This won't be the first time I've been close to meeting my travel icon. Years ago, I submitted a safe-for-NPR version of the following story to his radio show. Due to a little mix up regarding time zones (long story short, I'm bad with math), the show called to get me on air to discuss it and I totally missed the call.
Without further ado, this is my story of how Rick Steves tricked me into looking at weiners on my wedding anniversary. So, so many weiners.
Scott and I didn't take a honeymoon after we got married. It was always the plan to go somewhere to celebrate our anniversary a year later. This allowed vacation time and bank accounts time to rebound after the wedding. With mom dying 6 weeks before our wedding, I was even more happy that we made this decision. I wasn't in the mood to do any traveling.
I researched options for the anniversary trip: random islands in the Caribbean, out of the way resorts in Mexico. Each location got a lukewarm reaction from Scott. He finally perked up when I started looking into Europe.
We decided on Germany and Switzerland. We liked it so much that we went back two more times before having kids.
But this story is about a town called Baden-Baden in Germany. It sits in the Black Forest and is home to the ritziest casino I've ever been to. I've been to Vegas a few times and while I consider the casinos there to be palatial, they're more gaudy and crass than fancy. This place requires men to wear jackets.
I was afraid to touch anything.
It's also home to mineral springs. Naturally, there are spas that take advantage of the mineral-rich water. There are two main options to "take the waters" in Baden-Baden. The Caracalla seems to be more swimming pool than spa experience. The Friedrichsbad is all spa.
Like any PBS fan, I love Rick Steves' Europe show. He also has a very through and useful guidebook series for cities and regions all over Europe. The Germany guidebook has a section about the Friedrichsbad that is very specific about the steps involved in going through the bath.
Step one was exit the locker naked. There were no signs explaining this. Honestly, I poked my head out a few times looking for other naked people to assure I was supposed to be. Eventually, I found the entrance to the spa at the corner of the locker room. The friendly attendant asked me "Erste mal?" (first time?) Naah, this is a thing I do. Come here often and hang out with other naked ladies. Whatevs.
The guidebook also says that a few steps of the experience are co-ed, but not many. I was prepared for this.
Rick Steves is a dirty, dirty liar.
ALL of it was co-ed. I don't know if that was a new rule or maybe just the rule on a Sunday afternoon, but there were weiners everywhere. I was raised Lutheran people - there's a certain level of modesty that is assumed. Needless to say, I was a bit tense.
At the welcome desk, I added the soap brush massage option to my spa experience. When Rick got his on TV, his butt was covered by a towel and he laid on his stomach for the duration of the clip. Ah, the magic of television... I laid down and the massotherapist told me to lay on my back. My cleavage has never been cleaner. Allow me to remind you that this is all in German, so I'm doing a hell of a job verstehing her while freaking the hell out about my jiggly bits on display. She had me flip over and worked on my back. I knew she was finished when she smacked me on the ass. No, I'm not kidding.
Of course all of the massage tables (more like slabs of marble) were in one cavernous room ohne partitions. Well hello mister naked German, how are you? Did you grow that hairy back yourself?
There was a young German couple ahead of me in the steam room. The woman started up a conversation with me. I couldn't keep up with her German, so I meekly apologized and said that English was my first language. I can either be naked or speak remedial German, not both.
She quickly switched to English and we had a nice chat in which we stared over each others heads the entire time. She said it was their first time to this kind of spa as well and they weren't sure what to expect. I explained I was from Ohio. She said "oh, Salt Lake City is the capital, right? No, that's the capital of Idaho." I preferred not to correct the naked German woman. During this whole time, her boyfriend is doing what can only be called strutting around the room - fiddling with knobs on showers and who knows what else. Dude, sit down.
The model on this Swiss underwear ad
would have been waayyy overdressed.
Conversation tapered off and after I sat there for what seemed like an appropriate amount of time post-conversation, I moved on to the pools. Thank God the ceilings are decorated in gorgeous mosaic tiles, because that's where I looked most of the time. I don't know the rules about eye contact in these places and I'd rather err on the side of caution.
After three pools, one frosty dip, and getting dried off in a huge linen bathsheet, I was led to a room lined with vanities and mirrors. Each station has a huge bottle of lotion that has an earthy, metallic hint mixed in with the fragrance.
The next stop is a warm, quiet room where I was swaddled in a bundle of sheets and blankets and made to rest. Up until this point, each attendant was a woman in her early 40's. Nope, not at this stop. That's right, a gawky college-aged young man tucked me in because of course he did.
After naptime, I headed back towards the locker room and rescued my clothes from the locker.
One of the things that helped convince me to go to the spa was that I would never see these people again and I would kick myself for not doing it. After the cold plunge, there was a bit of a bottleneck as attendants were trying to get bathers dried off. The next morning, the older couple I waited behind at the towels were seated at the next table at breakfast. So much for never seeing these people again.
I enjoyed being pushed out of my comfort zone. This was one of the highlights of my trip. I suppose that if the account in Rick Steves' guidebook had explained my spa experience exactly, I don't know if I would have gone.
Well played, Rick.
FYI - Scott didn't go along with me. He went to the Deutsche Markt convenience store instead - lame.