How a trip to a Hungarian bathhouse inspired me to strive for better physical fitness

In my time since returning from Europe I’ve had a chance to think over a few of stories I acquired overseas but hadn’t told to many people. These are stories related to notable encounters with individual persons and somewhat unique experiences I had while exploring the continent.

The first story in this series centers on my time in Budapest, Hungary. On my second day in Budapest I decided to visit to the famous Szechenyi Bathhouse, which is located near Heroes Square. I had heard of this place from the hostel I was staying at, and because it didn’t cost very much (the Hungarian currency is not very strong) I decided it was worth a try. It also seemed like a good chance to experience something “European,” and I had been told that thermal baths are an old Hungarian tradition (there are several dozen bathhouses across Budapest). I even opted to get a massage package with my entrance fee. Those who know a bit about me know that this was a highly unusual move; I am normally not a fan of massages because they leave me in a fair amount of physical pain. But, I decided that if any place had a chance of changing my mind it would be Budapest’s best bathhouse.

To help give some context and give you an idea of what it looks like, below are a few photos of the bathhouse that I took before leaving:

One end of the outdoor pool area
One area of the indoor pools.
Another indoor pool.

Upon arrival I went to the front desk and spoke with the friendly (and thankfully English speaking) staff, who directed me to the locker room, handed me an appointment card for my scheduled massage and gave me an overview of the facilities.

The massage area was in the back and took a few minutes of exploration to find, but I made it in time for my appointment. In the room were a receptionist and four massage specialists. One of them was a very obese man, and I instantly knew he was the one I was going to get. I gave the receptionist my appointment card, and sure enough, the really fat guy was the one I was assigned to. For the next twenty or so minutes I got worked over by this guy. To his credit he seemed to be very good at what he did, but sadly the outcome was the same as all my previous massage experiences. During the massage he applied some sort of oil, which bonded to my skin. After the massage, before going into the pools, I figured I should wash it off to keep from contaminating the water, but it just would not come off. This lead to one of the strangest feelings I’ve ever had – having oily skin underwater. (Later I learned that this was supposed to happen; the oil is meant to help your skin retain moisture and not dry out after having been in the water for extended periods)

It was time to hit the pools. The Szechenyi Bathhouse has quite a few indoor and outdoor pools, (along with several saunas, steam rooms and all the amenities you would expect from a major spa) and I tried out nearly all of them. While the outdoor pools are all the same temperature, the indoor ones range from cool to hot, and there are also a pair of really cold ones. For a great sensory experience, spend a few minutes in the hottest pool and then get out and immediately get into the nearby frigid pool. The lazy river in one of the outdoor pools is also a good time.

If you’ve been reading this far, you may be wondering when I’m going to get the point of this post; how the trip inspired me to strive for better physical fitness. Your patience will now be rewarded (maybe). In between pools, walking the grounds of the bathhouse shirtless and in just my swimsuit, I became increasingly aware of my waistline, especially in comparison to many of the other males of my age group who were there. I’ve never been fat, but I’ve never quite been skinny either, with a small bit of blubber budging out of my gut (a result from my well known love of sweets). Feeling conscious of my figure for the first time in my life, I decided it was finally time to make an effort to shed that bit of excess around my center. I certainly didn’t want to ever turn into the guy who gave me a massage. If nothing else, I figured there would be some health benefits from working on this goal, and it might even make me slightly less unattractive to the opposite sex.

“Remember Budapest” has become something of a motto that I’ve been repeating to myself while eating and exercising. My efforts might work, or they might fade into nothingness, but hopefully by writing things like this down they acquire some sort of permanence.

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