So what does this have to do with Amsterdam? I could have been equally lazy in London, New York or Tokyo of course. Apart from having some excellent cafes in which to waste your free time, Amsterdam also presents a number of ways to relax, unwind and get your sanity back. This week I've been struggling with a sore back, the result of too many long days sitting badly in my office chair over the past few weeks. What better time to try out one of Amsterdam's many saunas?
As I'm quite a fan of Art Deco styling, I thought I would go for Sauna Deco, located very centrally, on the Herengracht. As soon as I stepped trough the door I was hit by steam and the smell of eucalyptus oil, I felt healthier already. Upon arrival at the front desk I was given a key and directed to the mixed changing rooms. Mixed. Small alarm bells jingled in my very British ears. However, I kept my cool and strolled nonchalantly in, before scuttling straight into the toilets to change into my bikini.
Dutch people and others with experience of northern european sauna etiquette will already be shaking their heads now, but I was still blissfully unaware. I went back to the reception to give in my key, itching to throw my aching back onto a hot bench. The lady at the desk peered at me over her glasses, "no bikini please", her colleague behind laughed out loud.
"not even bottoms?" I beseeched.
"nothing, you must be naked" (I think she was enjoying this exchange and my reddening face)
So, it was comply and get naked, or be thrown out. I decided to brave it out and was very happy that I did. I spent the next hour or so lounging around in Art Deco splendour, getting thoroughly warmed and unknotted in finnish and infrared saunas, the latter being a revelation! I have to say I did chicken out from using the small plunge pool as it is entirely visible from the cafe/reading room and I didn't think my fellow bathers deserved to get such a fright. I definitely managed to relax into being bikini-less although found myself silently repeating "don'tlookdon'tlookdon'tlook" every time I found myself in close quarters with any gentlemen - not that I wanted to look, but it's sort of that car crash thing…. just me?
Overall this was a really enjoyable experience which I'm looking forward to repeating - next time going armed with a robe and a stack of magazines in order to take full advantage of the excellent lounging facilities. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to fully adopt the cool northern european attitude to communal nakedness, but I think I can learn to live with it.