By Carol Pucci
Seattle Times travel writer

Local men play a game of floating chess while soaking in the thermal baths in Eger, Hungary.

EGER, Hungary — Ahh … for a nice, hot bath.

How many times have you said that to yourself after a long overseas flight?

Eger’s delights are many. You can fill a water bottle with wine from cellars built into hillside caves, explore a medieval castle, climb to the top of a minaret or join the breakfast crowd at the public market for sausages dipped in hot mustard.

But first things first. After a long flight from Seattle to Budapest and a two-hour train ride, my husband and I made our first stop the city baths.

Fed by underground hot springs, thermal baths are common throughout Eastern Europe. Hungarians call them spas, and it’s not unusual for someone to show up with a doctor’s prescription for a course of treatment for arthritis or other ailments.

Eger’s bath culture goes back several hundred years, but its modern seven-pool complex more resembles a tamed-down adult version of an American water park than a treatment center. Here taking the waters seems to be as much about socializing as it is about health.

I liked the glistening blue wave pool in the indoor-outdoor “adventure bath” with a mechanical tide that pulled me through the water with little effort on my part. My silver wedding band temporarily tarnished to gold in the 97-degree thermal pool with a strong smell of sulfur. No worries. This was a great introduction to the local culture.

We brought our own suits (this is a mixed bath, so no one goes without them) and borrowed towels from our guesthouse. Lockers and showers were included in the $5 entrance fee.

A group of men moving their knights around on a floating chess board happily let me take their picture.

“German?” one of them asked me.

“No, American,” I replied.

“Bobby Fischer,” he joked, comparing himself to the great American chess player. I smiled and gave them a big thumbs up.

Here is the full story.

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