I’m not quite sure what I was expecting.
Dear you. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting. You had mentioned that the Hotel Gellért here in Budapest was the inspiration for Wes Anderson’s Grand Hotel Budapest. The inspiration mind you, not the actual setting. Once upon a time it may very well have served to be the setting for some film or another, one of those period-pieces we’ve been consuming vociferously the last couple of years where the lavish architecture of the late 19th century plays a pivotal role as a backdrop, because the façade of the Gellert, intact, is a truly magnificent landmark on the Buda side of the Donau.
Upon arrival, and after having been given the key to my room by someone who, come to think of it could have figured in a Kristof Kieslowski film (he was that drab), I made my way up the grand staircase and down a long corridor, passing by branches that seemed to lead to alternative Gellert realities.
The curtains hung heavy.
The wall-to-wall carpet had come loose from the floor in parts, looking like a river flowing, taking me downstream to my tiny single at a dead end and I was put in mind of The Shining rather than the above-mentioned-period-piece.
It’s three in the morning as I write this. Day two, or three when I come to think of it since it’s after midnight.
Four hours till breakfast at any rate.
On my way to the dining room yesterday I passed a group of nerdy young men with badges on their chest, a conference on something I could only imagine had to do with quantum physics. I sat down at a table and looked around at the older women, in two’s all around, widows most likely traveling to Budapest for a getaway, or to fix their teeth at a discount. Never too old for a bright smile. There really are remarkably many dentists in this city.
As I made my way from the breakfast room, I noticed one of the corridors that lead off the main carpet to the right, on the second floor, a corridor like all the others but this one with a small sign. Spa.
I made a note of which corridor it was, made my way through the labyrinthine building back to my room, donned swimwear, a robe and shower cap, and headed back downstairs again to the gold sign, through the unassuming doors and into another world. The grand hall of the Gellert Spa. A living, breathing step into a parallel universe, one in which time has stood still.
Room upon lavish rooms, open up as one makes ones way through the maze of steam rooms, saunas, of thermal baths both hot and cold, indoors and outdoors, with old women in groups of two or three leaning back. Somewhere in there, in what felt like the heart of the place, or its lungs, two parallel pools with thermal water the temperature of my body, weightless, I sat and glanced up at the ceilings, and it dawned on me that I was in fact sitting in the very place where Matthew Barney (Björks ex-husband to some, the quintessential performance artist of the early 21st century to others), filmed parts of his megalomaniac work, The Cremaster Cycle part 5. The setting, not the inspiration.
It is why one comes here, to Budapest.
Aside from the pretty old town, the paprika and the gulash. One visits Budapest for the grandeur of places like the Gellert Spa.
Yours Sincerely The C
WORDS : The Chromarty
PHOTOS: The Gellert Spa