Days 20 and 21, Goodbye, Budapest, Hello, Warsaw

Before retiring for the night on day 19, we took a stroll along the Danube again and visited a park in the middle of the river. A fountain and light show was occurring. It resembled something out of Bellagio in Las Vegas and was quite opulent.

Bob and the Burgermeister Meisterburger

Bob and the Burgermeister Meisterburger

Our last day in Budapest saw us taking in the world-famous mineral baths in Budapest. I had completely forgotten about them until Barry brought them up. Immediately, I was determined to go. Initially, Barry kind of hemmed and hawed. But as I prepared to leave for the spa, he decided to join me.

Budapest has about eight of these mineral baths and they are probably nothing like you imagine. I researched them online and each one seemed unique. Most are on the Buda side of the river. Ours was on our side, the Pest side so that’s where we decided to go. Whether or not it was the right decision, I don’t know, because it was quite a distance to walk.

Nevertheless, we went and meandered and walked, wondering if we’d ever find the place. At a Coke stand I asked the young lady the location of the “spa”. She pointed across the street to a grand building, yellow with white accents, looking like the palace of some former emperor.

We walked in, sweating like demons. It was 90 degrees and walking about 2-3 miles had taken it’s toll. Sweat was dripping off my brow and down my arm; my t-shirt was drenched. We paid the admission and went into the bowels of the building to find a locker.

The lockers were a lesson in maintaining one’s religion. Time after time we tried to find one that worked. Eventually we did, but no one really ever told us how to work the entire thing. We changed clothes and walked out to the mineral baths.

The first place we entered was the sauna. Now I have been a member of a health club since 1978 and I’ve been in many a sauna. This one sucked the breath out of your lungs. I don’t know what they did to the heat, but it felt dangerous. I was horrified when one couple brought in their daughter who appeared to be about four. The poor little girl was switching feet and whimpering. After a few seconds, she left. I’m sorry, but those parents should have been slapped silly.

After only a few minutes in the sauna, we went upstairs where there were myriad mineral baths. Corinthian columns and magnificent carvings surrounded us. The spa had hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors that day. Every pool was filled with people. All facilities are coed. The last facility to go coed did so last year.

We sat in the mineral pool and just soaked. It actually felt good. We left to enter a salt pool that was lukewarm but felt as though it was healing. I left Barry to go outside into the large mineral pool that also had a fountain. There was another pool for swimming.

I probably stayed in that pool for an hour. I chatted up some people from the U.S.—a retired couple from Springfield, Massachusetts, two recent Washington University grads (one from New Jersey, one from Florida) and the son of the Massachusetts couple along with his Ukrainian girlfriend. Barry ultimately joined me.

There was something wonderful about these baths. The Turks discovered the mineral waters of Budapest centuries ago and developed these bathhouses. Ever since, they have drawn millions of people for their supposedly healing waters. I think they work. I found myself healed of my ass-hole attitude. Temporarily.

Earlier in the day Barry had gone hiking. He had been itching to get to the top of a hillside and I told him to go. I wasn’t interested in hiking up a hill during a humid 90 degree day. Afterward, he hiked around an island in the middle of the Danube. I spent this time sleeping in and walking around the neighborhood, drinking coffee and eating pastries.

It was during his hike that Barry met an elderly Chinese man named Mr. Chow doing tai chi. Barry watched, fascinated. Eventually, he joined the old man for about twenty minutes. Barry wanted me to include that in our itinerary. He said “Ciao” to Mr. Chow so he could grab some chow. Sorry….

But it was something he enjoyed. Barry is an adventurer and he loves meeting new people and engaging with them. This can be difficult when you have a traveling partner because you must accommodate the desires of said partner. I knew he would enjoy his hiking so I told him to go ahead. And he got to experience something that propels him—connection with another human, a stranger that he will always remember. And one who will always remember him.

After a full day we retreated to our room to once again relax. That seemed to be our modus operandi. A busy day and then coming back for an old man’s nap before charging out the door again to see what lies in wait for us in the evening.

This particular evening found us too tired to go very far for dinner. We had planned to eat at a traditional Hungarian restaurant with local beer, traditional cuisine and gypsy dancers. We were too tired.

Instead we walked about four blocks to a packed Hungarian buffet and ate ourselves stupid before stumbling back to the hotel to try and get enough sleep for the plane ride to Warsaw.

2014-07-15 10.22.47

I have to say something about Budapest. It is a very inexpensive city. Pastries were oftentimes under one dollar. Actually, MOST of the time they were under one dollar. How much do we pay at Starbucks for something of lesser quality? Meals were very reasonable. We would order salads, mineral water, main courses, beer, desserts and espresso and the entire meal would be $50. When we dined on the waterfront, it was pricier, around $76. But what would that cost in Portland? Seattle? Los Angeles?

I noticed the churches in Budapest, too. Actually, I notice them in each country we visit. They are all Christian churches with derivative architectural characteristics. Yet they all reflect the nation and area in which they are built. And, most likely, the subtle differences in Christian beliefs.

The Italian churches seemed to be most opulent given that they are near Rome. The German churches and Austrian churches had fewer frescoes and stained glass. The Slovakian churches seemed poorer. The Hungarian churches I can’t quite place, but they had their own individuality.

Today, July 17, we arrived in Warsaw. I had been looking forward to this. For a number of years I’ve wanted to visit Poland. I am one quarter Polish and one quarter Ukrainian (if I had gotten to Ukraine this visit, I would have died and gone to heaven).

From what my brother says, our maternal grandmother was from Krakow (my maternal grandfather was from Lviv, Ukraine). We will not be getting to Krakow this trip. According to my cousin, we have relatives in Warsaw, unfortunately, I do not know their names. I think it would be relatively easy to find them but my cousin and I do not speak so gathering that information is difficult. Perhaps I will enlist my brother’s help next time I come. And there WILL be a next time. And when that time comes, I will be armed with names and phone numbers. I will also visit Ukraine armed with as much info as possible to learn about my mother’s side of my family.

To learn about my father’s side and the impetus for these travels and my adoption by an American couple, you can buy This is My Lemonade—An Adoption Story on Amazon (yet another shameless promotion).

We arrived in Warsaw after an hour flight. Catching a cab, we arrived at our lodging, an apartment, a very small, yet very smart, efficiency apartment that is probably two hundred square feet—with no air conditioning. It has a tiny kitchen, bath and a living/dining area. But it is completely modern with a combination washer/dryer and newer appliances. The floors are marble and so are a part of the walls. The bathroom is completely marbled.

We walked around the area and found what I believe to be walls from the Jewish Ghetto in World War II. I’m going to research this, but it looks exactly like what I’ve seen. Ironically, nearby is a street packed with sidewalk cafes that almost seems odd. Inside the walls are homes that also seems odd. Again, I have to find out if this is part of the Jewish Ghetto.

We stopped to eat at one of the outdoor cafes. As luck would have it, it was exquisite. Barry had short ribs on sauerkraut with fries. I had a carrot and apple salad along with Polish and Russian dumplings. We also had a large glass of Sangria—I had two. Dessert was ice cream, cream and strawberries—with a latte macchiato for me. Our waitress couldn’t have been more cute. Her English was quite good and she was excellent at upsetting us. At the end of the meal we told her how much we loved it and she said. “I am so glad. It puts honey on my heart.” Honey on my heart. She captured ours. We will always remember her.

Stuffed, we returned to our little abode where I conked out and Barry resumed his war with Angry Birds. Our clothes are washing so we can once again enter polite society tomorrow.









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