Last day in Budapest and I decided to try the local tradition of public baths. Hungarians are mad about the public baths and there are many to choose from in Budapest. It’s not surprising given there are over 100 hot springs in Budapest alone. There are the old school Turkish baths that are still segregated by gender and a massage borderlines on a beating. Then there are the ones that have a water park feel with lots of wave and swimming pools. I chose the Gellert baths for two reasons, it’s in an old Art Nouveau hotel and it’s an easy walk across the river from my hostel.
The Gellert hotel is a beauty inside and out. Mosaics on the floor and walls, stained glass, sculptures and that’s just the lobby. It’s an interesting entrance system. You go to the counter and pick out what you want from a huge price list on the wall. I was hoping to get a massage and I thought getting there at 8 am on a weekday it would be no problem. Nope, booked for the day, apparently I should have gotten there at 6 am when they open. So I just paid for the use of the baths, which set me back about 5100 HUF, about $18. They give you a plastic bracelet that you cannot lose! You use it to go through the entrance turnstile and to open your locker. You can pick any locker and when you put the bracelet against the lock, it clicks and won’t open again until you put your bracelet back against it again. Pretty simple.
There is an indoor and outdoor swimming pool. Most of the thermal baths are inside and they range in temp from 36 - 40 degrees C. The baths are constantly drained and fed by the springs so there is no chlorination. Inside the baths, more detail tile work an ornate fountains crusted over with mineral formations. I wish I could have taken photos inside but way too hot and humid. Outside there are plenty of lounge chairs to stretch out and a cafe. They overlook another thermal pool and swimming pool. At one end of the outdoor thermal pool there are shower heads that poured water on you for about 10 minutes. I noticed when the fountains weren’t running these older women were crowding that end. I grabbed an open spot and realized why. The most powerful water jets known to man were positioned perfectly to massage your neck and back. I stayed until I couldn’t feel my back anymore and realized it totally made up for not getting a massage. The outdoor pool is also a wave pool which looked like fun. But as I was climbing down the ladder, being pummeled by waves and smashed against the metal ladder, I decided I didn’t want to drown and climbed back up. I realized the only people in the pool were about a foot taller than me and weighed twice as much. I do believe the waves were at least 5 foot tall. Not your kiddie wave pool.
So after 3 hours of soaking and becoming a total prune, I stopped by the Great Market Hall for some souvenirs. Paprika anyone? I then packed up and headed over to the train station for a long trip down to Zagreb, Croatia. I would get into Zagreb about 9 pm and then catch an overnight train from there to Split. I ran into another American on the platform and we got on the train together, helping each other out with our bags. We settled into one of the compartments where we ran into a third American. I think we were the only three on the whole train and we ended up in the same compartment. We proceeded to talk the majority of the trip.
Garrett is a barista and brewmaster from San Diego. Chris had no permanent address and was on the road for 8 months of the year. Between the two we talked a lot about food and travel. As for sights along the way, it seemed to there were a lot more villages in ruin and derelict factories. The countryside feels poorer and some villages looked like they hadn’t changed in a hundred years, complete with horse and wagon. I was also surprised when the train stopped and two sets of police, one Hungarian and the other Croatian, came through to check out passports. I saw for the first time an actual border complete with a new chain link fence and razor wire. Apparently Hungary had just built it to close the border and keep the Syrian refugees out. Compared to the EU countries where no one bothers to check passports, it was a shock.
A few stops before Zagreb, a young Croatian women entered our compartment and joins the conversation. She works for booking.com so her English was perfect. She was kind enough to help us learn a few Croatian phrases. She kept making fun of Chris’s American accent but I got high praise on mine. I never hear that when speaking a foreign language but there are a lot of similarities with Russian/Ukrainian so I think that helped. When we arrive at Zagreb, Chris departed for his hotel and our new friend parked Garrett and I at an outdoor bar right outside the station. We had about 2 hours to kill before the train and she promised to swing by after some work errand. It was a lovely warm spring evening. The city was lit up beautifully and everyone was out and about. Garrett tried some beers and gave me his critique. I stuck to the local cherry brandy. Garrett was nice enough to buy me a drink because I had no Croatian currency yet.
Our friend never made it back and it was time to catch the train. I had a bought a bed for an extra 10 euros and encouraged Garrett to do the same. We went into the train station and Garrett looks at the departure board. “Hmm, I’m pretty sure that says bus, not train.”
What? So we enquire and the disinterested ticket sellers look at us like we are from Mars. Yeah, of course it’s a bus, why wouldn’t it be? They had no idea why the Hungarian train station had sold us train tickets. No time to argue, a quick pit stop at the bathroom and we find the bus. The ticket taker actually said, “Aw, you bought a bed” in the same tone you would say, “Aw, how cute.”
We got on the bus and thankfully it wasn’t full so everyone got the full two seats to themselves. Unfortunately, it was still too short (even for me) and narrow to stretch out on. You were comfortable for about five minutes then you had to change position. I actually ended up with a bruise on my hip from the seat belts. The bus driver insisted on keeping a radio on with the most bizarre Croatian songs, a mix of pop and folk. And, of course, the bathroom was broken. I didn’t sleep at all and it was a surreal experience with the music and driving in the middle of the night. Pitch dark countryside and small empty villages on an empty road felt like we were driving through a landscape devoid of people. Only these empty houses and cars remained. The road got increasingly worse, I swear part of it was gravel. I do know we climbed for a while and went through tunnel that lasted at least 5 minutes, then we flew down the other side. It had to be steep as there were many switchbacks. The bus driver drove like a speed demon. Several times brakes screeched and the back up beep sounded as we missed a turn. It’s probably good I couldn’t see.
A sort of delirium sets in from lack of sleep and you become resigned to the circumstances. It made me appreciate the sunrise as I never had before. We eventually came to the town of Split and the Adriatic Sea. The bus, train and ferry station are all on the waterfront in town. We got off the bus and said goodbye. Garrett was staying in Split, I was taking a ferry out to the island of Brach. I walked into the train station and proceeded to argue with them about getting a refund for the 10 euros for my non-existent bed. I prevailed but the lady wasn’t happy about it. It was the principle more than the money at that point. I was exhausted but the smell of the salt water and the sound of the water made my heart sing. I had been in big cities and away from the sea for too long.
I had planned to just show up on the island and find a room. But after that lovely night I just couldn’t deal with that much uncertainty. I found a hotel on booking.com, a room all to myself, while I had a quick coffee and breakfast. The ferry to the island was really nice, much newer than the ones in Seattle. The weather was overcast and rainy and I was worried that it would be like that the whole time I was on the island. The ferry to Brach takes about an hour and drops you off in the biggest town, Supetar. I was staying at Hotel Lipa in the next village over of Postira. Luckily the bus was just leaving so I was there by 11 am. They were nice enough to let me check in then and there (maybe they just saw the look on my face and took pity).
The hotel room was fantastic. It had a huge and comfortable king size bed. A big bathtub, fridge and breakfast. And the cherry on top, a terrace with a wonderful view of the harbor. All for $63 a night, pricey by Croatian standards, but so worth it. Now I should have just fallen asleep then but the sun had come back up and I was wired and full of energy. It’s always strange that feeling after staying up all night, like you could just keep going and never sleep again. So I just walked to one end of town, look around, come back a rest for a bit. Then go to the other end of town, repeat. Oh, I did manage to find some local wildlife. As I was walking down the sidewalk, absorbed in the scenery, something was squishy and writhing beneath my foot. I jumped back and a very tiny snake slithered off into the bushes. We both survived the encounter.
The town is small, just a few restaurants and two other hotels. The season wasn’t starting for a few weeks, so a lot of shops and restaurants were closed, busily trying to finish up construction. It feels like a sleepy fishing village. At the harbor you can watch the fisherman come in or mend their nets. The claim to fame for this island is the marble that creates these stunningly stark white beaches. The White House is made from this same marble. There is a strong stone carving culture here. Yes, I did take a few pieces home. The water is amazingly clear with varying shades of aqua and turquoise. The water is still on the cold side, you could keep the feet in for a few minutes before it goes numb.
There are a whopping three restaurants open right now. One is outrageously expensive, the other is a pizza place, so I picked a little tavern called Bracera. It was decorated with fishing buoys and the like. I was the only one there, my only company the seventies rock music playing. I tried the pear brandy, very tasty. I ordered mussels and fries, anticipating something caught that day. The mussels came without their shells in a butter sauce and I’m pretty sure they were frozen. The fries were much better. So I wandered over to the little supermarket behind my hotel and bought my new addiction, paprika potato chips, and a little bottle of wine. I spent the rest of the evening eating, drinking and watching the boats come in and out of the harbor. It was lovely.