Slovakia & Hungary

Bratislava wasn't incredibly memorable beyond an infinite series of very nice outdoor seating restaurants at which none of the well-dressed pedestrians seemed to ever have more than just drinks.

Indeed, our Let's Go (sucks) recommended that if we were in Bratislava for only one day then we should actually leave and go see nearby Devin Castle. So this we did and enjoyed a day wandering in and around the ruins of Hrad Devin; a many-thousands-of-years old citadel right at the junction of the Moldau and Danube rivers which was owned by more tribes, empires, families and rulers than I could possibly keep track of.

Afterwards, we wandered along the Danube for a ways until we smelled the unmistakable aroma of barbequeing meat and stopped at a beautiful grill place complete with that ever-present staple of European ambiance; Shakira. I can only guess that the last picture was taken *before* we'd gotten our beer and knoblich wursts.

Budapest was large, somewhat impersonal and, so, impressive in its own way.

Note to self: When waiting for a walking tour of a city and there's a cute brunette near the meeting place, go talk to her -- she may even turn out to be the guide.

As any person or publication will tell you, the Baths are an indellible part of Budapest and, indeed, they were the defining experience for me. I chose the famous Gellert Hotel Bath, paid the 2,000 or so forints to get in, and followed the pointing and hand waving of the employees to a locker area near the back of the hotel. This opened onto an opulent indoor pool, repleat with columned promenades, marble tile, and fountains and an accompanying warm pool.

Just about the time that I was starting to wonder if that's all there was, I noticed a group of guys heading for a nondescript wood door at the back of the mens' restroom. Tasteless jokes aside, I followed and waited with them after they knocked on the door. About five minutes later, it was opened by a Hungarian roughly the size of a mac truck. It's a good thing he was on that side of the door because I don't think he could have made it through.

The sex-segregated back area was a huge collection of pools and saunas of varying degree. You could rate how hot the saunas were by the number of red emergency handles in them. I spent about five hours going from the 36 degree pool to the 38 to the cold bath to the saunas back to the cold bath to the shower, over and over and over.

In the middle, I decided to try a massage, and I'm still not sure why. There's nothing like a huge, hairy, cigar-smoking Hungarian telling you to undress and get on the table and then prodding your back with icepick fingers like a man who keeps dialing a wrong number but is sure he has it right and just keeps getting madder and madder.

I left the Gellert Hotel and walked over Elizabeth bridge, enjoying a light breeze off the Danube and feeling better and cleaner than I had in a long, long time.

On to --> Romania

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