The Sauna

Once upon a time, I lived in Washington, DC. I belonged to a gym that I loved, called Results. On weekdays I had a fairly short workout before or after work but on weekends I moved in for a few hours. After a workout plus, I would head down to the locker room where I would spend an hour in the sauna. At first it was just the hot tub, but in time I came to love the steam room and even the dry sauna. Other than a few freaks running around naked, it was as close to complete comfort and relaxation as I could imagine at this point in my life. At the end, I would have a post-sauna smoothie and walk the 10 blocks home to my cozy English basement apartment and relish in the afterglow.

On my first trip to Europe, when I was visiting M., we decided to head to the gym one afternoon. There weren't too many people there as it was just after Christmas and most people were off away from their normal routine. We had a good workout and then M. asked if I wanted to go to the sauna. He explained where he guessed that it was based on how the men's was set up and said he'd meet me later. Even though I didn't know how long he would be in the sauna, I decided to just laze into the sauna experience as the post-workout fatigue started to set in.

I dawdled around in the shower, washing and conditioning my hair and soaking under the hot shower. Finally, after an eternity, I headed for the door to the sauna area, wrapped in my fluffy white towel, looking forward to the steam room.

(Warning: Americans stop reading here! We all live happily ever after...the end.)

My eyes half-closed, I pushed open the door and heard M.
'What took you so long?'

The words didn't register but my eyes popped open as I realized my mistake. I let out a yelp, drawing attention to myself. There was M. and, in the background, other men walking around completely naked! I clearly had walked into the wrong room!

Silly girl. Upon a second sweep of the room, I realized there were naked women too. NAKED. AAHHHHHHHH!!!! Help!!!!

And gross.

M. told me where to hang my towel (yeah, right) and I pondered what to do. I could bolt out of there or try to be hang and be cool.

I decided to stay and see how European I could be. Nothing to see here. Just avert eyes and keep a low profile. Other than the shriek I had let out, no one seemed to even notice I was there. So I dropped my towel and dashed into the steam room, grateful that it was dim and steamy. After 20 minutes, we headed to the shower and I gave myself a pat on the back that I had survived.

That's when M. pulled the cord above me and a 100 gallons of ice cold water plunged over me. What the ???? I screamed again and this time people were starting to wonder what was up with the hysterical girl. I was seeing red and started yelling at M. not to EVER do that again.

I went off to the dry sauna to ponder what kind of sick people these were, running around naked and dumping icy cold water on after the warmth of the steam room. Then trying to explain, das ist zo healthy, baby. Russian women dunk their kids in the frozen ocean all the time to make them healthier. Huh?

Did I ever say I had the ambition to be more Russian? I don't think so. I went through two more rounds hot-icy cold-hot-icy cold and then finally escaped

On the way home from the gym we had a smoothie and suddenly it hit me. I felt great! Energetic and invigorated but completely relaxed. Maybe there was something to this torture after all.

This weekend I was remembering my first European sauna experience as we spent a lazy afternoon at the sauna. Steam, Finnish Sauna, reading, tanning, icy water and snacks, and wasting away an afternoon... really, its not so bad.

Posted from Basel


Belinda said...

that's such a great story LOL

I always wanted to think I was open minded but when I joined the gym here and saw everyone parading around nude I had to reevaluate my definition of open minded :P

I have to say it DOES sound invigorating but Ice cold water, not so much :|

CanadianSwiss said...

Yes, most North Americans are shocked by this experience. LOL.

BTW, if the cold water bucket after the sauna is "too much" for you, I suggest you shower first lukewarm and then slowly go over to cold, starting by the legs and working your way up.

Haddock said...

I found the sauna experience a little strange at first, but I think it's completely normal nowadays.

I guess the usual American or British upbringing is a bit too prudish really.

The HOT/COLD routine is really good for the immune system

Christina said...

Too funny! I actually felt really good about myself after my first visit. But then again, most of the people there when I went were in their 80's, so it's hard not to think of yourself as "hot" after that.

vailian said...

Great to hear I am not the only one who has suffered this way. Including the cold water... I was loudly and publicly heaped with insults to my courage and steadfastness when I didn't want to completely immerse myself in the ice cold water after the sauna. (Complete description of the recent incident here)

Jessica Brogan said...

I love it...

there's no one nude at my gym. there is one treadmill, that they keep because i beg. and two dogs, one of which is a st bernard who has free reign to run around the gym...

Expat Traveler said...

Being a swimmer, I never found the experience strange. But knowing that P has not yet been, I'm not sure what to think...

I used to love going and hope to go again on our next visit...

Un-Swiss Miss said...

Too true! I had the same shock when I first used the sauna in Mainz, but I think I'd been warned about it before so it was more like, "OH NO!... Oh, right."

Where is the sauna in Basel?