Wednesday, January 03, 2007


"So nice they named it twice." -Bill Clinton

3 1/2 Hours.
16 Steps.

In a small town in Germany, just across the border from France, hundreds of people get naked, wet and steamy every year. This place is a haven for the rich, who stay in luxurious hotels and spend their days lying in warm water and their nights playing at the casino. But, for a meager fee, it can be a relaxing one day vacation for a young american girl and her friend or family.
This place is Baden-Baden.

It's a little scary being completely naked in front of strangers for the first time. Almost like that horrible dream that you have about forgetting to dress before going to class, but it's completely real. And everyone else is naked too.
Not everyone is exactly "in shape". We're not talking 300 lbs. but there are some older ladies with some wrinkles. Some sagging. And while it's comforting to know that absolutely no one is perfect, you are shocked into realizing that one day your skin will be old and saggy too. But for now the main objective is staying warm, trying to speak broken German and not getting athletes foot.
After two hot showers with lovely water pressure that you haven't experienced in 4 months, two dry saunas in rooms decorated with tiles painted in floral motifs, and a steam room that almost puts you into a coma because of the vicious amount of menthol, you are ready for your brush and soap massage. Still naked. But those German ladies are speaking softly to one another over your head. You don't know what they're saying, but it's very soothing and relaxing. You feel at home and at ease with yourself and the rest of the women around you. You are being cleansed with natural water from the earth and with the gentle hands of a provider and care giver. It's a very earthy, mother/daughter/sister bonding experience, shall we say.
The masseuse gives you a slap on your lathered rear to signal that your massage is complete, you rinse off the remaining soap and head for the baths. In descending temperature, you lounge for at least 30 minutes in about 4 different baths; one with bubbles, one decorated with a statue of a bathing venus, and one in which you swim around so as not to get too cold. You finish off in the cold water plunge. This experience is similar to middle school; it feels awful on your way in and incredible once you're out.
You're then wrapped in hot towels by more wonderful German ladies in matching white shorts and tank tops, and taken to a room to cover yourself in lightly scented lotion and eat a little square of dark chocolate. Just when you believe you are as relaxed as you could possibly ever be, the ladies ask if you are ready for "sleep," and give the international gesture of two hands placed, pillow-like, below the head turned horizontal. You agree, and are escorted into a large room that looks like an orphanage sleeping quarters. The ladies wrap you up burrito-style with warm sheets in your own bed, where you are expected to take a nap for the last 30 minutes of your program.
After awakening from one of the best naps you've ever had, dressing, and exiting the building, you believe that the temperature must have risen at least 5 degrees while you were inside and that the cute little town of Baden-Baden is even more adorable than the first time you saw it. And the sun seems a little brighter.


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