Friday, April 16, 2010

A Spa Day the German Way

Wrapped in a warm, clean sheet enveloped in a soft woolen blanket, I realize that it has been a long time since I've been swaddled. In fact, I can't even remember back that far, although I'm sure that at some point in my infancy my mother must have bundled me in such a way, my arms tucked next to my body for comfort, safe in my own cocoon. Now, as an adult, I relax and enjoy the warmth and gentle silencec around me.

Getting to the swadling took some doing. It is the second to last step in a seventeen step process at Baden Baden's Roman baths. Considering that the seventeenth step is hanging out wrapped in another clean sheet on a lounge chair with a lackluster German magazine collection in the "reading room", I'd say that it's the last step that really counts. So, step 16: spend half an hour in the resting room, swaddled.

I admit I found the steps a little confusing at times. And reading the full step-by-step desscription out on the landing before I entered the spa probably wouldn't have helped much considering that seventeen steps is a lot to remember, and part of the confusion lies in the fact that the individual rooms for each part of the process are not laid out in a simple straight line. This confusion is compounded by the fact that without my glasses, the signs, written in soothing pale green and taupe, are rathere difficult to spot, and impossible to read from any distance. But who wants to weear glasses in a spa?

When it comes down to it, who wants to wear anything in a spa? These aren't called Baths for nothing - people come here to relax, recuperate, and get super squeaky clean, which means a dress code of nothing beyond your locker wristband is always enforced. I knew this ahead of time, but I also knew that most of the rooms, with the excecption of a couple of pools, were segregated by sex, with the exception of Sundays, Tuesday, and holidays, when bathing is mixed. But I had come on a Wednesday. Perfect timing, I thought.

But apparrently mixed bathing is pretty popular in Baden Baden, for when I walked up to the entrance of the elegant Friedrichsbad building, I saw someething that did not correlate with the information in my Rick Steves' guidebook: Mittwoch gemischt. Wednesdays mixed.

Now I had a decision to make, and ultimately, I decided that Friedrichsbad is a classy place and if the Germans themselves feel comfortable enough to do this three days out of seven, plus holidays (and believe me, they have more holidays than we do), then I hadn't come all this way just to turn around in false shame. It was no big deal, right?

And... it wasn't. A big deal, that is. Nobody pays much attention to anyone else, as everyone is there to enjoy their own personal experience, alone or together with their partner, friends, or family. Guests and staff (who are professionally clothed all in white) are curteous, quiet, and help the space maintain a sense of utter relaxation, cleanliness, and even elegance.

Starting with a shower that warms you to your bones, you'll move to the sauna rooms before returning for another soothing shower. You next visit the steam rooms, after experiencing the optional ten minute brush massage (if you paid for it). The steam rooms lead you to a series of mineral pools, starting with a wonderfully warm one. Throughout this experience you can close your eyes and drift into a half sleep, or stare at the beatifully tiled ceilings and glass domes. The culmination is the grand dome in the center over a pool of clear, cool blue water. Completely alone when I entered this space, I swam silently across the circular pool, gazing up at the amazing surroundings. It felt like a taste of heaven.

After a soak in the warm water whirlpool, followed by a final shower, drying off with a fresh warm towel, and applying "creme", or lotion, I found myself finally in the quiet room. Beds formed an inner and outer circle under yet another dome, and I could make out figures bundled in blankets atop some of the beds across the room. Charmed by the idea, I lay down on one of the beds and folded the blanket over me.

Some minutes had passed when I felt a gentle nudge near my feet. A woman in white whispered for me to rise. Had I done something wrong? Yes, as it turns out, you are supposed to let them wrap you, and I'd skipped protocol. You don't just lie down on a plain old blanket. But the woman was very nice about it as she laid a clean warm sheet on a new blanket for me, then wrapped me just snugly enough to be supremely cozy.

Somestimes, a good swaddling is exactly what we need.

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