Naked, sweaty and coated in honey? You must be in a German sauna!

A good friend invited my wife and I out to the sauna. In the spirit of ‘When in Rome …’ we both went. On an overcast and chilly day in Duisburg I found myself sitting naked in a dimly-lit hot sauna room with approximately 30 other people. We were all awaiting the sauna attendant to begin the scheduled rounds of adding scented water (green tea followed by honey). The attendant entered, poured scented water on the rocks, and begin to use a wet town and a well practiced technique to powerfully hurl hot air at the guests. The temperature was 95’C, the humidity was increasing, and it smelled like green tea. After a brief respite, the honey round began. What followed was a complete surprise: small ounce sized cups filled with honey were given to every guest. We were instructed that honey has many health benefits to the body, that it was good for the skin, good to eat, and was even an antiseptic. And that is how I found myself in a very hot room, naked, with approximately 30 other sweaty people who were coating themselves in honey. And that is how I found myself nude, sweaty, and covered in honey.

There are saunas in Canada. They are usually in fitness centers and they consist of one room lonely room that gets warm. If no one is watching, you might put some water on the rocks (generally not allowed) and make the room warmer. Oh, and of course, clothing is required. This is not the sauna I found in Germany.

In fact, this was not a sauna, it was a sauna complex. There were perhaps 10 sauna rooms, both outside and inside. There were pools of all varieties of temperatures from just above freezing to hot. There were lounge chairs with infrared lamps. There was even a room that is surrounded in rock salt, the mere presence of which is supposed to have a healthful effect. There was a restaurant, as withstanding the high temperatures is apt to make you hungry.  While most of the facility is co-ed and nude, there are areas that are only for men, for women, and for the clothed.

It became clear to me as we entered that this facility is an institution: they charge by the hour, have a large parking lot, and an outlandishly expensive gift shop at the front. Yes, the sauna had a gift shop. It also became clear to me that this is a community institution: there were people of all ages, shapes and sizes present. There were families, there were elderly people, and there were young people. In short, there was, it seemed, a healthy representation of the community; not a single person of which seemed the least bit concerned that they were nude, nor that anyone else was either.

Though I was a little apprehensive going in, the experience was enjoyable and I would do it again – especially during the long dark days that await me in winter. It’s like being in an exotic tropical getaway without the flight. There are no pictures with this post for obvious reasons … I got honey on my camera. Just kidding – for obvious reasons recording devices are prohibited at the facility.

 

New shoes hurt? Hurt them back!

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The time had arrived for me to purchase dress shoes. While my current leather shoes once looked dressy, the cheap leather they were made from seemed capable of holding a polish for only minutes. With a high fashion bar set by people in Germany in general, and an upcoming wedding of a close friend, it was time to get new shoes.

I have a shoe maker in the family, who hails from Venezuela. I have seen what quality hand-made leather shoes look like. I have also seen how well they wear time – these shoes will look good for a life time, and their construction affords repair. These are not shoes that you pitch. These are the shoes I wanted.

On a shopping trip to Roermund, Netherlands, I believe I found such shoes. These are the first very nice dress shoes I’ve purchased as an adult, and I got all-leather (even the sole) hand made leather shoes. They have a cork foot bed that will eventually follow the curve of my foot, are built to last, and look excellent.

Such shoes do not actually fit a human foot when they are purchased, but instead stretch and yield during the process of wear to become a perfect fitting shoe. Or so I tell myself. I’ve dressed it up a lot, but I’ve really purchased an expensive pair of very nice shoes that hurt like a #other%ucker, and are impractical in some surprising ways. For example, while an all leather sole sound really posh, I’ve discovered that turning even a modest corner on a tile floor can be a recipe for disaster. I discovered this in the men’s room. Three times. In one day. If the stall didn’t have a door I would have slid into the toilet, and perhaps be taking the less scenic route to the river by now. To round this all off, I’ve purchased them at an outlet mall, in another country, so there is no hope of returning them.

Determined to make these shoes work, I am trying to coax the shoes into the correct shape by forming the leather. At the moment I’m using straps to bend the leather near the ankles back (which cuts painfully into my ankles) and to make the sole flex a bit near at the forefoot. Yes, that’s right, shoe bondage. So far the process is going well, and the shoes are nearly wearable. On one particularly chilly morning I even considered warming the shoes in the oven. No torture is too good for these shoes. So if you’re shoes are hurting, hurt them back! It might make them more comfortable to wear.

 

 

Dusseldorf Japan Day

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Dusseldorf has a large Japanese community, and so, ever year it celebrates Japan Day. There are demonstrations of everything from sumo wrestling to archery. The Rhine prominade is lined with tents where you can try on a Kimono and get a professional photographer to take your picture, or if you prefer, have your portrait drawn Manga style. That brings me to the main attraction: the crowd is filled with people who are dressed as their favourite Manga characters, and many look like they stepped directly out of the comic.

Amsterdam: Tulips and Canals

We were nearly late. In mid to late April the fields around Amsterdam are a riot of colour, filled with millions of blooming tulips. Shortly later the flowers are unceremoniously cut to preserve the bulb for later sale. No wonder this area is famous for its paintings of flowers, and also vanitas (a genre of artwork that creatively reminds the viewer that death awaits us all, even the tulips).

We traveled 30 km by public transit from Amsterdam to the mecca of tulip parks, the Keukenhof. We did not go to the Keukenhof, but instead rented a tandem bike outside the Keukenhof and spent the early afternoon on a questionably mapped 22 km ride that tours through tulip fields, a north sea beach, a few small towns, and a few cafes. It was delightful.

Upon returning to Amsterdam we headed to a unique commercial gallery that specializes in 3D printed art work. While the 3D printed artwork was interesting, the furniture made from old hardcover books was also very compelling. A pesto sandwich later found us on the high-speed train back home to Duisburg. Beauty, it seems, is never far away.

The Duisburg Zoo lets the lemurs out!

To my astonishment both the lemurs and the hundreds of people that flow through the zoo on the weekend all behave themselves.

Berlin Hauptbahnhof

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One high speed train, 4 hours, and 100 Euros separates Duisburg from Berlin. The best part? The main train stations are in the middle of the city, within walking distance of iconic attractions, local food, and lodging.