May, June and July 2018

“Your lean process should be a lean process.”

Unknown

After reflecting on the delays between the last couple of posts, I have realised that batching them together should be an approach experimented with. By batching them together quarterly the process potentially becomes a little more streamlined, a little more substantial and just a little less intrusive.

As such, the last three months, May, June and July, are covered here.

May 2018

Copenhagen

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One of the elements of #Project20nine that I had been most excited about was taking part in Nordic Run in Copenhagen. The race would be the first time that I’d ventured to another country specifically for this kind of competition. It also had the added bonus of doing so with a friend. Yet, what transpired over the course of a few days was far more than just doing the run and hanging out with great people. From start to finish it was a trip that was a non-stop joy ride of all things awesome. Here are the major beats of this symphony of adrenaline and experience.

10am, Thursday – Coffee training session with Exmouth Coffee Roasters, London

Before leaving for Demark, there was coffee to be enjoyed. Let me begin by saying friends or not, the folks over at Exmouth Coffee Roasters are wonderful and, in my opinion, make some of the best coffee in the city.

Today I’d arranged to spend a few hours with Martin, the chief roaster, coffee expert extraordinaire and all-round Jedi with a coffee bean, to learn the basics of being a barista. That is, I was going to learn how to brew, and pour, the perfect coffee-base.

So, over the course of a morning, I learnt:

  • How many grams of ground beans make the ideal coffee and at what temperature and for how long;
  • how much pressure to tamp the grounds with;
  • how to begin to determine a good coffee from a bad one;
  • how to froth the milk and then pour it for Flat Whites and Cappuccinos.

The answers, forever etched into my brain, are there for the taking but it’s not here that you’ll find them. No sir. The answers are to be found during a lesson or two with Martin – the finest way of learning them.

9pm, Thursday – Land in Copenhagen; briefly catch up over chicken soup; bed

From coffee-making to luggage-packing, we headed home and left almost immediately for the airport and boarded a flight bound for Copenhagen where, upon arrival, we were quite literally jumped upon by Lina. Welcome back to Denmark!

7.30am, Friday – Quick grocery shop then First-day-of-holiday Breakfast followed by 4 hours of mountain boarding

Having turned up late on Thursday night we Four Musketeers hung out for an hour or so over Stefan’s tasty chicken soup before we turned in for the night. It was a school night and our hosts still had work on Friday. So we got up, hydrated and headed straight out for some groceries. The walk to the supermarket is about 20 minutes away so it was approaching 10am by the time we whipped up breakfast.

After breakfast it was back outside to make the most of the good weather and our time. We’d been left as the temporary custodians of a couple of electric mountain boards and there was no way we were going to flounder such a generous offering.

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What followed was more than 4 hours of zipping along the quiet backstreets, country paths and coastal walkways.

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4pm, Friday – Head down to the docklands for a bungee jump and a bite to eat

As a way of kicking the weekend off we’d planned on doing a bungee jump down at the docklands. Up until about a week before I’d always considered bungee jumping a no go – jumping from the Death Zone with nothing but a little string around my ankles to keep me safe? Hmm, that doesn’t seem quite sensible. But, when such opportunities to experience new things unexpectedly present themselves then there can be only one response: ‘when are we doing this?’.

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You might have caught the great little speech Will Smith gave about the life lesson he learned after jumping out of a plane.

“The best things in life are on the other side of terror, on the other side of your maximum fear, are all of the best things in life.” Will Smith

It’s true. Sure, bungee jumping isn’t skydiving (that’s for a future post) but skydiving is not the point: confronting fears and doubts and uncertainties is. There’s a moment, the space between holding on to the platform and falling towards the earth, that feels like a vacuum. In that moment there is a total clarity and a total awareness that washes over you: suddenly the crispness of the air is so much crisper, the peace of such a height is so much richer, the weight off one’s body so much more present and the focus of one’s mind so much sharper. In that moment fear falls away and even jumping out after it won’t bring it all back.

10am, Saturday – Nordic Run. Game on.

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This is what we came for. The Nordic Run first appealed to me, I confess, because the medal is so damn cool. Have you seen it??

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Doing the run also meant doing so with a buddy, getting a bit of exercise and, generally, having a blast doing something so physical. The majority of the course was set out along the beach, itself an undeclared obstacle (ever tried running a high intensity 5K on soft sand?), and was filled with around 30 different things to climb over, lift, climb under, climb through or generally traverse successfully in order to save oneself from time penalties and forfeits.

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The crowd was super focused and there was a sense that this kind of event is second nature to much of the population. Unlike Tough Mudder there’s a real sense of independence and zero emphasis on teamwork – seldom did I see anyone looking for help or support from anyone else and on the one occasion I offered a hand, it took a moment for the person to relent and accept it.

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Despite remaining invested in our own progress, Stefan and I crossed the line with respectable times as a team. This is race I’d love to do again and again.

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1pm, Saturday – Viking re-enactment camp

This one was a little bit of a ‘will we, won’t we’ visit given that we’d run the race in the morning and didn’t know whether we’d all be in a fit enough shape to make it. But of course we were! Never doubted it for a second.

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The camp was exactly what it says on the tin: a Viking re-enactment camp filled to bursting with authentic camp sites, market stalls and food venders, people dressed in period-specific clothing and, the reason we came, Viking battles.

Stefan’s team had a number of matches that afternoon and so we dropped by to watch and cheer them on. I’d not fully anticipated such viciousness but having become familiar with the armour and equipment and rules and etiquette throughout the last few visits to Copenhagen, finally seeing the combat brought all of the pieces of the puzzle into place. Yes, it’s violent and people clearly do get hurt but pound for pound this doesn’t seem all that more dangerous that rugby or American Football. Or maybe it is… those swords, axes and maces do look a little bit scary.

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5pm, Saturday – Collect the rabbit, make a new best bud.

I’ll come right out and say it: I want a rabbit now. I mean, look at him…

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He did get a bit rough one time though and somehow managed to take me down and stand atop of me like the champ he is.

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By the way, if anyone knows the breed of this little guy I’d love to know. Hands down the coolest little rabbit I’ve ever seen!

10am, Sunday – Spend the day exploring Faxe

Wow. This place, in this weather, is startlingly beautiful for an old chalk pit. After the excitement of the last couple of days walking around Faxe offered something of a change in pace and a more laid back time to spend all together.

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9am, Monday – Wakeboarding

‘Hey guys, we’ve got, like, 2 whole hours before we need to jump back on the plane. I think we’ve got time to do something. Who’s up for wakeboarding?’

Boy, if there’s been a trip this year that has defined ‘fun’, it was this one. Rounding off a weekend packed full of adventure was a morning session down at the cable park. I’d never wakeboarded before and was excited to finally give it a go. The four of us turned up nice and early, so keen were we to make the most of our time that we had to wait 20 minutes for the crew to open up. Once we’d lugged the gear on site and paid for entry we changed into our suits and headed down to the water ready to rock and roll. Having been briefed by our resident wakeboarding pro I felt confident that I knew what I was doing. Only, knowledge does not equal experience, as I found out the hard way…

Stepping up to the edge of the platform, cable in hand and wearing a Big Boy board that was nicely strapped to my feet, I waited for the snap of the line to hoist me towards the water and a virgin’s glory. I’d glide around the course with the grace of a swan coming in to land on a calm boating lake and arrive back at the start to the wild cheers and applause of my friends and fellow boarders. And so it all happened in slow motion. The sudden tautening of the line, the micro bounce into the air, the hoist towards the water, the heart-skipping realisation that ‘yes, I’m doing it!’. But then, as if time itself realised there was some catching up to do, I raced from slow motion to super fast forward and slammed, face first into the water. I’d made it about a meter before faceplanting the frigid Danish waters and catching a mouthful of the seaweed reaching up for me.

I would have gotten right back to it if it hadn’t have been for the fact I’d almost dislocated a shoulder and would spend the next month waiting for full mobility to return to it. Should have worn the beginner board…

1pm, Monday – Flight home.

With that, and after the rest of the gang had officially shown me how the pros do it, it was back home for a quick shower and some dry clothes before hurtling off to the airport to catch the plane before it left without us.

Hero of the Month: Mark Cousins

Mark Cousins (1965 – present) is a celebrated film producer and director. His works include the incredible The Story of Film: An Odyssey and The Story of Children and Film. His books include The Story of Film: A concise history of film and an odyssey of international cinema (upon which ...An Odyssey is based) and The Story of Looking. Mark’s perception of, and passion for, cinema is second to none and inspiring for its range and depth. I first watched ..An Odyssey upon release in 2011 but had owned the book since first publication way back in 2004 – I would have been 15 years old at the time and this book made a particular impression on me and it remains an essential read for all cineastes.

His most recent film, The Eyes of Orson Welles, was released earlier this year.

Books

  1. Neil Gaiman – Norse Mythology
  2. Tim Ferris – Tribe of Mentors

June 2018

The Folks Got Remarried

About a year ago, on their 29th anniversary as husband and wife, my parents decided it was high time to do it all over again. To celebrate the 30th year together as a married couple, they chose to do so with their family and closest friends and invited us all to witness the renewal of their vows. For them it was about saying thank you for a life together and for the community of friends and family that has built up around them. The day was beautiful and really reminded me that love, actual, real love, is time immortal. I was even asked to give a little speech…

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Nida

This was a wonderful little 3-4 day adventure in Nida, an idyllic resort town nestled towards the southern-most part of Lithuania’s half of the Curonian Spit, which lies between the Curonian Lagoon and the Baltic Sea (the other half is a Russian territory). For half a week we visited the dunes, saw dolphins, explored historic sites, ate tasty food, splashed about in the sea (hey, if it’s only painful for a moment before your legs go numb then it’s good for a swim….right?), played ‘stupid’ (I’ll never be smart enough for this game), road bikes, went for runs and did typical, holiday things. I’d never been this far east of Lithuania before (it’s not possible to get any further east) and had never been away with the in-laws before either and both were a real treat and a highlight of the month.

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Completion of The Portfolio

Over the last couple of months I’d been piling time into this in the hopes of using it to secure a little bit of part-time writing work. Most evenings and a fair bit of time squeezed into the weekends resulted in the below 40 pages. The idea was that it would be a CV and portfolio rolled into a package just like an actual magazine. The reason it took the best part of 2 months was that alongside producing the content I was also getting to grips with learning how to properly use Adobe InDesign – a software that I’d never used before but have since built a substantial knowledge of and affinity for.

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That’s how it started out, a few doodles in a note book. Here’s the finished thing:

http://online.anyflip.com/hjgo/qvaj/

Building this from scratch, educating myself about the basics of magazine layout and construction and how to use a completely new piece of software was a fun learning journey and one which I’d like to continue developing into the future.

Hero of the Month: Anna Biller, Film Director

Anna Biller (?? – present), is the director of the unexpectedly charming film, The Love Witch. The film, which Biller has gone on record for stating how some of her crew had deliberately tried to sabotage it, currently holds a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. As a point of comparison, Oscar-winner The Shape of Water holds 92%

For those interested, here’s a trailer.

Fun fact: Biller’s partner is Robert Greene.

Books

  1. Christopher Ross – Mishima’s Sword
  2. A Geek In Japan – Hector Garcia

July

The Color Run

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Ah, The Color Run, you are not what you appear to be, my friend! Your name (officially spelt the American way, no matter which country you’re in) is misleading as only half of it is correct.

Whilst I cannot contest the amount of fun everyone seemed to have here I can’t help but feel a bit let down by it. First, the sheer volume of people, coupled with the number of them deciding not to run, resulted in a <25% run rate. The course, running through streets and pedestrianised areas, was inevitably tight, which only compounded the difficulty in finding space to run. For this reason I believe the run should be considered the ‘Most Laid Back 5k on the Planet’… In fact, whilst ‘The Color Run’ might be a snappy, marketing ploy, ‘The Happy Color Walk’ would be far more accurate. It’s lovely to do, once, with friends, for the experience of getting caked in colourful dust but for anyone expecting a nice little run should look elsewhere…

Spartan Race

Ok, now we’re talking. This is how we do social running and obstacle dodging. Vita and I had signed up to do this one together: our first one together! Nothing about this race was a disappointment: the weather was fantastic, the course was rewardingly challenging, the volume of people was just right and the overall atmosphere was lovely. Oh, and the medal was very cool too!

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The thing that made this course particularly tasty was that a lot of it was built on the side of a steep hill, and the starting line was positioned right at the foot of it. However, we quickly found a rhythm and hustled our muscles to push and pull us along the path. Along the way we climbed the obligatory cargo nets, traversed balance beams, climbed ropes, dragged sledges, threw javelins, hauled sandbags and generally beat ourselves up all in the name of personal growth and discovery.

By the time we got to the finish line, after jumping over flaming chunks of tree, we were buzzing for the next one…

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Skydive Training

This has been part of #project20nine since before it even became official and the experience was gifted to me by Vita. So finally, after making it to the glory of summer and finding a free weekend to book in, I headed down to Redlands Airfield in Swindon for 6 hours of pre-jump training and, hopefully, good enough weather to complete the experience – after all, this year the UK had been subjected to one of the hottest, driest summers on record, was it really going to start storming now?

The answer, unfortunately, was yes. But the afternoon was a lot of fun and has set me up for a future jump when the weather is kind enough to allow us to do so!

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Hero of the Month: Tony Robbins, the ‘why guy’

Tony Robbins (1960 – present), life coach and philanthropist (among many, many other things) has proven to be a hugely enlightening individual for me over the last 18-24 months. Yes, he has a huge following and has been at the top of his game for the last 4 decades, but the way he explains his approach to life, the values he holds and how others can shift the perspective on their problems is nonetheless incredibly motivating.

Books

  1. The Legends of Luke Skywalker – Ken Liu
  2. The Food and Cooking of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – Silvena Johan Lauta

And with that, we’re here in August for the final Quarter of being a 20-something. The next 3 months have some pretty significant things lined up and I’m very much looking forward to experiencing them all…


This post is part of an ongoing account of the final 364 days of being a 20-something. 

In The Blink of an Eye

“Time passes so slowly if you are unaware of it

and so quickly if you are aware of it.”    

Marc Bolan

Wow, talk about blinking and missing it. It’s May already and having missed the last few monthly updates, there’s a LOT to catch up with. It looks even worse than the November/December update! Unfortunately the reason for the lack of posting is valid, but that’s all there is to be said of it. I haven’t been slacking…


January 2018

Goals

  • Flotation Tank
  • Pedicure
  • Book a massage
  • Swimming: Malta
  • Begin new training
  • Blog posts
    • Monthly weigh-in and muscle-in: Going into #project20nine what are my baseline stats?
    • 29 Things to be Grateful for in 2017
    • How Much Coffee is Too Much Coffee?
    • Where’s my concentration? The disappearance of the human attention span
    • How to make the most of a long weekend in Reykjavik
    • How to Meditate With Purpose
  • Contact a new hero: Tim Ferriss

Summary of the Month

The flotation experience was the first I had ever had and I loved it. If my expectations were speckled with a dusting of ‘oh, this is going to be a bunch of new age mumbo jumbo’, that limited oversight was dispelled pretty quickly. I visited the London Floatation Centre over on the Isle of Dogs which took me around 45 minutes to reach and a little bit of exploring once out of the station. But I found it quickly enough and hung out in the waiting room for the 20 minutes or so before my session, chatting with the guy on reception and a fellow floater.

First though, here’s a brief overview of what a floating experience is all about:

  • The tank itself is filled with a dense combination of water and 525kg of magnesium rich Epsom-salts. At 25cm deep, the ratio of salt to water is very high and slightly greasy to the touch.
  • The temperature of the salty solution is raised to skin temperature (35.5°C) and the environment inside the tank, when the lid is closed, also matches that of skin temperature. This creates the odd sensation of not actually being able to really feel the water or the air: everything is in sync with the body.
  • The salty solution also means that you’ll float: helplessly so. The body naturally sinks into the kind of position it would be should it be reclined on an arm chair. Except…there’s no chair!

Once the pod had been prepared, I was given a brief tour and explanation of the following 60 minutes before being left alone in the dimly lit room. I showered, to rinse myself of dirt and ‘impurities’, but of course, being someone with the biological disposition to take a long time a-washin’, took around 7 minutes to do so.

I took too long….

Now, the interesting thing about floating is that the experience is pretty much set to a schedule. Once the doors to the room are shut, the process works like this:

  • Person showers and gets in the pod, closing the lid behind them
  • Room lights go out completely so as to contribute to the sensory deprivation (can’t be running the risk of light sneaking into the pod and diluting the experience)
  • Inside the pod, sensory lights swirl and tinkle whilst you get into position and slowly begin to relax. Nature sounds play too.
  • Lights and sound are shut off and the world is black and silent.
  • The float experience, for real, commences.

Obviously, having taken longer than was typical to wash I ended up showering in the dark and shuffling towards the low glow of the pod. But. once I was in the magic began. As I bobbed around, helpless against the might of the dense water, my body relaxed and as it settled in its weightlessness various joints cracked back into their natural positions and a ridiculous sense of peace washed over me. The fact that I could not see anything, hear anything but the invisible swish and swoosh of water, feel anything (the water and pod both matched body temperature perfectly), taste anything (‘water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink…’) or really smell all that much (maybe there was a slight whiff of saltiness, maybe…) really did confuse my brain as to whether I was awake, asleep or somewhere dreamily in between. Time passed both slowly and quickly and by the time the dim lights switched back on and the gentle chirrup of birdsong drifted from the sound system I knew one thing: I’d never felt so restored and relaxed. This, I decided, has to be experienced as much as possible.

This month is also Vita’s birthday month and so I booked us a weekend break to Malta – a country that I’d long heard about from my mum who had lived there some years ago, but had never taken the opportunity to visit it. Until now.

The thing about Malta is that it is as if the retiring population of the UK, for any given year, had all decided to up sticks and relocate with the following agenda:

  1. no foreign languages
  2. driving on the left-hand side of the road
  3. lots of sun
  4. in fact, I just want the UK with more sun…

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Arriving there, it was quite surreal in that so many people spoke with such thick British accents. Cockney? Check. Scouse? Check. Brummie? Yup. Once the novelty of this wore off [pretty quickly] it was easy to see why Malta is such an attractive option for so many – it really is like a laid-back Britain in the sun. It’s also very small, so upon making the final descent it’s not unreasonable to make out the entire island, coast to coast. So, we spent our time exploring the island, hoping over to Gozo and generally having fun. The hotel even had access to an offsite pool which was cosey.

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Making posts…Ok, we’ll keep this short: posting this month has been a non-starter. There, I said it. Posting took a backseat.

Though I had initially thought it would be fun to give my gratitude to Tim Ferris, the hero I actually contacted was Anna Hart, and the reason for this is that I wanted to increase my likelihood of interaction. And she replied pretty quickly. At the time of emailing she was on the cusp of releasing her book, Departures, and I was keen to talk with her about it. Unfortunately, despite the conversation going well and a seemingly agreeable idea to meet for a coffee to talk about the journey of becoming a writer, the line went dead. Nevertheless, I remain an admirer of her work and hope the book has sold well.

The other thing about this month is with regards to training. One of the goals for this year is to run several races [see below] so in preparation for them I needed to begin incorporating more cardio into my workouts alongside endurance work, more mobility drills and, unfortunately, cold water acclimatisation (I’m looking at you Nordic Race). The training has incrementally increased the incorporation of each of these elements – the biggest test regarding the hardest part (cold water, yikes!) recently happened in Baden Baden, so I feel confident that the body is becoming a little more acclimatised to it. But that’s the thing with training – it’s ever present and never ending.


February 2018

Goals

  1. Travels: Northampton
  2. Hero: Michael Booth
  3. Swimming: London x 2
  4. Books:
    1. Spies – Michael Frayn
    2. Gone – Michael Grant
  5. Other:
    1. Sunrise yoga at the shard
    2. Hammilton
    3. Snow!
  6. Blog Posts: none

Summary of the Month

No big travels this week, just a nice little jaunt back home for a long weekend and a bit of reading, which was built around the English lessons I deliver. Spies is a typical school text which I always think, in a way, is a shame because being made to read a book doesn’t often do much for one’s appreciation of it. Spies is a great read concerning an old man’s memories of his life a child during WW2 and deals a lot with memory and the perception of it. Gone, on the other hand, is firmly a YA thriller set in a world where everyone over the age of 15 disappears, leaving the kids to figure out what on earth has happened. It’s a bit Lord of the Flies meets The Maze Runner. It’s a fun read even if it does happen to be a bit forgettable.

And speaking of books, Michael Booth has been an author I’ve long admired, in particular for his book Sushi and Beyond – a charming account of a trip through Japan with a focus on its culinary offerings. As a long-time Japanophile it was the first book of its kind that I’d read about the country so it also has a bit of a sentimental value to it too. I reached out to him after noticing he’d followed it up, almost a decade later, with The Meaning of Rice and I wanted to talk with him about it. Michael and I exchanged a few nice emails and I came away with the opinion that he really is a decent, down to earth guy with a talent and curiosity that both inspires and educates me.

This month was also good for theatre because, having waited for over a year, the day finally arrived for our showing of Hammilton and boy, did it deliver. Ever since first hearing about it, loving the video of Lin-Manuel Miranda delivering a knock out performance of The Hammilton Mixtape at the White House Poetry Jam 2009 and being knocked over by the incredible soundtrack, and then waiting the 14 months since buying the tickets for the London show, I’d been expecting something special and cautiously apprehensive about it too. After all, it’s not everyday something truly deserves its hype. But, Hammilton does. Everything about it was worked to precision and seeing the soundtrack performed (the entire performance is set to music; all spoken words are lyrics) was a transformative experience. Needless to say, the soundtrack has been worn out this month.

It was also Valentines this month and for it, Vita had arranged a surprise treat: sunrise yoga up at the Shard. Somehow we’d managed to get incredibly lucky: not only was the teacher great and the location within easy walking distance, the weather was so perfect, and the room so well positioned, that watching the sun rise on London was a bit distracting!

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And, of course, this month also brought the snow! I do love a good bit of snow every once in a while 🙂

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March 2018

Goals

  1. Travels: Whitstable, Broadstairs and Canterbury
  2. Hero: Amelia Allen
  3. Swimming: no swimming!
  4. Books:
    1. The 28 Day Alcohol Free Challenge – Andy Ramage and Ruari Fairbairns
  5. Other: Complete first assigned sporting event of the year: March 24th, Tough Mudder @ Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
  6. Blog Posts:
    1. Tough Mudder

Summary of the Month

The weather had started to warm up this month, at least sporadically, and so being able to start the year with a run in relative comfort was a real treat. I’ve posted about the run already but to summarise it here: far better than expected!

This month was also the last month of the film course I put together at Imperial College London and I really can’t believe how quickly it all went by. The Wednesday night sessions were always one of the main highlights of the week and it was sad to have to wrap things up for the year. Everyone who attended the classes really helped to make the 2 hour sessions enjoyable and I feel lucky to have had such a great group of people to work with every week. Delivering the course offered me a lot of new perspectives and I’m pretty sure it was me who ultimately ended up learning the most! A teacher can deliver the material but it takes a class to transform the experience. My thanks and gratitude are forever theirs.

The book reading this month was a little slower (in part due to that issue alluded to at the top) than I intended and I managed to only get through two: The 28 Day Alcohol Free Challenge by Andy Ramage and Ruari Fairbairns. The book was chosen as a matter of inspiration and proved to be very helpful in further shaping some of my own ideas and whilst it is not particularly a fun read, it is highly visual with a sharp, clean geometric layout. Maybe that sounds boring…

This month I also achieved a 2x bodyweight deadlift with a 160kg single repetition. See here. Not fantastic form but an acceptable PB nonetheless.

This month’s hero, Amelia Allen, is a local photographer who came to my attention after a few pieces about her work hit the headlines and I wanted to reach out to her regarding it. Her work dealt with the perception of public nudity within British culture but it was the fact that it was garnering so much attention that interested me. Amelia’s work is tastefully shot and compiled with grace, respect and intimacy. I did, however, see that the media had latched on to a quality that placed her work second: content. Nudity in the UK is subject to endless association with sex and titilation so a relatively high profile project about a rarely exposed element of British culture was bound to be note worthy for the media. Amelia had tackled the spotlight well and she was equally gracious enough to make a few email exchanges with me. Her work can be found here.

The final note to be made about this month is with regards to the trip to the south east with Vita and her aunt, Lina. It was the last weekend that Lina would be in London with us after spending a couple of months her, brushing up her English and getting familiar with London. I’d suggested we explore a more quiet corner of England and Broadstairs, Canterbury and Whitstable, to my mind at least, seemed to tick a lot of boxes. So we started early and started north, working south before looping back up to London at the end of the day. We drank coffee in the picturesque town of Whitstable, took afternoon tea in the cosiest of Canterbury’s tea rooms and enjoyed a fish dinner on the Broadstairs coast. And between it all we explored the towns, each distinctly their own, and experienced an utterly joyous Sunday.

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April 2018

Goals

  1. Travels: Northampton, Vilnius, Baden-Baden
  2. Hero: Mark Manson
  3. Swimming: Baden Baden x2
  4. Books:
    1. Armada – Ernest Cline
    2. You Were Never Really Here – Jonathan Ames
    3. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F@!K – Mark Manson
  5. Other: Circus School – Acrobalance Level 2, TedxLondonSalon
  6. Blog Posts:
    1. Baden Baden
    2. Social Nudity and the Germans

Summary of the Month

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April was an interesting month for it’s variety and was also particularly fun for the travel opportunities that it brought about. I’ve written about Germany in a couple of posts but there was also a wonderful trip to Lithuania and an extended weekend stay back home with the parents.

Lithuania has certainly become a home away from home and so whenever I go back now it always feels a little bit like going home. This time, alongside the various things that had to be done, we trundled over to Druskininkai for night, fired up the BBQ, saw friends, saw family, went for lovely spring walks and I even got my hair cut. I know, big deal.

Being in Lithuania also meant that we had to skip out on this year’s London Coffee Festival although earlier this week I did get to be a lot more hands on and behind the scenes at a genuine coffee roastery.

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More about that in the next update though.

This month Vita surprised me with a ticket to TedxLondonSalon where the theme was ‘Tales From the Unexpected’. TED, for the uninitiated, is a fantastic organisation concerning ‘ideas worth spreading’ and the TedXLondonSalon event is one of the many locally curated opportunities to see such inspired presentations first hand. This one was held at the Piccadilly Theatre and had talks from:

  1. DR JULES MONTAGUE Consultant neurologist, author, journalist and storyteller
  2. KAJAL ODEDRA UK Director at Change.org, STEM leader, creative writer and bookworm
  3. SHOSHANA GOLDHILL AND FARAJ ALNASSER Family lawyer, mother and change maker; student, refugee and eternal optimist
  4. DR DARREN SCHREIBER Neuroscientist, lawyer, politics lecturer and rock climber
  5. ADAM ALL Singer, dancer and Drag King extraordinaire

Only realising where we were going as we exited Piccadilly Station, I did not do any background reading regarding any of the guests and so had the benefit of taking everyone at face value. All of the speakers offered insightful perspectives, ranging from dealing with Dementia (Dr. Jules), escaping a life as a refugee (Shosana and Faraj) and how the brain is hardwired for politics (Dr. Darren) but the most impressive story, for me, was from Adam All. I’ll leave it up to you to do a little research but I’ll say this: wonderful, honest talk about identity and sexuality. The organisers had also struck relationships with several book publishers and so were able to offer 1 of 14 different books to every attendee, which I thought was a nice touch, and I received David Adam’s The Genius Within. It’s on the ‘to read’ shelf.

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See if you can spot us, twice, in the highlights video.

The books this month were comprised of 2 fiction and 1 non-fiction. Ernest Cline’s Armada was a considerable let down following the joyride of his previous book, Ready Player One (a title I read on first release so have been able to follow its rise from cult favourite to mainstream behemoth, as well as the development of Spielberg’s fantastic adaptation, from the get-go) and ended up being the first book I refused to waste my time on for quite a while. Admittedly I began by listening to Will Wheaton’s audiobook and felt very uncomfortable with his style immediately. Perhaps I couldn’t shake his presentation and still somehow connected it to the book even when I was reading it for myself, but maybe not. I found the story inconsequential, uninvolving and ultimately very forgetful and I think this is a result of trying to bottle the magic of RPO. Unfortunately the story of a gamer-geek recruited into a real-life version of a computer game is built on a foundation of incredibly niche gaming references and whilst the abundance of pop culture references in RPO was undoubtedly that book’s USP it’s quite the opposite here.

Jonathan Ames’ You Were Never Really Here, on the other hand, is a fantastically lean, muscular thriller much in the vein of Taxi Driver, should it have been crossed with James Sallis’s Drive. It’s a novella concerning a war vet who has built a reputable career of returning kidnapped victims safely home. He’s slightly unhinged, clearly suffering from PTSD and completely at home dishing out all manner of violence when necessary but is driven by a fundamental clarity of vision and a belief in the virtue of his life’s mission. Lynn Ramsay turned this one into an equally muscular film starring Joaquin Phoenix last year. After the let down of Armada, this one was a relief.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F@!k, Mark Manson’s boldly titled ‘contemplation of how to live a good life’ is one part a genius piece of marketing and another part actually worthwhile treatise on 21st century, western attitudes to life. Manson has built a very solid reputation for himself through his witty, often intelligent blogging and the book is, by and large, more of the same: if you like the blog, you’ll probably like the book. Here, he argues that we all care too much about the wrong things and that ultimately in order to be truly content and happy we need to reconfigure our mindset to focus of the important things in life and not all the bullshit the media heaps on us every waking second. It’s the kind of book you can read cover to cover one sunny afternoon as you lounge about in the sun or, if you like a bit of attention when you’re riding that tube to work, dip in and out of it during your commute: it’s a bright orange-covered book with a gregarious title… Mark’s also won the coveted prize of being this month’s hero.

This month also saw a return to the National Centre for Circus Arts for the second level of Acrobalance and, so far, the few lessons have been a ridiculous amount of fun. Turning up each week to do some sort of climbing, rolling, inversion and/or acroyoga really enjoyable. The thing about this circus-y stuff is not that it’s ‘circus’ but the reconnection it develops between mind and body and the child-like appreciation for them both. It fosters a deep respect for simple pleasures and unashamedly reminds and encourages us to leave pretensions at the door. This kind of physical activity is also incredibly good for functional fitness and core strength, flexibility and generally building a more complete awareness of one’s own body.

Overall, a cool month with a number of highlights.


Looking Forwards

May 2018

Goals

  1. Travels: Denmark
  2. Hero: Mark Cousins
  3. Swimming: London x2
  4. Books:
    1. Neil Gaiman – Norse Mythology
    2. Tim Ferris – Tribe of Mentors
    3. Christopher Ross – Mishima’s Sword
  5. Other: Nordic Race
  6. Blog Posts:
    1. Nordic Race

Sporting Events

May

  1. Red Bull 400
    1. Finland: May 12
    2. Not applicable. This race sold out way before I had a chance to sign up.
  2. Nordic Race
    1. Copenhagen. 19 May. £70. 5KM.
    2. Booked
  3. Vitality Westminster Mile
    1. London. 27 May. £8. 1mile.
  4. Vitality London 10k
    1. London. 28 May. £35. 10KM.

July

  1. Queen Elizabeth Park Monthly 10k
    1. London. 7 July. £18. 10KM.
  2. Colour Run
    1. London. 8 July. £23. 5KM.
    2. Booked
  3. Spartan Race
    1. Market Harborough. 15 July. £79. 5KM.

This post is part of an ongoing account of the final 364 days of being a 20-something. 

Getting Naked in Germany

For some of us, nudity is no big deal – we all have a body so being naked it about as natural as it gets. For others, it’s a bit like the end of the world. However, it’s well known that nudity in Germany is much less of a taboo than it is here in the UK or in the US. In fact, wearing clothes in certain environments is positively forbidden. 

The spa is one such place…


There are two prominent spas in Baden Baden and both involve nudity. For one, it is mandatory, and the other requires you only to go au naturel should you wish to use the sauna complex.

The two spas are the historic Friedrichsbad and the far more modern Caracalla Therme. Although, fact fans, when Friedrichsbad opened in 1877 it was received as the ‘most modern bathing establishment in Europe’.

Friedrichsbad

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This one is most likely the more notorious of the two, simply because it is mandatory to be naked for the entire experience. So, this is where we’ll begin. I’ll try to provide as clear an overview of the process of attending so that, should you be planning a visit, you’ll know what to expect.

That said, there are several pretty good blog posts and articles out there that offer some illustration of the experience and prior to by own visit I found them to be particularly useful. Special thanks to Submerged Oaks and FollowBenandJenna.

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Here is a more specific plan of the complex.

Inside Friedrichsbad

The interesting thing about Friedrichsbad is the precision that has been implemented into what is considered to be the optimal bathing experience. 17 separate areas (referred to as ‘stations’) are provided for bathers: a calculated journey through various hot air rooms, steam rooms and a variety of different temperature pools.

How It All Works

Upon arrival you buy an entrance ticket (ranging from Basic through to a Deluxe package) and make your way up the grand staircase.

NB: It’s important to note that the spa is predominantly a mixed-sex experience although there are a few days where the bathing stages are split. The spa is essentially double sided: on one side is several stations for men only (on non-mixed days) and the same for women on the other side. Only the central pools (stages 10 and 11) are always mixed, but you could skip these if you wish. However, skipping them is not advisable given how spectacular those two particular rooms are. 

Inside the changing room you’ll use your wrist band to go through the turnstile and get changed into your birthday suit. A spa attendant will greet you [yup, you’ll be naked, they won’t, deal with it] and send you on your way to the first of the 17 stages.

Oh, the other really interesting thing is that each stage has been given a recommended usage time. The recommendations are incredibly specific: some are 3 minutes, some are 5, some are 7. Not more, not less.

But, I’ll tell you a secret. I disobeyed the rules and spent much longer in some and maybe a little less in others (I’m looking at you, freezing cold ‘Cold Water Bath’) and didn’t get told off, didn’t suffer any adverse side effects (yet) and wasn’t ostracised by my bathing brethren for such recklessness.

The 17 stages look like this:

  1. Shower
  2. Warm-air Bath
  3. Hot-air Bath
  4. Shower
  5. Soap and brush massage (optional)
  6. Shower
  7. Thermal Steam Baths
  8. Thermal Steam Baths pt.2
  9. Thermal Full Bath
  10. Thermal Whirlpool Bath
  11. Thermal Exercise Bath
  12. Shower
  13. Cold Water Bath
  14. Drying Off
  15. Cream Application/ Cream Massage (like the brushing, the cream massage is optional if you pay for it)
  16. Relaxation Room
  17. Reading Room

There is a lot of showering and I guarantee you’ll come away feeling cleaner than you’ve ever felt in your entire life.

Getting Naked

This is the elephant in the room and no doubt why many of the readers here are reading this at all. Perhaps you’re interested in Friedrichsbad because it really is a novelty, perhaps you want to see if you can handle the maximum exposure or perhaps you’re just curious about how it all works. The one thing that everyone will realise, if being naked in public is new to you, is that it’s no big deal. Nobody will slink around checking you out or perving and those fully dressed spa workers? Think your schlong is the first they’ll have ever seen? They work there, remember? They would have lost count on the first day.

However, if you’re still a little trepidacious about the whole situation, here’s a few thoughts to hopefully put you a bit more at ease:

  1. Literally, as soon as you’re naked, you’ll be in the majority. You’ll blend right in. As biased as we are to our bodies, they’re all super similar and it’s only the minor degrees of difference that distinguish us from one another.
  2. Honestly, no one cares. They’re not their for an oggle-fest, they’re there for some me-time; some relaxation and to feel good. Minding their business is all they’ll be doing, not checking you out.
  3. It’s not elitist in there. Everyone might end up using the stages at the same time as you: the overweight, underweight, aged, young, tall, short…
  4. In Germany, textile-frei (i.e. no clothes allowed) is absolutely, 100% normal. You probably already know how liberal the country is as a whole when it comes to nudity. Head on down to some public parks on a sunny day and you’ll get the picture. As soon as you let go of your own cultural conditioning and embrace the German one, you’ll realise just how boring it really is.
  5. That heart-pounding you feel as you commit to visiting the spa, as you pay for a ticket, as you enter the changing room (oh, by the way, chances are you’ll already be in the thick of naked folks by that point) and then begin to get undressed? That feeling will cease almost as soon as you take your first step into the spa area. Heck, you might even chuckle a little bit at how worried you were about, well, nothing!
  6. And think about it: how comfortable can you really be if every time you step out of one pool to head to the next you’re rearranging your bikini or shorts? Or if you’ve been out of water for a while how chilly those swimming costumes will begin to feel…

Pre-Station 1

In the changing room you’ll find an incredibly large cotton towel waiting for you in the locker. It’s bigger than a picnic blanket and it’s not really for hiding all your special bits with – you need it for covering the loungers in the first few stages.

As you make your way from the changing rooms to the first station, it’s likely you’ll be met by a couple of the spa team who will explain the process to you and to show you where to go.

Station 1: Shower

At the entrance, grab a pair of spa slipper and in you go.

The showers are pretty special. Several large shower heads, each replete with a single hand crank for operation, all looking like something from the turn of the 20th century and fitted along the left hand side of the room as you enter it. You’ll scrub up here for the recommended time of 3 minutes, although no one was timing. At least not when I went…

Once officially clean, you’ll head on through to the next stage.

Station 2: Warm-air bath

This room is a bit like the relaxation rooms you might find in your local Turkish bath house. Tiled, and full of wooden sun loungers, this room is moderately warm (54°C) and a laid-back (pun intended) start to the journey. As you settle into your chair (for the recommended time of 15 minutes, please) you’ll find your body temperature begin to rise and set you up for the next room.

Station 3: Hot-air bath

Almost the same as Station 2, here the temperature has been upped a little to 68°C, which will be enough to get your sweat on. It’s suggested that you spend 5 minutes here which, I would argue, feels just about right. Spend longer if you want to though, as it is pretty relaxing.

Station 4: Shower

Back in the shower (you’ll realise the way through all the stations will take you back and forth a little bit. For example, this shower is the same one as Station 1). The recommended time here is a brisk 1 minute although the shower is so good you might want to break the rules again…

Station 5: Soap and brush massage

Ok, so, up until now you’ve had your trusty picnic blanket but upon entry to Station 5 you’ll be asked to deposit your towel into a basket and slide off your slippers too. Now, there is absolutely no hiding.

If you paid for this service, you’ll be asked to slide onto one of the 2 tables where you’ll receive a brushing like you’ve never had. If not, you’ll head on through to the next stage.

As I arrived late, I did not opt for this in an effort to not feel rushed, so here’s the description from the website:

The soap and brush massage is a particular highlight of the Friedrichsbad. It’s optional and can be booked in addition to the bathing experience. For eight minutes strong hands move over your entire body. Water and soap is spread evenly and afterwards you are massaged with a brush. This acts like a skin peel and is the ideal preparation for the following bath in the curative thermal water. The massage enhances the circulation in your skin – a fountain of youth for your body.

Tip: As an alternative to the soap and brush massage, try the honey skin peel. The honey penetrates deep into the skin cells quenching the skin with moisture.

You can get a taste as to what this look like here.

NB. In her excellent summary of Friedrichsbad, Jenna (of followbenandjenna.com) suggests choosing the soft brush when you’re given the option. Having caught a glimpse of the brushes, I’d second this…

Station 6: Shower

Shower time again and by now you’ll have gotten the hang of this showering business pretty good. Time yourself and see if you can scrub-a-dub-dub for the optimal 60 seconds.

Station 7: Thermal steam baths

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This is the first of the steam baths and you’ll go in with a nice new little butt-mat. Pick a seat on the tiered seating steps, and use this little blue and white cushion to keep things hygienic.

It’s recommended to spend 10 minutes here but without a clock it’s difficult to tell how long you’ve been in. However, expect to want to spend longer that this enjoying the warmth and clinging of the steam and the wonderfully meditative quality of watching the thermal waters trickle down one of the walls.

Once you decide you’ve had enough, drop your cushion in the basket by the door to Station 8.

Another video for your research.

Station 8: Thermal steam baths

As is the case with Friedrichsbad, the next stage takes things up a notch and you’ll immediately notice that this room is warmer than the last. Time spent here is recommended to be 5 minutes.

Station 9: Thermal full bath

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Take another shower to rinse yourself of that steamy sweat and slip into the first pool: a balmy 36°C in temperature and a really treat to dip into. The pool is big enough for a fair number of people but when I went I shared it with only 2 others so it was very easy to relax in a good amount of space. The suggested 10 minutes here is, again, not quite enough so to all you rule-breakers, enjoy yourself.

Station 10: Thermal whirlpool bath

Things take a turn for the cooler now as, at a full 2°C colder than Station 9, the thermal whirlpool is 34°C gentle jet-propulsion. The pool is incredibly shallow, by the way, and for most people will likely come no higher than about knee height.

You won’t really notice the change in temperature although if you do spend the full 15 minutes in here you might begin to feel it towards the end.

Station 11: Thermal exercise bath

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The piece d’resistance and maybe the reason you came. This is the pool beneath the lovely dome and it does not disappoint on any level.

The thermal exercise bath is 28°C and you’ll know it as soon as your big toe takes the plunge. However, as the name suggests, a little bit of exercise (read: swimming) will get you alive. In fact, despite feeling frigid upon first entry, the temperature of the pool was so refreshing I spent a lot longer in here than the suggested 5 minutes. I even went back and forth to it about 5 times between showers and using Station 10 a handful of times.

See here for a little video.

Station 12: Shower

Back to the shower again and the tip here is to spend the full 3 minutes (or more, if you’re naughty) under particularly warm water because what’s next might make you squeal a little.

For the record, I did not, but I’m pretty sure I could hear someone yelping in shivery fright as I was showering.

Station 13: Cold-water bath

At 18°C we’re not in the bahamas any more. Like splashing about in the Arctic sea with nothing but your best intentions hiding your shrinking modesty, you might wonder why on earth you’ve been invited to end your bathing rituals with such torture.

The answer, as you may decide to find out, is that such a sharp cool down will leave you feeling revitalised and all tingly.

The recommended time spent here: ‘brisk’.

Station 14: Drying off

Head on back through the entrance way, grab a towel, take a seat and dry off. The towel you are given this time is much plusher than the picnic blanket you started with: it’s big, and fluffy, and cosey.

This area is intended to encourage you to enjoy the process of drying off. It’s also suggested that you can best enjoy this process by spending precisely 4 minutes doing so. I’m pretty sure I spend 3 here, and neither of the two spa practitioners told me off.

For those you curious as to how one might dry themselves, here’s the official video.

Station 15: Cream application / Cream massage

Two things will happen here. Either you will apply body lotion to yourself or, if you paid for it, someone else will do it for you. The lotions provided are advertised as being scented differently (indeed, in the ‘creaming area’ there are several dispensers) although I did not really notice much difference.

I’m pretty self-sufficient so I managed to put my own body lotion on and yes, my skin was left feeling even smoother and softer than before. But, body lotion is body lotion, so refrain from going too crazy with the freebie.

8 minutes is all it should take by the way, but this is perhaps the most questionable calculation. Surely the time spent here is relative to body size, hand size, experience with self-application and the desire to do so in the first place.

If you’re thinking about the cream massage, check out the promotional video.

Station 16: Relaxation Room & Station 17: Reading Room

The end of the journey is kind of a two-in-one. The Relaxation Room and the Reading Room are, from what I could see, the same space. 30 minutes in each (ergo 60 minutes in total) is, for me, quite a generous recommendation and one that I certainly did not adhere to. If I want to doze and/or read, I’ll do that at home. It’s nice to sit in here for a handful of minutes, sipping on one of the fruit teas available, but more than that seems a bit of a waste of time.

Conclusion

The overall experience of Friedrichsbad is one that is both memorable and thoroughly recommended. It is one of the 2 main spas in Baden-Baden and is a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours.


Caracalla Therme

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The other spa option in Baden Baden is Caracalla Therme, and it’s literally next door to Friedrichsbad. Whereas Freidrichsbad is predominantly a pool spa, Caracalla Therme is far more modern, far more spacious and provides greater variety.

It’s split into two halves, which are most easily distinguished between an upstairs and a downstairs. On the lower level there are:

  • a handful of pools,
  • a steam room,
  • some therapy rooms,
  • a restaurant,
  • the changing area,
  • showers,
  • and a garden space.

…and in this area it is compulsory to wear swimming costumes. Here’s a corporate link to the bathing area on the ground floor.

On the upper level, which is reached by a tight little spiral staircase right next to the restaurant, there are:

  1. a number of saunas,
  2. steam rooms,
  3. plunge pools,
  4. foot baths,
  5. sunbathing areas,
  6. showers,
  7. a bar,
  8. jacuzzis,
  9. relaxation rooms

…and up here it is mandatory to be textile-frei. As soon as you enter the area from the turnstile you have to leave your costumes, and inhibitions, in the shelves provided and you and your towel will be free to explore as you see fit.

Ground Level Pool Area

Certainly the more busy and populated of the two levels, this is the family area and here is where a lot of poolside frolicking and splashing and general hooplah happens. Stay for the atmosphere and the sun lawns if the sun’s a’shining.

Indoor Pool

This is the pool that’s in all the promotional material, front and centre. And, like the biggest pool at Friedrichsbad, this too is beneath a domed ceiling. The water here is a very comfortable 34°C. It’s not really a space for swimming, as so many people enjoy just sitting or hanging around in the warm water. It also has a selection of water features: water jets of differing pressures and sizes.

It’s also worth noting that none of the pools at the spa have a depth that exceeds 1.35m.

Outdoor Pools

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Outside there are 2 pools: a large, 32°C, one and a smaller one with a temperature of 35°C. Like the indoor pool, there are a number of different water feature options such as a waterfall, a water mushroom, massage jets and a water current. There are also 2 whirlpools, each 38°C, to be enjoyed if they are not too busy already.

Hot and Cold Water Grotto

Sounding something like a watery kind of Christmas, the Hot and Cold Water Grotto is exactly what it says on the tin: a grotto-like space with a 38°C pool and a smaller, hide-away of a pool, that’s kept at a chilly 18°C. It’s recommended that you hang out in the warm water for about 5 minutes, nip round to the cold one for 10-20 seconds then back to the warm one to repeat the cycle.

Aroma Steam Room: 43°C

As far as steam rooms go, this one is pretty big. There are 4 pockets that each have enough space for about 6-8 people to sit comfortably. The temperature is maintained at 43-46°C whilst the humidity is kept maxed out at 100%.

Brine Inhalation Room

Not really the sort of space I enjoy, the idea with the Brine Inhalation Room is to open your passageways and clear them for better respiration. The room itself is 38°C to 40°C where a natural brine ‘trickles through blackthorn twigs creating a fine salty mist in the air’. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

The idea here is to stay for not more than 20 minutes for the effects to be optimal and to pair it with a refreshing cold shower immediately afterwards.

Sauna Level Area

The upper level is split into a further 3 areas: one indoors, two outdoors. The indoor area is the first that is reached, although immediately to the right upon entrance is the first sunbathing area.

First Sun Deck

This area is relatively compact but comfortably houses about 15 permanent loungers and easily has space for 20-30 people should they want to all stand about together. It looks down through the atrium at the pools in the lower level but is largely secluded from all other areas.

Indoors

Once you’re inside, the area really is cavernous. Saunas to the left of me, saunas to the right, oh, here I am, stuck in the middle with…choice.

In this area there are 5 different saunas:

  1. Spectaculum: 90°C
  2. Vitality Sauna: 90°C
  3. Aroma-Sauna: 85°C
  4. Meditation-Sauna: 65°C
  5. Ladies’ Sauna: 90°C

There is also a:

  1. Sanarium: 57°C
  2. Steam Room: 47°C
  3. Refreshments bar
  4. Jacuzzi
  5. Lounge area
  6. Blue Space Sensory Room
  7. Green Room
  8. Million showers

Spectaculum: 90°C

This is a huge, theatre-like sauna where every hour a spa attendant will perform a ritual of wafting the hot air around using a combination of whipping the air with a towel and gently pushing the air towards each patron in turn with a large, fan-like instrument. This process lasts for about 12 minutes and during the time no one can enter, although of course, people can leave should the heat become too much.

At 90°C it is also one of the hottest saunas upstairs and definitely worth a few visits: the hourly performance is unmissable.

Aroma-Sauna: 85°C

Another aroma sauna where the aromas are changed everyday. It’s also lit with different coloured lighting that ‘supports and reinforces the relaxation process and leads you to experience unimaginable physical and mental relaxation‘.

Meditation-Sauna: 65°C

Inside the meditation sauna sounds of the sea and/or birdlife and nature are pumped in through discrete speakers to help aid a sense of meditation. And you know what? It works really well! The low-ish temperature is always comfortable and on my visit I clocked one older gentleman taking a nap. I knew he was asleep because he was snoring…

Sanarium: 57°C

The Sanarium, at 57°C is another relaxation space that may not be entirely to the liking of everyone looking for warmer sauna experiences but is nonetheless a calming environment to at least explore for a few minutes. The humidity is capped at 55% which, in combination with the temperature, does contribute to a more natural space in which one could feasibly switch off entirely. Unlike the higher temperatures on the saunas, this one doesn’t raise the heart rate by much so does not ever feel like an endurance test.

Steam Room: 47°C

This is a spacious steam room, though smaller than the one on the ground floor by about 50-60%. However, it is a more rewarding steam room, more comfortable and apparently far less crowded. At 47°C I found myself drifting into a very relaxed state very quickly and dropped in repeatedly.

Ladies’ Sauna: 90°C

There’s also a Ladies’ Sauna which is coupled to the fact that Wednesday is Girls’ Day. I don’t recall seeing signs labelling any sauna as the ‘Ladies’ one, although having visited all saunas on the site on a Sunday, men and women used all saunas freely.

Outdoors

Outside, there are two more saunas that have been built on the side of the mountain:

  • Fire Sauna: 95°C
  • Forest Sauna: 85°C

Between the two there are also a handful of cold showers and more space for sunbathing and/or lounging.

Fire Sauna: 95°C

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The Fire Sauna is housed around a large log fire that reaches the enormous temperature of 95°C. The log cabin, like the Forest Sauna, is made from a Finnish wood called kelo, of the polar pine tree, and is evidently a wonderful material for sauna cabins.

The cabin is incredibly dark which makes the fire all the more hypnotic and despite its hot, hot, heat it can be easily to lose yourself in here for a good number of minutes, especially if you find yourself with enough space to lay down.

Forest Sauna: 85°C

The other sauna here, the Forest Sauna, is a little cooler at 85°C although you might not really notice it. In here, the heat is different to the Fire Sauna. Whereas the heat there is particularly dry, the heat here comes from the steam oven (excitingly automated to distribute water onto the hot cools every so often), called the ‘Maximus’.

Second Sun Deck

This area is tucked right at the back by the Fire and Forest saunas and is a much smaller space. Hidden away on a small walkway in the trees, several sun loungers line the area, just as several more are positioned outside each of the two saunas in this outside area. Given that the trees provide so much more shade (the First Sun Deck has no shade until the sun goes down) this space appears more inline with lounging: a quiet space to nap or read or cool down.

Conclusion

Caracalla Spa is fantastic, there’s no escaping that. It’s big, it’s inclusive and provides a lot of options. Yes, the sauna area is a highlight for those who enjoy saunas but as an experience on the whole it can’t be faulted. I misjudged how long I would be on site for an opted for a 3 hour pass at the check-in. My suggestion is to pay the handful of additional Euros to get the day pass and even though 4-5 hours is probably the max you’d want to stay there it will save you a little money in the long run as if you go over the allotted time you’ll pay EUR4.20 for every additional hour/ EUR0.70 for every additional 10 minutes.

 


So, Friedrichsbad or Caracalla?

I had gone to Friedrichsbad expecting the experience to trump all else Baden Baden has to offer, but it is not its highlight. Sure, it is relatively novel and an entirely lovely experience, but it has its limitations.

The first is that it is all indoors and when the weather is fine, being outside at Caracalla is infinitely more rewarding.

Friedrichsbad also seems to be the kind of place that would lose it’s charm upon repeated visits whereas Caracalla is a much different experience. In fact, I was legitimately disappointed to have to leave Caracalla and should my stay have been even one day longer I would have visited it again.

I also think that it is worth highlighting that during my time in both spas it seemed pretty evident that there was a greater male contingent than female.


Final thoughts: The Benefits and Etiquette of Bathing Naked

We English have it all wrong. Our Victorian-era prudishness has stolen from many of us of one of life’s most natural pleasures: enjoying the skin were are in and not being embarrassed by our biology.

In the UK, nudity is highly sexualised: if you’re naked, it must be Sexy Time. But nudity has so much value it is difficult to summarise succinctly, but try I will.

  1. Bathing naked frees us from wet, clingy, uncomfortable clothing that restricts our movements, rides up our bum cracks and ultimately sexualises our bodies even more than our naked forms.
  2. No clothes means greater hygiene: sweating into swimming costumes means we’re keeping all of the impurities that sweat from our skin on our skin! It also means that whenever we sit on a sauna seat, a spa seat or even get into the pool we’re depositing whatever is in our costumes wherever we go for everyone else to enjoy.
  3. Bathing naked also frees us of inhibition and insecurity. By being comfortable in our own skin we’ll probably become even more comfortable in clothes too and not worry about whether we look too fat or too thin in them. Hurray for #bodypositivity.
  4. It’s cheaper too. Obviously.
  5. Dont’ forget full body tanning if you’re at a spa/sauna with outside spaces (like Caracalla). Win win.
  6.  Maximum Vitamin D exposure – the more skin exposed to sunlight the greater amounts of the magic D vitamin we’ll take in. And right now, Vitamin D levels are way below recommendations.

This post is part of an ongoing account of the final 364 days of being a 20-something. 


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