September 2021 Recap: Castles, Caves, Baths and the Beatles

Detail of a window in Hotel Palota

Last Updated on: 10th October 2021, 03:25 am

Pandemic Update

One and a half years into this pandemic, and it’s still wreaking havoc with lives. Like everyone else, Steve and I can’t wait for our lives to return to normal. Still, we respect how dangerous Covid is and how it is overwhelming healthcare systems, so we will continue to be cautious as long as necessary.

Early in the month, Steve and I talked about how the number of Covid cases was low in Hungary, and maybe it was time to venture into nearby countries. We considered a trip to Vienna, Austria but discovered that their Covid numbers were higher than Hungary’s. So we now have a new travel rule: don’t go to places with higher rates of active Covid cases than the place you are. So we will limit our travel to Hungarian towns for now.

At the start of September, there were less than 200 new cases per day. By month-end, that number has tripled.

Gellert Spa and Bath 

Our love affair with thermal baths continues.

Hotel Gellért has graced the bank of the Danube River in Budapest with its Art Nouveau elegance for over 100 years. It is on the Buda side of the city at the foot of the Liberty Bridge.

The hotel is connected to the Gellért Spa, a well-known Budapest attraction. You can visit the spa even if you aren’t a guest at the hotel. I had read some reviews that said that the baths need renovation. Despite those reviews, I wanted to visit it to see the décor, so Steve and I checked it out. I was not disappointed. 

Yes, things could have been better. The fountains were empty, and the wave machine was not working. Mineral deposits hung from the statues in the thermal pools, and a few statues were missing. Even so, you can’t deny its glamour.

According to this article by CGTN, the spa was slated for renovation, but the loss of revenues because of the pandemic has put that in question.

The main outside attraction is the wave pool, which is currently being used as a swimming pool. It is surrounded by decorative tiles, statues, and plants and overlooked by a large terrace. Chaise lounges fill the multi-level patio. There is also a rather boring-looking thermal bath too, as well as a Finnish sauna and tub.

The wave pool at the Gellert Spa in Budapest

The Gellért Spa wave pool and patio

The grandeur continues inside with a swimming pool and several thermal baths. A steam room, massages, beauty treatments, and medical spa services are available.

I loved the balcony with lounge chairs and a retractable roof overlooking the indoor pool. For someone who loves to read by a pool and does not want too much sun, this was perfect.

The indoor swimming pool at the Gellert Spa

The indoor pool and balconies

Return to Aquaworld

Steve and I enjoyed our July visit to Aquaworld Resort Budapest so much we decided to make another three-night visit. Since school has resumed in Hungary, it was less crowded than last time.

Even though there were fewer people, there were a lot of families with small children. The complex is large enough that you can always find a quiet place, but the overtired kids made for some noisy meal times. Since it is a resort with a waterpark, that is to be expected.

We hung out in the pools and thermal baths until we were waterlogged, drying off only to eat and sleep. Breakfast and dinner were included, and the food was fabulous.

Indoor lap pool and hanging bridge at Aquaworld Resort Budapest

The indoor lap pool and hanging bridge at Aquaworld at closing time

We love this place so much we are going back for our third visit in mid-October. You can read more about Aquaworld in our post “3 Carefree Days at Aquaworld Budapest.”

The Case of the Frustrating Waiter

On our first night, our waiter had a hard time understanding what we wanted to drink, partly because of the language and partly because he was hard of hearing. We finally got it sorted out. Thankfully we only had to place a drink order.

The next night, we chose a table in a different section. Low and behold, here comes the same waiter. This night, I felt like wine, so I asked for a glass of merlot. Our waiter said, “merlot isn’t good,” and suggested pinot noir. I agreed to give it a try. 

The pinot noir wasn’t bad, but I preferred merlot, so when I was ready for a second glass, I asked for merlot. 

The waiter said, “Pinot noir?” 

I said, “No, merlot.”

He said, “Pinot noir,” and nodded his head.

I said, “No, merlot,” a little more forcefully.

He looked at me a said, “Merlot?”

I nodded my head in agreement. Phew, I was glad that was over.

When he returned with my wine, he put it down and proudly stated, “Pinot noir.”

I shook my head and said, “No, merlot.” 

He went off to replace it.

I’ve never worked so hard to get what I wanted in a restaurant.

A Visit to Northeast Hungary

Steve and I talked about visiting some Hungarian towns east of Budapest for a while but never seemed to pull it all together. We finally got down to it and planned a trip to the towns of Eger and Lillafüred.

Our first stop was three nights in Eger. We explored a 13th-century castle, toured the Archbishop’s Palace and Cellars (caves that had been a wine cellar), and visited a Beatles museum.

We also headed over to nearby Egerszalók to see the Sodomb, a large limestone hill, and spend time in yet another bath.

Four photos of Eger and Egerszalok

A luxury hotel, the Beatles, a castle view, and a spa day

You can read all about the attractions in these two towns in “Eger and Egerszalók: A Great Hungarian Getaway.

Off to the Palace

For more than a year, I have been intrigued by the Hotel Palota in Lillafüred.

Hotel Palota at night

Hotel Palota at night

The hotel is in a valley in the Bükk Mountains. There are several caves and many hiking trails to explore there.

Hotel Palota was built in 1930. From then until World War II, it was enjoyed by members of high society. During the war, it was occupied by German soldiers and also served as a hospital for Russian soldiers.

After the war, the hotel was again used as intended. For much of this time, it was managed by the National Council of Trade Unions. You needed a special voucher to stay at the hotel.

In 1993, the hotel was acquired by the Hunguest chain, which refurbished and modernized it. It is on the Register of Hungaricums as a valuable national treasure.

Four photos of Hotel Palota

Views of the hotel

Exploring Caves

We toured two limestone caves near Hotel Palota. The first was Anna Cave. This cave has several plant fossils. The tour lasted about 40 minutes and was in Hungarian. Our guide got a lot of laughs while Steve and I stood there looking lost.

The second cave was the Szent István Cave. This tour was a little shorter and also in Hungarian. This guide did not get any laughs. Despite not understanding what was being said, Steve and I got some cool photos.

If you can only see one cave, I recommend Szent István. It has more interesting formations, which you can see in these photos:

Four photos of limestone cave formations

Formations in Szent István cave

Miskolctapolca Cave Bath

The town of Miskolctapolca is one and a half hours from Lillafüred. Its claim to fame is the cave baths. In the Miskolctapolca Cave Bath, you can swim through caves in 86 degrees F (30 degrees C) spring water.

Entrance to the cave bath

Into the cave

Inside the cave bath

Inside the cave bath

Steve and I did not want to miss this, but we were a little disappointed. Because sound carries in the caves, and all the kids had to take advantage of that, it was noisy. Another issue was that the more secluded pools seemed to attract a lot of couples who thought because the lights were low, they had privacy. I’m not talking about teenagers who couldn’t keep their hands off each other. There were several middle-aged couples who were getting a little friendlier than is appropriate in public.

Despite this, I am glad we got to experience the cave bath.

This Month’s Media

Inferno is one of the most enjoyable books I have ever read. Not because of the plot, which is standard thriller, but because author Dan Brown does three things very well: 1. he brings places to life. A lot of this story takes place in Florence, Italy. His descriptions of that city’s sights make me anxious to see them. 2. he incorporates art, in this case, Dante’s epic poem, The Divine Comedy. 3. he ties in religious and social issues that make you think.

In Inferno, the primary social issue is overpopulation. How many people can the Earth support, and what happens when we grossly exceed that number? The mad scientist’s solution was one I would never have thought of.

At the beginning of the book Brown states that “all artwork, literature, science, and historical references in this novel are real.” That statement has been challenged by several people, including Noah Charney in his article “Fact-Checking Dan Brown’s ‘Inferno’: 10 Mistakes, False Statements, and Oversimplifications” in the Daily Beast and Ricki Lewis, PhD in her article “Dan Brown’s Inferno”: Good Plot, Bad Science” in DNA Science (spoiler alert).

It would be great if Dan Brown got all his facts straight, but despite these hiccups, I still enjoy everything his novels offer.

A few months ago Steve and I watched Unorthodox on Netflix and enjoyed it a lot. This month, I decided to check out the book on which it was based. In her book Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots author Deborah Feldman delves deep into the life of the Satmar Jews. She isn’t afraid to talk about the darker side of this secluded sect.

I enjoyed the book but was surprised when it ended without any details about how she left the Hasidic life or what she has done since. It was one of the few times I thought the show was better than the book.

Until Next Time

Steve and I would love to hear what you’ve been up to and if travel has made its way back into your life.

Stay safe,

Linda

Featured photo – detail of a window in Hotel Palota

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