Adam and I spent New Year’s Eve at a spa this year: Thermae 2000 in Valkenburg, Netherlands. I’ve never been to a full on spa before. I’ve had the occasional massage and manicure, but I’ve never gone somewhere with the specific intention of spending days doing nothing but shuffling around in a robe, lolling in a hot tub, sweating in a sauna, sweating in another sauna, going back to the hot tub, perhaps eating, going to the hotel room, having a nap, and waking up to do it all over again. All with people I didn’t know. Except for the napping part, of course. I knew all those people. I would say it was heaven, but there weren’t the requisite 70 Hugh Jackmans serving me peeled grapes skewered on their Wolverine talons. Rowr.
Adam and I got the New Year package which included 3 days and nights and a daily fancy buffet breakfast. They supplied a white fluffy robe, towels and slippers (which were vile but we were free to take home. We did not.) and we supplied the phone number of our bank manager so that he could arrange the mortgage payments. Yikes. Money? Lordy! But by god, it was good.
I got as much out of that place as possible. Thermae 2000 is built right into the side of a hill (with a crazy elevator that goes at a 45 degree angle, not straight up and down) and the natural mineral water for the pools and drinking is pumped up from three wells. They have created a huge complex with a hotel, gym, giant indoor/outdoor interconnected pool (32 degrees Celsius, thank you very much), an exercise pool, six indoor and outdoor hot tubs, at least ten saunas (I lost count), four different restaurants, a tanning solarium, a movie theatre, a relaxation room, no children under 10, and a “please be quiet for the other guests or we shoot you” policy. I loved it.
On the big night, Adam and I stayed in the hot tub until 23:00 when the nice spa people politely dragged me kicking and screaming from my favorite perch in my favorite hot tub. Damn those closing hours. At 23:15, back in our room while I recovered from the tranquilizer, we opened our bottle of bubbly, clinked our glasses and drank it until midnight when I promptly fell into a sauna-induced coma and didn’t rise again until the next morning at 10:30. Awesome. Really, it’s the only way to spend New Year’s Eve. Oh, the hotel had offered us a ticket to their New Year party. For the piffling additional cost of a first-born child, we could enjoy a meal, a glass of champagne, then dance the year away. We passed on that. And it was a good thing because as I was carried we walked past the party from the hot tub, the sight of three pairs of crinkly Western European pensioners waltzing to “Brown-eyed girl” was enough to put me off… um, I dunno… oxygen? Yeah.
Of course, the weekend wasn’t all heavenly bubbles and scented oils. Well it was, but these had to be navigated through the obstacle course of humanity. A mostly unfit, often – dare I say it? yes- HIDEOUS selection of humanity. Not that I’m a beauty queen, but WOW. Most of these people were fugly (effing ugly). My years of experience (i.e., watching television and movies) had certainly not prepared me for 10 minutes of sitting in a nude, uni-sex sauna. They were all nude and uni-sex, but the way. Now don’t get me wrong: after an initial “Ok, here we go!” I had no problem being naked with these people. And generally, after a while everyone starts to look the same. But what actually bothered me were the rashes, weeping skin conditions, warts and hairy butts moles I encountered.
The good thing was that the water was known for its healing properties. The bad thing was that the water was known for its healing properties. Thus, a large proportion of the clientele was afflicted with some Biblical scourge. Tell me, how do you extricate yourself from a hot tub you JUST slipped into when a woman follows you in who is smothered in red boils? Seriously. Smothered like Heinz on street meat. You don’t. You go to that safe place in your mind (which, for me had been a hot tub, dammit). If mental escape doesn’t work then you may pray a little… I prayed that the chlorine pump was on so high that I would shed a layer of skin like a snake when I stepped out of the tub. And that my brown hair would turn green.. because that would be cool. I’m not proud. And so far no boils, so maybe my prayers were heard.
Yet, in my three days at Thermae 2000 I got over sauna-ing in the nude and bathing with lepers (I’m going straight to hell) and had an amazing time. Despite a small moment of trouble when a mustachioed middle-aged man followed me from sauna to sauna when Adam was taking a nap, I left feeling very relaxed and refreshed. And I would definitely consider making it a New Year tradition.