After I had contracted the Prague virus, we didn’t over exert ourselves in Budapest. We were in for another surprise however. With no prior planning for daily exception in Budapest, Zichy tailored the perfect itinerary, free of charge – this applies to all guests.
We stayed at Hotel Palazzo Zichy for 3 nights. The building was a former palace in the 19 century where it was then converted to a 4 star hotel in 2009, hosting only 80 contemporary styled rooms – no squishing into elevators. The entrance, as you’d expect in a palace, is very grand; spacious, simple and ergonomic.
The hotel is situated in the Palace District of Hungary. It is within walking distance of the Hungarian National Museum, the Great Synagogue, the Great Market Hall and the Holocaust Memorial Center. For those wanting to travel around: supermarkets, the tram-line, pubs (very calm, not rowdy), restaurants (fast food and sit-downs), cafe’s, and and and. Looking for a hotel that’s central and has great service, you needn’t read on to be sure.
Entering the room I released a breath of relaxation. With Budapest being our last destination, our bags were swollen past their limit, the large room allowed for a pressure release into the various cabinets and, of course, the floor with no complaints. The bathroom was built of high quality materials as well, there were no shortcuts.
We decided to order supper from the room menu. After seeing their pricing, ‘I’ll take one of everything, ketchup too please. Thank you’. This was the conversation I played in my head, in the mandatory high pitched voice when calling reception. Wasn’t hotel food supposed to be extremely expensive? We went downstairs to confirm the pricing, everything was in order. We asked Bence for his recommendations for two starved South African’s, wanting to explore a characteristic local supper. He warned that the portions are very, very generous – goodness was he correct. The meals were of high quality and we warm and fragrant, they would fill any hungry individual for a low price. Nation Geographic inaudible in the background, we rested for the day ahead.
A special mention goes to the impeccably efficient staff members of Zichy. The hotel provide the common tourist pamphlets for many tours/experiences around Budapest. We picked a few up a few pamphlets and headed to our room to dissect them and carefully choose our tours. We gave up, we were tired, I was still recovering. We decided to plan in the morning.
We headed to breakfast where we dug into the fresh salmon, freshly baked croissants and rolls, created a cheese board and washed it down with fresh grapefruit juice (that you make yourself). We then went to reception to enquire about tram-lines/popular tours – you know, typical tourist stuff. Thirty-four minutes later our: train tickets and tram to and fro Szecheny Baths, our ‘cabin’ at the baths, were all booked and paid for at the reception area, and a map with multiple scribbles and notes guiding us to tourist hot-spots was created! Important information for the various checkpoints we’d encounter at our stops were even provided in Hungarian (See below for the horrors which could arise from not speak there native language below).
I couldn’t believe it. Instead of you having to scour for tours online, sometimes in foreign languages or using a travel agent in Cape Town (our home town), a free personal travel agent, available to all guests at all times (24 hours). No, the tickets weren’t a scam.
Some of the of the stand out amenities of Zichy are: High-speed Wifi (It is very high speed), complimentary coffee, tea and mineral water until 5pm everyday, buffet breakfast and a guest office (Printing, E-mails, social scanning).
The short: The hotel offers tourists so much, there isn’t another way to describe it. Each staff member, be it 9am or 12am, has the professionalism and expertise of the other. I highly recommend staying here if you want a no-stress trip and haven’t planned anything in advance. It was astonishing that a hotel can offer, practically, a free travel agent on your call. Thank you, Zichy – Your close proximity to the tram lines, a local supermarket, the beautiful church and professionalism will see us returning.
(This was a blessing, in Austria our cab driver would not let us leave and held our luggage at our destination. Prior arrangements for the cab to be paid at Aqua Dome were made, so we could head straight to our train. At the time of pick up, it was evident the driver could not speak English, so Hummy lead him into the hotel and asked the receptionist to explain to the driver that we have already paid. The driver only said, ‘okay okay, we go’. As we stepped into the cab, Hummy asked again if he, the driver, understood that payment was made, the drivers response,’ okay okay good’.
We stepped out the cab when we arrived at the train station, and were slapped with a 50€ bill. Hummy asked the cab driver to call Aqua Dome for payment confirmation, the driver REFUSED to call the hotel for the confirmation – this almost lead into a full on fist fight between the two, at 9am. The cab driver only spoke to us in his native language and began to become aggressive with his words and body language. Hummy was now extremely agitated because the fee, of 50€, was settled with the hotel but the cab driver refused to call Aqua Dome and was now trying to intimidate us (the driver was very large). By now Hummy and the driver were at each others neck, Hummy sharing a few ‘French’ words with him and not accepting the drivers aggression and the driver speaking in his native language. Hummy was sick of this and decided to start unpacking our luggage and defended his case against the driver, trying to stand in the way. Hummy didn’t care, the driver could see he wasn’t going to win, only then he decided to call the hotel. Ha! Just as ice would melt in the heat, so did the drivers demeanor. Immediately he, the driver, began to shake Hummy’s hand and could suddenly speak English and apologize fluently. The drive tried to make light heart of the situation, we grabbed our bags and walked on.
The highlight of Budapest was spending the day at the Insta-famous, Szecheny Baths. This was to be the highlight of our tour. I scanned over Instagram multiple in awe to think I would actually be going to these baths. When we arrived, however, it was under-whelming for Hummy too. He wasn’t very happy with the hygiene levels. Floors were wet, dirty and smelly. Wet floors made sense, but the dirt and smell of waste and human excretion throughout the changing rooms were something we did not anticipate.
We hired out a ‘cabin’, which we completely recommend. This is a small closet, (but big enough for Hummy to change in, so you’d be fine) which has a small bench and is electronically locked and opened by using a wrist tag provided. This was a tremendous help, chances are you’re carrying money, a watch, cellphones and all your winter gear! (Bring your own towel and hotel spa robe)
We saw the local men walking topless with no towel and the females in bikinis, we did the same. We regretted it. After walking about 5 steps to the outside pool I had never been so cold, ever. All you think about is getting into the pool, to thaw. We then moved into the other thermal springs, located inside the building. It was filled with many people and most of the pools were over-crowded, never mind the number of couples openly kissing and dry humping each other. (Sorry)
Don’t get me wrong, the baths were an amazing experience. Don’t be fooled by the online appeal, as we were, it only shows off its best side. If you intend of heading to the baths, be sure to know what you’re getting into. Many tourists, a horrible smell in the changing rooms, over-populated pools and saunas (We didn’t even get to sauna) and to bring your own towels and spa robes! There is a cafe which sell the usual consumables at a reasonable price, so its pocket-friendly to spend the day here even you’ve brought along the kids.
On a brighter note: if you plan on visiting the baths, do stay until dark. The water lights up in bright colours, which will easily leave you forgetting about the bad smells and very passionate couples. Rest your head back in the warm water and allow your eyes to fill with the calming shades of blue, purple and green, while delicate raindrops land on your nose. It truly is something to experience.