Bath Thermae Spa in England: Better Health through Water

When the traveling gets tough, the tough take a bath. After a long day of sightseeing or hiking through the countryside, one of the best things to do is soak your achy feet in the hotel hot tub or spa.

The Rooftop Pool at Thermae Bath Spa overlooks a glorious view of the city of Bath, including Bath Cathedral. © Bath Tourism Plus/Colin Hawkins

It turns out this watery antidote for stress has a long tradition: The ancient Romans had a saying for it: “sanitas per aquam,” which translates as “health through water.” And not coincidentally, the word “spa” is an acronym taken from that Latin phrase.

Geothermally warmed mineral springs were the first spas—used for healing. These waters naturally bubble up from the ground, bringing minerals from the earth’s core—minerals that can help improve certain skin conditions, arthritis and other musculoskeletal ailments.

In Bath, England, warm mineral waters have welcomed visitors for millennia. The Celts worshipped the water goddess Sulis there, and the ancient Romans (who ruled Britannia from the 1st through 5th centuries A.D.) built stone-enclosed pools and steam rooms for their health and restoration.

During the 1700s and 1800s, the British aristocracy flocked to the town of Bath for social parties and to “take the waters,” encouraged by the tale of how Queen Mary’s fertility troubles ended after she bathed in the waters and ultimately gave birth to a son.

Modern Spa, Ancient History

Today, Thermae Bath Spa is located in a chic modern building not far from the ruins of the ancient Roman baths. Although no one’s claiming anymore that the water cures infertility or any other major health problem, this is still the perfect place to shed your street clothes and spend a half- or full-day in a robe and swimsuit soaking like a Roman.

The indoor Minerva Pool has jets and moving water currents. © Thermae Bath Spa/David Saunders

My husband and I visited Thermae Bath Spa on a chilly, drizzly English afternoon, when a hot soak was most inviting. We started with a dip in the Minerva Bath, a large, indoor thermal pool equipped with massage jets, a whirlpool, and a “lazy river” with a current strong enough that it carried us around the pool. We hung onto flotation “noodles” and cruised the perimeter without moving a muscle. Between the water’s temperature (92°F) and the mineral-rich water (the slight sulfur smell is the giveaway), we felt like limp noodles.

After a long drink of water (it’s important to rehydrate while you soak), we checked out the über-cool co-ed steam rooms where we sweated in glass-enclosed circular steam areas. Each had a different aromatherapy scent: lavender, eucalyptus, rose and frankincense. A central waterfall shower was the spot where everyone gathered to cool off before trying a new scent.

At the center of the Thermae Bath Spa Steam Room is a ceiling shower for cooling off after a hot steam. © Thermae Bath Spa/David Saunders

A note about facilities: pools, steam rooms, and the locker rooms are all co-ed. This is Europe, after all! It was a little odd for us Americans who are used to gender segregation in public restrooms, gyms and pools, but we went with the flow. The locker rooms do have private cubicles where you can dress. Bathing suits (what the Brits call “swimming costumes”) are required.

Although Thermae Bath Spa offers a number of water-centric therapies—including watsu (massage done while you float in a warm pool), Vichy showers, body wraps and more—we opted for pool soaking, which we could enjoy as a couple. If you’re visiting Bath for several days, I’d highly recommend taking a separate day for a massage or special treatment.

For the grand finale, my husband and I deepened our relaxation in the steamy Rooftop Pool. The water was perfect, and the views of Bath’s skyline were spectacular. A high-pressure cascade gave us a deep-shoulder massage and sent a wave of tingles over my scalp. The added bonus: A huge rainbow appeared in the sky, arching over Bath’s cathedral. The entire pool population ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the sight. Unforgettable.

Feasting in the Natural Foods Restaurant

The spa’s Springs Café serves wonderful local cuisine. Photo courtesy Thermae Bath Spa

Afterwards, we realized we were hungry, but weren’t quite ready to leave. No problem, the spa’s Springs Café Restaurant serves everything from light snacks, appetizers, paninis, and hot gourmet meals. The atmosphere is casually elegant, and almost everyone comes in their robe. So, in our white, toga-like wraps, we dined quite well on slow-cooked Wiltshire beef and wild mushroom and Bath Blue cheese risotto with glasses of wine. The menu emphasizes nutritionally balanced foods made from locally produced fare.

Soaking, steaming, feasting—what more could we ask for? My husband and I came away from Bath Thermae Spa feeling relaxed, radiant, well-fed, and squeaky clean. The ancient Romans definitely had the right idea—and the city of Bath has created a first-class modern version of the historic baths. Add it to your itinerary—it’s a highlight of the city.

Clean Water Policy

The thermal water at Thermae Bath Spa bubbles naturally to the earth’s surface, and is estimated to be 10,000 years old. It contains more than 42 different minerals, the most concentrated being sulphate, calcium, and chloride, which are reported to be good for sore joints and some skin conditions.

The spa filters the water to remove iron and bacteria. A tiny bit of chlorine is added for sanitary reasons.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Originally posted May 2013

For more information on visiting Bath, England, see Visit Bath.

Read more about my travels in England:

The Georgian exterior of Thermae Bath Spa shows the honey-colored Bath stone that appears in buildings throughout the historic city. © Bath Tourism Plus/Colin Hawkins

Jedi Knights Arrive in Ireland

Little Skellig island viewed from Skellig Michael, an island off County Kerry. Photo courtesy Tourism Ireland

Little Skellig island viewed from Skellig Michael, an island off County Kerry. Photo courtesy Tourism Ireland

Do you watch the end titles of a movie just to see the locations where it was filmed? If so, there’s a news flash: the final three Star Wars films (The Force Awakens, Return of the Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker) treat movie-goers to eye-popping views of a remote, uninhabited island off the coast of southwest Ireland.

Luke Skywalker’s refuge and Rey’s training location in all three movies was filmed on Skellig Michael Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Director JJ Abrams—along with cast and crew—jetted into a little village called Portmagee, County Kerry, on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. From there, they traveled eight miles by sea to the starkly beautiful Skellig Michael.

To keep the location a secret when The Force Awakens was first shooting in 2014, locals were told a documentary was being filmed in the area, so they were amazed when it was quietly revealed that it was really Star Wars being filmed in their community.

A press release from Tourism Ireland quoted Gerard Kennedy of The Bridge Bar and Moorings Guesthouse in Portmagee, as saying: “It was such a weird and wonderful experience for our small village to be part of the Star Wars story. We enjoyed evenings of music and dance in our bar with the cast and crew. Mark Hamill even learned how to pull a pint with our barman, Ciaran Kelly!”

The monastic Island, Skellig Michael founded in the 7th century, for 600 years the island was a centre of monastic life for Irish Christian monks. The Celtic monastery, which is situated almost at the summit of the 230-metre-high rock became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. It is one of Europe's better known but least accessible monasteries.Photo:Valerie O'Sullivan

Starting in the 7th century, Skellig Michael was a center of monastic life for Irish Christian monks for 600 years. The Celtic monastery, which is situated almost at the summit of the 230-meter-high rock, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. It is one of Europe’s better known, but least accessible, monasteries.    Photo by Valerie O’Sullivan

 

In the Footsteps of the Jedi Knights

Ireland’s County Kerry is one of the island nation’s best-loved destinations—and the first place I ever visited in Ireland. Thirty years ago I was wowed while driving around the Ring of Kerry, a road along the cliff-lined coast with dramatic views over the Atlantic.

If you’re a fan of Star Wars—or of stargazing—this might be just the destination for you. Kerry is one of only three Gold Tier International Dark Sky reserves in the world. The beautiful band of the Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy, star clusters and nebulas are just some of the wonders you can see with the naked eye in the region.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll even spot Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon as it drops out of hyperspace!

The island of Skellig Michael is accessible only by boat. Today it’s inhabited solely by birds, but monks settled there more than a millennium ago. The stacked-stone beehive huts that the monks lived in are restored and can be visited from May to September each year. (Advance booking required.)

Skellig boats arriving safely after the eight-mile journey to Skellig Michael. Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan

Skellig boats arriving safely after the eight-mile journey to Skellig Michael. Photo by  Valerie O’Sullivan

Traveling with Star Wars

A growing number of travelers choose to visit TV and shooting locations. (See my post about visiting Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey was filmed. ),

Locations for The Force Awakens include Scotland, Iceland’s volcanoes, the Abu Dhabi desert, England, and New Mexico. Past Star Wars movies have featured Tunisia, Spain, Lake Como (Italy), Guatemala, Norway, and Switzerland.

Watch a video of scenery on Skellig Michael are available at Tourism Ireland.

May the traveling force be with you!

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read about my travels in Ireland:

 

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr., in Washington, DC

On my most recent visit to Washington, D.C., I visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in spring. Regal and inspirational, the likeness of this great civil rights leader gazes out over the waters of Tidal Basin. Sculpted by Chinese master artist Lei Yixin, the memorial is particularly gorgeous when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.

Cherry blossoms decorate the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Cherry blossoms decorate the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist minister and social activist who became a notable figure during the U.S. civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until he was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

A message of nonviolence

Dr. King is the first African-American honored with a memorial on the National Mall. He played a pivotal role in ending the legal segregation of African-American citizens, and he influenced the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He also received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 because he preached and practiced a nonviolent philosophy striving for freedom, justice, and equality

The granite face of Dr. King is resolute, and his arms are crossed as if to say, “I am here to defend the civil rights of African-Americans and all other disenfranchised folks. I will not yield until all men and women and children have equal rights, regardless of race, gender/gender identity, ethnicity, religious belief, or political affiliation.”

There are quotes by Dr. King carved upon a wall at the back of the monument. ©Laurel Kallenbach

There are quotes by Dr. King carved upon a wall at the back of the monument. ©Laurel Kallenbach

At least that’s what I heard him say as I stood looking up at the towering statue. My visit to the memorial was particularly meaningful because I remember the day Dr. King was assassinated—it was my brother’s birthday—and my family watched the funeral procession on TV a few days later. Also, I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and in the early 1970s there was a lot of racial tension leading up to school busing to desegregate the public schools. I was shocked when I heard that the Klan was staging rallies; naively I had assumed the days of the KKK were long gone.

Words that changed America

On a sunny morning during the Cherry Blossom Festival, the monument was buzzing with people from all over the world, speaking numerous languages. I watched as a young Muslim woman had her photo taken in front of Dr. King’s statue. Drummers from the Boulder Philharmonic—who were in D.C. as honorees of the 2017 SHIFT Festival of American Orchestras—played near the monument, and their African-style drumming resounded across the Tidal Basin.

"Out of the mountain of despair." ©Laurel Kallenbach

“Out of the mountain of despair.” ©Laurel Kallenbach

On the massive stone behind Dr. King is inscribed “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope,” a line from his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech.

And behind that is a granite mountain split in half, which some people say represents Stone Mountain in Georgia, the site of a Civil War memorial carved into the side of the mountain. It depicts Confederate leaders Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis. Stone Mountain is also the place where the Ku Klux Klan was re-founded in 1915. In addition, I personally think the bisected mountain represents the monolithic block of racism that the Civil Rights Movement cleft in two.

Visitors pored over the quotes from Dr. King's speeches about freedom. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Visitors pored over the quotes from Dr. King’s speeches about freedom. ©Laurel Kallenbach

A wall behind the monument is inscribed with words from Dr. King’s speeches over the years, including a famous line that I find so inspiring: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

I also loved King’s hope-filled statement, “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” (You can learn more about the quotes at the memorial on the National Park Service website.)

The struggle for civil rights for all people will continue, and thankfully the wisdom and vision of Martin Luther King, Jr. will encourage and empower people forever. Having a monument to commemorate one of our most courageous and tireless heroes is a powerful reminder of the conflicts of the past—along with the work that must continue into the future.

Injustice anywhere ©Laurel Kallenbach

In this 1963 quote, King addressed the need to eliminate injustice. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is part of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, and it is open free of charge. The memorial is located at the intersection of Independence Avenue and West Basin Drive SW in Washington, D.C. Parking is limited near the memorial. The nearest metro stop is Smithsonian.

Originally posted: April 3, 2017

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance editor and writer

 

Vienna’s New-Year Strauss Concert: Its Dark Past

Ringing in the New Year with a Strauss waltz concert has become a beloved tradition that began in Vienna, Austria, in 1939, and has spread around the globe.

The Vienna Philharmonic performs Strauss waltzes in the Musikverein’s Golden Hall. Photo by Lois-Lammerhuber, courtesy of Austrian National Tourist Office

Each year the Vienna Philharmonic performs waltzes and polkas—most of them composed by the Johann Strauss family during the 19th century—at Vienna’s famous Musikverein, an ornate concert hall with a golden interior and frescoed ceilings.

The Viennese concert, filled with lively, nostalgic dance music has become so popular internationally that it’s broadcast worldwide television in more than 90 countries on New Year’s Day. (In the United States you can watch it on PBS. In addition, many orchestras, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony perform their own Strauss-themed concerts.

On the program are the works of two generations of the Strauss dynasty of composers, which included Johann Strauss and his three sons, Johann Junior, Josef, and Eduard. Between them, they composed more than 1,500 works of  “light” music including dances such as waltzes, polkas, and quadrilles that became very popular among upper-class Viennese.

The Waltz King of Vienna

Probably the world’s most famous Viennese-style waltz is The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II, also known as The Waltz King because he penned more than 500 original pieces. (You might recognize The Blue Danube from Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey.) The Blue Danube has become Austria’s unofficial national anthem.

A statue of Joseph Strauss II in Vienna. Hans-Wiesenhofer, courtesy Austrian National Tourist Office

Located on the Danube River, Vienna is renowned for its musical heritage and has attracted composers including Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, and Schoenberg, as well as the famous opera composer Richard Strauss (not related to Johann Strauss).

How the Nazis Established a Musical Tradition

I recently learned that the New Year’s concert was cooked up by the Nazi Party, and supported by propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. Although Vienna’s Strauss–waltz concerts had been popular for decades, they weren’t associated with New Year’s Day until the year after Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany.

In 1939, Vienna Philharmonic conductor Clemens Krauss and Baldur von Schirach, the Nazi official who governed Vienna, devised a New Year’s concert to improve wartime morale. The concert was broadcast throughout the Third Reich.

“The Johann Strauss Concert was part of the Nazi regime’s propaganda-by-entertainment strategy,” writes historian Oliver Rathkolb, in a study.

The New Year’s concert in Vienna. Lois Lammerhuber, courtesy of Austrian National Tourist Office

Rathkolb quotes a passage from Goebbels’s diary: “Some smart alec has found out that Johann Strauss is one-eighth Jewish. This must not be made public. First, there is as yet no definitive proof and, second, I do not want to see the German cultural legacy being gradually undermined.”

My novel, The Stolen Muse, is partly set in Nazi Germany and deals with how Hitler’s National Socialist Party manipulated the music of the 20th century by banning works with Jewish, Slavic, and African-American influences or that was composed in Modernist or atonal styles.

In 1938, the Third Reich’s Music Chamber organized an exhibition of “degenerate” music in Düsseldorf, which displayed portraits of banned composers and offered listening booths where visitors could hear degenerate music. (Learn more about this at the Music & the Holocaust website.)

In trying to defend against what they perceived as “anti-German” art, the Nazis actually disrupted centuries of Germany’s rich musical heritage and ruined its future by halting growth/change in an artistic world that was becoming more diverse and less formalistic/idealistic.

In my opinion, knowing the darker side of the Viennese Strauss concert is not a reason to stop loving Strauss waltzes or participating in the New Year concert tradition. But it does remind us how politics, ideology, and the arts are intertwined, and I think hidden histories are best brought into the open. For decades Richard Wagner’s music has been shunned in Israel—completely understandable since the vehemently anti-Semitic composer published tracts denigrating Jewish-composed music and because the Nazis used Wagner’s music in their nationalistic propaganda. Though I love much of Wagner’s music, I try to be aware of anti-Semitic themes and caricatures in his operas.

Like all things, history and art are complex issues, and to understand them and their creators takes a full understanding of cultural history.

Happy New Year!

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance editor and writer

For more information, visit the Austrian National Tourist Office.

Illustration of Johann Strauss II directing the Strauss Orchestra. Gerhard-Trumler