The Road Ahead : April 2011
DEC 2 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y A BALDING, 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-print board shorts -- 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 swimmers splashing in the water around them. You see, these men are playing on a waterproof chess board on a concrete bench jutting out into the warm water of Szechenyi Spa, one of Budapest's many therapeutic bathing complexes. Playing chess in a pool may seem a little unusual but it's all part of an ordinary day in the life of many Hungarians. Budapest prides itself on being the spa capital of the world with about 80 geothermal baths for locals and tourists to visit. Some visit the baths as a special treat to relax their weary 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 various 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. You not only find men playing chess in the pools (where water temperatures vary from 20-40°C), but bookworms precariously hold novels above the water as they attempt to read while bathing. The ornate yellow buildings of the complex provide a colourful backdrop against the crisp blue water and sky overhead, while a haze of sulphuric 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 loved-up couples intermingle with the elderly -- everyone is welcome in this long-standing bathing ritual. The strong Aussie dollar means you get good value when switching to Hungarian Forints -- basic baths entry is just $13AUD (extra for massages and treatments), and electronic wrist bands provide easy access to private change rooms and lockers. The great thing about Szechenyi is that men and women bathe together -- many other baths in Budapest are segregated -- making it a great place for couples, families and groups of friends. You need at least a couple of hours at the baths, which are a perfect way to relax after a busy day exploring Budapest, a city of 1.7 million people. Add Buda with Pest and you have one of Europe's most eclectic cities. STO TO O STO TO STO STO STO STO T STO STO O ORY RY/ RY/ R/ RY R RY/ R / RY/ RY/ RY/ RY/ RY/ R / H PHO P O PHO PHO PHO PH HO PH PHO HO PHO P O PHO PHO O HO OTOS TOS T TOS TO TOS TOS TOS T TO TOS TOS T S OS LI LI LI LI LI L LI LI LI LIN N NDA D N NDA NDA NDA NDA A ND NDA NDA NDA D SM SM SM SM M S SM SM SM M M SM SM SM M SM MIT ITH T ITH ITH ITH ITH TH ITH ITH IH ITH ITH 2010/JAN 2010/JAN 2011 THE ROAD AHEAD 25 MAKES YOUR DAY DEPARTURE INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL Budapest prides itself on being the spa capital of the world with about 80 geothermal baths for locals and tourists to visit. MAIN IMAGE: SZECHENYI SPA. SZECHENYI LANCHID (OR CHAIN BRIDGE). PAINTED MATRYOSHKA DOLLS. A BUTCHER SELLING MEATS.