Ah, Budapest!

Budapest

By Andrea Scarpino

 

Budapest: Scenes The baths: blue and yellow and white tiles lining the floors and walls and ceilings, a labyrinth of mineral pools ranging from cold to tepid to steaming hot. One pool reeks of sulphur, and the metal handrails leading down the pool steps are corroded and discolored by the water's sulphur content. One steam room overwhelms with eucalyptus– "I feel like we're inside a tub of Vic's Vapor Rub," I whisper to Zac. Some pools have bubbling jets that you can use to massage your feet or back, and the extra-hot pools are usually placed near extra-cold pools so you can move back and forth between them. When I do this, my legs tingle and shake. "It's good for circulation," an older man next to me says. He's just had a total knee replacement, and he's spending all day in the bath moving from hot to cold pools as part of his rehabilitation. One bath's steam and sauna rooms are separated by sex–and thus able to be used without a bathing suit–and groups of women friends chat lazily as they sit naked next to one another in broiling heat. I can only stay in the 120 degree steam room for four minutes before my nose stings with each inhalation and the floor burns my feet. In those four minutes, I have sweated more than I think I've ever sweat. Massage: a tall, wide woman with bright red hair and a halting accent leans her entire body into mine, kneads my legs with more force than they have ever felt, digs her elbows hard into my spine. While working on my legs, she explains "Hungary's hard history," but when she begins work on my back, I can't pay attention to anything she says; all of my energy is consumed by not bursting into tears from the pain. With each knead or push or stretch, my muscles feel like they're tearing in half. "You more flexible now," she says when the massage is finished. "I hope so," I reply. For two days, my back and neck ache. The streets: feel like Paris: wide and open with trees everywhere, zooming cars. Gelato on every corner, wine bars, huge open outdoor restaurants with TVs showing Euro Cup soccer games. I walk for hours, past museums and art galleries, past cute clothing stores, just to be walking through Budapest, just to see and smell everything. I cross each of Budapest's bridges, stare into the Danube, take photographs of monuments and public art. I eavesdrop on people speaking Hungarian, a language different from any I have studied–I can't understand even the simplest sounding words. I step into supermarkets, hold vegetables and fruit I've never seen before, wonder at aisle after aisle of pickled products: cabbage, beets, peppers stuffed with sauerkraut, cucumbers, eggs, vegetable medleys. All my guidebooks say Hungarian cuisine isn't vegetarian friendly, but the supermarkets are full of delicious looking vegetables and fruits, grain-filled bread, freshly made paper-wrapped cheese. The apartment we're renting has a kitchen, and I make huge salads with greens I can't identify and an amazingly creamy feta cheese. Buda Hills: lush and green and overlooking the Pest side of the city. White stone castle and tower walls, liberty statues, people picnicking, stalls selling knickknacks–post cards, shot glasses, Hungarian dolls and ceramic pitchers. I try over and over to take a good photograph of sprawling Pest–that's why I climbed all this way in the first place. But the photos don't come out big or important or clear enough. There's a feeling to this city that I can't capture in a 5×7 inch space–a grandness, an elegance, a liveliness. I give up, put the camera away, and just stare, try to absorb all that I can into my memory.