My first sauna was only two years ago, in Rathmines Swimming Pool. I loved it, and started going regularly, well, relatively regularly, to the sauna in the Markievicz Leisure Centre, where I would splash about in the pool and then sweat in the sauna for hours on end on a Friday evening. Saunas and pools have long been a link to sanity for me – no phones to pretend to be busy with, no clothes to hide behind – and I love a good sweat followed by a cold shower. It’s all very relaxing and soothing. I know this is a vomity thing to say, but saunas and baths and pools and water feed my soul. They make me feel whole. I never went to the sauna in college, even though that would have been free. I wouldn’t have been able to handle all those healthy youthful bodies.
ANYWAY, when I googled pools in Ljubljana, there was only one obvious choice: Atlantis, a complex with a number of pools, hot tubs, cascades, indoor and outdoor swimming, and fifteen saunas. You read that right. Fifteen saunas.
The saunas are nestled together in a part of the complex imaginatively called “SaunaLand”. The saunas are all different shapes and sizes. The website for the complex calls them thematic saunas, which made me laugh, because it reminded me of studying English literature in school, and I imagined a sauna that was “themed” around “sleep-related imagery in Macbeth” or “the role of fate in The Mayor of Casterbridge”.
I tried and failed to get to SaunaLand twice. The first time, I took the right bus but took it the wrong way. The second time I got distracted by the internet. Yesterday, I was determined to get there. Of course the bus wasn’t running, so I had to get another bus and then walk and ended up spending over an hour and a half getting a bus to a place that was only an hour’s walk away.
I entered the complex trepidatiously. I paid the fee for SaunaLand. I was told that swimsuits were compulsory in the swimming area, but that they were forbidden in the saunas. I was kind of expecting them to be optional. Forbidden seemed a little extreme. I wasn’t really sure how to feel.
I went into the changing area. I’ve never been in a mixed sex changing room before. I felt very Woodstock. I stripped off. Fully. Like it was 1966 and I didn’t want to get shipped out to Nam.
I followed the sign that said SaunaLand. I quickly backtracked. As it turned out, the way to SaunaLand was through the children’s adventure pool area. Best not to be totally nude.
I put on my swimming shorts and made my way through the pool area, until I reached actual SaunaLand. I did a quick check around me to see if everyone else was in the nude. They were. I swallowed my Irishness and lowered my shorts, quickly grabbing my towel, which just wasn’t big enough to properly encompass my waist. (I know of no towel that is.)
I had a quick shower and rushed to find a sauna. The wet saunas forbid towels as well as swimsuits. I think this is the least Irish place I’ve ever been.
I chose the nearest sauna. It was lovely. It was a Eucalyptus sauna. There was a sign on the door forbidding noise and talking (as well as any concessions to modesty) and it was a genuinely lovely place. The room was full of eucalyptus-flavoured steam, there was the sound of water bubbling and flowing and the only lighting was from tiny star-like bulbs in the ceiling. It was a genuinely beautiful place to be. I thought it was a bit corny that they’d put a Buddha statue in the central seat in the sauna, but it did kind of add to the atmosphere. I breathed in the eucalyptus air, relaxed and focused on the Buddha statue.
And then the statue moved. It wasn’t Buddha. That wasn’t a two-thousand-year-old moob I’d been focusing on. I had been staring at a real live woman’s breast. Aaaah! That was the end of any more relaxation in that particular sauna for me.
I left the eucalyptus sauna and jumped into a freezing cold pool. It was AMAZING. I loved it.
Once I’d brought my temperature down, having got over my self-consciousness a bit, I started exploring SaunaLand. It’s lovely. There are lots of seating relaxation areas, all silent. There were at least five different baths at different temperatures. And obviously lots of saunas. I’ve never been somewhere before that was solely geared towards relaxation. There was no aqua-aerobics. No one swimming laps. Everyone was just relaxing. Heaven.
I went into the Sanarium sauna, a dry sauna – towels allowed – YAY for crippling Irish insecurities! This sauna had a view of SaunaLand’s outside area. The outside area of SaunaLand has three little cabins, each with their own sauna, and a pool. It’s very pretty. And there were willies and boobies everywhere. We’re not in Ballincollig any more, Toto.
I had another plunge in the icy pool and brought my temperature down and relaxed. And then went to the outside area. In the nude. Outside. At one with nature. Like a swan.
I’ve said here before that going to a swimming pool makes me feel better about myself and the more conscious I am of my body, the less self-conscious I am of it. Bizarrely, I berate myself a lot less for my excess weight when I’m naked than when I’m clothed. When the swim shorts come off, that effect only increases. There’s my little tinky-winky on show to the world and after a while, I stop caring.
After some time in one of the log cabin saunas, I jumped into the outdoor pool (again, swimsuits forbidden). I lay there, relaxing, cooling down (not that cool – it was 25 degrees outside and nearly 9:00 pm), as Slovenes lay on the loungechairs and a German couple did some stretches. I was at one with nature, watching the sunset in the clear Mediterranean sky after the moon had risen. Every muscle and joint in my body relaxed. The pains in my ankles that have been my almost constant companion for the last ten years lifted. So too did the pain in my knees, which has become as bad as the pain in my ankles over the last year or so. I was like a new human. And my feeling of bliss only rose when I noticed the moonlight glistening off the surface of the pool. I wanted it to last forever.
Adding to the experience was the fact that the pool area is one of the only parts of SaunaLand where there is no rule about silence and music is piped in in the background. I’ve noticed before that in countries where English is not the first language that they don’t tend to censor music in the same way. Much to my joy, as the moonlight dappled the water and I communed with the elements, the Lonely Island’s I Just Had Sex came on over the loudspeakers, including the immortal line “A woman let me put my penis inside her”.
There is a little artificial cave leading off the outdoor pool, and when you venture in there, there’s a hot whirlpool. As I entered the whirlpool, which is hidden from outside eyes, I interrupted a young couple who were having a cuddle and maybe more. When I splashed my way into the whirlpool, they sprang apart like they’d just discovered they were actually second cousins. I’ve written before about how lovely the jets of water in a jacuzzi are when they shoot up your bottom. You can only imagine what it’s like when no swimsuits are involved.
I went back inside and tried the traditional Finnish sauna. You have no idea how hot it was. I turned into a waterfall of sweat, while listening to “Finnish song birds” in the background. I finished off with another dip in the icy bath, and left.
Two hours wasn’t long enough. I haven’t felt so clean and so relaxed in years. I’ll be returning to SaunaLand.
I genuinely felt younger as I wandered around the suburbs of Ljubljana trying in vain to find a bus stop.
Don’t worry. I made it home in the end.