I am currently writing this from Lille, France on a sunny spring day. Outside, people are ambling down the cobbled streets of vieux Lille in denim jackets and t-shirts whilst the birdsong permeates the air.
Why oh why am I cooped up inside on such a glorious afternoon in such a glorious city, you ask?
Well, I was supposed to go to the dog cafe (!!!) with Mum this afternoon but, surprise surprise, my PhD shat all over my plans once again. (Although to be fair, it's been my teaching schedule that's been shitting all over my PhD plans lately, so I suppose I should allow the PhD to take precedent for once... I suppose...)
Needless to say, I'm feeling rather drained after three hours of hardcore typing to try and get an ethics application in. We've now only got 45 minutes until my sister comes back from work and seeing as we stole her keys so we could go out to the dog cafe, we will be waiting here until she gets back. No puppy cuddles for us, sob sob.
Instead, I thought I'd use the time to finally (fiiiiinally) get the last Budapest post up and running. Although looking at the number of photos I took on the last day, make that the last two Budapest posts up. Eep!
On our second (and last) full day in the city, we jumped up early(ish) and headed over in the direction of the Szechenyi thermal baths for the morning. The nearest metro station to us was Opera, above which stands the incredibly grand and gothic Dreschler Palace. I instantly fell in love with the building, mainly because it looks like a giant version of the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland:
Yup. Spooky. And it's been standing empty for over a decade! Once home to cafes, apartments and the Ballet Institute, this magnificent building has since passed from wealthy owner to wealthy owner since 2002 with rumours about its future conversion never quite materialising. All the while, the exterior is gently crumbling and the empty windows stare down into busy, central Budapest. The latest word is that it will be turned into a W hotel, the first hotel opened by the company in Budapest.
A short metro ride later and we were in entirely different territory. The grand edifice that houses the baths sits right in the middle of a park. We went for a wander through the greenery to hunt down some breakfast before submitting to our fate of being steamed into prune-like submission and to admire the steam rising off the lake in the park. (It looked cosy, we dipped our fingers in - it definitely wasn't. It just happened to be a little warmer than the air which was about -400 degrees centigrade).
Breakfast was a tasty, lemon-filled croissant and a cappuccino at a little cafe just outside the zoo (and I think we deserve awards for going for croissants over the cakes in the display - but we were slightly concerned about sinking like rocks to the bottom of the thermal baths so we declined).
We walked it off with a visit to Heroes Square (or Hősök tere).
The square is most famous for its iconic statues, depicting important leaders from Hungary's history. When the statues were originally constructed, Hungary was still part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and so the last spaces were reserved for members of the Habsburg dynasty - when the statue complex was damaged in WWII, these statues were replaced!
From there, we took a casual stroll over to Vajdahunyad castle. During the winter, the lake there is turned into one of the largest ice skating rinks in Europe.
Despite its medieval appearance, it was actually built in 1896! This was part of the Millennial Exhibition to celebrate Hungary's 1000th anniversary, along with Heroes Square and the Fishermans Bastion. The Parlament building was also inaugurated in this year, making it a rather productive one for Budapest!
From there, we looped back towards the thermal baths.
We took our own swimming costumes along but hired towels from the baths (well - we hired a towel. Let's just say our Hungarian wasn't quite up to scratch. And apparently neither was our English!) You can also hire swimming costumes and other bits and bobs from the baths - I would definitely recommend ensuring you have access to flip flops and dressing gowns/bathrobes if you're planning on going into the outdoor pools during the winter time because JESUS CHRIST IT WAS COLD.
We ended up daring ourselves to go outside before sprinting from the warmth of the building to the heat of those wonderful, warm waters.
And then we did not leave. For HOURS. We waded semi-blindly through the steam and watched the temperature gage as it wavered between -4 and -2 degrees C.
The baths on a freezing winter day were absolutely heavenly. I don't think there's any better way to appreciate them than when the temperature outside is positively pinching on the skin and the only way to get into the water is by doing a mad dash across the freezing brick floor (although as I said, you really should make sure you have flip flops and a dressing gown to make this a little more bearable...)
It was also fairly uncrowded considering it was a weekend and a gorgeously sunny day. As I've said to pretty much everyone I've spoken to about our trip, it was freezing cold but my goodness, I am glad that we went in winter when the sunlight was always golden and the abundant portions of warming food perfectly matched the mood outside. And nothing beats seeing the Danube frozen up, even if you need about 27 layers of thermals to be able to stand outside and watch the slabs of ice carry themselves downriver.
So because Budapest was so breathtakingly beautiful at this time of year, I'm splitting this day up and will write about our final afternoon (hopefully) soon.
For now, I'm off to enjoy Lille again! xxx