The hotel had a swimming pool. Budapest, too, is famous for all sorts of swimming pools and spas and all sorts of historical relaxing water-themed havens. I have fallen afoul of such places in the past, but I was determined to put that behind me, and had accordingly packed a bikini. Simple. Black. Possibly never before worn, but I had tried the bottoms on over me pants while packing and decided it would do.
Turned out, I own two simple black bikinis. I had brought the bottom half of both! I had brought the top half of neither!
So the hotel pool was out. Seriously, my lovely friends back home, due to the power of the internet, suggested I go in a bra and fake it, but there is a slight problem in that I have a) dropped a dress size since becoming single and b) not had the budget for a new wardrobe, so various things are in various degrees of peril of falling off as is, let alone in a situation where they’re the only thing I’m wearing.
Okay, there are nudist sessions though! Said encouraging, lovely people.
Yeah. Let us now recap all the other times I tried that.
Exhibit A: Prague. (I think it was Prague?) I had a polka dot bikini. I was 19. I was inter-railing. You could go topless, but there was no damn way I was. Though I think it might have been the first time I’d ever worn a two-piece, so I was feeling pretty damn self-conscious about my stomach anyway.
The damn bikini top somehow undid itself and I didn’t notice until my boyfriend, whose inter-railing I had paid for, screamed in horror and subsequently sulked the rest of the day on account of, I must have done it on purpose, for Attention. Traumatised for LIFE. (Me, that is; I don’t care about him). (Wait, he was the one who did the knot, if memory… ah screw it).
Exhibit B: Gothenberg. I was in my early thirties. I was more confident (I keep telling people I am way more confident now, nobody ever believes me). I was not wearing anything at all, as per the instructions the guidebook, flyers and several different websites had all screamed at me, because it was a traditional Alhambra-style spa on the end of a pier and No Clothing Was Allowed. They made it very clear if you tried it there would be a Scene and you would be forced to leave.
I dutifully got out of all my clothes and started trying to sneak unobtrusively right across the centre of a big, empty space to the showers. Everybody gasped in horror. I tried to be less British about it and unclench my shoulder-blades from being wrapped around my ears. Everybody gasped louder. I checked if I had forgotten to remove a sock or something. Nope, all good. The hell?
Then I realised that, while everybody else was also not wearing anything, they were all, without exception, wearing a gigantic towel from armpits to ankles (and a full face of make-up, bugger, got that one wrong as well). And they were all looking at me like I’d just squatted for a poo in the middle of the floor, while giving them the middle finger. Oh my God, a Scene, my greatest nemesis. Since I was travelling with hand luggage only, I did not have any sort of towel at all, let alone one that would suffice. I got dressed and ran away.
Exhibit C: Berlin. A hostel. Mid thirties. I went down to the showers early in the morning and found them to be reassuringly familiar looking, like the showers you see in a swimming pool, for instance. Then I realised this was because there were no curtains. So, you what, you shower naked in front of everyone? This is not going to be like sodding Gothenberg again, right?
I was only in Berlin for two days, I had not brought a swimsuit. But nobody else was about, so I had no idea what was expected here. I threw my clothes on a shelf and went to the last shower of the row, thinking at least everyone half my age would not want to be walking past me. Besides, if I showered really quick nobody would-
The door opened and everybody walked in. Everybody in the whole world, or at least all the women. They were indeed all half my age. They all showered with their T-shirts on. I had to walk, starkers, past every single one of them to get back to my clothes.
After mentally reviewing all that, I decided there was no way I was going anywhere near a spa. Well, anywhere inside a spa. There was a spa by the zoo, for instance, and not only right behind the Square of Heroes but right across from a castle, and an ice rink, I mean, everything in one place! and I had been planning to go to all of the above in turn (except the ice rink because I have never skated in my life), but not without sufficient protective equipment.
So I went to the zoo instead. This was great. There were free range iguanas, there were wolverines gallumphing about (I have been to many zoos which claim to have wolverines, but for all I know they got out immediately and the evidence is being concealed. This is the first time I have actually seen some. Plus, now I know they gallumph!) There were also two polar bears kissing with tongues. That was… weird. I thought only humans did that. They weren’t very good at it, or maybe they were by polar bear standards, who knows, but that was definitely an eye opener. There was also a tiger eating breakfast and a brown bear playing with a tyre, most of which were also things you never see, so yeah, hit the zoo the minute it opens, people. Actually, don’t, I’ll never get a look in.
I have now discovered that, like that apocrypha about rats in London, in Budapest you are never more than a stone’s throw from a gluhwein seller. Should you be in a wide open area, with no shops that could possibly sell gluhwein, not to worry, an enterprising grandmother with a kettle will have set up on the pavement for all your gluhwein needs.
I can also say about the place (digs out notes):
Do not dither about within two feet of the kerb, cars will stop for you and you will be forced to cross the road out of politeness. You may end up streets out of your way.
If you fall over, you will end up in either a seat or a bin. They are everywhere.
The public transport system is entirely idiot-proof. I am that proof. There is also a metro train once a minute.
I went back for another cruise on the river in the evening, because I fancied doing it in the dark as well, why not, and that’s one of the joys of holidaying on your own, there is nobody to be all, sake we did that already. This cruise was harder to locate than the other one, and all I can say is, all hail the bolshy Asian tourists who, once we had assembled by dribs and drabs at the the right dock, not only harangued the staff until they found out where the location had been changed to, but then told the whole crowd and led us to the right place. In English, no less.
Imagine if they hadn’t. I’d have been freezing my fingers off for an hour, watching the sun set over the Danube, the sky turn lilac and night steal over the city, for nothing.
(That was supposed to be a joke. Damn, out of, The city, by day, in sunlight, and, The city, by night, with the stars out, I pick the latter though).
According to my notes, the metro at night smells of hot, sugary donuts, which is unbearable when you’re starving.
And in conclusion, I did go on some water after all, and this time the gluhwein was free, and none of my clothes fell off and it was great.