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Monday, April 25, 2016

Let’s Git Necked! The Friedrichsbad Spa in Baden-Baden

The imposing Friedrichsbad, dating from 1877.  (Photos are not permitted inside, so all photos are shamelessly stollen from around the internet.)

Toss off those clothes and get your warm, pink body in a pool with strangers?  If you’re American, you’re thinking, sure!  Just as soon as Sports Illustrated asks me to be in the swimsuit issue, or The Chippendales call me to audition.  Poor body image or just unbelievably modest? I think it boils down to mindset.

Europeans simply do not look at nudity the way we Yanks do.  No judgment, just differences in outlooks.  A European says nude and an American’s eyes pop wide, while the mind screams SEX!

The phobia spills over into every aspect of our culture.  Nobody in Germany would consider putting fig leaves over statues, or hesitate before stepping into a mixed-sex sauna.  People don’t protest outside art shows, or insist that unclothed painting be kept in a back room.  Natural to Europeans means natural.  Sex means sex, which to them is entirely different from nudity.

Immediately the question pops like a firecracker:  Can’t I have both?  See, now that’s the disconnect.  You’re still stuck on sex.

I’m not saying that people who also think Italian cars are dependable, dogs belong in restaurants, and 19% tax should be added to every damn purchase are always right in their points of view. But, when it comes to nudity, we need to rethink our outlook.

For Americans, who internalize and dwell on their every bodily imperfection and “should be ashamed of themselves” for parading around au naturel, the very idea of going to the huge Friedrichsbad Roman-Irish spa in the Black Forest city of Baden-Baden becomes a paralyzing hurricane of ethics, morality, childhood fears, cultural mores, and puritanical religious values.  It’s from the “My mother would be ashamed of me” school.

The entryway to the spa.

So how, as an American, do you weather that perfect storm of doubt and fear?  Exactly the same way you overcome anything else that prevents you from trying something new.  You close your mind and simply do it.  You know exactly what I mean.  It’s what you do when you make your first trip to the gym.  Your heart races, you’re out of shape and won’t be able to do the exercises like an Olympic gymnist.  Damn, you’re fat and everyone else is perfect. Everybody’s going to stare at you and laugh.  Shame smothers you!

Then you get to the gym and the concentrated effort on meaningful exercise leaps over the irrational walls.  Even if you don’t notice, your brain figures it out.  Nobody, but nobody has a perfect body  (without Photoshop and an air brush), and everybody in the gym feels just as you do and is concentrating on exercise.

Your next thought:  You lying bastard!  Don’t tell me you go in a nude sauna and don’t notice the tits!  Yep, you do notice, just as you notice the tits on the Venus de Milo at the Louvre, but I doubt you remember what her tits look like, only that she’s a very graceful woman missing both arms.

I spent over three hours in the Friedrichsbad with my traveling companion.  I didn’t notice people staring and neither did she.  Matter of fact, the main thing on your mind is hot, very hot, or cold, very cold water temps.

First off, this spa, which dates from 1877, is family friendly, but children don’t go in the baths.  Drop them off in the Kinderpradies (Children’s Paradise), and your child will be cared for by trained adults and offered any number of amusements.  Open to children from 18 mos old.  Next door is the huge Caracalla Therme, which is a separate building, and offers a full family experience, with bathing attire required.

Why is the spa listed as Roman-Irish?  Because it is a combination of the traditional Roman bathing pools, with steam room features from traditional Irish baths.

For the Friedrichsbad, here’s the adult regimen (recommended times are posted on the wall of each stage): You start with a shower, in a roomful of a mixture of men and women, all naked and all taking showers. Then it’s time for the warm-air room, then the HOT air-room. Take your time, let your body adjust.  You find yourself pleasantly melting. From there, another quick shower before getting a full body, soapy scrub by a masseuse.  Hard or soft brush?  Your choice.  Either way, you end up pink and re-invigorated.

Here’s a clip of the scrub brush massage:

Hey, get that soap off with another shower and then, as in the style of the Ancient Romans, you move to a series of warmer baths and steam rooms.

Following that it’s the cool-down phase that take your body in stages of water temp, from overheated to comfortable to the tooth-chatter pool.  

The huge and elaborately domed 'freezing pool'
After the dental check….just kidding, but I had to throw that in…you savor a warm shower, and finish with a relaxing cream-lotion massage.  Did I say finish?  I almost left out the best part, the relaxing room.

Your masseuse wraps you in an oversized towel, about as thin as a bed sheet, and leads you to a darkened room that has maybe room for fifty.  You lay down on a comfortably raised cot, the towel wrapped around you, and she further wraps you in a blanket.  You lay in the dark, so relaxed you’ll probably take a nap, while the lotion sinks in to leave your skin buttery soft.  

Need more rest?  There’s a large, airy, window filled, second story reading room, where sunlight recharges you.  Don’t ask me how the hell you ended up with a book in hand.

Three or three and a half hours have silently slipped away during the 17 stages of the spa.  You’re still not thinking about sex.  Matter of fact, just getting into your clothes is an effort, with bones that have turned to rubber and such a feeling of blissful relaxation you’d prefer to stay au naturel for another day or two.

But, for the cowards, there are also days when bathing suits are worn and men and women bathe in separate sections.  As if I care!  I came here to purge mind and body.

Time to wander slowly, but deliberately back to the comfort of the hotel and another nap.  Sex?  Who needs it?  Sleep…I need sleep.

If you want more details, just select the English option at Friedrichsbad  :

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Rizzi: A restaurant and more in Baden Baden

When I say restaurant, I don’t mean barbecue or fast food.   A BBQ joint is a joint, not a restaurant.  Too snobbish?  Not at all.  I sometimes go a hundred miles out of my way to sample fall-off-the-bone smoked meat.  But, it’s still not a restaurant.  Fast food?  All you can eat buffets?  Abominations!  Cavemen ate better, even on a bad hunting day.

A restaurant worthy of the name has an almost indefinable aura of sophisticated comfort, with well-conceived dishes, where art and flavor come together in a heavenly amalgamation of culinary splendor.  As a close friend of mine says, “If you come away thinking I could have done better, you may have just eaten, but it wasn’t in a restaurant.”

A restaurant makes you feel so comfortable you know right away you’d like to come back, even before you sample the cuisine.  My perfect restaurant is dimmed, but not dark.  The wait staff wears starched shirts, clean waist aprons, and is professional enough to know you don’t EVER stack plates on a diner’s table.

 The silverware and crystal gleams.  There may be a single flower in a vase, or a small candle, and the only condiments are salt and pepper grinders.  If there are table cloths, they are starched and white. The waiter politely hands you an opened menu, he doesn’t toss it on the table as someone would scraps to hungry dogs.  He’s friendly, but not overly familiar.  With a hint of a smile, he easily recites the chef’s evening selections.  I found such a hideaway in Baden Baden.  Rizzi.

 Rizzi inhabits a sizeable faded pink, stucco and brick building on the Lichtentaler Allee. ( You could walk right by it, sandwiched as it is between two huge and fabulously fabulous hotels where the rich and famous have gathered for more than a hundred years.  But, do stop, if only for a drink.

 Stepping under the canopied entryway, we head for the elegant bar. The bar of a restaurant adds to the atmosphere and offers a quiet place to sip and reflect on whether the waitress that just floated past with a full tray was also carrying food. 

Igor at work

The barman is smilingly attentive and builds drinks with a flourish, just as you like them.  No silly gimmicks of burning cinnamon sticks, or artificial syrups. 

 “Use Lillet instead of vermouth for my martini, please, with a twist of lemon.” Bond, James Bond...or rather Ian Fleming has taught me a thing or two.

“Of course, sir, and do you have a preferred gin?  If not, may I suggest a German gin?  Monkey 47.”  He knows every libation on his bottle-lined back counter. Igor is as smoothly efficient as an English butler.  Politely deferential without being obsequious.  You only need whisper your desires.  By the way, the martini is fabulous and that comes from a man who has been under the spell of Martinis in the very best of places. My companion has a delicious Moscow Mule, with just the right kick from freshly cut ginger root.

A few tidbits to nibble?  Of course.  Salted peanuts and flavored chips appear in dainty dishes.  “Just a moment,” Igor says, and returns with chunks of crusty Italian bread.  He comes around the bar and adds virgin olive oil, balsamic, Parmesan, and black pepper to our small plates.

We discover with our first sips that it is here we want to linger and dine.   We mention it to Igor. “Do you have reservations?” he asks.  We tell him, no.  “Just a moment,” he says and in a short while he has worked his magic and we’re escorted to our table.  We came at the right time.  When we first climbed onto bar stools, the restaurant was meagerly populated, but after being seated for dinner, the place fills up.  The hum of conversation and laughter float past.  Waiters and waitresses do a delicate ballet, avoiding each other and the crowd of patrons, while balancing full trays.

Ok, you say, but you come to a restaurant for food, right?  Correct.  And we are not disappointed.  Delighted in fact.  My date’s primavera salad with succulently grilled shrimp and my pasta with scampi quiets our conversation, even before the first bites.  Heavenly aromas envelope us.  The house white wine is sensationally smooth and fruity on the nose.  A meal to remember. I could not have done better!

 So, what is it that really makes Rizzi so special?  Easy.  The atmosphere is elegantly comfortable, the food delicious, but in the end, the whole dining experience is special because the staff made us as feel special as A-listers.

Salut! Prost! Cheers!  And if you get to Baden, drop in to Rizzi and say hello to Igor.