Browsing Tag

midlife travel

Budapest Expat Tips, Expat Life

How to Spend the Best Summer Day at Gellert Baths

July 22, 2018

In case you haven’t been paying attention to my Instagram of late, Hungarians are famous for their bath culture. There are baths all around the country dating back thousands of years. Some of the most beautiful baths in the entire world can be found in Budapest. Our favourite is the Gellert Bath located inside the Gellert Hotel in the 11th District of Budapest.

The historic Gellert Hotel as seen by sitting on the pool deck.

A Brief History

The Romans were the first to take advantage of the thermal springs that were naturally occurring on the surface of the land. Romans built both public and private baths – they had approximately 15 baths in the vicinity of Budapest alone. However, the Hungarian bath culture really started flourishing during the Turkish era. The Turkish introduced Hungarians to to the concept of “wellness” treatments. Massages and the use of different creams and oils were an essential part of Turkish baths. You will continue to find these kinds of treatments available at the baths today.

The Gellert Baths

This gorgeous bath complex was built between 1912 and 1918 in the Art Nouveau style. It was damaged during World War II, but then rebuilt, and finally remodelled again in 2008. Since its opening, it has only ever been closed for one day when a pipe burst. The complex includes thermal pools, saunas, steam rooms, plunge pools, an open-air swimming and wave, and an indoor swimming pool. Masseuse and spa services are also available.  That brings me to my first recommendation…

The wave pool at the Gellert Baths. Every hour on the hour during the afternoon, huge waves bring fun and refreshment to the bathers.

Getting a Massage at the Gellert

Since I have bunions on both of my feet, I often get a sore lower back and legs from having to adjust my gait.  So when I visit the baths, I often get a massage.  The massage “menu” varies in style and price, but I always get the 45 minute Thermal Massage for 12,000 forints ($43 USD).  No pretty perfumes or birds chirping, this massage means business.

However, if you have a woman masseuse, prepare yourself to strip down entirely right in front of them before your climb onto the bed.  I’m not particularly prudish, so this didn’t bother me, but it was a bit surprising.  On other occasions, when I have had a male masseuse, you keep your bathing suit (mostly) on and they work around it.  Either way, the massages are fantastic and an essential part of having the best day.

Just off the massage room areas you will find two gorgeous thermal bath areas. The thermal baths are to the left and right with showers straight ahead. (Photo: BathsBudapest.com)

Get There Early

I can’t recommend this highly enough.  While the outdoor area is quite large, it’s pretty much impossible to find a spot past 11:00 during the summer. Furthermore, if you want loungers with an umbrella, you definitely need to be there before 10:00 on a weekend.  The lounger chairs here are extremely comfortable and make relaxing easy.  There is no drink service at your chair, but there are two bars accessible from the pool deck  – and you can even bring your own.

My husband found us the perfect shaded spot to start off our relaxing day at the Gellert.

Bring your own Food and Drinks

So this may be slightly controversial, but I do thinks it helps to have the perfect day – and its thrifty too.  While the Gellert has two snack bars and a restaurant, the food is just okay.  It’s certainly not bad, but compared to the prices, its not really one of our favourite places to eat.  Therefore, we have taken to bringing our own little sandwiches, grapes, a couple cans of beer and whatever else we need to get through the day.  We still usually end up buying coffee (which is delicious there) and additional beverages when needed. Note: This is quite common with the locals, its not like sneaking food into a movie theatre. No need to feel weird.

Our bill for one pint of draft beer purchased at the bar. Quite expensive for Hungarian prices… $5.15 USD

Sit near the Musicians

Now I assume this only happens on the weekends, but do yourself a favour and find a lounger closer to the indoor area.  The Hungarian Folklore band that plays from noon until 3pm is AMAZING.  These five talented musicians play jazz standards, show-tunes, classical and Hungarian favourites.  I honestly can’t believe you don’t have to pay extra to hear them play. If you are a music lover, this is only another good reason to spend a day at the baths.

The incredible musicians a the Gellert. My husband is always requesting they play Acker Bilk… (sorry for my potato quality photo).

Enjoy the Wave Pool  – with Caution

The outdoor wave pool is open from April to October. This pool can be incredibly fun, but also a little dangerous if you don’t take care.  At the top of every hour, slightly bizarrely, the song “America” from West Side Story plays across the loudspeakers to let visitors know the waves are about to start. Once in the pool, a lifeguard manually bangs a cow bell that tells you to get prepared.

At first, the small tsunamis seem a little anticlimactic, but within minutes, you are being tossed around in high seas.  In fact, if you are quite close to the sides, you risk being taken completely under or slammed into the poolsides.  My own mother once had to rescue my father from this exact situation.  So for those that want less life-risking fun, stick to the middle in shallower depths.

Waves beginning their swirls and crashes around the pool. Hang on to your bathing suits and small children.

The Best Day

If you follow my advice, you can’t help but have tremendous fun.  You will be relaxed, well-nourished, cultured, sun-kissed and water-logged. All this for only 6200 forint per person ($22 USD)  – and that even includes a private changing cabin. Of course, if you go on a weekday or stay for a shorter period of time, you can get even lower pricing. Either way, the Gellert Baths are not to be missed.

You’ll find us there every second weekend all summer long….

To read more about what else we do in Budapest this summer, read this.

 

 

 

Budapest Expat Tips

Tourist Alert: What Not to Wear in Budapest, Hungary

March 3, 2018
What not to wear in Budapest

Budapest is an amazing city. Everywhere you look you’ll find amazing architecture, museums, hotels, bars, nooks, and crannies. And while there are many cultural differences between North America and Hungary, the way people dress is one of them. So unless you want to be immediately identified as a tourist, here is a short list of what not to wear in Budapest, Hungary.

Tourist Alert

Please note that these are my personal observations after 3 months of living in Budapest.  I have absolutely done ALL of the things listed below (as I’m sure some of you have too). You (and I) may even continue to do so in the future. Guess what?  If that’s what you want, go ahead and be the best tourist you can be! But for those of you who want to blend in a little more with your European surroundings  – keep reading.

Dirty Shoes or Trainers

Since we take public transportation practically everyday, we get to see a lot of footwear. Hungarian’s shoes are practically always polished to perfection.  Even in wintertime, you would have to look hard to find salt stains on a fellow passenger’s boots. Laces are also neat and clean – with shoes/boots completely tied up.

Now I am not saying that all Canadians have dirty shoes (as I am sure not all Hungarians have clean ones).  However, both my husband and I noticed this almost immediately.  It prompted us to get to the store to make sure we had some good polish on hand. There is definitely a higher level of respect for an individual’s personal appearance.

Furthermore, wearing trainers/running shoes is definitely a sign that you must be a tourist.  You will discover most Europeans wear stylish but comfortable shoes or a higher-end sneaker look.  You’ll likely only find running shoes being worn during an actual athletic activity.

 mens shoes

A more likely shoe to be seen in winter is something like this comfortable, but stylish, men’s shoe.

Running shoes

While these bright coloured trainers may be perfect for the gym or track, wearing on the street of Budapest simply screams tourist.

Colourful Winter Coats

When the temperatures drop, I’ve always liked to beat the gloom with a bold coloured coat.  I have a turquoise coat, a bright pink down vest and my husband has a cobalt blue coat.  Unfortunately, these are not looks you find regularly on adults on the streets of Budapest. Most Hungarians above the age of 12 wear black or darker colours. Lucky for us, we own more than one coat.

Note that this doesn’t always stop us from wearing our coats of many colours, but we make a conscious choice to do so. Sometimes, and in certain places, its simply best to fit in and look “Hungarian”.  Why be a target for tour operators and pickpockets when you don’t have to be?

Check out our latest video on YouTube to see when we blend in and when we don’t bother…

Tourist with bright coat

While we have protected his identity, this man is immediately recognizable as a tourist in this bright blue coat.

Baseball Caps

As someone who has spent the last ten summers of my life on a boat, both my husband and I own more then one baseball cap (even if I did rarely wear one).  Baseball caps are often a complete necessity when sailing to keep the sun out of your eyes without losing your sunglasses. On the contrary, you will find few adult Hungarians wearing these on the streets of Budapest.

If you do see this style of cap, its most likely to be devoid of any slogan or sports logo. I’m not really sure why baseball hats get no love?  You do see lots other styles of hats – bucket hats, pork pie hats, straw hats, and my husband’s personal favourite, the Trilby. Ps. This does to apply to ladies as well.

Tourists in Baseball caps

Wearing this hat is not only a sign that your are a tourist but a Times Square billboard sized sign that you are a tourist.

Sweatsuits, Tracksuits and Yoga Pants

I love my yoga pants.  Who doesn’t love their yoga pants?  They can be be both flattering and practical when they fit right.  In the past, I never hesitated from wearing them to the mall, out for coffee or grocery shopping.  On the other hand, please know that I never wore them to work or to a dinner party. Rarely do you see these anywhere on the streets of Budapest.  Sweats? Track suits? Leisure wear? Nope.  You won’t find any of those either. Again, this applies to both women and men.  Sorry boys!  Leave those baggy track suits at home.

yoga pants

Defying all North American logic, these two women are wearing yoga pants to actually do yoga – not to meet at Starbucks for a latte.

Other Tourist Giveaways

Of course clothing is just one part of the tourist puzzle.  Carrying selfie sticks, wearing backpacks, multiple cameras, staring at large maps, paying in Euros instead of forints, are all huge “tourist alert” giveaways.  Perhaps the most obvious – and the hardest to avoid – is speaking in English.

Selfie Stick

Perhaps the most obvious of tourist devices – the selfie stick. Not only that – but many popular spots simply ban the use of these nowadays.

In short, no matter how you dress or what language you speak, please don’t hesitate to come and visit this extremely safe and beautiful city that I now call home. Hungarians are fabulous and will fill you to the brim with the best food, wine, weather and entertainment.

What do you think screams tourist?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

Moving Abroad, Personal Stories

What We Did for our First Christmas in Budapest

December 26, 2017
Family Christmas in Budapest

Today is December 26th and still an official holiday here in Budapest. Sadly, my parents flew back home to Toronto this morning. However, my sister and her husband are still here – woo hoo! Andrew and I are at home today and getting organized to move to our new apartment. It’s been a great couple of days, so I thought I would share what we did for our first Christmas in Budapest.

Hungarian Traditions

Christmas is celebrated a little differently here in Hungary compared to the typical Christmas in Canada.  Santa or “Mikulas” visits on December 6th and leaves chocolates and small presents in your boots.  Mikulas serves a similar purpose as the Western Santa Claus in that he keeps track of the good and bad deeds of children all over the world. This tradition is why you don’t see “Mall Santas” here at Christmas.  No photo op with Santa to be found (much to my husband’s distain).

Christmas Tree

Decadently decorated trees at the Gresham Palace Hotel – but few Santas to be found.

Christmas Eve is when families get together. It’s when the adults set up and decorate the Christmas tree and place the larger gifts underneath.  Even in Canada as a child, I had to wait until a heard a bell ring to tell me that the angels (or Baby Jesus) brought the tree and the gifts for me. There is much more of an emphasis on advent and other Christian traditions.

In case you were wondering, the angels brought us a new flatscreen TV 😉

Our Family Christmas Eve

To celebrate our first Christmas in Budapest, I was lucky enough to have my family here from Toronto.  My mother, father, sister and brother-in-law made the journey arriving in the days before. In addition to my immediate family, we also hosted my Aunt (a Budapest resident) and our friend, Wes, from the travel blog, Feather and the Wind.

We decided to celebrate at my parent’s rented apartment so they didn’t have to be the ones to travel.  Like every city, its hard to get a taxi on Christmas Eve.

The Food

Rather than trying to sort out the pots and pans at an AirBnb, we decided to order dinner from one of our favourite downtown restaurants, Kiosk.  Early on December 24th, Andrew and I hopped on the Number 2 tram and went to pick up one whole turkey, one whole duck and all the holiday fixings.  The food was delicious.  I would highly recommend their services for the future.

We ate my mother’s deviled eggs and cabbage rolls as starters.  We ate tons of turkey and duck. We finished off our casual night with a shot of palinka and my Aunt’s traditional (and homemade) chestnut cake for dessert. A very happy and full bunch indeed!

Christmas Dinner

Christmas Day

Christmas Day in Budapest was GORGEOUS.  Full sun and twelve degrees.  We’ve had Christmases in Florida with similar weather! We wanted to have a family brunch at the Gundel Restaurant. The Gundel is located just beside City Park. Gundel is the restaurant where you can find traditional Hungarian dishes based on original recipes, served in an exceptional ambiance. For those of you reading from Toronto, it is a similar experience as going to the Old Mill for Christmas Lunch.

It was a fabulous day and I was so happy to be able to spend it with my family here in Budapest, Hungary.  Missed were my step-children who celebrated Christmas in Haliburton, Ontario and Calgary, Alberta respectively. Fingers crossed to seeing them here for the holidays sometime soon.

Moving Abroad

Night flight to Budapest: The First 24 Hours

November 22, 2017
Night flight to Budapest

We made it through our night flight to Budapest.  Our entire journey took about 16 hours from door to door – and I have to admit, it was a bit rough.  Our flight went from Toronto to Amsterdam to Budapest. We’ve never traveled with so much luggage AND a dog.  We were sweaty, tired, a wee bit cranky but pretty happy upon arrival. Lucy (our dog) was amazing.  Not an accident or single complaint at all!

Our 5 checked bags.  We had two more for carry on along with our laptop bags and the dog.

Our 5 checked bags. We had two more for carry on along with our laptop bags and the dog.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we’ve had a successful take-off on this first Nightflight to “Budapest”
Our flying time will be 16 hours. We’ll be travelling at a speed of 2183 miles per second.”  – with apologies to Boney M

Our car picked us up at the airport and we arrived at our lovely, spacious, but FREEZING apartment.  We successfully restarted the gas boiler and then hit the streets in search of a hot beverage while we waited for our apartment to heat up. We found a lovely tented area just down the block to have a mulled wine and a beer. Perfect.

View from our balcony on Raday Utca

The view from our balcony on Raday Street in Budapest’s 9th District

After our drinks, we came back to the apartment where we started to unpack our bags and then proceeded to promptly fall asleep until about midnight.  Of course, we then spent a few hours up in the middle of the night – hungry –  as our bodies aren’t used to the six hour time difference yet. Since we are typically morning people, we were astonished to wake up the next morning around 11:30am.

The next day

We got dressed, headed off to the nearby dog park and then walked a few blocks east to the Danube for a coffee (coffee is so very good in Budapest). We went to do small grocery shop at Tesco, dropped the dog back off at the apartment and went in search of some freshly made goulash soup.  We tried at first to go to the “For Sale Pub” – a quirky touristy spot with autographed papers everywhere – but it was packed full.  Instead, we ate at the cosy “Paris Texas” on Raday Street. The soup came from the restaurant next door and it was delicious!

Aniko and Andrew by the Danube

A very jet-lagged Aniko and Andrew by the Danube

Two very tasty goulash soups on a rainy first evening in Budapest

Two very tasty goulash soups on a rainy first evening in Budapest

Once our bellies were full and warm, we headed back “home” for more unpacking, did a little bit of work online and then collapsed into our bed… only to wake up again in the middle of the night. *sigh*

 

 

Moving Abroad

Now Boarding: Moving Midlife to Budapest, Hungary

October 18, 2017
Moving Abroad to Budapest

Welcome to our blog all about our experiences moving to – and living in – Budapest, Hungary. We’ve been getting a lot of questions about this move abroad… so here are some answers:

Why did we choose to move from Canada? Well, in very simple terms, we wanted to share the experience of living abroad while we are both still young enough and healthy enough to truly enjoy it. We didn’t want to wait another 20 years until retirement – a lot can happen in that time.

Why did we chose Hungary? We chose Hungary as our destination because I am a dual Canadian-Hungarian citizen. And because my husband is British, we can easily live and work in anywhere in the European Union. In my husband’s case, he can do this before “Brexit” occurs and can remain even afterwards as the spouse of a Hungarian citizen.

Why Budapest? This is the easiest question to answer. We both firmly believe that Budapest is the most beautiful city in Europe. It offers a wide variety of incredible architecture, music, nightlife, food, wine, history, weather and a beautiful landscape that we love.

Danube Drinks

Our favourite place for a drink beside the Danube.

We are also seeking a simpler, slower life then we had in Canada and we look forward to reconnecting with my Hungarian relatives and family history. While we will continue to work hard, we want to live a life where personal relationships are more important than material possessions. We are looking forward to “starting over again” and trying something new.

What about our families? This is the toughest part. Leaving our family in Canada. But with today’s technology, we know that each and every one of them is only a click, swipe or phone call away. Furthermore, first visits are already scheduled on the calendar. 🙂

Are we taking our dog? Absolutely. Lucy will be making the journey with us from the very first day as we travel via Amsterdam to get to Budapest. For the details on how we did this, please read our post: 5 Tips to Moving to with a Pet.

When do we arrive in Budapest? This first post was written while still in Canada.  We arrive in Budapest at the end of November 2017 and are looking forward to the Budapest Christmas Markets.

Do we have somewhere to live?  Yes and no.  We have secured a fabulous, classical, one-bedroom apartment for short-term rental through HomeAway until the beginning of January. Its right near the Central Market Hall (Nagy Vásárcsarnok) and we are very familiar with the location. Once we arrive, we will look for long-term accommodations using the services of InterRelocation.

Budapest Central Market Hall.

Spices for sale in the Budapest Central Market Hall.

Will we eat Kocsonya (ko-choan-yuh)? Absolutely not! (Google it yourselves)

Why is this blog called “44 Letters”? Because there are 44 letters in the Hungarian alphabet. Doesn’t learning Hungarian sound scary and confusing? Well that’s because it is. Much like this move to Budapest!

What can you expect from this blog? Lots of stories, photos and videos about moving abroad, our daily life, our favourite places in Budapest to eat, drink, dance, enjoy and more!  We’ll even include stories from our travel experiences throughout Hungary and Europe. We’re not 20, you likely won’t see a photo of me in a bikini – but we are not retired and we are ready for this adventure.  This is our Midlife in Budapest.