It’s been an intense week, care to join us at some Romanian bath houses?
The baths were tucked into a large complex in their own town, which presumably sprang up to cater to visitors. Aaron had imagined a dark, steamy bath where large hairy Romanian men wore Speedos and clumps of hair swirled around in the churning waters.
I knew better. This is not Sumatra, where that’s exactly what the thermal baths are like. I knew this was going to be a gloriously corny theme park. And it was.
We took a cab to the bus terminal, where while we waited for busses a couple men came out and asked, “Baile Felix?” We nodded and one held up three fingers and spouted some Romania, which we didn’t understand, but a few people waiting with us went with him so we piled into his little Peugeot and ten minutes and $1.75 later were walking toward the bath complex. (Note to other travelers – there’s little information about how to get there from Oradea, but it’s really easy, just grab a bus from Nufarul terminal.)
So Aaron was surprised when we arrived at the Apollo baths at Baile Felix (although he was right about the hairiness, and the speedos).
The complex consisted of four pools with various degrees of hot mineral water, and it also included a huge waterslide system for the kids. Romanian reggaeton blasted through the sound system, reminding us of South America.
Aaron got his first ever massage from a professional – a large Romanian man named Edy, who wore a bluetooth earpiece and a white tank top.
Noting the pictures around his massage cell, I said, “You have a beautiful family.”
“Thank you,” he said. “Kids man, having kids – it changes everything.”
I prepared myself for what came next, what every person who’s had children has ever said to me about it – they ruin everything. Or at least, they completely take over your life.
Edy had been a professional volleyball player, had spent his youth getting out desires to travel and be free (sounded pretty familiar) and at 37 finally got married and had kids.
To my surprise, he said, “Kids are the best thing that can ever happen to you.”
As he slapped the backs of Aaron’s legs, Swiss-style, he slipped effortlessly into a “kids these days” rant. “The kids now, they don’t want to be kids. They want to grow up so fast. The girls, they want to be women. They put hormones in everything, in the meat, and now girls look like women when they’re still like kids. They want to get laid, they want to have sex, but they aren’t ready in their heads, you know?”
I liked this man’s directness. “Hopefully, you know, the way things are today, there’s a trade-off. Like, maybe people have more money to enjoy,” I offered.
He shrugged, pulling on Aaron’s toes. “Everyone wants money, but now no one has time. They are all stressed out and when they come home they are too tired. There are so many rules.” He held Aaron’s foot in one hand and gestured to his childhood with the other.
“The kids today, they have no freedom. There is nothing but rules. In the old Romania, we were free,” he said. “It was wild.”
Oradea, the city we stayed in near the baths of Baile Felix, still had that flavor. It reminded me of Poland 15 years ago, with some of the same crumbled grandness of Budapest’s slice of the Hapsburg empire, but more crumbly and with deeper Soviet overtones.
The city on the Hungary-Romania border had tons of new developments cropping up, like the Airbnb we stayed in, which was a huge, modern apartment building next to an abandoned Soviet building and a shiny new grocery store, and not much else.
Oradea was a small city, but still a city (with a fortress that was really bad at doing its job of keeping out invaders). We decided that next, we would go to a small town, and we found just the right one – with a medieval castle, which I’m looking at right now.
In the Halloween spirit yet? Next week we’ll meet deep in the heart of Transylvania!