I’ve always wanted to star in my own mystery story. And that’s exactly what happened in Budapest. Well, sort of. This is… ‘The Strange Case of the Hungarian Stomach Virus” starring… yours truly!
Upon my arrival in Budapest, you could cut the tension with a knife. (Cue dramatic music)
Perhaps it was the fact that it was 9 pm at night. Perhaps it was the fact that 2 local Hungarians asked, “Why on Earth would you come to Budapest this time of year?” in utter disdain. Perhaps it was when I fell down a flight of icy, Ryanair terminal stairs AND NO ONE DID ANYTHING EXCEPT STARE AT ME. (Now I remember where I got all of those cuts and bruises…)
Still, I made it to my hotel with cautious optimism.
It all started with the damn goulash.
My first morning in Budapest started with a free walking tour around Budapest.
The idea of walking 3 hours in the blistering cold made this Angeleno feel particularly nervous, but not enough to turn around and quit (though in hindsight, maybe I should have).
It was 10 am and I still hadn’t eaten any breakfast. Our tour was to meet at the Lion fountain statue and begin at 10:30 am. This gave me time to meander the square and look for food.
Many of you know that Budapest is known for its amazing goulash. So when I saw an outdoor vendor selling authentic, Hungarian chicken goulash, I was more than keen to dive in, mouth first.
I know what you’re thinking: “Sebrin! An outdoor food vendor? That’s where you got sick! Mystery solved!”
Indeed, this is what I thought as well. But stay tuned, dear reader. Like any Scooby-Doo mystery will show you, the first suspect isn’t always the old man under the ghost sheet.
So I ate that chicken goulash. I ate it like it was the only food I had eaten in oh say… 12.5 hours. It was maybe not the BEST chicken goulash in town, but I was excited to try even more of it.
The tour was grand, despite the weather. If I stayed in one location for too long, my ill-suited boots would remember they weren’t winter boots and send shivers through my toes. But as we walked, talked and toured, I made friends with two different couples. Two of them being Raeleen and Matt of No Direction.
Széchenyi Bathhouse, a famous Hungarian outdoor spa, was on my must-see list in Budapest. After our tour, Raeleen, Matt and I decided to visit this tourist attraction and get some much needed R&R.
I had pictured a beautiful spa. One that, might be a tad old or crowded, but a pristine place of utter tranquility.
What I saw was much different.
Széchenyi was a snowy and beautiful spa filled with lukewarm water, herds of young men on the prowl for half-naked tourists, couples (expressing their love in front of everyone), Hungarian men watching (and “enjoying”) the young couples, and bewildered tourists (aka, us).
The Hungarian bathhouse was a series of indoor and outdoor pools, some which contained sulphur while others contained murky water filled with god-knows-what.
(Actually, I do know what. Apparently, the bathhouses have Saturday night “raves” where basically anything goes. Let your mind get real dirty with that one.)
I really wanted to try the beer spa, but unfortunately it was closed. We decided to take this opportunity to bathe with the several naked Hungarians and tourists instead.
I got home around 8 pm and was supposed to meet Raeleen and Matt + the other couple from our tour at one of the ruin bars. But for some reason, I was insanely tired. Like, dead-to-the-world tired. I chalked it up to a bit of jet lag and went to bed.
When I awoke at 3 am that morning, I started to feel a bit like this:
Little did I know that this was the beginning of the end.
After feeling really bad for myself (wah-wah), I started to feel much worse. I started to throw up so much that I don’t know how I managed to stay alive.
It was so bad, I almost fainted at the front desk when I asked for some bread to soak up my stomach acid.
You know when you JUST KNOW what got you sick? You can feel it in your bones (or in my case, my stomach). Well, I never felt that way about that chicken goulash. Of course, I didn’t eat anything else besides this all day. So, naturally, it had to be the chicken. But still…
I reached out to a women’s Facebook group that caters specifically to travel. I asked if anyone lived in Budapest and if they could help and bring me some food (as I was naive enough to think that this would solve the problem). Instead, I was berated with, “Call a doctor, NOW.”
Thank god for insurance. The Magazine Hotel got a doctor into my room in less than 30 minutes at the sweet price of 130 euro.
The Hungarian doctor tried to explain what I had. If only he spoke English, this mystery would be solved! Alas, I couldn’t tell if he said it was the flu, food poisoning, or what. The doctor prescribed me:
Two injections (right above my butt) of some type of painkiller
A vile of B vitamins
5 boxes of medications that I couldn’t translate
No clues here.
But after 3-4 days, eating BORING FOOD and taking all of those meds, I was finally feeling better enough to enjoy the last half of my trip in Prague and Stockholm.
Days went by. Drinks were had. The illness slowly became a thing of the past and I actually enjoyed myself! After two weeks of traveling throughout Europe, my trip came to an end.
I took Norweigan Air direct to LA from Stockholm where I ugly-cried alone, in the dark, to the movie Me Before You.
It wasn’t until the wheels touched the ground that I started to talk to the passenger sitting next to me. (This gentleman had enjoyed a good 3 drinks or so before passing out almost the whole journey.) Somehow, the Budapest illness came up.
He smiled and immediately asked, “Did you go to the bathhouses?”
I was shocked (which now, looking back, I probably shouldn’t have been THAT shocked). But I was utterly convinced, for days, that it was food poisoning.
“Yeah, those places are disgusting. I got sick there and had to go to the clinic. People get sick there all of the time,” he said.
SO WHO DUNNIT?
My money is on the Hungarian Bathhouse.
No one else ate the chicken and Raeleen and Matt didn’t get sick at the spa. My only sign is the mucky spa-water and what my flight buddy told me, so I guess this mystery goes unsolved.
But you guys. I have a feeling it was those damn spas! And sometimes, you just gotta go with your gut. Literally.