Budapest has to be one of my favorite cities in Europe — practically up there with Paris, Barcelona, and Istanbul. But my tourist pace really slows down when the thermometer is pushing 100 degrees. We are looking at temperatures in the high nineties and low hundreds for several more days.So yesterday we decided to do a leisurely stroll in the morning, with the promise of cooling down at one of the famous Budapest bathhouses after lunch as the heat intensifies.
We actually went for a run along the Danube at 6:30 am, just before the city started to really heat up. After breakfast we wandered across the striking Széchenyi Chain Bridge to the Buda side of the river (We are staying in Pest), the home of Buda Castle and other key monuments of Hungary’s medieval past.
The highlight of the morning was a visit to Matthias Church, the site of coronations of Hungarian kings. I had been in that church just 15 month ago with my dad, though the interior was so filled with scaffolding and plastic wrapping that it was hard to really appreciate the place. This time, there was scaffolding on the outside, too. I joked to Jim that I hoped they’d finished the work inside and moved the scaffolding and workers outside. But I wasn’t really hopeful that that’s how it works.
We stepped inside, and the difference from the last visit was miraculous. Not a trace of scaffolding. Ceilings, columns, and walls were covered with gloriously fresh, bright, and clean tracery. Beautiful geometric patterns in bright colors give off a mystical, oriental flair. The place was fully returned to its earlier magnificence.
Satisfied with our glimpse into Hungary’s magnificent past, we took a long, slow walk along the Danube and headed back to pack towels and swim gear for a refreshing afternoon at the baths. On the way we stopped for lunch at a nice shady cafe. And then we made our way to the Széchenyi thermal baths, where the whole city seemed to be cooling off in 15 pools — indoor outdoor, hot, cold, medium. This is a ritual that just might just get repeated today.