By Stephanie Jatnieks |

When going to a new place, much less a new country, it is always important to keep an open mind and leave your preconceived notions at the door. This is something I personally always try and keep in mind when trying new things, yet when we visited the Szechenyi thermal baths as a class I found myself feeling wary of the experience. 

What do you think when hearing the words ‘thermal bath’? For me, the first thought that came to mind was a warm crowded bath that reminded me of a rainy day in the middle of a Texas summer- hot, muggy, and gross. I had seen photos of the baths mainly on social media and they seemed full of people and just a place where people snapped a cool photo and then left.  A friend had even told me this was her experience at one in Iceland. 

We first walked into the locker rooms, to put our things away and then walked into an area with four inside baths, filled with people of all ages comfortable walking around switching from bath to bath. In order to get outside, we had to walk through a small wading pool that was meant to clean our feet before entering the baths. However, it was full of dirt from other people and just added to the uncomfortable feeling I had. 

Upon walking outside our group clung together, feeling a bit out of place. We had kept our clothes on over our bathing suits instead of shedding them in the locker room. While everyone around us walked around confidently in their swimsuits, we stood out. Nervously, we walked into the huge area past a couple of pools and set our things down on lounge chairs. These chairs were scattered around, some having been dragged into more shady areas, nothing like the organized fashion in which we usually encounter lounge chairs at a country club or club pool. 

We decided to try the pool closest to us. Not knowing whether it would be warm or cool, we tentatively walked over and stepped in. The water was the perfect temperature. With the sun beating down on us around 2 p.m., the water was cool and refreshing. We stood there for a minute looking around and quickly realized that no one was paying attention to us. Now that we were in a pool, we blended in more and my anxieties quickly began to fall away. 

Placed all around the pool were fountains that shot water up and out, and people stood underneath them to get a massage. Due to the high water pressure as it hit your back it really did feel like a relaxing massage. When I tried it I couldn’t help but laugh as the water hit my back and sprayed onto my friends, not only was it fun but it really did feel like a soothing massage. 

In the middle of the large pool were two smaller pools, one that was a sort of whirlpool with currents being pushed by jets and the people moving around and around inside. We slowly built up the courage to enter the whirlpool and that’s when I felt truly comfortable as I was able to let go of everything and really enjoy the bath. 

The strong water flow pushed us around in circles and we became positively giddy, and I felt like a little kid again. The more people in the whirlpool the faster it carried you, and we all finally let go of any insecurities we originally had. We laughed and held onto each other, trying not to knock anyone else as we circled around. 

“Thermal baths” is just the European term for a public swimming pool. It has warm ‘thermal’ pools, yet situated in huge arenas with gorgeous neo-baroque architecture all around, it is so much more than an average swimming pool. With a physical layout making it much larger it also offers a more overall experience than one would think. Szechenyi has 18 different pools of different temperatures, as well as offering massages, saunas, and refreshments. 

Where we would go to a country club or a friends pool, and layout and swim around, Hungarians go to these thermal baths. Not only are these not warm, crowded pools, but the water is also natural coming from hot springs that lay underneath the Earth so when you first walk into the inside area it doesn’t smell like chlorine and feels fresher. Hungary is one of the places in Europe where these springs occur naturally and frequently around the country.  

Going to the baths was an eye-opening experience for me not only in terms of the differences it has from an American public pool, but because of the reminder to be open-minded to different cultures. I hadn’t held onto many judgments since being in Europe and I realized I had let them overcome me for a moment. It reminded me what a wonderful time and what fun memories you can make when you allow yourself to be open to new things. I can’t wait to return to the baths again before I leave!