The Széchenyi is my favourite bath in Budapest, partly because it combines outdoor (heated) swimming so nicely with hot lounging around, and I am a spa whore as well as a swimmer. For a number of reasons the ‘cold’ pool – it’s heated, but not aggressively so – is the one most used by locals, while tourists tend to go straight for the hot pools. Well they are on holiday, I suppose, but I think it’s got more to do with the fact that if you’re not wearing a swimming cap, male or female, bald or hirsuite, you will be hoiked out, whereas they don’t bother with the hot pools. I was suitably attired and had a really, really lovely swim – the water temperature was sort of London Fields Lido level – not intimidating to get into, but still pleasant after half an hour’s exercise. It reminded me that while on a Monday morning I sometimes have to force myself to go swimming by thinking about how it will feel afterwards, actually the pleasure of swimming can be its own reward.
The only downside was that I kept looking out for my partner, who had locker trouble and in the end came out with all his stuff in his rucksack, which he then wouldn’t leave, so he didn’t get a swim. I sympathised with his locker problems, because I had them myself – the old system of handing a tag to an attendant who then made you memorise a number has been replaced by a plastic armband thingy with which you can open and close the locker as much as you like, but which doesn’t work very well. He actually ended up locking his locker empty and was then unable to reopen it. So, he sat on a bench in his trunks reading his LRB and said that somebody came up to him and said ‘it’s not what you’re reading that gives you away, it’s the colour of your skin’. After my swim, I persuaded him that if we put the bag in touching distance, we could both try out the hot pool, which we did. I prefer the smaller of the hot pools, where you’re most likely to see floating chess. Unlike the cold pool, the water isn’t chlorinated, but is pumped directly from subterranean hot springs containing minerals which are guaranteed to cure your piles, arthritis, hangover and heart condition. I only had one of them and lo, it was indeed cured.