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Journeys : Apr May 2011
Abalding, middle-aged man moves his stubby fingers across the chequered gameboard with impressive dexterity and carefully positions one of his few remaining chess pieces. A handful of his mates lean in and watch closely as his opponent – another middle- aged man wearing nothing but a pair of faded Hawaiian-pr int boardshorts – scratches his naked chest and ponders his next move. The moves continue, back and forth, and the men seem largely unaware of the throng of sw immers splashing in the water around them. They’re playing on a waterproof chess board on a concrete bench jutting out into the war m water of Szechenyi Spa, one of Budapest’s many therapeutic bathing complexes. Playing chess in a pool may seem unusual, but it’s all part of an ordinary day in the life of many Hungarians. With about 80 geothermal baths for locals and tourists to visit, Budapest prides itself on being the spa capital of the world. Some visit the baths as a special treat to rela x their wear y bodies and enjoy beauty treatments and massages, but others consider it a daily ritual and social catch- up and use time at the baths to indulge in var ious hobbies – like chess. Szechenyi has 15 pools (12 indoor and three outdoor, which date back to 1913), making it one of the largest therapeutic bathing complexes in Europe. As well as finding men playing chess in the pools (where water temperatures vary from 20°C-40 °C), bookworms precariously hold novels above the water as they attempt to read while bathing. The or nate yellow buildings of the complex provide a colourful backdrop against the cr isp blue water and sky overhead, while a haze of sulphurous steam drifts across the pool’s surface. Many women – and some men – bob around in brightly-coloured shower caps as they enjoy the spa jets, waterfalls and whirlpools in the main pools. Young couples inter mingle w ith the elderly – everyone is welcome in this long-standing bathing ritual. It’s economical, too – the strong Aussie dollar means you get good value when switching to Hungar ian forints. Basic baths entry is just A$13 (extra for massages and treatments) and electronic wrist bands provide easy access to private changerooms and lockers. Pawn to Queen’s Bishop four Linda Smith explains how it’s done in Budapest Destinations 14 April / May 2011
Feb March 2011
Jun Jul 2011