Just back from the hot springs of Budapest where there is always something new to discover. I first went there six years ago, which was three years BC (before cancer) and stayed at The Gellert Hotel, which put me straight in mind of the sort of old Soviet hotel I used to stay at when working in Russia before the capitalist revolution in the early Nineties. Because The Gellert was really showing its age last time we went there in 2005 (although the bathroom is forever etched in my memory as the place where I spotted the second lump in my right breast), we stayed this time at the Helia, an anodyne modern edifice opposite Margitsziget (Margaret Island). But I recognised the concierge there from The Gellert, so Cara and I were given an upgrade to a room set aside on a restful corner of the first floor, with views over the Danube and the edge of the spa complex. This beat the tram noise at the poor old Gellert though the thermal water in the baths was just as hot (up to 38 C) but clearer, less gaseous than the greenish soup with elderly ladies floating in it you get at the public baths. I wrote about the famous Gellert baths in the archive pieces (Crab and Fishes) so won't repeat myself now.
I didn't take any medical insurance, other than my standard cover that comes free for Cara and me through my banking package (if anything from a bank can ever be said to be free), and our E111 forms, of course. When we arrived, though, the driver who picked us up from the airport (recommended - see www.budapesthotels.com Airport Pickup Service) said there had been a demonstration that day about proposals to make Hungary's health service a paid for service. If this happens, I expect it will put an end to free reciprocal agreements with the NHS in Britain. But I didn't take out extra cover when I went to Switzerland either, in 2006, or Germany in 2007 - although I didn't anticipate any problems in either of those places. The most likely problems, relating to my cancer treatment anyway, would have arisen when I sailed to Spain in 2005, five weeks into chemotherapy treatment (and without my hair), or later that year, in Budapest, exactly a month after my operation. Travel insurance for people with 'ongoing' or 'prexisting' conditions like cancer is punitive - although I recently read somewhere that these punitive measures contravene disability rights legislation under EU law.
Anyway, Budapest. It's wonderful. Try it. Sod the insurance - just go.