out of the steam

The last insistent fingers of winter have taken their revenge: one last head cold, the original April Fool’s jest. You thought it was spring? You thought it was warm enough to stop heating? HA! Bam! Punch in the face! Swollen glands and scratchy throat and runny nose.

I spent the morning sitting in the sun and drinking tea. Laying down seemed like a good idea, so I dragged an old wicker couch into the sun and lay on it, watching three pigeons fly from branch to branch in the tree above me.

Usually I spend sick days laying in bed watching movies, but today it feels like the only thing the computer is capable of is making me sicker. The sun feels so hopefully alive on my skin. I am sure it is helping to drive out the cold with every minute I sit in its light, eyes closed, head turned up.

Tonight I will go to the sauna and sweat the last of this bug out of my pores, the last and most decadent of my winter rituals. In the 85-degree sauna (about 185 degrees Fahrenheit) there is a different infusion every half hour.

Upwards of 40 people sit on tiered wooden benches in a dimly lit room, and when the half hour strikes, an employee arrives with a bucket full of water and oil: things like lemon grass, pine, eucalyptus, and once, Kaminfeuer (that translates to “open fire”, and it didn’t smell anything like an open fire, tell you what).

The employee introduces him- or herself, then pours the oil and water mixture over the hot stones on top of two large stoves at the front of the room. The room fills with steam, gets hotter. The employee waves a towel in circles in the air to bring the hottest air down from the ceiling to the level of the benches. Then they do it again and again, usually four times, until sweat is streaming down your entire body and every pore is open and tingling. There is always a hardcore group sitting on the top tier who lift their arms for the last round (oh sensitive armpits!) and grunt as if they were amid an intense workout.

The last infusion of the night is held in the 95-degree sauna (203 degrees Fahrenheit). The employee who comes for the infusion is always a chubby brown-haired man who takes the time to his to fan hot air into the faces of each individual there. It is one of the most intense physical experiences I have ever had.

There are actually eight different saunas available, with various temperatures and effects—the “fever” sauna (set at a temperature meant to mimic the human body when fevered) and the Finnish sauna (the only thing I remember about it was that there was horrific flute music playing inside). But I usually skip those and attend all of the evening’s infusions.

The steam bath is in a white-tiled room with spacey blue and green lighting. It is smaller, but the air is so thick with mist that you can’t see across the four-meter wide room. Here the tiered seats are tiled, and there are hoses to wash off your spot before sitting. Several times a night an employee comes in with either a salt or honey peeling, which he or she hands out to everyone in the room with a big wooden spoon. You rub yourself down, and head to the showers.

The main room is filled with chairs for relaxing between rounds, a small restaurant, an ice-cold pool, and an outdoor swimming pool for relaxing between rounds. Normally this kind of decadence costs about 20 euros for two hours, but our local sauna offers a special: every night from 8-11 you can come in for a 10 euro flat fee. This gives you access to the saunas, the water slides, and the heated pool (also with a fountain-filled bit outside). You leave feeling reborn, all the old skin gone, all the month’s poison’s sweated off.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.