Before I moved to Baden, Switzerland from the United States in 2006, I was the antithesis of spa.
I had never had a professional massage. I didn’t know a mud treatment from a grass one. And I certainly couldn’t decipher mineral water from tap. I didn’t even know people did such a thing. But now, after living for almost three years in a Swiss spa town, I’ve become a certified spa snob.
It’s embarrassing. Not only do I visit spas wherever I travel, but then I can’t help but compare them unfavorably to the one in my new hometown.
I’ll find myself at Peter Zumthor’s world-renowned spa in Vals thinking, ‘the water is so much warmer in Baden’. At the Hammam in Granada, Spain, I thought, ‘how inferior, this spa doesn’t wrap me in a warm towel after I get out.’ And at the neo-baroque Széchenyi Spa in Budapest, Hungary, I just thought, ‘what a pathetic lack of jets.”
Baden has spoiled me.
I suppose it was inevitable. After all, in German, Baden means, “to bathe”; the town was born to bubble. Just a 10-minute walk from my apartment, nineteen sulphurous springs come out of the river at 116 degrees, just as they have done for centuries. Goethe, Nietzsche, and Durrenmatt all supposedly bathed in Baden. The Romans did too. And I never would have guessed it, but these guys knew their spa stuff.
As you read this, a bell is dinging and a yellow light is flashing at Baden’s public spa. Like clockwork, 19 bodies are moving themselves six inches to the right in a 97-degree pool filled with the most mineral-rich water in Switzerland.
Because I, the twentieth body, have been enjoying a well-placed jet on my calf a little too much, I fail to move to the next jet exactly on the bell. As punishment for my unpunctuality, I receive a disapproving glance and luckily for me, an incomprehensible comment in Swiss German from the person to my left. I apologize with a hearty Entschuldigung and move my sluggish muscles as fast as they’ll go to the next jet.
Relaxing, like everything else in Switzerland, is timed to exacting precision, hence the bell and the yellow light to remind everyone that each jet’s visiting time is limited to exactly two minutes. Those who fail to follow the rules by relaxing a little too much are shunned. Even in a little town known for its healing waters.
Still, once you get the hang of timed relaxation, you start to see its benefits. An evenly placed, full-body massage. No chance for someone to “hog” a particular jet. And the joy of seeing Swiss citizens actually staying in an orderly line (instead of their usual method of bunching together and fighting for whatever it is they all want-be it a cashier, a train car, or a rare sale item).
Anyhow, once you start spa hopping, there’s no turning back from a life of elitism after discovering your preferred place of bathing. While Baden’s healing waters may claim to treat things like rheumatic and metabolic disorders, they sure haven’t done much for my spa superiority complex. But alas, I’m learning to live with it. Warm towel and all.