in the first pool, 36 degrees, lapping slowly. It was too shallow to perform any intricate water-ballet choreography, so I contented myself with a brief tribute to Esther Williams, performing on the surface the two moves I made up in her honour: the turtle and the windmill.
The pools were much needed after a long day in Budapest, particularly after struggling through the last bastion of communism: the international terminal of the Budapest train station.
I was there today to buy my train ticket to Vienna for tomorrow and I am very glad I didn’t leave things to the last minute.
So far I really haven’t seen any lingering signs of the days of communism, English is widely understood, KFC, Burger King and Maccas are everywhere, and the BMWs on the road are signs of great wealth in the city.
I was a bit disappointed to be honest. I was half expecting to see more evidence of the bad old days, an expectation that was quashed this morning hearing Australian pop-princess Delta Goodrem on the airwaves in a supermarket.
But imagine my delight when I rocked up to the international terminal of the train station to find a dingy room, shored up by crude pine beams, and only three of the nine desks open to serve a roomful of anxious passengers.
I dutifully grabbed my ticket and took a seat. Just as well because I sat there for a long, long, long time. One of the desks was dealing with a group of young Americans, and I’m not sure if there was a bit of vestigial Cold War resentment going on, but they’d already been there for an hour, according to the disgruntled passengers around me.
It took so long to get served that I began to fear the boundaries of Europe would have been redrawn before it was my turn. The lady near me had already missed two trains to Munich in her wait for a ticket.
But eventually my number was called, and since I’d time to study the train schedule (in intimate detail, I’d forgotten to bring a book) I knew exactly what I wanted so I was in and out with my ticket in record time.
Thankful to have gotten out, I took myself to the market and indulged in an AMAZING beef goulash with dumplings and vegetables. Unbelievably good!
It’s kept me going most of the day, and even after my swim I only wanted a light meal.
I’d gone past a local bar called the Nevada Pub earlier today and I was intrigued, so I figured that would be a good place to check out tonight. There were lots of satisfied looking customers, who all looked quite local, always a good sign.
I’m really glad I did because not only was the food and drink fantastic (a French onion soup served within a thick, crusty load of bread a campari and homemade lemonade, a pretty pink shade perfect for a post-seraglio drink), but more importantly The Song came on.
Now when you’re in a former Soviet-block country, there are two songs you really want to hear. And they’re not 99 luftballoons or Elton John’s Nikita (I remember feeling so smug at 14 that I knew more about Russia than silly old Elton. He didn’t even realise he’d given the girl in his love song a boy’s name!)
No, neither of those. I’ll give you a hint, one of them is The Final Count Down by Europe, which I haven’t heard, although there’s still time.
But if there was just one song from the 80s that I really, really wanted to hear whilst visiting a former communist country, it was this one…Wind of Change by Scorpion.
Ah yes there it was in all its synth glory with overwrought guitar chords, marking my final night in Budapest. What more could I ask for?
“Take me to the magic of the moment
On a glory night
Where the children of tomorrow share their dreams
With you and me
Take me to the magic of the moment
On a glory night
Where the children of tomorrow dream away
in the wind of change”
Budapest, I love you!