We slept reasonably well on the train, and awoke to breakfast on complimentary croissants and water. The train hit Budapest just about on time, after passing through pleasant-looking country.
We had hours to kill before we could check-in to our hostel, so we planned to store our bags at the station and head to some thermal baths for an easy day. We didn’t start well – the station was a mess, basically half building-site, and we wandered unsucessfully for ages before a nice old toothless station attendant asked us if we needed help, and pointed us to the exact opposite part of the station from the one marked on the map.
We walked several km downtown to the Danube and the thermal pools. First impressions were not great – lots of building works near the station, lots of homeless people, lots of of bent-over old people – I mean people who were literally bent double as they walked. The area felt rough and dodgy – completely unlike most of the places we’ve been on this trip – maybe like King’s Cross in the old days.
As we approached the centre of town things got better, and Budapest turned into a typical central European city – albeit bigger and edgier than Krakow or Leipzig. We crossed the Danube on foot, suitably impressed by its size and the grand buildings that lined both sides, and the monuments towering above it. We found our baths, attached to a hotel, and went in.
The baths did not disappoint – they were based in a rambling old building, somewhat faded and with facilities that didn’t match the best places we’ve been (even Zakopane had nicer changing areas). But there were statues and wall carvings everywhere, and pools both inside and out. We spent a lot of time in the outdoor thermal pool and then moving between the sauna, the ice plunge pool, and the deckchairs. Budapest was hot – we were easily able to lie outside and feel warm. The place was enlivened by some Italian tourists who shouted excitedly at each other all across the pools, while the more sedate locals were trying to float meditatively.
We returned to pick up our stuff and get to the hostel. The next few hours weren’t pleasant – lack of food and sleep, and problems getting from A to B, turned me somewhat angry and low, but we managed to check into our apartments and eventually found somewhere to eat. Again, there were roadworks everywhere – huge areas had been dug up and fenced off, most of which weren’t being worked on as far as I could tell, and it felt like it took twice as long to get anywhere due to doubling back and around. Our apartment was nice, one of four private rooms with a shared kitchen and laundry on the first floor of an apartment building. The walls were quite thin and we could hear a lot of noise, but luckily it stopped dead by 10pm – apparently a strictly-enforced rule.