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The Rudas baths close for renovations

The Rudas baths now are now closed for a complete overall, a prospect I've been dreading since about 1992. Wednesday was the last chance for a dip. The baths reopen on Dec 6 (Pearl Harbor day!) but nobody believes we'll see the inside of the sauna until well after Xmas.

rudas.jpg

It's hard to put your finger on the magic of the Rudas. You see the same faces there each week, ordinary Hungarians young and old. Over the years you get to know the bath attendants and you nod at the regulars (and even to the Ukrainian mobsters in the corner pool).

Your first visit to the Rudas is an initiation. You occasionally see a confused foreign tourist standing at the entrance clutching his loincloth and ticket. In 1986, three of my first Hungarian friends led me to the changing rooms, found me a booth, explained the two key system, and showed me how to tie my key to the loincloth.

My old Magyar friends are Stalinist bathers who scrupulously follow the Plan. First the dry Swedish sauna, then a trip to the cold pool followed by a plunge in the hot. Repeat this cycle three times, then a trip to the steamy Turkish sauna. Finish off in the central pool, with an optional dally in the moon pool. (Yes, there's a reason why it's called that.) The best moment of the day is a fifteen minute cat nap in the resting room, which is like a small espresso at the end of a good meal.

If I sound nostalgic it's because I learned my first Hungarian phrases by studying the signs on the walls of that rest room. 'Please be quiet.' 'Please return your towel and sandals at the exit'.

Will renovation ruin the character of the Rudas baths? I asked our favorite bath attendants, Gyuri and Laci, who were optimistic. They showed me pictures of the Rudas before the Second World War and showed me how it was damaged in the bombing. Those of us partying outside the Rudas at the trendy Romkert garden might not realize that we're dancing in what was formerly a large swimming pool.

In other words you cannot stop time forever.

rudas2.jpg

And so I turned up on Wednesday, March 31 at 6:30pm to experience the last moments of the Rudas as it was. The place was full and the mood was upbeat.

Right around eight, the bacsis began shouting 'zarora, uraim!'. As we filed to the changing rooms we shook hands with each attendant. The lobby turned into a spontaneous party and I drank a beer with Fred Mol (the Mokka) and a few of his friends.

I will continue to enjoy the Rudas, meanwhile, by visiting the Ivocsarnok (drinking chambers?). It's that hall under the Erzsebet bridge where they sell the water - and it's strictly BYOB.

This is LPO's old haunt.

The three sources are Hungaria, Juventus and Attila. According to friends, the Juventus packs quite a kick.

The trick is you have to pay close attention to the opening hours:

MWF: 11-18
TTH: 07-14

Steven Carlson | East Euro Current News | Apr 5, 2004 | Comments (21)

Comments


Um, isn't Pearl Harbor Day December 7?

Ken Basart | Apr 19, 2004


Um, guess you're right.

Steve Carlson | Apr 19, 2004


Bucking Fummer!

Hope to be coming to Bp in early July after six months in Afghanistan. What will it be like without a stop at the Rudas? Will the boozy lunches on Saturday afternoon continue?


Dan Langenkamp | Apr 20, 2004


Somehow, Dan, after six months in Afghanistan I don't think you're going to be disappointed with Budapest.

Yes, the Rudas is closed, but you can still enjoy the Szechenyi, Lukacs or Gellert.

It's also no problem to organize a boozy Saturday afternoon lunch. If you like, we can celebrate Pearl Harbor day a little early this year.

Anyway, I'm sure you know that old Ottoman proverb: "You can't enter the same Turkish bath twice."

Steve Carlson | Apr 21, 2004


I just want to point out that I learned about the Rudas Ivocsarnok from my friend, Agnes Bihari, who made a 10 minute documentary about it for the Hungarian television.

She prefers the Hungaria forras (source).

Steve Carlson | May 1, 2004


Hi Guys, can you recommend anywhere like this in Prague? I am a massage therapist in UK and love to try local treatments anywhere I go so would love to hear your recommendations.

Thanks

Jude | Jun 7, 2004


Call me a naysayer - and, from a technical standpoint I don't know what could be wrong with the Rudas (some things may very well be) - but I am filled with dread at the prospect of the powers that be 'sterilizing' the Rudas for the tourists.

Let's 'save' the baths.

Hopefully this will not mean that the bacsis are priced out of the facility, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Drew | Jun 25, 2004


Hi everybody,

I live in Prague and would like to ask those of you who are in Budapest whether Rudas has opened or not (and which sections of it).

Thanks, Tom

Thomas | Dec 7, 2004


As it happened, I walked by the Rudas this weekend to check on the progress.

The entrance lobby is still in scaffolding.

My guess is we won't see the inside of the Rudas until sometime in Spring '05.

On a related topic, I spent an hour this morning at the Lukacs baths with a reporter, Matthias Rumpf, who is doing a feature on the Budapest baths.

Matthias has interviewed the Budapest bath authorities and he's visited every bath in town. Except for one. Guess which?

The Rudas.

| Dec 8, 2004


Oops - That last comment was from me, but I wasn't logged into the system. - Steve

Steven Carlson | Dec 8, 2004


Just wanted to say the "Rudas Bath" is wonderful! I already was in budapest 3 times and booked for march and july 2005 just for the Ruda Bath House, Peer Brandy and the Dobos Torta. I love the city alot!!! Yes the Rudas Bath was closed this past summer 2004 hope it's open in march.

Roman | Dec 15, 2004


I was just in the lobby of the Rudas half an hour ago. Yes, it has been open since Jan 3rd 2005.

The door in the far righthand corner that led to the steam rooms is no more - it has been marbled over. The door that led to the 'family tube bath' section has a large piece of plywood covering it. The girl selling dodgy magazines has gone as has the women selling bathing hats and bath gel. The 'cafe' part at the end is now done out tastefully in wood although the service ethic seems to be unchanged.

It looks like you get to the steam baths through the swimming pool and you have to buy a joint experience ticket which looks like it is around 1000 HUF. A yearly season ticket costs 100.000 HUF just now.

Work is also going on on the Romkert outside. A new outside bath maybe?

I guess a bunch of us will go down on Saturday to see what's what.

Let's just hope that haven't made a right royal ballsup of the whole thing.


Rob Scott | Jan 7, 2005


Took another visit to the Rudas this fine Saturday morning at the appointed time of 12 noon sharp. My suspicions were immediately aroused when there was no one to sell me horse sausage at the front door.

But it is true that the Rudas is open, or more accurately, half-open: the swimming baths are open, but alas the steam baths are still firmly shut.

The only data I could glean from the uninterested crone on the cashdesk was 'sometime in the summer, maybe'.

Nothing much changed there then.

Rob Scott | Jan 8, 2005


hi steve

i just read this message from you on http://www.generationexpat.com/2004/04/the_rudas_baths.html:
-------------------
As it happened, I walked by the Rudas this weekend to check on the progress.

The entrance lobby is still in scaffolding.

My guess is we won't see the inside of the Rudas until sometime in Spring '05.

On a related topic, I spent an hour this morning at the Lukacs baths with a reporter, Matthias Rumpf, who is doing a feature on the Budapest baths.

Matthias has interviewed the Budapest bath authorities and he's visited every bath in town. Except for one. Guess which?

The Rudas.
---------------------------
i love budapest but have never been to lukacs, since i´ve heard they don´t have a turkish bath there. do you still think it´s worth a visit?

and about matthias rumpf: is he making a film for (german) television? how can i contact him or see the film or read his report?

thanks, ramon

ramon | Jan 8, 2005


The next august I would return in budapest (i'm italian), so I would know if Rudas thermal has opened or not the turkish bath, not only the swimming pool.Thx ,Luciano

luciano | May 2, 2005


Hi Luciano,

Thermal section's "supposed" to reopen some time in June, so it might possibly be open by August... if you're lucky...

andy g | May 19, 2005


I've just been to Budapest and my friends told me Rudas is still closed. There is a sensitive subject that has been omitted here: I've been told that the authorities aren't in a hurry to reopen it considering that a part of the bath's patrons are gay. So, the officials wouldn't be willing to work for "those perverts". This would be a part of the "morality campaign" that has led to introduce the compulsory bathing suit at Király baths.

Andy | Jul 4, 2005


An Article Submitted to Various Travel Mags.

A few weekends ago I went to Budapest to sample the famous 450 year old turkish baths. There are three main ones - Rudas, Rac and Kiraly. (Sorry for the lack of accented Hungarian spellings). As might be well known Hungary has recently joined the European Community and is now spending vast sums of Euros to upgrade its tourist facilities. Unfortunately this has meant that the atmospheric turkish baths - unchanged for centuries, and still with the patina of use by thousands of customers over the centuries - are now being gutted and modernised.

Certainly the Rac Baths - the only building left in the now demolished Jewish quarter by the Castle - has now been so gutted that is now resembles a bombed out shell. Gone are the baths, the steam rooms, the dry heat rooms, and everything else. The only thing that now circulates the windowless shell is the cold damp air blowing up from the frozen Danube. The Baths will now be turned into yet another clinical and sanitised 'spa' devoid of all ancient turkish history.

Unfortunately the Rudas Baths have already been given this treatment over the last two years. I was there on the opening weekend. We queued for about 20 minutes - this was a popular opening. There were three security guards at the turnstyles. There was another outside. Security guards at a turkish baths?!!! The cashier couldn't understand my request in English for admission for swimming (in the 18'th baths) and to the turkish baths. It seems that modernising for the tourists does not mean learning English (or even having any signs in English). Eventually I was sold a credit card size plastic security pass, and was grudgingly allowed to pass through the first turnstyle by a gruff looking security person. I was then directed to the turkish baths (what remained of them). There another turnstyle had to be negotiated. No towels or sheets were offered - luckily I'd brought my own. The changing rooms were all modernised cubicles just like any swimming pool. The cubicle staff were as aggressive as usual. Each cubical door was locked from the inside by using the plastic card. This released a key from the outside to be kept tied to one's swimming costume. Ah - yes - swimming costumes were mandatory - everything was co-ed now. The ancient turkish bath part that used to be for men only is now for families including screaming kids. Then I entered the turkish baths proper - and horror of horrors - the whole building had been gutted and rebuilt with garish red marble!! NOTHING remains of the original 450 year old baths except for the roof. EVERYTHING was brand spanking new. And GONE was the etheral and steamy atmosphere that had endured for so many centuries. Even the drinking fountains (taps) had been replaced by electronic proximity devices to turn the water on and off. Needless to say in the humid atmosphere these failed to work properly. The four pools of varying temperatures around the main pool had also received the dreaded red marble treatment. And believe me the newly cut marble edges were SHARP. Everything was bathed in bright light, and the coloured glass openings in the old domed roof had been removed. The dry heat rooms were tiny and now boasted plastic doors that didn't close properly. The steam rooms had been removed. WHAT A DISAPPOINTMENT. Obviously this is how the Rac Baths were going to end up. But worse was to come. I wanted to get something to eat and drink - but nothing was available. To visit the Cafeteria I had to pass through the second turnstyle, and to do that I had to surrender the credit card pass. And - no - I couldn't re-enter the baths. Feeling VERY upset I then decided to visit the 18'th c. smimming baths. But despite having paid for this with my credit card pass I was not allowed in. What an rip-off.

I hear that the Gellert Hotel - dating from the late 1800s/early 1900s has also just had a refurbishment - so I hope that they haven't also gone for the red marble treatment too.

Luckily the Kiraly Turkish Baths nearby have yet to be refurbished. So do visit them before they too get a makeover for the tourists from the EEC.

Chris Brady | Dec 10, 2005


Fortunately, most people I know don't agree with the above opinion (including the Hungarian bath attendants who were at least as concerned about these changes).

On the whole the renovation was remarkably successful and the new Rudas baths are a delight to the senses.

True, some of the old atmosphere is gone. One feature I especially appreciated was the marble rims of the pools, deeply pitted from centuries of dripping water.

However, the builders did preserve that ancient tongue of mineral-stained stone that channels water into the central pool.

Of course the Rudas is not the same place. How could it be?

For a taste of the new Rudas, show up at 10pm on any Friday or Saturday night when couples and groups of all ages turn up to soak until (literally) dawn.

Sure the insecurity guards and 'modern' electronic turnstiles are silly, but that's part of the charm.

Steven Carlson | Jul 13, 2006


Amazing the first time I went to the Rudas Bath in 2003, just what the human body needs from all the stress from living in the west! I
will travel to Budapest just for the Rudas, Vilmos and dobos torte!

Roman | Jun 19, 2007


I can't say much about the "old" Ruda Baths, since my first visit took place in November 2007 - well after the renovations. What I can say is that the Ruda isn't what I expected from the description in the guidebooks. Frommers described the baths as men-only in the thermal pools, while the swimming pool was open to both men and women. The complex "refund system" whereby you pay the maximum price, and are supposedly refunded for time under the 4 hour maximum was described in the book, but nothing in English was posted at the baths. Didn't matter, because no refunds were issued!

The staff is brusque. Expect to pay for more than what you get. Sheets are extra. No towels provided. Bathing suits and sheets are rented, and the language barrier is skillfully used to separate you from your Forents - the coin of the realm. Expect to pay deposits that you'll never see again. Don't expect to get refunds under the complicated refund system no matter how long or short your stay.

When I went, we had to wait 45 minutes to get in. And although my friend and I each paid the full price of entry, we, like many others, had to share a changing cabin (a very small cabanna-like locker).

The baths themselves were fun. The steamy atmosphere, the various baths of various temperatures. The steam room was a two-staged affair, with a steamy outer area, and an even hotter, steamier inner room.

Not much of the old stone or style seems to have survived, though there are "exhibits" throughout the baths of the old pipe system, the old basins, etc.

The "swimming pool" mentioned in the guide book was actually a warm water thermal pool in the center, not really what one might usually think of as a swimming pool. No room to swim even if you wanted to.

There is a sulfurous aroma in the air from the water that ads to the atmosphere, and a wonderful echoing murmur in the main bath area.

I also went to the Gellert Bath, a more modern, 1913 vintage Art Nouveau palace that resembles a Hollywood wet dream for a swimming movie.

This place does have a swimming pool. Breathtaking visual for a swim, surrounded by gushing fonts that look like stylized lion heads pouring into the pool, surrounded by statuary and handsome columns around the pool.

They actually had prices posted in English, and a refund system where you get a few coins back at the end if you stay less than the full 4 hour allotment of time.

The thermal baths here were disappointing, however. There are photos of the original room, which has apparently lost much of its opulent decorative elements at some point. Now the thermals are basically 2 semicircular pools of warm and warmer water, surrounded by colorful mosaic tiles on the walls.

The thermals lack the sulfur smell, and feel like sitting in a tub of warm water, or a tub of lukewarm water, depending on which you choose. Neither was HOT, and both seemed like tap water.

There is a steam room - which isn't especially hot either, and a sauna. There are resting rooms, where you can just lie down surrounded by air and quiet.

Both the Ruda and the Gellert are relaxing. They are a fun experience, but definitely one where you have to poke your way through and figure out where things are and how to use them.

Spiderider | Nov 16, 2007