Spa experience

Last year I received a voucher for a wellness center as birthday gift. The booklet contained more than 100 different structures spread all over the Netherlands. I picked the Wellness center in Vlieland, because I have never been on any of the Wadden Islands and I wanted to cross the Afsluitdijk, the longest dike of the country.

Unfortunately the day I picked to go, was the worst of the year, indeed it had been foggy all day long. I couldn't see further than five meters.

The journey started early in the morning of November 1st, by car. It took one and half hour to arrive to Harlingen, where we caught the speed ferry to reach the island.

The harbor was placed on the south side, while the Wellness center was on the northern side. We crossed the island by foot among a nice forest colored with yellow, red and orange leaves.

The wellness centre consisted of two parts, one older from the 70s or 80s and a new part built no long ago.
Before going, I have read in the website of the spa that the access to the saunas was not allowed wearing a swimsuit, but I brought one anyway.

The warm indoor pool and the cold outdoor pool indeed required to wear a swimsuit, but I was not so interested in swimming in a very shallow and small pool. I was more interested in the different saunas, jacuzzi and hot/cold water paths.

Once arrived in the hotel we tried to access the spa with the card they gave us. But it didn't work, because they activated only the facilities included in the hotel reservation: indoor and outdoor pool.

After asking to activate the access to the facilities included in the voucher we finally got into the wellness centre part: saunas and whirlpool. 

This area had a different access because customers are supposed to be totally naked. I found very interesting to see how difficult it was to keep separated areas with naked costumers and areas with costumers wearing a swimsuit. Every door indeed had to be opened with a card. 

Behind the door of the wellness part there were restrooms for men and restroom for women on the right side and the female and male changing rooms on the left side. 

In the changing room there was a wall equipped with a double layer of lockers, each of them had a fresh towel. On the opposite wall a long bench and next the door nothing to prevent people from the hallway to peak in. 

I took my clothes off and I placed them in a locker. I was wearing only a towel around my body. Between the changing rooms and the main room there was a table with free tea and water. It is important to drink enough before or after entering saunas and you shouldn't stay more than 15 consecutive minutes, that was written in Dutch on a label. 

I saw on the wall small wooden shelves for glasses, so I took mine off. Suddenly I didn't care any more that everyone could see my naked body, because I couldn't see very good myself. Sometimes being short-sighted is an advantage. 

On the right side, surrounded by three walls, there were the showers on the right cold ones and on the left hot ones. The temperature of both was extremely cold or hot, not really a nice feeling. But between the showers there was a bucket containing scrub salts. You could take some with a large wooden spoon and apply it on the wet skin, it helped cleansing the skin by dead cells.  

After the shower we went to the jacuzzi, placed just on the opposite side of the large long room. Also the pool, as the showers was surrounded on three side by a wall covered in tiles. Those three walls were giving me a feeling of enclosure and plus they dampened the noise of the whirlpool. 

The jacuzzi could host maximum six people, but there were a couple of people at the time. Everyone was respecting the personal space of the other customers, probably due to fact of being naked. 

Afterwards we tried the two paths with hot and cold water. There were 3 steps so that the water was reaching my stomach. Right before entering the wellness centre we had a nice lunch (also included in the voucher) in the bistro of the hotel, therefore the warm water up to my stomach was fine but I couldn't stand the cold water. 

On the left side of the room there were four doors to four different type of sauna. Turkish sauna, infra-red sauna, salty stones sauna and Finnish sauna. 

The Turkish sauna had a sit in the shape of a U, both floor and sit were covered with blue mosaic tiles. The light was dim and bluish, it was very hot and the air was full of steam. I couldn't breath easily because of the heat, but at every breath I could feel the flavour of eucalyptus or mint down my throat. The steam was so thick that it start to condensate on my skin, forming rivulets. 

The infra-red sauna consisted in a sit with two infra-red lamp, one facing the back and the other facing the torso. They looked exactly like those lamps hanging in front of bars, right under the sunscreen. Not my favourite.

The salty stone sauna was my favourite. The walls were covered with these translucent salty blocks, behind them there were some sort of heating and lighting units. The warm salty stones were releasing iodine and the temperature was 45 degrees: it felt like laying on the beach in Italy. 

The Finnish sauna was the sauna with the highest temperature: 95 degrees. It was not advisable to stay inside longer than 15 minutes. On the walls covered with wooden planks there were indeed several hourglasses set to reach this limit. The first time I couldn't stand more than 7 minutes, the second time I reached the limit. The air was extremely dry and it smelled like pine tree. 

After each session in the sauna I was taking a cold shower and at that moment the temperature felt perfect. A bit of skin massage with the scrub salts and hot shower again. 

The more I used the facilities the more my body was adapting to the extremely cold or hot temperatures. I never realized before that the human body is capable to adapt so quickly. As a designer I had set my mind on designing for a creature which is static and from the point of view that the house should adapt to the user, never realizing that most probably it happens the other way around.

I have read on this concept in a book about Japanese houses. 

Sustainability is interpreted not as much as a function of the building as it is a function of the inhabitants. Houses are often heated and cooled only locally and as needed. The body and not the space is what is supposed to be brought to a certain temperature - when possible by adding or removing  clothing or by tabletop heating elements. Hence cold and heat are allowed to enter the room and are not "battled" in advance but rather "balanced" subsequently.
Small Houses, Contemporary Japanese Dwellings, Claudia Hildner, 2011 

During my studies I actually designed a spa, for my bachelor thesis. At that time I was so broke and ignorant on the subject that the idea to see with my eyes such structures didn't even cross my mind. Now with a later insight I would design something totally different. 

Bachelor thesis design 2008

I went back to Italy on December to see my family and I took the chance to go to a spa over there. I chose a structure very popular on the web, but apparently there are many more and more popular too, but old fashion way popular. 

I went there with four more girls in a Saturday afternoon. I took my car and drove for more than 30 minutes in the countryside to reach the destination, after a couple of years without driving I was quite nervous at first. 

Once arrived I entered alone the structure and I realized that I had forgotten to bring a swimsuit. I brought a swimsuit back from NL to use it in that spa in Italy and I forgot to put it in by backpack! Probably I was still with the Dutch mindset, why would I need such a thing if everyone is naked? 

But in Italy wearing a swimsuit is mandatory. 

Luckily one girl had a spare swimsuit and she lent it to me.

When all the girls arrived we enter and paid the entrance fee. They gave us a magnetic key with which we could open doors and the warm showers in the changing room. Then a girl of the staff escorted us over there. It was a huge room with more than five rows of lockers and benches in between. One side was equipped with several mirrors and hair-dryers. Indeed this was the changing room for the whole centre, also for people who were going there to train in the swimming pool.

Next to exit, on the other side of the room, there were warm showers and toilets.

Wearing swimsuit and bathrobe, flip flops on the foot we finally entered the main room with whirlpool and saunas. Soft rgb lights to create atmosphere and loud sound of the bubbling water. The size of the pool was three times of the one in Holland and three times stronger was the noise. As consequence everyone was shouting to talk to his or her friends. Even with less noise there would be shouting, Italian people tend to be loud.

The girl of the staff was still touring us in there. On the left side there was a room with sliding doors, Japanese lookalike, which was called relaxing room. There were around ten chaise lounges, free tea and water, relaxing music and soft lights.

On the right side there were three doors, with Finnish sauna, thalassotherapy sauna and Turkish sauna. In the middle of the room there was a wall with normal showers on one side and emotional showers on the other side.

The last one of the normal shower was wider with a wooden bucket hanging from a chain. While the girl was explaining what it was a man tried to access the shower, since we were blocking the way he just pushed me aside with his hand on my shoulder. I was a bit under shock, and when he pulled the chain the bucket tilted, pouring on him five litres of icy cold water, which splashed from his skin on our faces. That's how we got to know what was in there.

In the right corner, behind the emotional showers (which were frankly ridiculous), there was a huge whirlpool who could host up to ten people at the time.

Along the wall there where several buttons, each of them was activating a different water jet. Some of them were under water, some of them where coming from the wall above the swimming pool. The last one was the funniest, indeed it was something like a small waterfall on your shoulders. The pressure of the water was quite strong, I found that quite painful.

On the opposite side of that wall there were three chaise lounge partially under water. I couldn't sit properly because my body tended to be pushed to the surface.

On the left corner there where the two paths with cold and warm water. They were made in a such a way that the two paths were connected, thus instead of stepping out of the water there were steps going up and and immediately afterwards going down. Good idea, but poorly realized. The depth of the water was not enough, probably it was designed according to the average height of Italian people which is less than the Dutch one. The floor was covered with pointy stones, which were supposed to massage your feet's soles. Ouch.

I also booked a massage of one hour but there was no clock in the room so I asked at the entrance how did that work. They said that someone would have come to bring me to the massage room.

I saw indeed a woman dressed in white going around and asking something to people. Finally the girls I was with told me that she was looking for me so I followed her and she brought me upstairs.

I did what she said and then I laid on the massage bed. The mattress was amazing: a warm water-mattress with rgb lights inside. Only laying on it for few minutes I almost fell asleep.

The masseuse started her massage with warm oil: before my back and than the front. It was so relaxing that I fell asleep. That massage was really worthy and when it was finished she left me in the room to slowly wake up. 

Before leaving I looked around to check how the room was. There was a sink in a corner and also a shower, I didn't know if I was allowed to used them, she didn't say. Most probably it was meant to be used to wash away the oil of the massage. 

On my way back I could barely speak my language, I don't know why: I begun speaking in English to the women of the staff who were asking me how did I feel.

The Finnish ans Turkish sauna were exactly like the one in Vlieland but the one with thalassoterapy was different. 

That sauna works with sea water and the temperature was around 45 degrees. It was similar to the sauna with salty stones but the content of moist in the air was larger.

In conclusion I have to say that I appreciate very much both experiences and I am looking forward to visit the famous spa design by Peter Zumthor in Vals, which has something that I have been missing: a view on the landscape.

Contemplating the landscape is the best way to relax.

Why would I lay on a comfortable chaise lounge facing the accesses to the saunas or other people relaxing? 

In Vlieland I would have loved a view on the beach and the sky streaked with clouds.
In Italy I would have loved a view on the smooth hills, main feature of the landscape of my region.