After an uneventful flight, Becky and I arrived in Frankfurt on Saturday afternoon. After picking up the rental BMW, we headed down the autobahn to Tonbach with Becky at the wheel in the left lane, arriving at our hotel before we left due to Becky’s best Michael Schumacher imitation. Dave is still trying to fully straighten his fingers after permanently imprinting his grip on the car’s handholds. Our hotel was the Traube-Tonbach—a resort hotel in the Black Forest that holds one of Germany’s finest eateries, Restaurant Schwarzwaldstube. We quickly made our American presence known as we first closed the elevator doors on and then showed a woeful understanding of both French and German with the proprietor of one of the most well known wineries in Alsace—Hugel&Fils (http://www.hugel.com/en/index.php), we have a business card for evidence).
Surprisingly, the hotel still let us stay, which was good, as the room was nice. The room itself was notable for its bathroom facilities that included a shower, a big tub, two toilets, three sinks, and a bidet spread between two rooms. And all this is for two people. We were hoping that this was not somehow a reflection on the food served by the hotel’s restaurants.
As one might expect, the finest restaurant in Germany serves French food. Our 4-hour lunch was quite excellent, ranking with the best meals we have enjoyed in the world. The “Gross Degustationmenu” was more food than Dave needed but at least we didn’t need dinner.
On Monday, we left the lush green forest area of Tonbach under rainy skies and headed north. We decided to stop along the way as we had time and Dave secretly wanted to avoid another case of “hand-grip-o-mortis”. We chose to visit Baden-Baden perhaps because of its famous casino and baths or, maybe, because the road there was a windy mountain two-laner rather than another visit to the autobahn.
Baden-Baden itself is a modest sized town along a stream in wooded valley at the northern edge of the Black Forest. The town is and has been a resort for the rich and famous for years. Well, at least for the German rich and famous. With its upscale shopping and “pedestrianized” downtown area, the town is very pleasant, even with the light drizzle. We contemplated a visit to the casino, but we were too late for the tour and to visit the casino otherwise would have required a trip to the car for a full clothing change. Instead, we chose an alternative entertainment option where our current clothing state was not an issue. With that, we headed to Freidrichsbad (http://www.carasana.de/home/en/index.html).
The Romans under Emperor Caracalla first developed the thermal waters in Baden-Baden. Freidrichsbad and its newer sister bath, Caracalla Therme sit on top of the ancient Roman baths with some of the remaining ruins easily viewed. We entered the older (130 years-old) Freidrichsbad and chose to do the “Roman-Irish” bath ritual. Nobody explained to us how the Irish got involved in this whole thing and that is not something that you would particularly want to leave up to the imagination.
In any event, 29 euros gets one 3.5 hours in the bath (if you are late getting out, they charge you extra) along with a soap and brush massage (3 hrs and 21 euros w/o the soap and brush “experience”). The Roman-Irish ritual has 17 steps. First you enter in to the locker room and remove all of your clothes (bathing suits are not allowed). Normally, all of the bath areas are open to both sexes but on two days of the week, including the Monday we visited, the sauna, steam, and soap bath areas are single sex with only the thermal pools open to both sexes. The lockers operate by inserting a magnetic card key in (much like a BART card) that releases the key and a strap to attach it to your wrist. In Dave’s case, he ran into two lockers that did not release their keys and he was left standing in the buff trying to figure out how to get them to work. After discreetly watching another patron struggle with one of the same lockers, he figured out that he should try a third locker which thankfully worked, saving walking around naked to find an attendant that may or may not speak English to figure out the scoop. Actually, the attendants usually did speak some English, but only after they fully established that you did not speak German.
The bathing ritual starts with a shower, followed by a 15-minute visit to a “warm” dry sauna and a 5-minute visit to the “hot” dry sauna. At this point you are ready for the soap and brush “experience”. You start first with a shower (that’s step 4, for those keeping track) and you then climb onto a table with brusque commands in German and your burly, scantily clad attendant soaps, scrubs, and massages you from top to bottom in an all but invasive manner with the slap on the butt to let you know you are done or need to rollover. After you’ve lost your top layer of skin, you head to the shower again and then proceed through the “warm” steam bath (15-minutes) and then to the “hot” steam bath (5-minutes). After a shower that for some reason does not now count as a step this time, you proceed through the hot mineral pool, followed by the sexually common areas of the warm and cool mineral pools. The sexes then again separated and, after another shower that does not count as a step, you dry off with hot towels (Step 14), apply lotion to your body (curiously, no burly attendants are available for this step), and then transfer to warm quiet “sleep” room where you are wrapped in heavy blankets on a warm bed. Though this step is supposed to last for 30-minutes, Dave was figuring how he was going to raise enough funds to get Becky released from the bath after she overslept in the Sleep Room and thus extended her stay in the bath way beyond 3.5 hours. Fortunately, Becky woke herself up snoring after about 45-minutes and was able to get up and leave without triggering a financial crisis of biblical proportions. We both passed on the seventeenth step, the Solarium, and made it out in about 3-hours.
Though the overall bath experience was challenging and leads to a bit of “Is this uncomfortable travel experience really worth it?” type of thoughts as an attendant barks commands in German as you are wandering around naked inside the bath, it was, in the end, worth it. Aside from being overall enjoyable on the first visit, it will be a lot more comfortable on the next visit. Besides, there’s the Caracalla Therme in town and that requires bathing suits.
From Baden-Baden, we headed North to the hotel in Ettlingen so Becky could start her class on Tuesday. The bath must have relaxed Dave, as he suffered no further “hand-grip-o-mortis” on the autobahn on the way back.
Some Baden-Baden pictures:
Tuesday was a rainy day in Ettlingen while Dave wandered around the town and took some pictures.