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Europe in December 2002 Part 2

Here we are in Baden Baden, Germany, a delightful old spa town. The warm water that feeds the spas has been around since the first century—probably even longer. One of the spas is named after Caracalla, a first century Roman Emperor, who purportedly used the baths to conquer his rheumatism. He probably originated the expression, “Ach du lieber!” (which is roughly translated Whoopeee) when he first stepped into the water.

We found a really great hotel, The Rathausglockel. It has only 6 rooms, an unbelievably steep spiral staircase and no elevator. (If you have a computer you can see a picture of the stairs.) We had Room number 5—top floor—two flights of stairs. There was no fitness center in the hotel, but getting our heavy weight luggage to the top floor provided an adequate workout for the day. Our room was pleasant and the restaurant was outstanding. Our first night we had snails for an appetizer. They were cooked with a parsley and garlic sauce and were yummy. I have often wondered if cooked with enough garlic our big Texas slugs could be considered a delicacy. If any of you try it, let me know how it turns out.

Lynn had venison stew and I had pork medallions, both delicious. The next night Lynn had sauerbraten and I had baked pike fish. No complaints on either. In the 1600’s prisoners condemned to die were brought to this very restaurant for their last meal. The iron rings to which they were fastened are still on the front of the building. For pictures, check out their web site at http://www.rathausgloeckel.de/. The “typical room” shown is number 5—our room.

There are two spas in Baden Baden, The Roman-Irish Bath and the Caracalla Therme. The Roman-Irish Bath is the old standard and the Caracalla Therme is the newer and more social one. I went to the Roman-Irish spa because it was closest to our hotel. The lobby is tastefully decorated. Here you pay your money and ascend the grand staircase to the spa proper—men to the left and women to the right.

The spa has a very strict dress code—you put your dress and all other clothes in a locker when you enter and leave them there until you are ready to go. In other words, with the exception of little plastic shoes supplied by the spa, you are naked throughout the whole experience. This is not to be confused with “nekkid.” The late Lewis Grizzard made this distinction between the two—naked is when you don’t have any clothes on. Nekkid is when you don’t have any clothes on and you’re up to something.

There are 16 stations or rooms with directions, written in English, on the wall of each one to tell you what to do and how long to do it. In the first room, the “crème” room, you weigh yourself on a digital scale. I weighed 80 deciliters. Room 2 is the shower room where you take a hot soapy shower for 5 minutes. Next comes the warm air bath. Here you stretch out on a wooden bench on your very large towel and relax for 15 minutes. Then the hot air bath. The temperature is something like 195 degrees F. and 5 minutes is the recommended time. If you stay longer, someone comes in with a basting brush and seasonings.

Then you take another shower. After the shower you get a soap-brush massage. Here you are scrubbed all over with a stiff bristled brush and eucalyptus soap. When you are all soapy someone gives you a massage for about 10 minutes. By now you feel pretty relaxed. Another shower rinses off the soap. That’s 3 showers so far—in some parts of the world that’s a whole year’s allotment.

Then there is a series of thermal steam baths where you sit on a warm tile bench and luxuriate in hot steamy eucalyptus-scented air. While in the first steam room, a naked person who appeared to be a woman came wandering in. I say “appeared” to be a woman because my glasses were steamed up. I think they were steamed before she came in, but I’m not sure. While I was sitting in the steam room several feminine-looking people walked in. They were obviously lost. However, in an effort to make them feel at ease, the men welcomed them to stay.

The next room, we are up to room 11 now, contained a large warm water pool and people of all possible genders sitting quietly in it. After 15 minutes, you move to a second warm water pool with bubbles, which were created by a pumping device, not by the people sitting in the pool. Finally you go to the big pool located under the magnificent dome. The royal pool water is not warm and the contrast is shocking. After a swim in the cool water, it’s back to the shower for shower number 4. After the shower there is the cold-water plunge. This is not for the faint hearted. It’s really cold. Next you dry off with a warm towel and go back to the crème room and put apricot lotion all over your body. Finally, room 16 is the yellow quiet room where you lie down on a soft bed wrapped in warm blankets and think the most relaxing thoughts possible for 30 minutes. For pictures see www.roemisch-irisches-bad.de.

The whole spa experience may have been the most relaxing thing I have ever encountered.

The other main attraction in Baden Baden is the Casino which is exciting and not at all relaxing. It is in a magnificent building called Kurhas which was built in the 1850’s and thought by some to be the most beautiful casino in the world. It has a great deal more old-world charm than the gaudy monstrosities of Las Vegas. It takes only a little imagination to see James Bond dressed in an elegant tuxedo, drinking a martini, shaken not stirred, playing his favorite game, chemin de fer, at one of the tables. He is surrounded by beautiful women and is, of course, winning big time. There are probably other spies here as well, but I couldn’t tell for sure.

On our last night in Baden Baden we went to see a Strauss operetta in the local theater which used to be a train station. The operetta was not very well done and we left at halftime.

Tomorrow we head for Oberstaufen, another spa town. I’ll let you know how that works out.