Sometimes, traveling sucks. Luckily, there’s the sauna.
The realization struck me as I was munching on my noodles, sitting by myself in a small and elegantly decorated Viet restaurant. The night was slowly falling on Neustadt, and the streets were starting to buzz with the familiar excitement that precedes your typical Saturday night. Neustadt is the heart of Dresden’s nightlife, a colourful neighbourhood bursting with Cuban bars, Irish pubs and lush Biergartens; no matter your taste in booze and fun, there’s something for everybody, and plenty of opportunities to wake up the next morning feeling dizzy. Terraces were full already, and both Germans and tourists were making plans between burger bites, half-full beer bottles faithfully standing by their side. I was feeling it, the rising tension, and couldn’t deny it was exciting. I’m not old enough to forget how to party.
Yet I was sitting there, munching on my noodles, and all I could think about was my little bedroom in Berlin. I envisioned it perfectly: the lovely wooden desk, the opaque curtains I’d purchased at Möbelkraft that still left way too much sun in, the empty pots where my poor houseplants had died because I suck at plants. I could hear the Turkish pop songs coming through the window (because my annoying neighbour has apparently made an oath never to listen to pop songs under the highest level of decibels), and the characters of Big Bang Theory yelling at each other in German (because the vocabulary of the show is apparently so technical, my flatmate Mikael needs to watch it in his native language.) I could see and hear it all perfectly.
Gott, I missed it.
This was only my second night in Dresden: I had arrived Friday at noon and was supposed to leave Sunday late at night. I was excited about this trip, at first. I’d worked ten-hour shifts the entire week under a record-breaking heatwave, running back and forth between the bar and the terrace, bringing warm beer mugs to sweating (and often grumpy) customers. I’d gotten the long weekend free due to overtime, and it felt like this was finally the opportunity to realize an old dream by visiting Dresden, a city I’d fantasized about ever since I’d caught a glimpse on a bus taking me to Prague. It was supposed to be a nice, relaxing, holiday.
But there I was, eating my objectively delicious noodles (vegan duck, girl, how awesome can it get?) and longing for my bedroom, and frankly, I had to admit, so far it hadn’t been particularly nice, nor relaxing, nor did it truly feel like holiday.
It was just kind of… meh.
So I went back to the hostel, borrowed the laptop, and changed my tickets. The following day, I was at Neustadt Bahnhof boarding the 10.40 bus to Berlin.
When I got home, Mikael was in the kitchen preparing some sort of muesli. (He likes to prepare some sort of all things.) He stared at me.
“Why are you home already? Weren’t you supposed to come back in the evening?”
“I did,” I answered cheerfully. “But I missed home.”
“Aww”, he said. “That’s cool.”
I missed that, too.
dresden, it’s not you, it’s me
On paper, Dresden has all the right ingredients for the ideal three-day trip: a rich history, museums and castles, the natural beauty of green Saxony, free yoga classes next to the Japanese palace and Vietnamese vegan duck dishes. And yet, these things seem to me way more exciting to write about than experiencing them has been.
I walked Altstadt and Neustadt. I marvelled at the beauty of the Frauenkirche, the Kreuzkirche, and the gorgeous weirdness of the Kunsthof Passage. I walked the streets of the historic town of Meißen, gazed at the Elbe river from the Albrechtsburg Dom, treated myself to restaurants and wine. I also treated myself to a tour of Wackerbarth, the oldest sparkling wine cellar in Saxony. The tour was in German so I didn’t understand much, but the Sekt was gut. And I definitely want to take oenology classes in the non-existent future.
It was fucking hot.
So, so hot. So fucking hot. Jesus Christ. God curse climate change and all its deniers. 34 degrees every day, blazing sun, sweat dripping from places I had no idea could produce sweat in the first place: my hair was sweating, my bag was wet, my clothes were drenched. I walked and all I wanted was to nap in my bedroom with the fan on to the maximum. Or a terrace, a book and a lemonade. But I couldn’t do that, because I was traveling. I only had three days to explore Dresden, God damn it, and what was the point of fooling around all day on a terrace with a book and a lemonade? Might as well stay home, right?
How right you are, Papyrus. How right you are.
It was hot, and I couldn’t sleep. Something I hadn’t thought of while booking my room: Lollis Homestay truly is a great, cosy hostel, but it’s located in the heart of Neustadt, next to the bars and pubs and Biergartens and drunk people and I couldn’t sleep. Earplugs were no help, or barely: I still woke up sweating during the night, hearing people fighting (or socializing – hard to tell the difference), moving around with my wet hair stuck to my forehead while the girl sleeping beneath me snored to her heart’s content.
Had I been with a friend, it would’ve probably been a lot more enjoyable. But I’d decided on a solo trip – you know, for all that soul-searching and change of perspective and introspection and stuff. Which is funny, come to think of it, since my neurotic self already introspects on a hourly basis.
So it was hot, it was noisy, I couldn’t sleep. I was a bit lonely. I was tired. And while Dresden was nice, it just wasn’t that nice either. Cities are like people, either you click or you don’t, and this time it didn’t click: perhaps I wasn’t in the right mood to click, anyways.
know thyself, young padawan, before you get on that flixbus
The truth is, traveling can be boring. And sometimes, it’s just not the right time to travel. It’s something I hadn’t thought through before booking my tickets, because I hadn’t taken the time to properly assess what I needed. As mentioned before, I’d spent the entire week working ten-hour shifts during a heatwave. I came home everyday sweating fountains, taking a shower, getting six mediocre hours of sleep before heading out again to deal with heavy weights and a whole lot of running. What I actually needed was sleep, relaxation, and doing nothing. I needed a good night’s rest, green tea, perhaps a lazy stroll in Prenzlauer Berg.
But traveling isn’t relaxing, unless what you’re doing is spending your days at the beach with your toes in the sand. Traveling is all about walking, exploring, scheduling. I wanted to relax and take it easy, but I knew I had only three days, so I’d better get organized if I wanted to make the most of them. This just made me anxious. I debated endlessly on what I was supposed to see; I worried I was seeing the wrong things, or woke up too late, or wasted too much time. The clock was ticking, and sometimes I felt as though I were simply checking boxes, consuming places as I went from the churches of Meißen to the vineyards of Radebeul. The only time I felt somewhat relaxed was when I had myself a good lunch on a terrace – ironically, something I could perfectly do back home.
Of course, none of the worrying stopped me from graciously informing the world how awesome my vacation was:
Funny thing is, as I sat on that terrace, I was also periodically checking my watch because I had to catch the next S-Bahn to Radebeul and not miss the wine tour at 17.
finding peace and quiet among naked strangers
The wind is ruffling the leaves, the sun is shining merrily. It’s hot, but not too hot, just pleasant enough. I’m laying in my chair next to the pool with a glass of Crémant and a sparkling water with lemon, smiling from ear to ear. For the first time in a week, I can finally feel my muscles loosening up.
I’m at Vabali, the Holy Mother of All Spas.
Just like Dresden, Vabali is an old fantasy of mine – albeit a much more achievable one. After I returned to Berlin, I took a short nap (I was really exhausted), then decided this wonderful free afternoon was the perfect opportunity to go for my dreams, baby. I packed my things and went. I felt vaguely excited. I don’t go to the sauna often – never, actually. This was a first. And I was gonna have to be naked in public, because Vabali is textile-free, you see. (#flustered)
Vabali is located in a Moabit neighbourhood with nice apartment buildings, people walking their dogs. The spa’s hidden behind a football stadium next to a sports club, and I could hear the yelling of people playing ball as the leaves danced in the trees. I already felt happier than I ever did in Dresden. This is my home, Berlin, and let me tell you, my home is nice.
And Vabali? Well. Vabali’s even nicer.
Vabali is like a tiny bit of heaven stuck between trees and a football stadium. The premises are enormous: two floors, a garden with an outdoor swimming pool, two hammams, multiples saunas, and relaxation rooms – basically, dark rooms with long chairs and waterbeds for you to crash on because your body just feels so good, let’s rest here a bit, baby. There’s Buddhas lying around with a languid smile that says relax, bitch, and baskets full of cucumber (?) on the ground in front of them.
I walked and walked around with my mouth shaped like an O and thinking, this may be the most amazing place ever.
Everyone was naked.
I was nervous as hell when I approached the first sauna and tugged at my bathrobe. It wasn’t my first time being naked at the spa in front of strangers, but the first time had been in the reassuring company of my best friend: this time I was alone, and so shy I trembled. They say a great thing about traveling is leaving your comfort zone. I shook my comfort zone plenty that day by going to the spa and losing the bathrobe. By the end of the day I was Queen of the World, walking around in the nude like I owned the place.
I tried all the saunas. I reveled in the heat, because it was heat that I chose. I sat next to the pool, ordered a Crémant and nearly slept in my chair, enjoying the feeling of letting go. The outdoor pool in the Vabali gardens resembles the pool of a five-star hotel: under the blue sky, with the wind and sunlight colliding in the trees, you can imagine you’re on a luxury vacation in a faraway land. For far less expensive, however.
In the end, I slept on a waterbed. The sun was setting outside. We were all semi-sleeping in the dark room. It was nice.
embrace the little old granny in you
Travel has become a bit of a cult lately. As soon as we’re afforded a tiny bit of free time, we’re often eager to leave and buy ourselves some adventure. But before we do, let’s think a little. There’s a time and place for everything. If what you need is sleep, rest, and above all nothingness, because you’ve worked so hard and stressed so much, then perhaps it’s not wise to take those few free days to go visit museums, castles and bars in a strange city. Make no mistake, travel is work, and hostels are noisy. Maybe what you need are a few days on the beach, toes in the sand, your own room with air conditioning. Make sure all you have is time, no pressure, no obligation of any kind. Or maybe you could just stay home on the balcony, take a walk, go to the spa. Go to the park with a friend. For those of us who are anxious, home, good people and a good book are sometimes the best form of traveling there is. So don’t be afraid to act like a little old granny craving comfort above all else.
And please – for the love of Gott – check the weather first. I don’t care what Thailand enthusiasts say, sightseeing will never be fun during a heatwave.