Valentine’s Day and the Naked Sauna

Sometimes February gets a bad rap. I remember my Seminary teacher telling us one gloomy February that more Seminary teachers commit suicide in February than any other month. I still wonder if actual studies have been done on suicide rates among Mormon Seminary teachers, although I realize now that she was probably just making a point about how much she was not enjoying getting up at 5:30 every weekday morning to teach grumpy, sleepy, inattentive teenagers.

Still, February isn’t the most advantageously positioned month. It’s cold, dark, and dreary. All the nice things about winter, like endless cups of tea or curling up by the fire or wearing cute hats and scarves, are getting old, and all the nasty things, like lack of sunshine, excessive precipitation of whatever sort, and being sick, are feeling interminable. In fact, since the beginning of the year almost everyone I know here, whether at work, home, my kids’ school, or just random acquaintances, has been sick at least once. I had a cold that lasted two weeks, and left me hoarse and coughing for another two.

All that notwithstanding, I’ve always had a soft spot for February. It is, after all, my birthday month. Not to mention the month of love. Valentine’s Day and my birthday are only four days apart, and if you know me, you know that this is where I should probably insert the warning that I’m about to write a somewhat sappy post. Because the reason I love February is because Tony is so sweet about it that he makes the month worth the gloomy weather just for the fun surprises.

To add a bit of a twist, this year didn’t start out so promising. In fact, he scheduled a business trip to Sweden during my birthday. However, when I reminded him of my birthdate, he rescheduled it for the week before. Just for me. And on Valentine’s Day, after we put the kids to bed, he did the ultimate, iconically romantic thing, and cooked me an Italian dinner.

cooking

He put on the Andrea Bocelli music, brought my chair into the kitchen, poured me a glass of wine, and let me watch him work. We started off with a tasty appetizer of stuffed peppers, prosciutto, and olives.

Appetizer

There was a fancy menu,

Menu

Wine,

Wine

And candlelight.

Candlelight

As you can see from the menu, dinner was tortellini with sun-dried tomato pesto, accompanied by a rocket salad, bruschetta, and roasted brussels sprouts.

Dinner

By the time we got round to dessert, I was so wrapped up in the romance of it all that I forgot to take a photo. But we had mini apple pies with vanilla bean ice cream, and then cuddled on the couch and went to bed together.

Is that not the sweetest Valentine’s Day you’ve ever seen?

But it gets better. Not about to let himself be outdone, yesterday for my birthday he took me to a Dutch spa/sauna. I really ought to have taken photos there too, but my phone was upstairs with all my clothes, and everyone else was naked too, so yes, on second thought probably taking photos in a spa is considered guache and/or forbidden.

It was such a nice, relaxing experience, though, that we’ve decided we should start going regularly. The one we went to was all the way in Haarlem (about thirty minutes by train) which if I had managed to blog about going to the Christmas market there, you would know is an absolutely adorable and atmospheric Dutch city. The spa in many ways resembled a Middle Eastern hammam. In fact, the main difference was probably that it was mixed-gender. An American friend warned me that everyone would be naked, but fortunately public nakedness hasn’t phased me since after I had both my babies at home and was stark naked in front of the midwives for hours. In fact, I find the no-drama, sensible approach to nudity in the Netherlands incredibly refreshing, and I would totally take my kids to a spa here if I weren’t leaving them home for other very important reasons like wanting to have an afternoon alone with my husband.

I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to extreme temperatures, and I can’t help being skeptical about the whole sweat-in-the-sauna-then-roll-in-the-snow Scandinavian ideal. But I did give it a try. We went in the sauna, which actually had a quaint wood-burning stove, and was incredibly hot with a dry heat that made breathing taste funny. When they were showing us around at the beginning, the lady said that it was 90-110 degrees, and for a moment I could not compute those temperatures in my head, until I realized that she was using Fahrenheit. So I guess I must be adapting to the metric system, partially because I’ve set my weather app to Celsius and I check it compulsively to figure out how many layers I should wear when going out.

After several minutes in the sauna, I actually did go out and plunge into the cold pool, which was 60 degrees, so not exactly icy, but did feel pretty refreshing. There was also a hot tub with bubbles, where Tony and I must have spent a combined total of over two hours. It wasn’t as hot as I’m used to with hot tubs; more of a warm bath, which meant that you really could hang out in it for hours, although I can’t entirely trust that my body’s temperature sensors were functioning normally with all the extremes.

There was also a steam room that was so full of steam that even though it couldn’t have been more than ten feet long, you couldn’t see the other side of it. The steam was infused with peppermint, which was delightfully refreshing. In fact, I can’t think of a better place to go in the winter to keep your sinuses clear.

The spa also had hot and cold showers (but no temperature in between), as well as plenty of places to sit and relax, and a little cafe that served smoothies, sandwiches, and an absolutely divine goat cheese and hazelnut quiche.

We did try (and largely succeeded) to keep the PDA to a minimum, since I think that’s also an unwritten (or possibly written in a language we still haven’t gotten around to learning) rule of sauna attendance here. It was a fantastic date, though, and if you live here or somewhere else where public baths or saunas are a thing, I highly recommend it. Don’t let the nudity put you off; it’s so relaxing you won’t even remember you’re naked after five minutes.

So in the end, I think I can even survive grey February in Amsterdam, thanks to my snuggly, romantic husband.

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