I could blame it on the jet lag……..or the SERIOUS lack of sleep. But now that I am comfortably readjusted to my time zone and fully caught up on sleep, I’d say I would do it again. It was amazing.
But I have to admit that I thought it was crazy too when I first heard people willingly jumped in a river that was covered in super thick ice except for the fact that someone had cut a massive opening to allow people to swim. How cold was that water?? Wouldn’t you get pneumonia? What about a heart attack from the shock of the cold water?? I didn’t even want to take my gloves off let alone get down to a bathing suit! Nope. Not on my list of “mustn’t miss experiences”. I’ll gladly watch these crazy people with their relay swim while I drink warm lingonberry juice and sit on the sidelines taking pictures. That’s entertainment enough.
Ok. That was fun watching those crazy people. Now it’s off to lunch and get ready for our spa treatment. I’m always up for spa. Lots of pampering and relaxing……..I could use that, I was really tired. Maybe we could get massages? But then one of my travel mates said she was opting out. After listening to what was involved she didn’t think it was for her. Ummmmm, maybe it was time I figured out what kind of spa treatments were on the schedule.
She had heard that we would be rolling around in a snowbank in only our swimsuits, being beaten with switches to improve our circulation and jumping in a hole cut in the ice of the frozen river. Wait, what??!?? That didn’t sound very spa-like. I guess there wouldn’t be massages or cucumber water. Hopefully something had been lost in translation.
Maybe I could just forget to show up at the meeting point and take a nap instead. It had been days since I had a decent nights sleep. Maybe that was the sensible thing to do.
But curiosity won out. It couldn’t be that bad……..what tourist would sign up for real torture? There had to be something enjoyable here. I knew there would be sauna involved, so maybe I could just do that and skip everything else. Saunas are a big part of Swedish life so I should see what it was about. Embrace the experience. It turns out zero torture was involved. Everything was optional but I convinced myself to try it all and judge later.
A sweet young lady met us to start our sauna experience. I think they called her the “Sauna Master”. The building we were in was where a couple of indigenous women had started the traditions of sauna. The building had a couple of different styles of saunas and outside were 3 metal tanks filled with water she was heating to different temperatures. Those all looked great! But then she mentioned rolling in the snowbank and jumping in the river and in fact there were birch switches involved. Uh Oh.
I had to convince myself that only doing some of the things wouldn’t really be giving the experience. But she did give us the option to do what we wanted and go at our own pace.
The first surprise was the offer of beers while we went into the first sauna. Ok. But first you had to make a small contribution from your bottle on to the stones. Soon the sauna smelled like baking bread. Where you sat in the sauna helped you control how hot you felt. The benches that were near the top were much hotter than the lower ones. The sweating felt good and I was starting to relax.
Were we ready for the snow? I steeled myself and ran outside. That was crazy……..I couldn’t get back in the sauna fast enough. I was ready for sauna experience #2.
This was the one that involved the birch switches. They were put in a bundle that resembled a fan and they were soaked in water. You took the bundle and gently whacked yourself with it……or you could do it harder if you wanted. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really feel much benefit to that, but maybe it was helping my circulation. Can I have another beer?
Sure! Turns out this sauna had a pass-through door from the bar. That was handy.
But then came the moment of truth……….Who wants to do the river plunge? Ugh. A few hours ago I was wondering “who in the right mind would do that?” But I couldn’t sit and think about it too much or I would definitely talk myself out of it. It was go time.
A quick run down to the river, climb down the ladder and dunk…..don’t think about it, just do it! And we did. Yes, it was cold. But it felt amazing! What I learned later was that when you are exposed to cold like that, it triggers the release of endorphins. Wow, I wasn’t expecting that. But I was still ready to go back to the heat.
Next up were the hot tubs. Ahhhhhhhh. I think I could sit in them forever. But soon it was time for the last step. Back to one of the saunas. Here the Sauna Master told us it was time to be quiet and get into more of a meditative mood. We had to close our eyes so I couldn’t tell exactly what she was doing but it was a version of aroma therapy where she used a towel to whip the air and circulate the oils. It was a very calming way to end the experience.
The whole experience should have been on my “mustn’t miss” list. I just didn’t know it. And that is what travel teaches me over and over. We just don’t know what something is like until we experience it for ourselves!
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