Hot Source (June 3rd)

Whilst researching this trip I came this story. The article is time-stamped for 2009, so i thought the passage of 2 years would give ministers enough time to get it together to get this place opened. The morning before we arrived in BP, I regoogled ’underground lake Budapest”, but alas only found hits for the same story, as opposed to a visitors site. We made our way into town and to the tourist information. This was where it all came together. For this kind of thing, the chances of each individual knowing the right information and being free and willing to help out, are so small that you get the strange feeling the God is on your side when you take on these missions. I ain’t particularly religious. ’The Universe conspiring to help you’ would probably be a more accurate description the phenomenon…

So I ask the woman in the tourist information if she knows about this underground lake. She didn’t until a week before when it just so turned out she had seen a documentary about it. She thinks a little bit, makes a call and discovers the name of Turkish thermal spa which uses the water from the the underground lake as the source of its hot water. She marks an X on the map where the spa can be found. I ask if it is possible to visit but she says no it is not open to the public, but maybe if you email this address (on post it note), something can be arranged.

X marks the spot

I told her I wouldn’t have time to do that ’cos i was leaving the next morning. ”Is there anything else we can try?” ”Wait a minute”. She picks up the phone again, and spends the best part of 10 minutes jabbering while i wait patiently. Amazingly she manages to find the name of the only person with a key to this underground lake – Dr Leel-Őssy Szabolcs, geologist, associate professor, and President of the Hungarian Karst and Cave Research Socitey. Not only that but she also somehow manages to find out he was giving a talk on the other side of town at 1500. It’s 1430. My rendez-vous with a friend of a friend will have to wait. There are more pressing issues. This is something which has to be pursued… It’s on.

I arrange with the others to catch up later and leg it to the Underground. 3 stops later, I jump off and after being made offers by street vendors for an electric razor (just the 1) and a white sheet, I ask someone for directions. Her English was non-existent, her orientation and map reading skills not all that. Fit though. She finally points me in right direction. I make my way to Millenáris Park, where this talk was being given. I ask a few more people for to point me to the exact address. Turns out the talk was being given in some kind of gem-stone and jewellery exhibition. Crystals, perfectly polished tiger eye stones, and bullshit Star Trek style magnetic healing headbands fill the  huge room. It is now 1530 and I am worried i might miss the talk. It takes the security guard a full 10 minutes to find the space where talks were being given. Finally, and still in full flow, there he is: El Presidente. I slip into the back row and take my sit.

Now, my Magyar comprises only a one word vocabulary: ’Igen’ (Yes), and the room was very hot, and it had been a long night navigating the nightbus system (always a barrel of laughs in a foreign city), but this was no excuse for taking a quick 5 second micro nap. Fortunately no-one clocked me. I hope. The talk was about caves and jungle in Borneo that Professer Leél-Őssy had visited. Impressive photos, but i couldn’t really understand the story behind them. After talk was over i approached the Professor and introduced myself, and explained what i was up to and how i had come across the story of this underground lake, and how i would absolutely love to visit it. He said he was busy that afternoon, and asked when i was leaving. My optimism dipped but redoubled after 2 or 3 phone calls when he declared he had managed to arrange that his son would take me. Yesssssssssss. GTFI!

I met his wife and daughter, and we walked and talked until we met his son who pulled up in an Estate. I jumped in with Zsolt and his Dad, and we made our way to the lake entrance. Beverly Hills Cop theme was playing on the radio. Gonna be a few day before i forget that one. At the entrance was an old, now defunct Turkish spa. The dad opened the locks to a tunnel and left me and the son to it. The tunnel stretched back well over200 metresinto the hill. Apparently the plan had once been to connect a hotel on the top of the hill to the turkish spa via an elevator and the tunnel. The plans got ditched when the water stopped flowing to the spa.

Defunct Spa

Tunnel entrance

Zsolt asked if wanted to check out a small cave before the lake. ”Of course”. I stipped off to my boxers and got amongst the warm slimy mud. Still filthy, we made our way to the lake entrance. He pulled back a curtain and revealed steps leading down to the thermal waters…

Open Sesame

Stairway to Heavenly Underworld

4 days after i entered France, the temperate was already up in the 30s. Apart from the brief period up in the mountains when the temperature dipped, the temperature has remained consistently high the rest of the trip. Following the Danube cycle path and with so much fresh water surrounding me i have been itching to go for a swim all journey. Never did i think my first swim would be in such an epic location. I asked if could dive in and after being given the thumbs up, backed up to take a run up for a flyspring style head first dive. Woosh, the27°Cwaters engulfed me. What a feeling. Yes my boxers came off, but i had been warned that if i lost them i would not get them back, for below us lay 4 huge underwater chambers, and myriad tunnel networks. Think a scene from Sanctum. Cave divers were exploring somewhere below us as we swam. Would have been very creepy if they’d resurfaced mid swim.

Zsolt explained that they were looking for someone to invest money and in particular pay to test the rock for stability etc. Not cheap. When Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were filming in Budapest they were given a special invite to visit this underground thermal lake. They did so and took a swim with the kids. I felt moviestar-privelleged for seeing this incredible place. Bit of a dream come true. No doubt it would lose some of its magic if and when it does get opened to the public, but if it ever does then i recommend you check it out…

One of the back up options to the thermal lake, was a labyrinth (displaying the meaning and historical importance of the Underworld), described in the tourist information as one of the 7 underground wonders of the world. I thought why not, might as well squeeze this in too. When i got to the entrance a group of Italian women were leaving and were disuading others from going in. I got the gist of what she was saying and just in case i wasn’t sure, she gave a typically flamoboyant thumbs down. I went in to make my own opinion. I learned that it was in fact a covereted WW2 bomb shelter, and after watching an ”enticing” introductory video – a mishmash of Time Team, The kids TV show Nightmare, and Monty Python, i thought i’d give this “wonder” a miss. It was a Friday night, my fellow cycle tourers were back in the centre, there was a free open air festival, and there was fun and laughs to be had…

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