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Our time in Die Schweiz was definitely not Scheißig… part two

First thing’s first. I have to write a disclaimer about the title of this series. I kind of made up the word scheißig– which kind of translates to “shitty”. I use the word “shitty” a lot in my daily language. Instead of looking up the actual German word for “shitty”, I decided to add “ig” to the German word for shit and hope it worked. My German friend tells me the German word for “shitty” is actually “beschissen”. However, apparently the word “scheißig” is used in slang situations, especially in Hesse. As luck would have it, I live in Hesse… and this slang bastardization of the word “shitty” works a lot better with “die Schweiz”.

With that explained, on with the tale of our trip. We planned to leave Wiesbaden on July 22nd. I had noticed our older dog, Arran, was having some dental issues. He yawned and I saw a black spot. His last dental cleaning was a year ago, but he’s getting to be an old codger. I asked Bill to take him to the vet to have him checked and schedule a dental cleaning. Bill took him in, got some antibiotics which Arran will start tonight, and an appointment for this Thursday, the 29th, for a dental.

Then, on Thursday the 22nd, we packed everything up and headed south, stopping by the Birkenhof Tierpension on the way, to drop off Arran and Noyzi. All seemed fine as we handed them over. Noyzi and Arran were wagging their tails and very excited to go into their “hotel room”, then out to play. (I promise, this part of the story is relevant…)

We headed down A5, which is also the route we now take when we want to go to France. At lunchtime, we stopped in Baden-Baden for lunch. Regular readers might remember that Bill and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary in Baden-Baden back in 2018. We enjoyed a spectacular four nights in an upgraded junior suite at Brenner’s Park Hotel and experienced the famous nude Irish-Roman baths at Friedrichsbad. It was a little weird to be stopping there just for lunch on the way to Switzerland. Baden-Baden is a very beautiful town. I would have been happy to have just stayed there. But we were just there for a quick break. We found an excellent Asian restaurant called Vinami Asia Grill and Bar

Baden-Baden is such a lovely city. We probably should go back for a short break sometime soon. But, like Switzerland, it’s the kind of place where you need to bring lots of money! It’s not cheap!

After lunch, we got back on the road, noticing that there were many “Staus” (traffic jams). Fortunately, they were on the northbound side of the road, so we weren’t troubled as we made our way south. Bill stopped near the border to pick up a 2021 Swiss vignette (toll sticker). I’ve explained this a number of times on this blog. To use Swiss Autobahns, you have to have a special sticker, which costs 40 Swiss Francs. The sticker is good until January 31, 2022. The Swiss issue new ones every year, and you can get them at ADAC stores (or online), at rest stops near the border, or at the border itself. Most other countries that use the vignette system offer them for shorter stints and cheaper prices. Not the Swiss, though… so it pays to make use of the sticker if you live close.

The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful. We arrived in Zürich just in time for traffic/rush hour. Unbeknownst to us, our hotel was also near what would become a construction zone over the weekend. On the way to the B2 Boutique Hotel, we were able to drive straight through, although that took some time, thanks to all the traffic. But by Friday, the area we had come through to reach the hotel was completely blocked off. This caused some stress for Bill, even with the GPS going. I’ve never been a fan of using GPS… the voice always interrupts conversations and music. But Bill likes to use it.

Anyway, we drove up a hillside to get to the B2 Boutique Hotel. As usual, what I had pictured in my head was not what the reality was. Not that I was disappointed at all, mind you… It’s a beautiful hotel, and they’ve done a great job of turning what was a brewery into a nice place to stay– especially if you’re into spas, as I am. A year ago, Switzerland was very laid back about COVID-19 rules. I noticed that no one wore masks indoors in 2020. This year, there were signs everywhere demanding mask use.

I don’t like the masks, but I always cooperate… and yes, I have been vaccinated. Count me among those, however, who hope the mask mandates go away at some point. I really do hate the fucking things. In any case, everyone wore them at the hotel, and most everywhere else we went that was indoors. They had lots of hand sanitizer, too.

I booked us in a junior suite. I usually use travel sites like Expedia or Booking when I make reservations. This time, I booked directly with the hotel, because for some reason, the travel sites wouldn’t let me reserve for two people. They would only let me reserve for one. But, I did get a reward for booking directly… they gave us a free drink. Below are some photos of our room, which was rather unusual but comfortable. For about 500 francs a night, it should have been!

After we settled our bags and got cleaned up, we headed down to the wine library for food and beverages. We decided to try the locally produced Hürlimann lagers, as the hotel was once the Hürlimann brewery. The guy who waited on us for our first two nights was friendly enough, but not the most attentive. Still, the food was pretty good, and although our round of “free drinks” were puny, they were still free. And there was Swiss wine and lots of ethereal jazzy music, mostly performed by people like Diana Krall and Karen Souza… The wine list at this hotel features mostly wines made in Switzerland. We had the chance to try several of them during our stay.

Bill tells me dinner is ready, so I’ll continue with part three tomorrow!

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Switzerland

Our time in Die Schweiz was definitely not Scheißig… part one

A couple of weeks ago, Bill tried to get us dentist appointments in Stuttgart. Why Stuttgart, and not Wiesbaden? Because we both love our Stuttgart dentist’s work and, even after almost three years in Wiesbaden, we haven’t found a new dentist yet. Although Stuttgart is a couple of hours away by train, when we moved here at the end of 2018, we had visions of coming back down there at regular intervals. And then COVID-19 struck. We haven’t seen Dr. Blair since May 2019, and we won’t see him until the end of August, because he’s booked for the rest of this month and, like so many locals, is taking vacation through most of August.

But Bill still had the days off, so he asked me to plan a short trip. I queried my Facebook friends for ideas. My caveats were that the suggested places had to be somewhat nearby, because I don’t want to fly anywhere unless I absolutely must. I also didn’t want to go anywhere where COVID-19 was on the rise. I’m stressed out enough as it is, even though I’m fully vaccinated with the Moderna shots as of last month.

Bill has been seeing an online Jungian therapist for the past few months. He’s doing so because I’ve been telling him for years that therapy is a great thing, but also because he is fascinated by Carl G. Jung. Bill’s therapist is American and based in Berlin. The guy has a background in art therapy, which also really interests Bill and fits right in with Jung, since Jung was an artist, as well as a great thinker and psychologist. Our friend Meg, who made it possible for us to adopt our Kosovar rescue dog, Noyzi, also has an interest in Jung and has been studying him. It was she who suggested that we visit Küsnacht, which is where Carl Jung’s house and museum is located.

It occurred to me that Bill and I had never actually visited Zürich before this past weekend. We’d only been to its, admittedly superb, airport. When we lived near Stuttgart, we lived pretty close to the city and could have gone there with ease. For that reason, it always lost out to other, more “exciting” cities. Also, I’d heard that Zürich wasn’t that interesting compared to some other places we’ve been. Of course, now that we’re living in Wiesbaden, Zürich is a little more exotic. I decided to see what kind of hotels were available in Zürich and found one that is in a building that used to be a brewery. When I read that it was also connected to a Thermalbad, I was sold! I booked four nights at the B2 Boutique Hotel, located in the Enge area of the city.

An artsy photo of Lake Zürich. I took this with my digital camera, rather than my usual iPhone or iPad.

Then it turned out that Bill had actually only wanted me to book three nights. We were starting our trip on Thursday, because he’d been trying to get dental appointments for us. When he failed to get them for the time he’d arranged to be off work, he decided to just take Thursday and Friday off instead of his usual Friday and Monday. I misunderstood him, though, and booked four nights instead of three. Bill was a little pissy about it at first, but then I reminded him of all the things we could see and the fact that we haven’t traveled in so long because of COVID-19. He relented, and got today off from work. That turned out to be a good decision, which I’m sure will become clear as I write about this trip.

In the end, I wasn’t surprised that I chose Switzerland for this trip. I’ve had Switzerland on the brain for some time now. For years, I’ve felt kind of “meh” about the beautiful neutral country, mainly because it’s so expensive and always seemed a bit sterile to me. But last year, we took our vacation to Austria, Italy, and Switzerland. We had a great time in Austria, and a decent time in Italy (marred by too many rambunctious kids at our hotel), but Switzerland turned out to be a healing balm to us after four hectic nights at the nice, but noisy and busy Italian property. I was able to rest in Switzerland… enjoy peace and quiet and good food, as well as an excellent spa at the Oberwaid in St. Gallen. I have noticed that Switzerland does spa retreats well.

I was definitely eager to go back to Switzerland, even if it meant we’d be spending more money than usual for our long weekend break. What the hell, anyway? Prior to this past weekend, we hadn’t done any decent traveling in a long time. We might as well spend some money and have some laughs and big fun. As it turned out, we even spent less than I feared we would.

So I’m going to write up my usual blow by blow account of our trip to Die Schweiz, as the Germans like to call it. I expect this series will run at least six or seven parts, depending on how I split up the story. We had a really nice time, and got some much needed rest and relaxation. Now it’s time to get back to work… and reality. Luckily for me, part of my “life’s work” is writing this blog. 😉

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Sud Tyrol and beyond… part ten

We decided to stop for lunch at an Austrian truck stop, once we drove through the gorgeous mountain pass that took us out of Italy. That border was being actively patrolled by Austrian police officers, much as the Swiss police always keep an eye on the Swiss border. Bill had prepared for us to be stopped in Italy, which has a form one should fill out before arrival declaring that one has not been in a risk area. But we were never stopped in Italy, Austria, Switzerland, or Germany. On the other hand, I read that each country had an uptick in COVID-19 cases over the weekend. I suppose it doesn’t matter that we left, since Germany also experienced an uptick as people continue to travel.

In any case, the Austrian truck stop required masks, except in the restaurant. As we sat down to enjoy hearty Austrian fare– cordon bleu for me and Farmer’s toast for Bill, a French family sat at the next table. It was an older couple with a young man who was wearing his mask the whole time. We noticed they spoke English to the waitress and the young man gave me an alarmed look when I sneezed (into my elbow). Sorry… I have allergies, which sometimes make me cough and sneeze. One thing I really hate about the whole pandemic is that it’s made everyone suspicious of everyone else. It’s made socializing and meeting new people difficult. It’s taken away things that bring joy, like live music and physical affection with friends. But, at least the food was good, and we were soon on our way to Switzerland.

I had gotten an email from the Oberwaid Hotel a couple of days before our arrival in St. Gallen. The email detailed a “code of conduct” for the hotel, which is also a medical clinic and got its start as a sanatorium. Basically, the email let us know what was expected of us as guests during the pandemic and offered us the chance to cancel our reservation free of charge if we were feeling ill or didn’t want to submit to having our temperatures taken at check in. Masks were not required at all, although the staff members wore them. The elevators had signs requesting that people not use them with strangers, and the generously sized hot tub stipulated a limit of four persons at a time.

Honestly, after four nights at a decidedly kid friendly hotel, I was more than ready for the Oberwaid experience. This hotel does not allow guests under age 16 from June until December. It’s a place where people seek medical care and there is an actual medical center in the building. They offer treatment to people with psychosomatic issues, as well as people who have cardiology, orthopedic, or physical therapy needs. Fortunately, despite my sneeze in the truck stop, I was feeling fine. So was Bill. We pressed on toward Switzerland and bought our 2020 vignette at the border, something we used to do every year when we lived in Stuttgart.

I knew it was going to be a unique experience, no matter what…

We got to the hotel at just after 3:00pm. That’s when check in begins. We had our temperatures taken and recorded and filled out a form showing that we live in Germany and haven’t been to a hot zone in the last couple of weeks. The receptionist also gave me a hard copy of the code of conduct, which was presented in flawless English. Then we went to our room, number 351, which had a lake view. As soon as I saw the bed, I knew it was nap time! I also knew that no one’s screams would wake me from my afternoon slumber.

Oberwaid offers half board, which I didn’t sign up for. In retrospect, maybe it would have been alright to do half board at this hotel, since it’s not near any restaurants and the food is excellent. We did choose to have dinner there Friday night– it was 85 francs per person– and we had breakfast both mornings at 25 francs per person. No, it’s not cheap, but I was happy with the quality of the food as well as the service, which was extremely professional and efficient.

After we ate, we decided to retire to the room and enjoy the peace, quiet, and air conditioning! I had big plans to try out the pool and hot tub on Saturday, then venture into Rorschach. More on that in the next post!

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Health

My pandemic birthday… part one

Why did we stay twenty minutes from home?

A few weeks ago, Bill and I went to nearby Hofheim to visit the Birkenhof Farm for some fresh products from their 24/7 fridge. I wrote about that experience here. While we were picking out strawberries and farm cheese from the fridge, I couldn’t help but notice the unmistakable dome of a “Therme”. Germany has several areas that are noted for their natural hot springs where the water is rich with healing minerals. Stuttgart and Wiesbaden are both hot springs “hot spots”. Hofheim has the Rhein-Main Therme, that is connected to a hotel, which I spotted as we passed it in May. I mused that I would like to visit.

When we lived near Stuttgart, I loved visiting the Mineraltherme in Böblingen. I see it’s currently still closed due to COVID-19, although it looks like it will be opening again soon. Wiesbaden and the surrounding areas in Hesse have not been as badly affected by the coronavirus as Baden-Württemberg has been. Granted, the pandemic is still going on right now, but things have loosened up a bit. I think Bill was also a bit worried about my mental health, because I sometimes suffer from anxiety and depression and was starting to become a hermit. Until this weekend, I had not left our neighborhood since that short trip to the Birkenhof farm on May 17th… and I wasn’t really wanting to go anywhere.

Bill loves to travel, and so do I… but the whole COVID-19 thing and the constant social media uproar about it was making me very reluctant to venture out. So he decided to book a “surprise” weekend away for me. He didn’t tell me where we were going, but I kind of figured it out. The Rhein-Main Therme is located only twenty minutes away from our home in Breckenheim, but it’s connected to a comfortable hotel that offers half board options and room service. He figured that even if I didn’t want to leave the hotel, we could still get room service. And being the thoughtful guy he is, he even brought Yahtzee and Trivial Pursuit, in case I wanted to play board games. Fortunately, those measures weren’t necessary. I ended up consenting to going out, despite my hatred of face masks… so my 48th birthday turned out to be pretty epic.

After arranging for Arran to visit the Birkenhof Tierpension, where he’d get to hang out with his old friend, Celene, who always takes great care of of him (and Zane, when he was still with us), Bill booked us two nights at the Vital Hotel, which is connected to the Rhein-Main Therme. He decided to go for the “Happy Weekend” package, which included half board (breakfast and dinner in the restaurant), free admission to the Therme, and two nights in the hotel. Right now, because of the pandemic, the Therme is limiting day visitors to three hour stays, but if you’re staying in the hotel, you can go directly to the Therme and stay as long as you want.

Meanwhile, as Bill was planning my birthday retreat, I was eyeing new guitars. I started learning to play guitar a few weeks ago. I bought an acoustic guitar on Amazon.de and signed up for Fender Play, an online service offered by the Fender guitar company that uses videos to teach people the basics of the instrument. The lessons have been going so well, and Bill has been enjoying hearing me play so much, that he decided he wanted to learn, too. So, even though I had a new Ortega acoustic guitar that I picked up on Amazon, I decided I wanted a better guitar with steel strings… and I bought Bill a basic guitar, too. Since we haven’t been traveling, I had some money stockpiled.

Fender Play isn’t available worldwide, but it is available in Germany. And there is also a Fender shop in Europe. My instruments got to me by way of The Netherlands in just three days! I love my pretty blue guitar, although I like the other one for teaching me the basics! As Bill was unwrapping his birthday gift (his is on July 7th), I said I felt like Oprah… “You get a guitar, and you get a guitar, and you get a guitar…” I’m still a lot better at singing than playing guitar, but I’m making progress, and my fingers are getting tougher by the day!

I worked on my new guitar skills as I nervously awaited our first trip away from home since coronavirus fucked everything up…

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Things aren’t bad in Baden-Baden… Part five

Sunday was the day we’d been waiting for.  It was the day we planned to brave the Friedrichsbad, well known around the world for being an old fashioned Roman-Irish bath.  I remember when I first heard of the Friedrichsbad bath.  It was back in 2015, when I wrote about how, in France, men have to wear Speedos at public swimming pools.  In that post, I mentioned that my husband, Bill, would not want to wear Speedos for anything, but I was working on getting him to consent to a visit at the Friedrichsbad in Baden-Baden.  At that time, I was also a bit leery of being naked in front of strangers.

Well… as of June of 2017, Bill and I both took the naked plunge for the first time when we visited Palais Thermal in Bad Wildbad, which is a mostly nude spa.  Since that bold day in early June, we’ve done the naked thing a few more times at the Schwabenquellen in Stuttgart, and at Böblingen’s own Mineraltherme.  The Schwabenquellen is all nude except on certain days and/or at certain times.  The Mineraltherme is nude in the saunagarten on the bottom floor, which has a pool area.  Frankly, having now seen the Mineraltherme’s whole complex, I think not going to the saunagarten is a waste.  There’s a whole lot more to do in the nude area.

The Friedrichsbad is different, though.  It’s not really like the other nude spas we’ve been to.  For one thing, it’s a very old bathhouse and looks it.  It was opened in 1877 and does not have any of the new fangled finery of the other spas.  Hell, it doesn’t even have 1980s era finery.  This is an old school spa.  However, of all of the spas we’ve done, I like it the most.

We decided to do the Friedrichsbad before we tried neighboring Caracalla because I knew Caracalla was going to be like the other places we’ve been.  Also, I had a feeling that the Friedrichsbad was an experience best had first thing in the morning… and also, we happened to be out for breakfast without our towels or bathing suits and we didn’t feel like going back to the room to fetch them.  There is no need to bring a bathing suit or a towel to the Friedrichsbad.  They provide everything, even shower gel.

We had walked into the downtown area in search of an economical breakfast and found one at the assembly line like bakery called Peters am Leo.  This place was doing quite a brisk business when we arrived at about 9:00am.

Very cheerful and busy!

 

We noticed they had a breakfast deal for two people priced at 19,95 euros, so we went for that.  It was a lot of food… more than we needed.

We got fresh fruit, some kind of “vanilla mousse” with raspberry, butter, and jam…

Scrambled eggs with bacon mixed in, cold cuts, cheese, and a big basket of bread, hot drinks (I had hot chocolate and Bill had coffee), and a choice of either Sekt or orange juice.  We had orange juice. We couldn’t finish everything.

 

Coffee!

I was treated to a nice view of the action.

 

I started to enjoy breakfast until I suddenly heard the unmistakable sound of someone gearing up to spit.  I glanced over at the table catty cornered to ours just in time to see the guy who was sitting there spit into his plate.  It really grossed me out, which seems strange, since I have neither a filter nor an appreciation for the concept of TMI.  Fortunately, the guy got up and left, but not without leaving part of his breakfast on the table.

I was eager to forget about the “loogie hocking” guy, so we made our way to the old bathhouse.  When we entered at about 10:00am, things were pretty quiet.  A pleasant and very laid back looking black lady was sitting at the admissions booth.  She would later help us when we decided to visit the Caracalla spa next door.  I think she recognized us, too.

The famous baths on a sunny Sunday morning.  I think that may be a great time to go to the baths.  It wasn’t very busy when we arrived, but business was picking up as we left.

Anyway, when we met her the first time, she greeted us kindly in English and was patient as we ordered the luxury plus package.  Priced at 59 euros per person, this is the most “luxurious” of the packages.  It includes soap and brush massage, a cream massage, a meal, and a drink at the spa restaurant in the Caracalla.  If I’d had more time to read up, I would have gone for the luxury ticket, which eschewed the meal.  It turns out the meal and drink offered at the spa restaurant are limited to salads and pasta.  Also, I would have rather eaten somewhere else.  Leave it to me to go for the most expensive deal.

The luxury and luxury plus tickets allow up to four hours in the baths.  We didn’t need that long to go through the whole experience, but it’s nice to know we could have stayed longer if we’d wanted to.  Those who don’t want the whole experience can opt for a basic ticket, which doesn’t include soap or cream massages or the wellness ticket, which leaves out the cream massage.  Each progressive step in inclusiveness adds another ten euros to the cost.  We paid 118 euros.  Credit cards are accepted.

Once we paid our admission, the lady gave us waterproof wristwatches… the same kind we’ve gotten at every German spa we’ve ever attended.  Sunday happened to be a “mixed” day, which meant men and women were coming from both sides of the spa.  Some days, the sexes are split.  Women go to the right and men go to the left.  I wanted to experience the baths with Bill at my side, so we chose the mixed day.

Here goes…

After we found lockers, we grabbed the sheets that were left inside, got completely naked in changing rooms (which now seems ridiculous under the circumstances), and were beckoned into the baths by a bunch of very brawny looking men in white uniforms.  I soon realized that the other side of the spa was staffed with similarly attired women.

The men, a couple of whom spoke English, directed us to get shower shoes and then take showers under the old style open bay showers.  They had big levers that controlled the water temperature in a rather crude way.  It kind of reminded me of a prison shower, not that I have any experience with prisons, mind you.  It’s just that it was very crude and not private at all.  And though we had entered the baths covered with a sheet, that lasted maybe a minute before they were taken away.

The shower shoes, at least on the men’s side, were huge and way too big for my feet.  But I only wore them for a short while, as we sat in a warm room for ten minutes, then a hotter room for five.  The shoes were necessary because the floor is very hot and will burn your feet if you walk in there unshod.

After we sat in the hot rooms, we took another shower, then were summoned for the soap and scrubbing, and a massage.  Bill’s therapist was a big German guy who spoke English.  I got a burly Russian man whose German seemed rather elementary– or, I’m going to assume he was Russian.  He could have been Bulgarian, Polish, or Ukrainian, for all I know.  I don’t think he was German, though.

He invited me to lie face up on the table as he scrubbed my body with soap and a scrub brush, rinsed, then had me roll over so he could do the other side.  Then, he gave me a vigorous massage that made a couple of joints crack audibly.  It was a rather surreal experience… almost clinical, yet kind of primal, too.

There I was, naked as the day I was born, lying totally exposed on a table with bright lighting shining down on my bare body, as if I were in a hospital.  And yet, despite decades of feeling ashamed of my body, I didn’t really care that much.  I mean, the staff sees all kinds of people day in and day out.  They were totally professional, and it’s not even like I was the biggest and ugliest person there.  Besides, after a few minutes, the nudity thing doesn’t really matter at all.  Everybody’s naked, and I think most people just stop noticing.

After our enthusiastic massages were finished, we went into the first of two steam rooms.  The first room was kind of warm and smelled heavily of sulfur.  We were in there for ten minutes, sitting on “butt pads”.  Then we went to a warmer steam room for five minutes.  I looked to my right and noticed the very old equipment that was making the steam from Baden-Baden’s ancient thermal springs.  After another shower, we went to station 9, which was the first pool.  It was nice and warm and very tranquil as we soaked for ten minutes.  That was really what I had been waiting for the whole time.  It was heavenly and extremely relaxing.

Next came a short time in a shallow pool that bubbled.  We sat there until it was time to hit station 11, which is the beautiful round pool that is featured in all of Friedrichsbad’s literature.  What I didn’t know was that the water in that beautiful pool is very cold!  We did our five minutes there, then went to the other side of the pool.  This was where things went a little awry.

Unbeknownst to us at the time, we were supposed to stay on the side we came in on.  When we went to the pool on the other side of the round pool, we ended up on the wrong side of the baths.  This is only a big deal because we needed to be on the side where we entered in order to access our lockers.  When we got to the end of the line, which included more showers and a dip in an ice cold pool, a female staffer turned us around.  I now realize that if we’d done the last part on the female side, we would have had to somehow get to the other side while naked.  Either way, we had to backtrack or else flash everyone in the public part of the building.

So, we turned around and walked back through the stations until we got to the men’s side.  We were greeted by the same big dudes with big hands, who wrapped us in warm towels and invited us to wait for the cream massage.  The same Russian guy who did my soap scrubbing took me to a private room, while Bill got a different German guy.  The Russian guy expertly rubbed herbal smelling cream all over my naked body.  Once again, I was strangely uninhibited.  He was very much an expert.  I left his care with skin like a newborn baby’s as he directed us to drink tea in the “reading room”.

Actually, we were supposed to go “sleep” for thirty minutes in the sleeping room, but to be honest, I was alright with skipping that part.  I doubt I would have slept, anyway.  Besides, it was just nice to relax on the lounger in the “reading room” with unsweetened hot tea and Bill at my side.  It was a very restful experience for me, although I will admit that it’s not for everyone.  I know many people would prefer not to bare their bodies to the world.  But, I have to say… now that I’ve gotten into nudity, it doesn’t really faze me at all anymore.  In fact, I find it quite liberating.  Maybe I’m more German than 23andMe says I am.

When we were finished relaxing at the Friedrichsbad, we went back to the locker room, got dressed, and went back to the hotel.  After a short break there, we packed up day bags with swimsuits, towels, and robes.  I wasn’t going to leave Baden-Baden without trying both of its best known spas.  Also, because we got the Luxury Plus ticket, we were owed a meal at the Caracalla spa.

The guy at the spa restaurant who waited on us was quite the smooth talker.  I noticed he was easily mingling in French, German, English, and even a little bit of Russian.  I was a little cranky because most of their beer was non-alcoholic.  In the restaurant, they do have wine and one “real” beer.  I ended up with a non-alcoholic hefeweizen, which wasn’t bad, but wasn’t great.  I also got a Coke because it came with our coupons.

I somehow ended up with a side of duck, which wasn’t covered by the coupon.  At least it tasted good.

Bill had a chef’s salad.

I had a “fruity” salad, which was made with shrimps, mangoes, cherry tomatoes, onions, and greens.  The bread was excellent.  It was soft and not too crusty.

 

After lunch, we tried the Caracalla Spa… and, I gotta say, I was much less impressed with it than any of the other spas I’ve been to.  First off, it was very crowded yesterday.  It’s also been around awhile, as evidenced by how everything looked.  The tiles were all faded and somewhat discolored.  The water looked a little bit cloudy.  I guess I’m used to the Mineraltherme, which was just extensively refurbished last year.

They were repairing the “blue grotto”, which probably would have been packed with people, anyway.  The only thing I really liked about the Caracalla Spa was this really cool current alley in one of the outdoor pools.  It was almost like shooting the rapids as it propelled spa-goers down a pass.  But we had to be careful not to be shot into someone standing on the side of the pool.  I think some people were oblivious to the danger of careening bodies in the strong currents.

As crowded as the Mineraltherme gets sometimes, at least their snack bars have wine and beer and really good food.  The one thing the Caracalla had that the Mineraltherme didn’t was fresh squeezed juices, which were admittedly delicious.  Bill and I tried their orange juice, which was nice after a couple of sauna sessions.  Other than that, I was not all that impressed with Caracalla.  I would much rather visit the Friedrichsbad again.  The Caracalla also has a saunagarten that costs extra, but it doesn’t have a nude pool.  Instead, there are a bunch of saunas and one whirlpool that was packed the whole time.  It wasn’t very relaxing at all.  We paid for three hours and left about halfway through.

When we were finished at the Caracalla Spa, we walked back to the hotel and I took a shower.  We enjoyed a rest after our big day of relaxing baths.  Actually, I was surprised by how tired I was after hitting two spas in one day.  As the sun went down, I told Bill that I wanted to have dinner somewhere, so we wouldn’t end up sitting around drinking wine.  We decided to try Rizzi & Co., which is a wine bar very close to the hotel.  I was glad to try it, because I had been eyeing the menu the whole time we were in town.  We were also lucky because they happened to have one two top open for us.  The next couple who showed up without a reservation was out of luck.

The menu looked good.

Obligatory menu shot of Bill…  We weren’t very hungry, so we went with something fairly light.

I had salmon filet with broccoli and a maple glaze.  I enjoyed the salmon, but especially liked the broccoli, which was really more like broccolini.  It was surprisingly tasty.  

Bill had rare tuna, served with chopsticks, soy sauce, and wasabi.  It was just the right size.  Naturally, we also enjoyed a very nice red wine.

The bar area was pretty cool, although they were playing dance music that made us feel ancient.  I think a lot of Russians frequent Rizzi & Co.  It looks like it caters to the young and hip.

For dessert, I had Le Colonel, which is lemon sorbet with a shot of vodka poured over it.

 

And Bill had vanilla mousse, which was covered with mangoes… I thought it looked like cream of corn soup!

It’s a very hip place.

Since we were told we had 90 minutes, we were quick about eating dinner.  I was ready to go to bed, anyway.  I think we were both out cold before 9:30pm.  In fact, I remember waking from a sound sleep at just past eleven for a potty break.  It’s exhausting trying to relax.  When we got back to the hotel, one of the receptionists said, “Good night, Mr. and Mrs. Crossen.”  That really blew Bill’s mind.  It’s something when the staff at a big hotel remembers your name.  It happened a few times during our visit.  I think it’s the hallmark of superb service.

This morning, we decided to have breakfast at the hotel.  We went back to the breakfast room and loaded up at the buffet and enjoyed the excellent coffee.  I was thinking maybe we wouldn’t have eggs again, but a very charming German gent, whose name was Friedrich and had probably worked there for awhile, charmed us into having scrambled eggs.  He indulged Bill’s German and also greeted him by name, without any prompting.  Maybe we were easy to remember since I don’t think there were too many Americans there during our visit.  We also had a shot of espresso for the road.

When it came time to check out, we were warmly welcomed by the same chap who had checked us in.  He was delighted when we gushed about our weekend and invited me to sign up for their email service/newsletter, which is free of charge and entitles us to perks like free breakfast (which is well worth it).  Since we’re moving to Wiesbaden and Wiesbaden isn’t all that far from Baden-Baden, I could see us coming back to Brenners Park, even if it is super expensive.  We really enjoyed ourselves and the service is absolutely top notch.  Of course, I’m not sure how we’re going to downgrade from a junior suite.  They’re probably counting on that!

I wondered what this was.  Bill showed me that it’s a coat rack.

Perfect scrambled eggs.  Better than the eggs at the bakery yesterday… and no one hocked a loogie.

This is Brenner Park’s resident cat, Kleopatra.  I never saw her, but we did see evidence of her presence.  Evidently, she eats on the second floor of the hotel, which is where we were staying.  Her food bowl and water were neatly laid out in the hall.

 

I think all told, we spent about 3.000 euros.  That included a couple of nights in the bar, a couple of breakfasts for two, two spa treatments, and parking for four days.  And yet, even though that’s a lot of money for us, we were both smiling as we got into the car to go home.  The hotel staff had kindly provided us with a small bag that included waters and snacks for our drive.  It was the kind of service Bill and I have experienced on luxury cruise lines, notably Hebridean Island Cruises, which costs a mint but offers stellar service.  If you’re interested in my Hebridean experiences, you can easily read about them in this blog.  We have sailed with them four times– in 2012 (back to back cruises, and written about on my main blog), 2016 (whisky cruise), and 2017 (Scotland and Northern Ireland).

A shot of the countryside on the way home.  This isn’t far from Seewald, which is not far from where we are living until next Tuesday.  Then, it’s off to Wiesbaden.

Anyway… so ends our very ritzy trip to nearby Baden-Baden.  We had a great time!  If we manage to make it back there, we will have to make a point of seeing and doing more in the area, which surely offers more than spas and shopping!  But then, Wiesbaden is a lot like a more cosmopolitan Baden-Baden.  So we’ll see…

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advice, Germany, spas

Unexpected fest leads to unexpected nudity…

This morning, Bill asked me what I wanted to do today.  A German who runs one of our local Facebook groups recommended the Paracelsus-Therme in the lovely town of Bad Liebenzell.  It had been ages since my last trip to the Mineraltherme in Böblingen.  Right now, that spa is under massive construction and will be closed until mid July.  I told Bill I wanted to check out the spa recommended by our German friend.

Bill doesn’t enjoy visiting spas.  He’s bashful about being seen in a bathing suit.  On the other hand, once I cajole him into going, he usually enjoys his spa time almost as much as I do.  Of course, here in Germany, many spas are textile free, which means that patrons are naked.  I sold Bill on the spa in Bad Liebenzell by reminding him that unlike the Mineraltherme, the Paracelsus-Therme does not have a textile free area.  Everyone would be wearing bathing suits.

Although he still wasn’t too hot on the idea of hitting the spa, my dear husband finally relented and we loaded up the car and went.  The drive was kind of quiet and awkward, yet absolutely stunning.  If you haven’t been to the towns in the Calw area, I highly recommend just taking a Saturday or Sunday to drive through there.  It’s an incredibly picturesque area.

So…  we got to Bad Liebenzell, turned a corner, and ran smack dab into the middle of another unexpected fest.  We didn’t stop and take a look around, but it looked like there were a bunch of classic cars on display.  No matter.  We were headed to the spa.

We got to the spa and the parking lot was completely full.  I’m pretty sure many of the people who had parked there were headed to the fest.  Despite circling around the parking lot several times, we were unable to find a spot.  Bill was getting more and more irritated; I was getting hungry; and my car was running out of gas.  We decided to abandon the idea of going to Paracelsus-Therme.  While Bill was gassing up my car, I had a sudden brainstorm.

Back in 2015, Bill and I drove to the spa town of Bad Wildbad and took a walk at Baumwipfelpfad, otherwise known as “the treewalk”.  This very cool attraction has become popular with Americans in the area and it was definitely fun to try it.  On the way out of there, I noticed signs for mineral baths.  Remembering that Bad Wildbad was a really nice town and has spas, I did a quick check on my iPhone to see what was available.

Bad Wildbad has two main spas.  There’s Vital Therme, which is evidently a conventional spa where people wear bathing suits and there are exercise classes and such.  And then there’s Palais Thermal, which allows suits in some areas and not in others.  I read a few reviews on Trip Advisor and a few people complained that Palais Thermal is a spa for “nudists”.  Since I’ve been wanting to go nekked for awhile now, I told Bill we should go there.  And yes, I did warn him that it was “textile free”… eventually, anyway.  He wasn’t thrilled.  I won him over with giggling.

Bill did visit the first floor of the Mineraltherme with me once, so he had been in a textile free spa before.  However, before today, neither of us had ever had the pleasure of actually being naked in front of a bunch of strangers.  This was going to be FUN!

My husband was decidedly grumpy as he pulled into the parking garage.  I reminded him that he had given me a gift certificate to Friedrichsbad in Baden-Baden and if he planned to join me there, he’d have to get over his aversion to nudity in front of strangers.  With a sigh of resignation, Bill followed me to the Palais Thermal.

In we walked…  A pleasant lady was seated behind a reception desk.  Bill asked in German if she spoke English.  She hesitated, then pointed to her colleague, a friendly looking lady who laughed when I giggled and said we were “shy Americans”.  She handed us a piece of paper with instructions on how things work at Palais Thermal and two bracelets which we would use for purchasing spa treatments and food and beverages.  Cash is not used in the spa.  We were used to this system.  It’s pretty much the same one used at the Mineraltherme.

If you decide to pay Palais Thermal a visit, I highly recommend getting the instructions in English so you’ll know what to do.  Some Trip Advisor reviewers mentioned being taken aback by the nudity and not knowing when nudity was required of them.  Nudity is enforced in the rooftop pool area and you’ll see it all over the spa.  Although the staff we encountered today was friendly and helpful, I did read in at least one review that staff can be rather insistent about the nudity rule.  Since you’re going there to relax, you don’t want to be yelled at by a staffer for breaking the law!

The outside of the spa area.

Bill takes a deep breath…

And in we go!

 

For obvious reasons, I don’t have pictures of the inside of the spa.  That’s too bad, since the bottom floor of the Palais Thermal is absolutely lovely.  It was built in 1844 and retains a lot of old style charm.  But I don’t want to get ahead of myself.  First, we had to get ready.  We went into the changing room, which is unisex.  There are stalls where you can change in privacy, but I guarantee after a couple of hours at the Palais Thermal, you won’t care who sees you in your birthday suit.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t wanting to go ugly early.  I donned my newest swimsuit, which I bought last year and never had the opportunity to wear.  I removed my shoes, since street shoes are not allowed in the spa.  I recommend bringing a robe, shower shoes or flip flops, and at least one towel.

We went into the “quiet room”, which is right next to the “cafeteria”.  This is one area where I think the Palais Thermal could improve.  They had beer, wine, soft drinks, and water.  They also had a limited selection of food.  It wasn’t quite as nice as the restaurant at the Mineraltherme, but it was good enough to satisfy my hunger.  Bill had a smoked salmon sandwich and I had a couple of wieners with a hot baguette and mustard.  Actually, given all of the uncircumcised junk I saw today, that little snack was especially inspired!

The quiet room is really beautiful.  The ceiling is stained glass, so the sunshine affects the lighting in the room.  There are wicker chairs and loungers everywhere.  People sit in there in their robes and towels and eat and drink.  Most people were completely covered up.

After we ate, we took a deep breath and found our way to our first pool.  The Palais Thermal has these cool little baths that are ideal for couples.  You can get in one of them and soak for a bit, maybe even in privacy if you’re lucky.  There’s also a larger, deeper pool on the first floor where bathing suits are allowed.  It’s really pretty.  There’s a statue in the middle of it and the roof is stained glass.  There are a couple of shallow pools with massaging jets on the first floor.  Again, they are rather small and private, which is nice.  There are also a few small jacuzzi like tubs for couples.  All of the baths on the first floor are marble and majestic.  I ditched my swimsuit before we left the first floor and it was totally not a big deal at all.

On the second floor, you’ll see a lot more nudity.  That’s where the saunas, steam rooms, and massages are.  Bill and I usually don’t go for saunas, but we decided to sit in one for fifteen minutes today.  The saunas at Palais Thermal are, like all saunas in Germany, textile free.  This was where Bill lost his trunks!  After a couple of minutes, I could tell he was getting into the groove, since everyone else was as naked as we were…  and most everyone had towels and robes.  If you use the sauna, you will need to sit on a towel.  It’s forbidden to sweat on the wood in the sauna.

After we sat in the sauna, we cooled off in a marble plunge pool full of cold water.  Then we went into a super hot aromatic steam room which neither of us could tolerate for more than a few minutes.  I would think that room would be great if you needed your sinuses cleared.  The air was extremely hot and full of a mentholated substance that I initially found hard to breathe.  After a couple of minutes I got more used to it, but it was just way too hot for me.

On the second floor, there’s also an indoor pool and a shower area that connects to the spa hotel.  This is obviously where people staying at the hotel can access the spa directly.  The second floor pool allows bathing suits, although everyone we saw in there was naked.

On the third floor, there are few more saunas, including the Oriental sauna and a salt room.  We’d had enough sauna time, so we skipped that and went to the fourth floor, which has a panorama sauna and a pool.  In this area, which is outdoors, everyone is naked.  There’s also a bar in this area, but it didn’t appear to be attended today.  The outdoor pool is very nice, with warm water, massage jets, and waterfalls that massage the head and shoulders.  This is also where you’ll find a smoking area, although I’m not sure where people carry their smokes!

As I enjoyed the warm water and sunshine, I couldn’t help but marvel at how unexpectedly freeing it was to be naked in front of a bunch of strangers.  Seriously… I think I was born to be European.  It was interesting to see who was at the spa.  I saw all kinds of bodies and no one stared or acted embarrassed.  I saw old people, thin people, fat people, young people… one thing I did not see was young children, which was a real blessing.  The youngest people there were a couple of teenagers.  They appeared to be brother and sister and were with a guardian– not egregiously sucking face like I often see at the Mineraltherme.  In fact, everyone was behaving themselves.  Maybe it has to do with being naked.

After a little while, Bill told me he was getting wrinkly.  We got out of the water and headed back to the locker room, where we got cleaned up and dressed.  On the way out, we paid 58 euros for a couple of hours in the spa and lunch, including beer.  If your stay is less than three hours, you can get your parking ticket validated and it’s free.  We paid with a USAA credit card, too.  How convenient!

Bill’s face kind of looked like this as we exited.  I have a feeling he won’t be as reluctant to go naked again.

Bad Wildbad is a beautiful town.  Here’s a picture of a creek that passes through there.

I think the Mineraltherme in Böblingen is bigger and newer and has better food.  But it lacks the incredible beauty of stained glass and marble tubs that the Palais Therme has… and it does get very crowded there.  And one bonus to Bad Wildbad is that the drive to and from there, particularly from where we live, is very beautiful and not nearly as congested.  I would say it’s probably not much further or time consuming to get there from Unterjettingen.  I think we’d like to go back for a weekend and just chill, even though the drive there is less than 45 minutes from our house.

I guess going naked with a bunch of Germans is one way to celebrate our decision to stay here for at least one more year.  We left the spa feeling relaxed, yet invigorated.  I would not hesitate to go back to the Palais Thermal and now I know I can handle whatever weirdness Baden-Baden throws at me!  Highly recommended!

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Germany, spas

Nudity at the Mineraltherme…

Say it isn’t so…

After yesterday’s hike to the Bad Urach waterfall, I woke up with slightly sore thighs this morning and was way overdue for a trip to Mineraltherme Böblingen.  I talked Bill into going and mentioned that I might even check out the textile free area. I had a feeling Bill wouldn’t be into getting naked, but with a little cajoling, he usually can be talked into venturing beyond his comfort zone.  We had to get some cash on the way in, but the parking lot at the bank where Bill usually gets cash was full.  We went to the next lot, then made our way through Jettingen’s annoying road project.

As we approached the spa, it became pretty clear that a lot of people had the same idea I did.  Bill quickly grabbed a free parking spot on the way into the Mineraltherme.  Lucky thing he did, too.  They were pretty packed.  When we went inside, there was a line to pay the cashier.

But first, we needed lunch, so we stopped at the Mineraltherme’s restaurant.  It was fairly empty.

I said something obnoxious to get him to make this face.
Here’s a more normal photo.
After perusing the menu for a few minutes, I decided to have the trout special pictured below and a glass of locally made Riesling that was surprisingly good.  Bill had a beer and a salad plate with avocado wrapped in smoked ham.
We started off with these shot glasses of bean soup.  I really enjoyed this.  In fact, the bean soup inspired me to make some soup sometime before we head off to Austria on Friday.  I love soup, especially when it’s getting cooler outside.
This was my lunch.  The trout was very nice.  It was lying atop the French culinary trifecta of celery, shallots, and carrots and served with parsleyed potatoes.  How healthy.
Bill’s salad.  It was very large and quite tasty.

As we were finishing lunch, I was watching people go downstairs into the textile free area.  I noticed a lot of them were wearing bathing suits or robes.  That made me feel somewhat less tentative.  But then, just as I was starting to relax, an old woman walked past our window almost completely naked. She had a very small towel covering her front, while her backside was totally nude.  I was really not expecting to see someone’s naked ass as I finished my lunch while sitting in the non-nudity area, but I figured I could go with the flow.  Bill said the look of shock on my face was priceless.

After lunch, we got our tickets, went into the locker room, changed into bathing suits, and promptly got in a stau as two very large women blocked the way out because they couldn’t get their locker to lock.  After a quick shower, we went to the main pool and waded around for awhile.  Then we went outside and dodged the many bodies cavorting in the water.  I think today was the most crowded I’ve ever seen the Mineraltherme, though it was pretty busy on Easter Sunday, too.

We ventured into the warmer pool near the solarium and talked for awhile.  I watched a few people suck face.  Bill complained about the chlorine, which he said was stronger than usual.  Then we went back inside.  We totally skipped two pools because they were really full of people.  I decided to be brave and go into the textile free area to see if it was something I wanted to try.  To my surprise, it was totally not a big deal.

Yes, there were quite a few naked people walking around.  A lot of them were people one might expect to be embarrassed about being naked, though perhaps refreshingly, they weren’t at all perturbed about it.  I find that attitude very liberating.  I mean, most of us have things about us we’d like to change.  We’re all naked under our clothes.  And you can always avert your eyes.

There were also people wearing swimsuits.  I expected to feel uncomfortable, but I didn’t really.  I went back upstairs and got Bill.  He came down and had a look after some gentle persuasion from yours truly.  After he checked it out, he conceded that it wasn’t that bad, even though I sensed that to him there’s a difference between looking at naked people and being one himself.

Why am I reminded of this?

I said we needed to come back on a weekday morning and try it.  Today, it was just way too crowded, even if I had felt totally at ease in my birthday suit.  It was so busy there weren’t any places to sit.  I will definitely try it out, though, even if Bill sticks to the clothed area.  I want to be prepared for when we finally visit Baden Baden and hit Friedrichsbad.  I really think I could assimilate to this nudity thing going on in Germany.  Bill probably never will.

After checking out the textile free area, we each had a glass of Grüner Veltliner and watched a water gymnastics class… which really looked more like water aerobics.  The teacher cracked me up.  She was tall, slim, and had a very high pitched voice.  I liked how she had everyone wave their hands in the air as she said “Tschuss!”.

I chatted with Bill about the importance of being brave… as I realize that it’s been about seven months since the dentist told me I need a tooth extraction.  I am one to talk about not being chickenshit. But I am less afraid of being naked in front of people than having a dentist take out my tooth.  I do have an appointment to have that done, though.  As of the 22nd, my dental implant process will begin.  Anyway, in my defense, Bill almost always thanks me when I push him into doing something outside his comfort zone.  He’s just bashful about his body, which is something I can understand.

We needed to drop by Patch Barracks to pick up a few things, gas up my car, and top up our phones.  On the way there, we were in front of what appeared to be a soccer mom in a Toyota.  Bill said, “There’s an American with a lead foot behind us.”

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Because she’s driving a van.” he said.  “And it’s a Toyota.”

“Are you starting to become annoyed by Americans?” I asked him.

He laughed and said, “Yes.”

I’m sure he’s not the only one.  On the other hand, given that we are Americans and most definitely annoy Germans, I thought it was a pretty funny observation.  If we were comedians, we could probably make a SNL worthy sketch from being Americans in Europe annoyed by Americans.

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Uncategorized

Going swimming in France? Bring your Speedos…

Behold, the Speedo…

Last year, as Bill and I were transitioning back into life in Germany, one of the women in the local Facebook group brought up the issue of swimming at public pools in France.  She and her husband had encountered what seemed like a strange rule at the swimming pool they visited in France.  Like many American men, this lady’s husband prefers to wear board shorts or trunks when he goes swimming.  However, if you go to a pool in France and you are a guy, chances are good that you will be required to wear what they call a maillot.  Maillot is the French term for swimsuit.  Great, you say– trunks are swimsuits, right?  Wrong.

Many public pools in France do not allow men to wear board shorts or trunks because they could be worn out on the street.  If you wear your shorts as streetwear and then jump in the pool, you risk contaminating the water with dirt, sweat, oil, sunblock or what have you.  So the close fitting maillot, which is typically available for rent if you don’t have one of your own, is required for hygiene purposes.  Now, that’s all well and good, except for the fact that wearing a used maillot still damp from the previous customer doesn’t seem all that hygienic either.  Besides, while you’re really not supposed to pee in the pool, lots of people do it anyway.  So much for hygiene.

Public pools in France also typically require swimmers to wear swim caps in order to prevent long hair from getting in the water.  Even bald men are required to comply with this rule, though curiously enough, it’s okay for people with beards to swim.  And lest you think women have an easier time with public swimming pool rules, I have it on good authority that women are also required to wear a bikini or an athletic style bathing suit.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t think you need to be wearing Speedos due to your physique.  It’s all about hygiene.  If you try to enter the water with your more modest swimming trunks, you are liable to be yelled at by a lifeguard and forced to change.  You will also need to take a shower with soap before you take your dip in a French pool.

Most men can’t rock a Speedo like the Hoff could back in the day…

Here in Germany, trunks and board shorts in public pools appear to be okay, unless you are headed to the sauna or textile free area.  At that point, you are required to be naked.  Nudity is not a big deal in Germany; in fact, there are a number of places where it’s perfectly acceptable to be naked in public.  Personally, I find the idea of public nudity kind of titillating, even though I don’t necessarily want people to see me naked.

Bill, on the other hand, is way too bashful to even consider the idea of being nude in front of strangers.  It was a struggle to get him to go skinny dipping with me when we had a pool in our backyard.  Once he did it, he enjoyed it.  But it took a lot of doing to get him to try it.  I am pretty certain he will never don a Speedo, no matter how inviting the pool looks or how much I plead with him.

We have been toying with the idea of visiting Baden-Baden, which is close to where we live.  There are beautiful spas in that town.  However, if you visit the historic Roman Baths at Friedrichsbad, you have to be naked.  Aside from that, the baths are also co-ed except on certain days.  It’s something I would love to try because I love spas.  At the same time, I’m still an American and being nude in front of people other than Bill makes me uncomfortable.  I suspect my discomfort with the idea of my being nude in front of others has more to do with my not wanting other people to judge my body.  Of course, if everybody’s naked, everybody runs the risk of being judged… and from what I’ve heard from locals, most folks just plain don’t care what your naked body looks like.

If I ever do manage to get Bill to do a nude bath at Friedrichsbad, my guess is that getting him into a Speedo might be a lot easier.  On the other hand, I don’t like the idea of wearing a bathing cap, so we may have to stick to beaches if we go swimming in France.

Here’s Rick Steves’ take on Baden-Baden, which includes a trip to the famous nude baths…

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