I love to travel but I hate traveling.
I know that sounds like a contradiction, but it’s really not. There’s often a fine line between two extreme emotions. They’re often the two sides of the same coin.
Let me explain.
I detest the process of traveling; hauling your bags to the airport two hours before your plane is to leave, stoically succumbing to the mindless pattern of air travel – layover – air travel – layover – air travel until your eyes are bleary and your mind numb.
Then arriving sleep-deprived in a foreign country only to stumble the streets for hours because you want to normalize your sleeping patterns by refusing to go to bed until the new time-zone hour. Finally falling with a sigh into bed and a deep sleep only to wake in the middle of the night (at your previously accustomed waking time) to lie staring vacantly at the dark ceiling for hours.
That’s the part about travel I hate. But if you can get past that part – you’ve home free.
It was precisely how I arrived in Budapest yesterday at 6 a.m. after a flight from Jacksonville to New York to Istanbul to Budapest. Seven hours later, Tyler arrived and we stumbled to our rental apartment, a pizza dinner and bed.
The morning broke and with it came the love of travel.
As with most recent forays out of the country, we’d rented a small apartment online. This one consisted of a living room-office complex with a loft built above, a kitchen and bath.
We immediately hooved our plane-stiff bodies to one of Hungary’s famous baths. These hot mineral baths are one of the many reasons thousands of people visit Budapest.
The city sits on top of a network of over 100 thermal springs. And since Roman days people have come here to “take the water” as a way to alleviate all sorts of pains and ailments.
Our ailments were almost entirely travel-related. Our bodies were sore from being cramped in a too-tight airplane seat for far too many hours.
Of the dozens of baths here, we chose Rudas Baths, one of the oldest in the city.
It’s situated on the hilly Buda side of the Danube in a city that historically has defined itself as two cities – Buda and Pest – separated by a river.
The Rudas Baths were built in the 16th Century by the Turks after they conquered Buda in 1541. Although much of the facility is a new and opulent spa, its central part consists of an ancient octagonal pool.
It was a good choice – or so we thought upon our initial encounter.
Dozens of saunas and thermal mineral pools filled every ornamental corner. Bowls of ice chips filled containers to toss on your body after a heated pool.
In the midst of a two-story columned structure was the main plunge pool. Surrounding it were bathing-suited people lounging in chairs and a couple of red-shirted attendants.
These were the masseurs awaiting paying customers. And Tyler and I had both imaged a soothing massage would be a nice complement to the mineral waters.
And here’s where I encountered my second contradiction.
Let me start by saying I had never experienced a full-body massage before. In Sweden I had once bowed to pressure and had a facial massage. But this was of a completely different character.
First, I had imagined a manly masseur – perhaps with a number of tasteful tattoos – caressing my body.
I had also imagined I would love the procedure, emerging from the curtained room refreshed and rejuvenated.
Both proved to be wishful dreams.
Instead, the man assigned to me was a stern-faced fellow who brought to mind a cross between Adolph Hitler and Buddha. His flat chest topped a protuberant belly resembling nothing less than eight months gestation.
More disappointingly, he had absolutely no sense of humor – or even social skills – as far as I could tell. My only relief was that we were not required to shed our bathing suits to undergo “the treatment.”
After motioning me sullenly to lie on the table he proceeded to jab his thumbs and, I suspect, the balls of his hand into my sore muscles. As he dug deeply into my muscles, even more intense pain radiated from every pressure point.
Most devilishly, he seemed to correctly pinpoint the tightest muscles, which he would return to time and time again to deliver more jabs and pain. When he ascertained that a thumb jab had elicited supreme pain, he launched into a tuneless humming.
After I was finally freed from the soulless torturer, I slid back poolside to join Tyler who had “enjoyed” a similar experience from a blonde Amazonian woman.
I’ve concluded that perhaps life is essentially like both travel and massage – a series of contradictory experiences which we are challenged to both love and hate at the same time.
Tomorrow we explore a castle in whose dungeon was imprisoned the infamous Count Dracula. What types of contradictions could await us there?