Standing naked in a room full of people is rarely my idea of relaxation, especially when every other person in the room is fully clothed. The attendant, Jaroslav, had told me to take off all of my clothes behind a curtain and then meet him over in one of the small cubicles on the other side of the room. So when I popped out from behind the curtain, the last thing I expected to run into was a line of ten teenage girls walking through the building on a school field trip.
Trying to act as casually as possible, I just smiled and nodded as they filed past. I had no other choice as they were blocking my path to where Jaroslav was waving for me to join him.
But as soon as the girls were out of the room, I bolted over to cubicle #5. Then, following Jaroslav’s instructions, I laid down, face up, on a massage table while he proceeded to arrange my body parts, all of my body parts, one by one into their proper place. Then, without warning, two more men entered the cubicle with a huge bucket, the contents of which were immediately dumped all over me. Once the bucket was empty, I suddenly had four hands spreading the steaming, thick mud onto every inch of my body, inches that I knew existed along with several inches of body that I wished these men had not discovered.
The next step involved two sheets and two wool blankets, all of which I was promptly wrapped up in, making me feel like a dead body rolled up in a carpet. And just like that, all three men left the cubicle and I was left there on my own, to sweat and bake.
The first thirty minutes of this mud wrap actually passed by quite enjoyably, but as soon as the itch on my cheek became so unbearable that I had to use my tongue to lick off the mud so that I could scratch it, the experience went downhill from there. Torturous itches started popping up all over the place as the mud began to harden.
When the session finally ended, I let out a gasp of relief as Jaroslav directed me towards the showers to wash off the mud. This time, I didn’t care that I was again the only naked person trotting across the crowded room. I had one mission, and that was to quickly remove the dried mud from the parts of my body where dried mud should never be.
A FEW STEPS BACK IN TIME
In the foothills of the Carpathian Mountain Range, along the banks of the Vah River in Western Slovakia, lies the small, intimate town of Piestany, a community that has attracted a steady stream of visitors over the past 700 years. The main attraction has always been the unique sulphuric mud and the thermal mineral water, two natural healing sources that travelers can take advantage of through a variety of treatements at the Health Spa Piestany.
I traveled to Slovakia in 2007 after visiting a friend of mine in the Czech Republic. This friend had recommended the spa town after I told her about some newly developed allergies I was suffering from. Eager to rid myself of the allergies and never one for turning down an opportunity to visit a new country, I borrowed a car and made my way across the border.
After passing several impressive hilltop castles, I naturally made a few wrong turns and suddenly found myself dealing with two Slovak police officers attempting to extort $100 from me for failing to stop at a stop sign. As soon as I pointed out the fact that there was no stop sign at the intersection in question, they begrudgingly allowed me to continue my journey and about an hour later I arrived in Piestany.
Like much of Slovakia, as I would later discover, the town of Piestany seems to exist somewhere around twenty years back in time. So laid-back, peaceful and simple is this town that it is almost uncomfortable at first. Old 1950s bicycles and 1970s Skoda sedans crawled along the tree-lined lanes as overall-clad men pushed wheelbarrows full of fire wood next to women carrying wicker baskets overflowing with fresh breads and cheeses. Everyone knew everyone else, or at least their smiles and friendly greetings to each other indicated so, and even as a visitor, I could not have felt more welcomed.
Needless to say, I was already benefiting from this town before ever stepping foot into the spa!
BIONETIC LASER ENHANCEMENT, ANYONE?
Not wanting to risk there being a lack of available appointments, I decided to visit the consultation office at the spa in order to book my treatments. My assumption that this would take no more than five minutes was quickly destroyed as soon as the friendly woman behind the counter handed me an extensive 3-page menu. And even though she had given me the English version, I still had no idea what half of the treatments entailed.
So after spending thirty minutes asking such questions as “Do I need a bionetic laser enhancement?”, “What is a salt cave?” and “What are the benefits of a thermally heated sulfurous mirror pool rejuvenation session?” I made my decisions. I then forked over what I felt was a reasonable $105 USD, and left the spa with a two-day itinerary that included a mud wrap, deep tissue massage, aromatic massage, two thrity-minute sessions in the thermal mirror pool and a sixty-minute session in the salt caves.
TWO DAYS OF TREATMENTS
The next morning began with the mud wrap I described above. Once that was out of the way, I went for a soak in the thermal mirror pool. This activity actually seemed to loosen up my joints and muscles quite well, although more importantly, it allowed me to wear a bathing suit.
Next on the list was what proved to be a somewhat invasive deep tissue massage, which not surprisingly required me to once again be the only naked person in a large room full of people.
The fact that the masseuse, Radek, was a male didn’t really bother me, until I discovered that he had an addiction to massaging my buttocks. My gluteous maximus, medius and minimus received a forty-five minute massage while the rest of my body received a very brief rub down. Granted, this would prove to be quite useful later in the evening when I had to wait over an hour for my dinner to arrive while sitting in a hard wooden chair, but at the time, I wasn’t impressed.
Day two of my treatments began with another swim in the mirror pool and an aromatic massage, a somwhat more enjoyable version of the deep-tissue massage that involved pleasantly-scented oils and much less focus on my arse.
And then came the salt caves, the session that proved to be my favorite of them all. In fact, I recently came across the following journal entry I had written a few hours after my first salt cave experience:
“The salt cave involved a sixty-minute relaxation session that took place in what resembled a large underground igloo. Massive salt stalactites hung from the ceiling and large salt crystals completely covered the floor. Lying down in a comfortable chaise lounge while wearing a plush bathrobe provided by the spa, I found myself falling in and out of a peaceful sleep. It seemed that every breathe of the fresh, salt-infused air increased my overall health. The soft meditative music mixed with the color therapy, which involved low-level, multi-colored lights flashing around the cave, created such a tranquil atmosphere that I didn’t want to leave when the session ended. Actually, I didn’t leave and instead signed up for a second session that began only moments after the first one had ended. I haven’t felt this good in a long, long time.”
THE SOURCE OF SO MUCH HAPPINESS
Even later that evening, as I strolled around town for the last time, walking along forest paths, through beautifully landscaped parks and along the Vah River, I still felt absolutely splendid.
My long walk eventually made me hungry and I found a cozy cafe that served some exceptional Slovakian chicken goulash and cheap pints of Topvar beer. During this meal I also met a lively group of Italians seated on a wooden bench at the cafe next door who invited me over for what turned out to be several hours of interesting conversation.
But every now and then throughout the evening, I would break away from the chatter and glance around at the musicians sitting on stools on the sidewalks playing traditional Slovak polkas, at the ice cream vendors pedaling their bicycle carts along the cobblestone streets, at the groups of people sitting on large boulders scattered around the impressively illuminated fountain nearby.
Every single person in Piestany seemed to have achieved an elevated state of relaxation and happiness, leaving me to wonder about the true source of this powerfully positive vibe.
Was it simply the result of the constant stream of Topvar flowing out of the taps or the endless bottles of inexpensive, yet tasty, local wines being poured into the glasses? Maybe so, but watching everyone so happy while sitting on such typically uncomfortable surfaces, led me to believe that Radek and his buttocks massages had more to do with it than one might think.
Anyone care to share any interesting tales involving visits to a spa? Or of any uncomfortable moments of nudity perhaps?