I would imagine that not many Thanksgiving Days begin with a mad last minute dash to the local British supermarket. But ours did, and it was to Tesco (the British super grocery store found all over Europe). Now keep in mind, this was NOT on my Thanksgiving Day activity/cooking schedule, which I had been writing and revising for weeks. So I really had to keep Györgyi on a fast pace—(lacking all sense of unnecessary American urgency, she is infamously slow in all shopping situations). But it was an American holiday, and we really had to hustle to get the last things for the salad and wild rice casserole and stuffing that I had neglected to get in my high fever daze on Tuesday at the Cora (the Belgium “hypermarket”).
The reason why we were in such a rush was because we wanted to get back in time to go to the second most important activity for Thanksgiving Day: the Gellért Thermal Baths. Luckily, the travel-savvy Brandy was able to hail a cab in the XIII district to get there by 11, and we were able to join her about an hour later. Despite the reshuffling and quasi misery it caused to my later cooking schedule (no, I hadn’t prepared myself emotionally or physically for having to gut the turkey), it was really worth the trip there, and was something I had been wanting to do ever since arriving in Budapest nearly six months ago.
The site of the baths has been host to “healing” waters for centuries. Baths were built there during the Ottoman Empire, a hospital erected on the site during the Middle Ages, and the Gellért spa as we (mostly) know it today was built in the Art Nouveau style between 1912 and 1918. As with many of the precious architectural treasures of the city, it was damaged during WWII, though rebuilt soon after.
The effervescent swimming pool can be seen from a large window in the succession style lobby. It really seems like you’re experiencing yourself watching an old movie, seeing all of the old ladies and men swimming neatly around the pool in a circle—swim caps neatly fitted—goggles freshly cleaned. And to remind you it is Europe, a German woman gets out of the pool in scuba training gear and proceeds to the women’s locker room.
The baths are sex segregated, as clothing is optional, and pictures are strictly forbidden, though I regret not taking my camera now because it seemed like every other American tourist was wholly ignoring the no-pictures rule. There are two pools within the women’s area—one that is 36 C and one that is 38 C. The closer you get to the marble wall were the mineral water spills out, the warmer the pool is.
The water comes from the Gellért hills and has always been thought to have healing properties, something we were debating while we were lounging at the pool watching woman after woman swim over to the water sources and let the hot spring splash onto aching joints and muscles. The water contains calcium, magnesium, hydrocarbonate, alkalis, chloride, sulfate, and fluoride. All good things, of course, though I don’t think I was there long enough, nor free of my Thanksgiving cooking schedule enough to fully ingest the healing properties.
The Thanksgiving cooking was the second time I’ve prepared the meal alone, and the first time for company. I made the basics of our family’s traditions: baked brie, turkey, stuffing, mashed p’s, cranberry sauce, salad, corn and wild rice cass, and bread. And because I’m a completely incompetent baker, I opted for Brownies (found in the “International” section of the Tesco) and luckily Nóri brought carrot cake and Zsanett brought Oreos, so the American festivities were complete.
We capped off the night talking to the fam back home in Ohio, which was, of course, bittersweet. But there was a certain magic to it as well. Brandy and I both come from a Hungarian line.
And to be here, in Budapest, celebrating the American holiday—to give thanks for being the great-grandchildren of Hungarian immigrants who left this very city a century ago to achieve and then celebrate the American dream—well it was very special. One for the books, I’d say.