Thursday, January 5, 2012

Bidets for men, Premium rail service, and Atlantic depressions

Of course, you would be drawn to the first part of the title, and had I not seen (and oh, experienced!) it, I wouldn't believe its existence. Yet there it was, in Budapest's Gellert baths, in the section reserved for the men: a bidet for the guys! Quite different from the French version, which often is mistaken by American travelers as some weird foot-washing sink, the bidet at Gellert consisted of a type of round stainless steel stool that had the central cushion part removed. Below it, mounted in the center on the floor, was a type of inverted shower head. Since this was the men-only section, many of the fellows simply wear a type of loincloth (either covering the front or the rear but not both) and strut around the area in portly fashion. Some don't bother about the loincloth, probably because the signs alert one that only on weekends and holy days a cover is mandatory. With such skimpy attire it is an easy thing to lower oneself onto the stool, facing the tiled wall and reaching for the two antique handles to adjust warm and cold water (and of course pressure). Presently, happiness starts to cascade upward in gentle fashion, soon reaching one's nether regions. Man oh man. Highly recommendable!
The public section of Gellert
In our four-and-a-half days in Budapest we visited three baths, Szechenyi, Rudas, and Gellert. Each one is different. Probably our favorite was 500-year-old Rudas, with its intimately dark interior, the Turkish dome, and the many small basins with different water temperatures all within just a few feet of one another. Gellert with both its common area and then its separate sections for men and women had the hottest hammam (or steam bath), and Szechenyi is simply iconic with its chess players. Admittance to one of these baths costs between about 12 to 15 euro and includes all the pools, saunas, and hammams, but no massage services or the like; those are priced a la carte. Admittance also covers a cubicle to leave one's clothes and other belongings, with an intricate electronic system that is easy to use once one has figured it out—and there were always friendly locals who would tell us what to do.
The BJC is located in an old residence

Unbeknown to me at the time of my NYE post, January rang in a new era in Hungary: a complete ban on smoking in indoor public places! So, our New Year's Eve jazz concert was absolutely fabulous since we could actually breathe. (The Budapest Jazz Club had decided to make the remainder of December 31 smokeless as well.) Great food, superb jazz, and a fitting venue in the form of an old apartment building that featured a marble staircase between floors made for a wonderful way to start the new year.
One of several trios to play on NYE

Our digs in the Hilton Budapest (Old Town) right next to the Mathias Church were not only luxurious but positively a value: Having access to the Executive Lounge we were able to munch on snacks and wet our whistle for zero HUF (Hungarian forint), and a superb breakfast buffet in the hotel's restaurant (regularly costing about $36 or $37 per person) was also included. So, spending about $130 a night for such a place is not as frivolous as it might seem.
Mathias Church with the intricate tiled roof
Public transport in Budapest is excellent, with buses, trams, trolleys, and the subway working efficiently. We had bought a weekly pass for our 5-day stay, and it was a bargain at something like $16.
The Budapest tram

On Tuesday it was time to leave Hungary's capital (and no, we didn't see or get mixed up in any of the protests). Sabine had made train reservations and by chance had found out about the Premium JetRail service that is being offered for the 7-hour trip to Munich. Think of First Class with a Premium twist—and all that for only an extra 20 euro! During the entire trip we were offered snacks and our choice of unlimited beverages, which led from prosecco via beer to red wine. The seats were comparable to those in transatlantic flights when one sits up front. Wow! If you are going to travel in Europe by train in the near future, you may want to see whether such service is offered.
Traveling in style to Munich
Yesterday, Germany started to get hammered by Atlantic depression "Dieter," yet we decided that after all the holiday feeding frenzy it was time to ride Sabine's rather heavy bikes in hopes of finding an open pub. Well, it was so damn windy that we didn't look long and hard after the first two choices proved to still be closed for Christmas, and so it was a day mostly at home, trying to stay warm and dry. Nevertheless, those 17 miles somehow have given me the sniffles, and I hope that the last few days are not going to be too scratchy-throaty. In a few minutes we'll venture outside, taking the commuter train for the 20-minute trip to Munich's city center. The wind is howling, and I hope we won't have trees landing on our heads. Oh well, if I survived the male bidets I am sure I'll survive a depression called Dieter as well—as long as nobody asks me to pet a monkey!


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