Great Spas of the World

One of my favorite kinds of pampering is to get a massage. It was regular massage which finally put an end to my chronic back pain – I get monthly myofascial and deep tissue massage at Skin to Soul in Stoneham (which I would strongly recommend to anyone local!) Wheen I go on vacation, I really enjoy checking out unique (and reputable) spa locations.

Last week this time I was sitting in a Scandinavian Spa overlooking the St. Lawrence river in Montreal, and thinking about some of the other, really cool experiences I’ve had. I decided to pretend I was a World Traveler and offer to you a guide to some of the most interesting and best experiences I’ve encountered!

We took a nice nap on those bean bag thingies
We took a nice nap on those bean bag thingies

Montreal Quebec: Scandinave Baths – Les Bains
The concept of the Scandinavian spa seems masochistic. First, you get really, really hot in a sauna. Then you go jump in an icy lake. Maybe you have to break a hole in the ice to get in. Then you repeat the experience. I’ve never done this before – I kept getting lost at the “icy lake” part. But a visit to the baths on a frigid and windy April day in Quebec seemed like just the thing. I signed my husband and I up for an afternoon massage and carefully read the preparation instructions (bring your own swimsuit!).

The spa (and there are several spread across Canada, in case you’re interested) took that original Scandinavian theme and expanded on it. First, there was the fluffy white bathrobe and high tech locker locks. (Magnetic waterproof bracelets!) Then there were the signs abjuring all to complete silence, or at least muffled whispering. The spa itself was filled with the sound of crashing water from the hot-water-fall. There were three hot spots, two cold spots, and lounges full of medium-temperatures, comfy chairs and dim lighting. There was also a very expensive juice bar, in case you got hungry or thirsty for something other than water.

The three hot spots were a full-swimming-pool-sized hot tub with aforementioned hot-water-fall. You have never seen such an expanse of 120 degree water before! For the non-immersed, there was a Eucalyptus steam sauna, where every ten minutes or so the walls vented fragrant steam. It was HOT. Finally, there was a standard dry sauna. The goal was to stay in the hot rooms until you were entirely too hot. Then – on to the cold! There was a very small pool – even smaller than a hot tub but deeper. And there was an enclosed, motion-activated shower. You popped into one or the other – for just a moment – to cool off your skin. (You were encouraged to get out before your overheated core temperature was affected at all.) Then, you moved to the resting area where there was lounging and a juice bar and comfy chairs to drowse until you got a bit chilly (aka your core body temperature got back to normal) and/or your heartbeat returned to normal, then you did it again.

We started off with one cycle, then got a massage, and then I did two more cycles. That all took like four hours. Four hours of quiet. Of just sitting and not doing anything. Four hours of not really focusing your eyes because it was steamy and not really having to stay awake if you found staying awake hard. I took a nap snuggled up on one of the chairs with my husband.

It was great.

This completely private hot tub looks out over a beautiful forested hill
This completely private hot tub looks out over a beautiful forested hill

It brought to mind another hot-tub/massage experience, though. This one as culturally different as possible. The Scandinavian Baths were all high tech and high price. I joked to Adam that we were soaking above our class, and in truth I felt surrounded by the monied elite (which was probably exactly the image the spa wants to cultivate). One of my very favorite places to visit is Wellspring. Based in the foothills of Mt. Rainier – just a hop and skip down the road from the National Park Entrance – is an organically grown haven. It started with a woman and a dream. Sunny learned massage. She built a massage cottage, and a hot tub. It burned down. She built it again. And another. And other cabins for people to sit in with each other and nature. Trails grew out of her hideaway. Labrynths were made. Her latest great moment is the discovery and appreciation of a natural grotto, which Sunny has carefully cultivated with a near-druidic eye to be a place of celebration.

The grotto is even more beautiful than this picture shows
The grotto is even more beautiful than this picture shows

Surrounded by peace and joy, and then there are the hot tubs and the massages! When I go home, I sign my husband and I up for a pair of massages. The best of the hot tubs overlooks a superb Northwest forest hillside, with a rippling brook in front and a mix of deciduous and evergreen trees up to the sky. It is perfectly private there, and the hot tub is quiet. We take turns soaking and looking and being while the other person is getting their massage (and their catch up session with Sunny!) It is entirely wholesome and relaxing and joyful – and full of the spirit of the Northwest.

My sister and husband honeymooned there. I’d love to pass a night there, but it seems a little silly when my parents live 12 miles away. Maybe some day!

This captures it pretty well, actually.

The last, and most culturally distinct, of the great Spas I Have Known, were the Turkish Baths at Cagaloglu (pronounced Ja-la-lu). These held on to a cultural tradition going back to early Roman times of communal bath-houses where the purposes was to get clean. It was a three hundred year old bath house, made in marble with ancient steam pipes heating vast slabs (slightly too short for modern women).

I wrote about it in great detail, but I often find my my leaning back to the silver ewers and taps, the hot marble, the provocatively protected skylights and the old Anatolian women scrubbing my back.

So to summarize: I recommend you visit them all. Tell them I said “hi” and I’ll be back as soon as I can!

Also, just for my husband, I give you this. My eldest son declares this his favorite movie, above even Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Star Wars. We don’t waste weekends around here!

New times in old Montreal

Through October, November and December as my life sped up to warp speed, I consoled myself with my previously spotted annual pattern recognition of busy times and less busy times. “Just make it to January” I encouraged myself, doing the laundry at 11 pm on a Saturday night. “Once you get to January, you’re good!”

Bad picture, bad show, happy kid.
Bad picture, bad show, happy kid.

January came. I was really busy. “You’re just catching up on all the stuff that got put off in December.” I don’t even remember February. And March felt like a desperate sprinting finish to a marathon, with Easter and vacation a firm deadline that made it impossible to have any task slip at work or at home. I had birthday parties, Vinterfest parties, dinner parties, Burns Night parties, Pie parties. We took the kids to Scooby Doo Live: the Musical. I traveled to Atlanta (family), New York (work), Minnesota (work) and Tampa (work).* I rearranged the dining room. I played three hard pieces on trumpet for Easter. I signed the kids up for: swimming lessons (2), basketball (1) and science class (1). I did the taxes, rethought my pie crust recipe, wrote my best blog post ever (by volume), and managed a rocky production go-live (for work) from the hallway of the YMCA while Grey learned to dribble. It’s just been BUSY.

But on Sunday, after the high of the hallelujas and the truly awesome final high C I hit on the postlude, my beloved husband and I threw stuff in suitcases, packed approximately 93 digital devices (we used to pack 93 books, but now we have digital devices with the books on them!), and started driving North.

Long time readers have likely picked up my vacation patterns, and notice a discrepancy. We usually take zero time off this time of year, until camping heats up in May. Then we take a romantic, exciting vacation in August while the kids are at Camp Gramp. So why am I taking an exciting, romantic vacation in April this year? It just so happens that Camp Gramp and Gencon line up this year. I’m quite certain that my husband loves me more than Gencon, but I also know that it would make him sad to miss it. So when I realized my folks were also coming out for my mom’s spring break, well…. I snuck in our romantic vacation this week. (Of course, it would be longer if the coming weekend was not Helgacon – another, smaller convention – but at least that gives me some time with my own family.)

Not that a romantic vacation with the two of us is without games...
Not that a romantic vacation with the two of us is without games…

We weighed three options for our vacations: trip to Europe, beach vacation in Caribbean, less expensive vacation somewhere we could drive to. After reviewing all options, and recalling that we are (financially) putting a nice new car on top of our house (in the form of a new roof) this year, we opted for a taste of Europe in Canada.

So here we are in Montreal! We got this really amazing loft hotel thingy, with a full kitchen, comfy chairs and couches, a full size table (for gaming!), and a really excellent spa tub. We walked the city length and breadth on Monday before the weather turned bitter. Our peregrinations brought us to Chez Geeks where we stocked up on some games to see us through (see above picture – those are all new!). Then we had chocolate crepes for lunch. Any lunch served flambee is a good lunch, in my humble opinion. Books, bathtub, pizza. Relaxing.

At the Chinese tea house
At the Chinese tea house

Yesterday we went to the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History, which might be one of my least favorite museums ever.** We also went to the Notre Dame Cathedral, which was lovely. There was a fantastic paper shop, and then we sat in an ornately decorated Chinese tea shop and had tea served to us while we both wrote on our beautiful papers. For dinner, we went to an Alsatian restaurant and I got escargot and duck confit. Mmmmmmmmm……

Today is lightly scheduled. One nice part of a close-to-home vacation is that the opportunity cost of hanging out in your glorious hotel loft is much smaller. So the only key thing on the docket is a trip to the Scandinavian baths. I’m wondering how many vacations I can have unique spa experiences in. I doubt this will top the Turkish baths, but I figure I have to give it a shot, right? Also, probably fondue for lunch. Or maybe crepes. Or crepes and fondue.

When we return, I have this fond hope that maybe, MAYBE, it will actually be that quieter time. You know, where I can blog more than once a week and hang out with my beloved sons? Yeah, we’ll see about that!

*Two of those three trips were around major storms where the question of whether we would make it back or have to tough it out a few extra days was a real one. I was very happy to make it back both times!

**I emerged from it – no easy feat, given it’s labyrinthine structure and lack of guidance – cognizant that I was absolutely no more informed regarding: Quebec separatism, the linguistic ebb and flow of the province, the fur trade, the Iroquois wars, the building of the great underwater wall in the St. Lawrence, impact of the War of 1812, why Montreal has a huge statue that I like to call the “Lord Nelson fanboy plinth”, Canadian relations with the US, construction of the transcontinental railroad, the use of First Nations Tribes in building skyscrapers, how the St. Lawrence waterway was opened for commerce, or any other topic that might be vaguely interesting. The mandatory (you could not get to the museum without going through it) introductory frenetic video actually said something “Oops! Iroquois!” at one point and showed a big wall going up. GAH! However, it was very well marked which elements of the 150 year old foundation were original and which were changes. I kept thinking to myself, “This is only 30 years older than my house….”

Bonsoir from Montreal

9:45 pm. Dinner included escargot and duck confit. The waitress had trouble coming up with the right English words to describe the menu. Yes… I and my beloved and cherished husband are in Montreal for a week celebrating the fact that my parents are taking care of my children for a week. Bliss!!!

But although I could tell you about Montreal so far, I’ll save that for another day. Like maybe tomorrow. Instead, I’ve been using my lounging-around-in-leather-armchairs time to catch up on a few (hundred) pictures! I promise that I’ll include more verbiage, er, sometime this week. But for now, here are all the times in the last month I’ve bothered pulling out my nice camera, heavily influenced by wanting to play with the 35mm lens I got for Christmas!

So first, here are a bunch of pictures and videos, mostly of my boys playing games and with minis. (Mostly because the boys were sitting stillish, and I wanted to try out the focal ranges with the minis.) It also includes PIEMAS!

Check out the geeky goodness here!

Then, we have Easter. The first set is a neighborhood egg hunt. The next set is the actual celebration of Easter in our church. (Well, to be precise, the leading up to the celebration of Easter. Once the service got started I was awfully busy with the trumpeting.)

Cultural and religious celebrations of Easter abound!

I hope that tides you over until I can get you something more substantive!