Saturday, June 23, 2012

Day 2/3: Aquincum & Gellert Spa

Panoramic shot of some of ruins at Aquincum. 
That's the rich man's house on the left and the amphitheater on the right.
"Hey there, lil' buddy!"
On our first afternoon in Budapest, a bunch of us went out to the Aquincum museum and Roman ruins in Obuda, about 20 minutes north of the city center. The recently renovated museum has dig finds from the site that go back to the Neolithic period, but most are from the time when Aquicum was a Roman military outpost on the far eastern frontier of their empire, c. 100-200 C.E. When looking at old things pulled out of the ground, I am often impressed at the fine metal work that went into making jewelry. Dear Husband's second favorite object was from the governor's palace that had been located on an adjacent river island: a slightly larger-than-life statue of the Emperor with a removable head. When one died, the next one's likeness could be added to keep the cult of the emperor up to date.

DH's favorite find--and the reason for our trip--was the remains of the oldest known pipe organ. It was a hydraulis, a water-powered organ, gifted in 228 C.E. to the town's volunteer fire brigade by a rich musician whose wife had played it but had recently died at the tender age of 35 years, 3 months, and 14 days. Too bad they were only a volunteer team of boiled-wool merchants and the like, because the town burned down and the firehouse with it!

The organ was discovered, in pieces, in the building's basement in 1931. Those are now laid out in a glass case. The museum also includes three reproductions: a wooden one (with video of how it sounds), a see-through plexiglass one, and the large one outside (above). It had 13 keys, 4 registers, and 52 pipes and apparently sounded something like a glass harmonica.

The name of town comes from the Latin word for water (aqua) and refers to the area's natural springs. No Roman town was complete with a public bath, and Aquincum was no different. In addition to houses, shops, and a temple, the town boasted a large bath with cold, hot, and steam rooms (below). The floor was raised for a fire to burn underneath + water = sauna.

In fact, Budapest has long been famous as "Spa City." The afternoon DH and I got to experience one of the famous public baths, the Gellert Spa & Baths, opened in 1918. Gellert is very popular with tourists, probably because it claims to be tri-lingual (Hungarian, German, English). Unfortunately, this is only partly true. Some of the staff speak reasonable amounts of German or English, and some of the signs are in all three languages. But a very important one--for the men's and women's changing rooms--is in Hungarian only with no pictogram or the like! The signage was generally confusing about the steps for getting from the front door to the lockers, towel counter, various pools, and massage room. In the end, though, DH got a massage, while I lounged in the 36-degree inner pool and the swam in the 26-degree outer pool. Now we can say we got the "spa experience" in Budapest.


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