Sebrin Elms In… The Strange Case of the Hungarian Stomach Virus

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.

Strange Case of the Hungarian Stomach Virus; Bathhouse in Hungary Budapest

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.


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.

Have you ever gotten food poisoning, the stomach flu, or super sick abroad? Tell me about it so I don’t feel so alone!

9 comments on “Sebrin Elms In… The Strange Case of the Hungarian Stomach Virus”

  1. I lived in Budapest for awhile and while I didn’t get sick at the baths in Budapest, I did go to another one in a small town along the border with Romania with my Hungarian boyfriend at the time and his friends. That night I got so sick – feverish and tired. Generally lousy. It took about a week for it to go away. It eventually led to me being diagnosed with something entirely different, but I wonder if I just picked up something at the bath that day that caused my immune system to go on overdrive and bring on the other diagnosis. I guess I’ll never know. Everyone else in the water that day was fine too. A mystery!

  2. You are not alone! A few years back I got what I think was food poisoning in Paris. I blame the mussels I had for lunch that day… spent the whole night dividing myself between vomit and diarrhea. Such a bad experience that totally ruined my short holiday in Paris.
    If that was not enough, last summer I got a kidney stone in the middle of a flight. Ended up in hospital because unfit to fly on my next leg. I’m starting to believe I am great at making my holidays turn epic with my bad luck 😀

  3. I was in the same baths at the end of our Budapest trip last Friday – loved the place and had good fun there with my 3 friends, actually quite liked the quirkiness of it being old and decrepit.
    Got home late Friday night, went out Saturday night, just a feeling of tiredness, home in bed for 11pm, by 2am had to run to the loo and this has continued non-stop – today being Wednesday!!! My legs are also pretty swollen and not looking too good around an area I cut months ago. Sent a sample in to GP, but not back yet. Only put this altogether as could be the thermal baths when my friend suggested it this morning!
    Will keep you updated

    1. OMG yes please do! That tiredness came first and I just thought I was a weird party pooper. It sounds A LOT like what I had. Good luck with your leg, that is so scary!

  4. Well still happening, was there 18th to the 21st on last night had salmon ,thought it was that my wife didn’t have , so food poisoning? No day after we got back. She has got it ,,, guess where we went ?… yes the thermal baths ,, so travelers avoid ,,,or take the risk of being ill ,, james

    1. I wouldn’t suggest forgoing the experience altogether. Maybe just go to take pictures or only dip your feet in. I would avoid putting your head under the water or getting any water in your eyes, nose or ears.

  5. I have been dying for 3 days and finally went to the doctor today in Prague. I had a super high fever, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, headache. Everything. And my friend and i had eaten alllll the same food the day before I got sick. The only difference was I went to the bathhouse. This sickness ruined the rest of my trip I’m so disappointed I didn’t research better.

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