Saturday, October 14, 2006

Luxury digs

The century-old spa at the Gellert Hotel

No plain or unadorned facades in the old Austro-Hungarian empire

One of the things I like best about traveling with Karen is that she does not insist on a lot of pre-planning. I love the idea of coming into a strange city without so much as a map and figuring out where to go and what to do. Not that I'm calm or methodical about this. I do tend to snap and jump up and down in frustration over missed trains and outpriced rooms so that I know my family hates traveling with me and my more-organized friends insists on itineraries and reservations.

But Karen is bolder. Which is how we ended up staying in the Gellert Hotel, a premier class hotel on the Buda side with a showy thermal spa that is featured on the cover of guidebooks to central Europe. Karen suggested their prices might be lower than usual in October so we headed from the train station by taxi to the Gellert.

We got a very moderately priced double with a glorious view down on the Liberty Bridge over the Danube, a sumptuous daily breakfast (bacon! pastry!) and access to the spa.

In our room we found a page of detailed instructions for using the spa: "Please read carefully our short introduction to the usage of the spa facility, which will help you to enjoy the unique experience..." The instructions directed us to change in our room. Put on the (giant!!) bathrobes we were to find in the closet and swim caps, remember, are mandatory. I couldn't find swim caps in the bathroom where they were supposed to be so I called the front desk. They meant those plastic shower caps that come in every hotel room. Neither we nor any other spa-user actually wore these despite the rules.

Once properly attired for the spa, we were instructed, we had to proceed to the spa elevator. it was a wrought iron, old-fashioned affair behind a stained-glass screen. I felt like a character in Harry Potter moving through secret passages at Hogwarth.

A funny little woman named Regina welcomed bathrobed guests onto the elevator and rode them down to the spa, handing each a spa card as we exited into a vast marble and mosaic hall. We were clicked through a stile and had to walk about a kilometer pass statuary and paintings to the main swimming pool and spa.

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