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On The French Border Of Being Bad

I was a “Bad” girl this weekend. “Bad-en-Bad-en,” that is.

The Irish-Roman baths in Baden-Baden, Germany, just beyond the border of France, 34 kilometers from Strasbourg, are legendary. I’d certainly heard about them for many years and never had the opportunity to indulge…until a friend in Paris with a car said, “How’d you like to go? We can be back by tomorrow night.”

Friends with cars in Paris are rare — this one happens to live in the Marais and fortunate to have a garage, otherwise parking would be a nightmare. I haven’t owned a car in ten years, and don’t miss it, except for times like this — although renting one is very simple, easy and inexpensive.

The 327 mile trip across France is fast and painless, also quite beautiful. By Autoroute, you pass through Ile de France, Champagne-Ardenne, Lorraine and Alsace regions…rolling hills, bright green agricultural fields, vineyards, “petits villages” and several cities worth a special stop and visit: Reims, Metz and Strasbourg. Keep your credit card handy and be prepared to stop at many toll stations along the way — you’ll spend more than 30 Euros each way. Estimated driving time: 5 hours.

Baden-Baden hotels were booked solid this holiday weekend, so we reserved in a ski chalet in the Black Forest beyond Baden-Baden near “Wildbad.” I was feeling more like a “wild, bad” girl by the moment.

The forest is stunningly colorful and lacy at this time of year. Small winding roads littered with leaves take you up to the top of the forest through quaint German villages such as Gernsbach, Reichental and Kaltenbronn. There were dozens of trails in the forest for “randonneurs” and large parking lots at which to deposit their cars — an unusual sight in such a remote spot — an enigma it took us two days to comprehend. After dropping our bags and freshening up, we headed back to Baden-Baden for three-and-one-half hours of decadence at the Friedrichsbad baths in the center of town. A bargain, with a soap and brush massage, the price of entry is 29 Euros.

Mark Twain once wrote about the baths in Chapter XXI of “A Tramp Abroad” and had this to say: “The room is divided by a great curtain; you draw this curtain aside, and find a large white marble bathtub, with its rim sunk to the level of the floor, and with three white marble steps leading down to it. This tub is full of water which is as clear as crystal, and is tempered to 28 degrees Re’aumur (about 95 degrees Fahrenheit). Sunk into the floor, by the tub, is a covered copper box which contains some warm towels and a sheet. You look fully as white as an angel when you are stretched out in that limpid bath. You remain in it ten minutes, the first time, and afterward increase the duration from day to day, till you reach twenty-five or thirty minutes. There you stop. The appointments of the place are so luxurious, the benefit so marked, the price so moderate, and the insults so sure, that you very soon find yourself adoring the Friedrichsbad and infesting it.”

Little has changed since Twain wrote that passage in 1880. It was a surrealistic experience, to be so completely comfortable in my own skin in such a lavish, yet in many ways, stark environment. We were surrounded by men and women, mostly middle-aged, mostly German, at complete ease with their own nakedness, in the warmth of the steamy aromatic saunas, floating without care in the large pools of clear, warm therapeutic waters and surrendering to the strong hands of the masseurs and the scratchiness of the defoliating brushes.

At the end of the session, I was waterlogged, but we were both stress-free, ready for an evening at the Baden-Baden casino and cocktail lounge, where we could mingle with an international clientele, drink White Russians, dance till we dripped with sweat and laugh without reservation until heading back into the Black Forest for surrender totally to sleep.

Returning to Paris the next day took us to picturesque Strasbourg for a visit and lunch, a city that is a perfect blend of French and German cultures, worth much more time than we could give to it.

A la prochaine…


Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
E-mail: [email protected]

P.S. Happy All Saints Day November 1st — where I will later be visiting the graves of the renown at the Père Lachaise Cemetery (a traditional thing to do today) and counting down the hours to U.S. Election Day where I will be gathering with other Americans at Joe Allen Restaurant for all night viewing on their big screen TV…a full report on Wednesday to follow.

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