REVIEW: Széchenyi Thermal Baths’ SPARTY

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Spa bath + party = SPARTY.  In order to spend our very few hours in Budapest efficiently, my friends and I bought tickets for the Széchenyi Thermal Baths’ sparty, granting us after-hour access to the famous Budapest baths.  We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, six American girls with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate in an unfamiliar aspect of Budapesti nightlife.  For those curious about a Hungarian sparty, I have done all of the dirty work and outlined everything there is to know about hanging out for 5 hours in a steamy pool with hundreds of your closest friends.  So if you’re planning on one day attending a sparty, or are still not exactly sure what I’m talking about, you can find here the knowledge that I wished that I’d had before my nighttime Széchenyi Thermal Bath experience.

  • We arrived at the Széchenyi Thermal Baths about an hour after opening to avoid lines, because we had not purchased “XPRESS” tickets.  Our wait was only about 5 minutes, indoors.
  • Everyone received a wristband at check-in that could electronically secure any chosen locker.  The lockers are located in the bath house, separate from the outdoor pool.  Spacious and safe, the lockers can hold a few pairs of winter boots and thick jackets without worry of running out of room.
  • Regular entrance to the sparty cost 40€, but my friends and I purchased tickets with drinks included for an additional 5€.  We got two drink tickets each in hopes of avoiding inflated prices of drinks that I’m sure, if purchased directly from the bar, were well above what we paid.
  • We had considered the fact that uncovered liquids in a pool wasn’t the best idea, but once in the baths, my friends and I found that spilled drinks were the least of our worries.  If you think too hard about what we were actually sitting in, it’s a little unsettling.
  • Colorful lights and loud music quickly distracted our young, careless minds from sanitation to remind us that we were at a party!  The lights set a fun, spirited atmosphere, but the music was only mediocre.  One, generic techno beat carried on throughout the night, making us wonder what the DJ was actually getting paid to do.
  • Though it seemed as though the crowd was more male (65%) than female (35%), my friends and I never felt uncomfortable.  In fact, we chatted with a few, very nice people, and even met some fellow Terps!  Additionally, although there was a clear majority of attendees under the age of thirty, we spotted some older couples mixed in the crowd.
  • The Széchenyi Thermal Baths’ sparty website explicitly stated no form of videography or photography allowed, so we left the GoPros at home and phones in the locker.  Silly us for following the rules.  Many people had a drink in one hand and a camera in the other.  We eventually brought our phones out onto the pool deck to capture our experience, but were annoyed that listening to instructions left us without our own sparty footage.
  • The party took place from 10:30 p.m. to 3 a.m., and we stayed nearly the entire time, talking with each other, enjoying the warmth of the water, and the presence of the crowd.  For college-aged students, attending a sparty is a unique experience that I would recommend to other adventurous adolescents while abroad.

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Destination Locations

 

Nyugalom, Szerelem, SPARTY

A.J.H.

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Budapest, Hungary

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Views of Pest and the Széchenyi Chain Bridge from the Buda Castle grounds

With cheap flights and accommodations, it was not difficult for my friends to convince me to take a trip to Budapest.  I loved Prague, so I anticipated to feel a similar affection towards this less-popular Eastern European city.

We flew Wizz Air to and from Budapest, and were unsure of the airline’s validity up until the moment we boarded the plane.  With a late-evening flight, I was hoping to nap, but it was instead one of the noisiest flights that I’ve experienced while traveling abroad so far.  Constant conversation from every row made it impossible to relax.

Wizz Air dropped us off in what seemed to me to be the airplane parking lot.  It was now past midnight, and we had to walk, in the rain, to the main terminal building.  The quick and easy airport transfer experience with miniBUD Airport Shuttle Services made up for the rainy route.  Our hostel, however, made my friends and I once again question the way that Budapest operates.

The Baroque Hostel had a liiiitle sign with a liiiitle gate and a liiiitle walkway to the door, located at the back of the building.  It all seemed slightly sketchy, especially at 1:30 a.m.  The receptionist was pushy, presumably because of the late hour, but accommodating.  Our group of six girls booked a mixed dorm of eight, with hopes that no one else would join the room, and if people did, that they would be two other girls.  As luck would have it, our stranger was a lone guy. The hostel, though, decided to move him to another room for the duration of our stay to make the situation more comfortable for everyone.  Score one point for the Baroque Hostel, and a sliver of trust restored in Budapesti logic.  The location of our room, though, raised doubts once again.  Adjacent to the living room, our room connected us to the man cave of middle-aged Hungarian men who watched TV until 3 a.m. and continued to be stationed on the couch, sleeping, when we rose in the morning and tiptoed to the bathroom in pajamas.  Though not ideal, this situation was uncomfortable at worst, and we had no problems with the Baroque Hostel, its staff, or any of our fellow travelers.  Because we would spend less than 35 hours total in Hungary, we accepted the lodging circumstances, determined to make the most of our trip.

I have become a big fan of walking tours, especially in cities where knowing the history and development of the area is crucial to appreciating the visit.  My friends and I joined a United Europe Free Tours walking tour to see Budapest’s main city sites and hear more about this unfamiliar place.  Budapest, we learned, is actually two cities, Buda and Pest, divided by the Danube River.  We first walked Pest, visiting St. Stephen’s Basilica, Erzsébet Square, and the Danube River waterfront.  Then, we crossed the Széchenyi Chain Bridge and toured Buda.

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A short climb up one of Buda’s many hills brought us to the Buda Castle, with courtyards overlooking Pest on one side and the hills of Buda on the other.  The tour also led us to the beautiful Mátyás Templom, or Matthias Church, surrounded by the Fisherman’s Bastion and its sprawling views of Pest.

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St. Stephen’s Basilica (right) and Parliament (left) are the exact same hight to represent and maintain the equality between church and state.

Not wanting to leave us without some knowledge of the native language in a city full of moody Hungarians, our tour guide taught us some important Hungarian phrases.  Saying “Hi,” or “Szia” (pronounced sia), was simple enough, but the rest of what we learned was through entertaining and effective phonetic tricks.  “Please,” or “kérek,” was remembered as “key rack.”  What would one be asking for to utilize please?  “Két sört,” or “Kait’s shirt,” meaning two beers, of course.  Finally, with a sört in hand, one can toast “Egészségére!” or “Cheers!”  The key to this phonetic pronunciation is to have had a few drinks beforehand to slur the phrase, “I can shake the tree.”  After our crash course in Hungarian, we were prepared to take on the rest of Budapest.

My friends and I returned to Pest to visit the Easter market in Vörösmarty Square.  Similar to Prague’s Easter market, but with more variety, the market held performances, prepared Hungarian food, and sold clothes, jewelry, and other creative gifts.

Making our way back to the hostel, my friends and I took the metro (which must be seen to understand its quaint comicality) to Hősök tele, or Heroes’ Square.  Though the solemnity of the Millennium Monument is somewhat lost with Budapest’s obnoxious, tourist letters, we could still admire the structure’s significance and place in Hungary’s history.

Though we quickly ran out of daylight hours in Budapest, my friends and I were looking forward to our final Hungarian activity, the city’s famous Széchenyi Thermal Baths. Used primarily for therapeutic and relaxation purposes, heated pools can be found in many different bath houses across the city, but only one provided travelers with an experience that they never knew they wanted.  Without time to soak up the baths’ nourishing effects during the day, my group planned to enjoy the baths a little differently: we were going to a sparty.

 

Travel Tips

  • Pack light, but pack heavy.  I have found that there is no better feeling than fitting your belongings for the weekend in a handy-dandy backpack.  Okay, so there are many better feelings, but this one is pretty great.  On weekend trips, I walk through the airport with pride, hands free from any rolling luggage, just me and my backpack.  Though this is the way to travel, I may have packed too light for some my trips.  No, I didn’t run out of things to wear.  Instead, I didn’t pack warm enough clothes.  Traveling with only a backpack is great, but there was more than one occasion over multiple trips when I was desperate for heavier clothing.  If you can pack cold-weather clothes in a warm-weather-clothes-sized bag, you have truly mastered the art of traveling light.

 

Destination Locations

 

Nyugalom, Szerelem, Budapest

A.J.H.