Let’s Go Exploring! Budapest: Spas and Communism. A Winning Combination!

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“Oh good, the Communists are here,” said nobody ever.


WRONG. Because that’s what the Hungarians thought. Seriously. They took one look at Soviet tanks rolling into Budapest and thought “Good times are JUST around the corner now!”

Ah, Hungarians. Sweet, innocent Hungarians.

The thing is, I don’t blame them. Well, not completely. Because after being terrorized and subjugated by Nazis, it’s difficult to imagine things getting worse.

Difficult, but apparently not impossible.

Stalin: “Hungary must be punished.”

Not something any country wants to hear, least of all a country right next to the USSR. You see, in 1941, Hungary took one look at the landscape, sandwiched between Nazi Germany and the USSR, realized it had to choose sides. So they shrugged, flipped a coin, and the coin turned up WRONG.

They sided with the Nazis.

By 1943, as it was becoming clear that maybe that wasn’t such a great idea, they tried to switch sides by secretly negotiating with the Allies. The Nazis found out, of course, and imposed a brutal rule over the country in an effort to keep Hungary in line. And once Germany was defeated, Hungary was kinda sorta hoping that the resistance they put up would count for something when the new bosses rolled into town.

It did not.

There’s a saying among Hungarians:

The Fascists want to kill you, but the Communists make you want to kill YOURSELF.

Good times. This is the most traumatizing fact we discovered while visiting the “House of Terror” in Budapest, Hungary.


Considering how the Fascist regime only lasted less than a year, while the Hungary Communist regime lasted 40 years, I can believe that.

“The House of Terror” museum was originally the headquarters of the Nazi secret police…until the Communists took over and turned it into a prison for torture and executions.

So it’s basically the worst building in the WORLD. Though today, it’s a pleasant day out for a couple looking to spend their day perusing all the ways Hungarians were treated like shit.

Nazis or Commis? You choose.

One particular story that stuck out in my mind was of a prisoner, who’d been forced to endure 10 years of hard labour in the coal mines.

He’d been beaten, he’d been starved, and he’d been tortured so much he couldn’t take it anymore. So he begged for rest and food from his Soviet overlords, saying how they would be able to produce more and work harder if only they were properly fed.

Their response?

“We don’t want you to produce more. Your labour means nothing to the State. What we want, is to ensure that you will be miserable.”

They’re also INSANELY full of themselves, as we quickly found out from visiting Memento park, an open-air museum housing all the communist statues that are now, thankfully, defunct.

Now, before anyone accuses me of being an unbiased observer (HA!), let me just say that these Goddamned Commies tried to kill every single member of my family during the Cultural Revolution in China. So my positioning on Communism is firmly in the “not a fan” camp.

So as you can imagine, we had a lot of fun at Memento Park.


Now, don’t get me wrong. I talked a lot about Communism in this post, but the truth of it is I LOVED Budapest. The food is all based on paprika, which suits my Szechuan stomach just GREAT, the history and the architecture is wonderful, and the spas.

Oh my God the spas.

Budapest boast some of the biggest and most opulent spas in the world!

This is because gurgling beneath the city are more than 1000 hot springs. Which is why it was nicknamed “City of Spas” for having the most thermal springs of any capital city in the world (80% of the city)! And judging by our obsession with finding spas in England, Germany, you’ll see why we immediately liked it. As much as I enjoyed soaking in a roof top thermal spring in Bath, England, the Hungarian spas are WAY better. And at only 30% of the cost!

Why do we say that? Because of all the places we’ve been to in the world, nothing comes close to the size and grandeur of Budapest spas.

Like Széchenyi. It’s got 15 indoor pools and 3 grandiose outdoor pools! 15! 3! Grandiose! And is more opulent than the last!

Photo credit: Christine Zenino @ Wikipedia
Photo credit: Andorka @ wikipedia

They even have a whirlpool, where you can lazily drift along with the current, gleefully smacking into unsuspecting Hungarians as you go.

But my favourite part was the steam rising off the hot water, reminding me of the mysterious lake in Phantom of the Opera.

Photo credit: Neef – 2 @ wikpedia

GAH! So much opulence!

The cost? An affordable $20/person.

I couldn’t believe that you could get into a spa like this for $20CAD/person. Back in Toronto, the entrance fee to get into a fancy-pants spa like this would be at least $80CAD, if not more.

Needless to say, we spent a good part of our time in Budapest soaking ourselves and going to every single pool until our skin turned 100% prune.

Here’s how much we spent in Budapest:

Category Cost/couple/day (CAD) Thoughts
Accommodations $49Fantastic location and super organized host. One of the best deals we’ve ever had in Europe.
Food $40$29 for eating out, $11 for groceries. Since eating out was relatively cheap compared to other European cities, we went to food markets and restaurants instead of cooking.
Attractions $40Includes visits to spas, entrance to 'House of Terror' + audio guides, and entrance to 'Memento Park'+ audio guides
Transportation $12
Total $141

Rating: 4/5 Hungarian Spas

Hungary ended up being more expensive than Prague and Vienna, but that’s only because we went to the spa multiple times, went to paid attractions (with a name like “House of Terror” how could we not?) and ate out more often (The Great Market Hall had a TON of good food, but the stalls sometimes try to trick you to paying more by adding ingredients without telling you they cost extra. GRRR. *shakes fist*) For the regular traveler who doesn’t pig out as much or have an obsession with spas, they could easily visit Hungary on only $100-$120/couple/day. There’s also some nice free attractions, like the hiking the Gellért Hill or strolling alongside the sparkling Danube river. We only stayed there for 3 nights, but it was definitely one of the more memorable places we visited in Europe.

Click here for the next post in the traveling series.

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24 thoughts on “Let’s Go Exploring! Budapest: Spas and Communism. A Winning Combination!”

  1. You’ve been to Budapest and haven’t visited any of the ruin pubs? You missed a lot: great atmosphere, 1.5$ beer… I agree the food in Hungary is great and the spas are really cool. Also there are quite a few great places in the countryside if you ever go back.

    1. Ah crap. We heard about the ruin pubs but we forgot to check them out. Too much spa-ing will tend to make you forget a lot of things 🙂

      Thank for reminding me though! We’ll probably go back in the future and visit them. Will also be picking your brain about places in the countryside.

      1. I second this, the Ruin Pubs were great! Be sure to check them out if you return to Budapest. A round of drinks was pretty cheap…like $1.50 USD for a beer if I recall correctly (being from DC, prices like this are completely shocking).

  2. You realize that Soviet Union and China have nothing to do with Communism which is “classless, stateless, money less society where people’s material needs are satisfied and they strive towards self fulfillment”. Even Lenin said that Soviet Union is not by any means communist. It’s just plan old authoritarian/totalitarian state. Early retirement has probably more in common with communism than Soviet Russia/China/Cuba etc as early retirement espouses such ideas as being free from material needs and a need for self fulfillment.

    For the closest approximation to communism check out anarcho-syndicalism movements in Spain during the Civil War (George Orwell wrote about it in “Homage to Catalonia”) or anarchist movements in Ukraine -so called “Free Territory”.

    Critical thinking is what we like about this blog. People are confused enough as is by the media:)

    1. True. China is now more capitalist than most countries…but the authoritarian/totalitarianism aspect of Communism is still there. Things were completely different (aka much MUCH worse) when my parents were growing up, and only changed to globalization/capitalism after Chairman Mao died.

      The definitely of communism that I found says: “a political theory derived from Karl Marx, advocating class war and leading to a society in which all property is publicly owned and each person works and is paid according to their abilities and needs.”

      I’m not sure self-fulfillment was ever part of the ideology.

      1. Marx didn’t say much about communism at all – but he did have a very profound critique of capitalism. He talked about people being alienated from their labour- something you write about during your corporate years. See if this resonates with you:


        When you are early retired you escape the alienation since you can decide for yourself what you want to do and what will really bring you happiness/self actualization.

        In reality Marx never envisioned a revolution in Russia/China since they were mostly primitive/feudal/peasant society. He was thinking of Germany- as it was a leading industrialized nation where there was enough wealth/education for the experiment. When revolution in Germany failed due to fascists, even Lenin realized that peasant Russia will most likely fail in the experiment. So in case of Russia/ China they just replaced Czar/Emperor with Party Secretary/Chairman and turned a monarchy into a totalitarian/authoritarian state which by no means makes it communist, as in if I change my name to Brad Pitt I am by no means the Brad Pitt.

        So for those who want to learn about communism/socialism it’s best not to look at Russia/China but probably rather Spain during the Civil war.


        There workers actually took control not only of political but also economic power (so if you work for a company- each worker has one vote). The logic is actually pretty sound- since we value democracy so much in our political life, why are we ok with our bosses being Chairmen Mao’s and comrade Stalins? That’s an authoritarian structure right there.

        Oh by the way- take a look at this:


        Basically an experiment will be going on that will try making some people financially independent. So maybe in the future we can escape alienation/jump to self actualization from an early age.

  3. Hi,
    Thank you for sharing your travels, investment advice etc with the world. You have shared some really good information about the different cultures and what to expect if I ever travel to any of the same places.
    I’ve been following your journey for a little while and I was surprised by your take on Hungary.
    My family escaped the Nazis and the Russians in 1956. I was 5 yrs old. We walked out of Hungary on railway tracks in the middle of the night into Austria where some kind people took us in.
    My understanding is that the Nazi’s forced us into the army. There were no choices made . . I just want to be clear about that. If the Hungarian men refused, they were shot . . . . and if you were a Hungarian Jew . . . . well, I’m sure that you have read the history.
    Towards the end of the war, my father was put into a refugee camp run by the Americans because they thought that he and his compatriots were Nazis . . . they were NOT! My fathers normal weight at that time was about 160lbs . . .after making them starve for months, he went down to 87lbs.
    At some point, the Americans figured out that they were Hungarian soldiers and started to feed them 4 or 5 times a day.
    The Hungarian soldiers of that day were conscripted into the Nazi army but they were given Amnesty in 1950 because they had no choice with regard to fighting with the Germans. The Hungarians were taken over by the Russians in 1956 but again, not by choice and broke away a few years after. Keep doing what you’re doing . . . . I love to hear about your adventures! A Big Fan!

    1. Oh wow. That’s terrible what your family had to go through. And after being terrorized by the Nazis only to be mistaken by the Americans to BE a Nazi? *sigh*.

      My Dad has the unfortunate fate of having one parent as a Nationalist Party military doctor (opposition to the Communists) and my mom of being born to a landlord (many of whom were killed during the cultural revolution). So needless to say, it was not a fun time for them.

    1. If you go to Europe in the summer, definitely check out the Hungary spas. Been all over the world and no other spas can compare.

      1. I concur, Budapest has amazing natural hot water spas. Were you able to check out the Rudas Baths? Those were my favorite, very medieval looking!

    1. Neither – all those opulent spas predabe both Nazis and Communists. When the Romans occupied Budapest they were already using the hot springs for their thermal complexes, but the people who really got the Hungarians into the whole spa thing were the Turkish (or Ottomans, as they were called then). Their expansion into Europe was halted when their siege of Vienna was broken in 1529, but they did occupy Hungary for about 150 years. Many of the spas were built by the Hungarians themselves – the Szechenyi spa is named after one of their greatest statesmen, the first person to speak in Hungarian in the parliament of the Austro-Hungarian empire of which Hungary then formed half.

    2. If the Commis had built it, there would be a giant sign that says “everyone MUST be EQUALLY comfortable in the water or you all go to the labour camp!”

      If the Nazis had built it, it would say “THERE IS NOTHING HERE! NO FUN FOR ANYONE EVER!”

      We saw no signs like that so can’t be either.

      1. Nah, those spas could easily have been built by the commies or Nazis. For their respective elites, of course (not the proles or the volks because screw them, honestly). Everyone is equal, it’s just that some are more equal than others.

  4. Hi guys! Could you tell me the name of the AIRBNB which you stayed in in Budapest? I understand that it comes highly recommended! By the way, did you happen to notice whether Sandemans are operating their free walking tour there? Like you, I always tend to look out for them when exploring a new city! Thanks in advance!

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