Unpacking the Potables: The Travelepilogue

I’m sitting in a train station food court with a Styrofoam cup in front of me, and the buildings are different and the sky is different, but I am myself and my feet are on the ground and time ticks onward. The people threading around my table, beneath these old wood beams, are Tacomans, as are the construction workers banging away outside and most of the people in the train hurtling into Freight House Square from Seattle. I am a Tacoman..

My flight back from Switzerland was uneventful, which is exactly what I’d hoped for, given the debacle on way in. No pseudo-strokes or wheelchairs. No dirty hospitals or IV bags. Just smooth sailing over calm skies as Iceland stretched out beneath us in all of its fjord-y wonder. Deep black rock, milky blue water, snow, snow, snow.  The adventure of travel had worn off on in that crowded, but orderly, Basel airport and by the time we were wheels down in America, life had taken on its quality of being checks on a list and steps in a plan. Get the bags. Check. Pick up the car. Check.

Coppernkellen

We collected a thoroughly happy dog from his dog sitter and we assured our neighbors(whom we had forgotten to tell we were leaving) that we had not died quietly in our house, and that we would do something about the dandelions ASAP. We ogled over the lovely photos from my parents as they continued gallivanting around Europe, but for us, the trip was over. The excursion concluded. The quest completed.

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With one exception.

One week before, when I stopped by Roger Martinho’s kiosk to pick up the macarons that I would be taking with me to France, I asked him if there was anything that he wanted me to bring him back. A souvenir? Something he missed? He could think of only one thing.

Pastis_Ricard_Bottle

“This,” Roger says, “This is France.” And he motions at the cup in front of him, the muted crackle of bubbles against Styrofoam. He takes a sip and I watch it hollow out a space in him.

“I’m back,” He says. “It’s like I’m back.”

He is not back. Around us, the food court moves in its gouts and spurts of busy people, beneath the neon lights of this odd little station so far away from hospital wineries, and black burgers and pale wieners.

And yet, as I swish my foreign drink and breathe its breath out through my nose I know exactly what he means. This taste of Ricard, will forever be a bookmark for me, same as the smell of schnitzel and the sound of old church bells. A placeholder for the rest of my life for standing barefoot in front of a hospital in the sunshine. For cool blue light on sandy white buildings. For bawdy laughter in a rattle trap van with good, good people. A chapter in my story about the first time I went to Europe, and the adventure that followed.

Group Photo1

Everything was Perfect and Everyone was Happy: The Final Day in Europe

Rain settled over Basel, rattling on the rooftops and running down the buildings. The morning had been full of little pragmatisms (a trip to the drug store to preempt the flight the next day, a quick breakfast, some packing) and midday found us slipping up Steinenvorstadt  in search of what else but food. Melissa and I planted ourselves at a place called Kuuhl behind some smoky glass streaked with rain. Kuuhl makes pasta dishes assembly line style. Scoop of this, pinch of that, hands working knives behind the counter, reloading containers as they emptied. I found myself at the register with a bowl full of elbow macaroni coated in a rich cheese sauce, run through with seared pork and chunks of hearty potato. Just the kind of thing you want to shovel into your steam engine on a cold and rainy day such as that. We shoveled and shoveled and the fires got hot and the pistons got moving and Melissa and I went thundering out of that place with exploration in mind and everything was perfect and everyone was happy.

We walked to the Munsterplatz on its perch above the Rhine as the rain drummed on our borrowed umbrella. The Munsterplatz, or Basel Minster, was built and rebuilt between 1000 and 1500, first in a roman style and when that was destroyed in an earthquake, a Gothic style cathedral. We stood in the courtyard of it watching the river run its muddy way through the city center beneath a chalk and charcoal sky.

Down an alley with a stream running between the stones of it, peeking in windows at shops with exotic goods. We crossed a bridge into the northern part of town and stood at the center of it to watch a boat ferry people across the brackish waters, towed between the two points on an ancient looking cable. The only sounds were of rain in all its voices, pinging off of metal, whispering through leaves, cackling on pavement as we walked the north bank, taking in architecture, inspecting artwork. I took a brief break from my blissful introspection to be ridiculous:

 


And then we continued on our way. Mom and Dad met us as we closed the loop back at the Munsterplatz, and so we started the loop again, down the alley, over the bridge, to the north bank. The chill stopped us this time, halfway between the two bridges, drove us into a coffee shop. 6 out of 10 doctors prescribe Italian hot chocolate for chronic dampness (the other 4 doctors are paid off by the cider industry), so we filled a prescription and dunked a Belgian waffle in it. The hot chocolate was thick and rich and not overly sweet and it filled the crevices in the waffle which then filled the crevices in us and everything was perfect and everyone was happy.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in our hotel bar, snarfling up caipirihnas and people watching. Middle aged men in Basel were a particular point of discussion. Most of their hair was hip, their clothes well fitted, their styles cultivated. Very few had the stateside look of having been dipped in glue and catapulted through a Walmart. We drank our drinks and pontificated and then night fell on the city and it was time for our final dinner together.

Where do you go on that last night, with the hours ticking down to zero and a thousand mile wedge coming to tear you all apart? Do you find the most authentic place in town and wait in line for the most European experience there is? Do you wallow in decadence at the fanciest restaurant in the area? Do you get so drunk that they have to wheelchair you onto the plane in the morning? The answer, for us, was that it didn’t matter, as long as we did it together. On that final night, we walked into a hole in the wall shawarma place where the seats were aplenty and the cashier looked happy. We filled our bellies with shawarma and we filled the dining room with laughter. The lights were too bright and the food was mediocre, but we were together and everything was perfect, and everyone was happy.

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KUUHL, BASEL

https://www.yelp.com/biz/kuuhl-basel-2

 

ACERO CAFE

https://www.yelp.com/biz/acero-basel

 

Just the Thing: Basel, Switzerland

Our fear of commuting into Basel turned out to be mostly misplaced. Sure, there were some wrong turns and a few confusing signs, but we glided into a parking space in the city center without a curse or a threat of violence. The Munsterplatz stood guard along the river, which ran lazy on that sunny day through the center of the city. Alleyways snaked between the buildings, tributaries to catch the stream of tourists like ourselves and carry them past shops and eateries.  When we’d finished parking and gotten our stuff over to our rooms, the sun was falling behind the clouds hanging dark and ominous in the distance and we were feeling peckish. Our hotel looked out over a courtyard bustling with people from here and from other places. Neon signs and light rail cars. Cabs along the curbs. It was no Eguisheim, bigger, more developed than that, but it didn’t have the grit of Strasbourg either. It was just different, and I found it pleasant in its newness.

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We gathered around beers on the outdoor seating of a place called Kohlmann’s as bodies began to trickle into the square from a nearby college, talkative and jovial and electric with teenage energy. Dad and I ordered bone marrow and more beer and we were quickly acquainted with one of the painful realities of visiting  Switzerland vs. living there. The bone marrow was about $17.00 American and the beers (which had been $5 in France and Germany) ran something closer to $12. The higher wages and quality of living that come with residency here make things like that negligible, but it was startling at first for us. Fortunately, the cure for sticker shock is alcohol, and we set about treating our conditions. Students flooded past us in the honey light of the afternoon and the bone marrow came to the table in all its rich, buttery decadence.  

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Evening found Mom, Dad and I gathered in the hotel lobby, with machinations on dinner. Mel wasn’t feeling so hot, so she stayed behind, left the bloodhounding to us. A set of coliseum steps led down into the town square from our hotel and I don’t recall a time when we walked past them and didn’t find them crawling with youngsters mid snack, or deep in the throes of people watching. This night was no exception, and as we wove our way through the throng, we passed a boy and girl mashing something spectacular into each other’s faces. Flatbread folded over something meaty and cheesy. Arugula peeking from the top of it.

“What is that?” I asked Dad.

“Ask them,” He said.

But considering our rudimentary linguistic skills, neither of us was confident that we could get the point across without accidentally soliciting one of them lasciviously or insulting some distant relative. Since stairs aren’t the funnest place to get beat up, we wiped the drool off our lips and eased out into the orderly fray of Basel on a Friday night.

Earlier, I called the streets we walked alleyways, because there weren’t any cars in them, but these were no narrow back of house spaces with dumpsters in them. Restaurant patios jamming with people lined the sides. Walls of people 20 bodies wide moved in either direction through the center, lights from the buildings playing on their faces. All around us,  the smell of food. We went door to door, reading menus, peeking into dining areas, moving along.

“What sounds good to you?”
“I don’t know.”

“ Me neither.”

Which was just a lie. We all knew exactly what we wanted and we weren’t looking at menus to see what they had. We were looking to see if they had what we needed. We passed collared shirt restaurants and cargo short joints. We passed wood fired ovens and made to order pasta and all kinds of perfectly respectable establishments, winding up and down these alleys with the current of people. We had almost given up on the fleeting obsession that gripped us all back on the steps of the town square, when we rounded a corner and into the back of a line, snaking away from a single window. To the left and right of it, hunched over the curb, leaned up against the building, draped over tables, people inhaling flatbread sandwiches.

We stuck to that line like moss on a rock in our stream of people in the dark and we followed it to dinner.

 

“What can I get you?” The woman at the window asked.

There was a mound of dough in front of her. A spatula in her hand.

“Hm. What’s the thing? What’s your specialty?”

She, smiled, nodded, pulling dough off the mound.

“I’ll get you the thing,” She said, and she got me the thing.

 

Piadina Picture
I was so blissed out on sandwichy goodness that I didnt even think to take a picture until I’d already inhaled it. Here’s a picture of what it looked like.


She rolled the dough out onto a grill top, steam rising up off it into the night. Ran it flat with pin and got up underneath it with that spatula, one motion, scrape lift, whap, golden brown dough facing up now, other side sizzling. While it sizzled she smeared the browned side with a soft ricotta cheese, began laying prosciutto in it. Handful of arugula, then she knifed that spatula up underneath it, levered the whole thing over on itself and it was off the grill top into a paper sleeve. The thing. I had the thing. I paid her a some of money and I joined my parents at the table that they’d floated to with their “things.”  The bread was crispy on the outside, but doughy at the center and ricotta played very well with the proscuitto, thin and salty and chewy with fat. The arugula gave it a pleasant texture and a metallic zing. We ate quietly in the semi-darkness of this new city as clouds that would bring rain tomorrow morning crept in front of  the stars. We had come to Basel searching for a pleasant end to a mostly pleasant day, and as it turned out, Basel had just “the thing” we were looking for.

Piadina Bar:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Piadina-Bar-Margherita/137354612976857?nr

Kohlmann’s

https://www.yelp.com/biz/kohlmanns-basel-2

 

Off the Path to Feeling Beaten: Eguisheim, France

“Left! Left!”

“Fuck!”

“Get the fuck out of the way!”

“Yeah, fuck that dude.”

Wheels banging on the cobblestones, rocking like a ship breaking up on reentry and all the while, I’m in the navigator seat, pointing at turns, tapping through maps, cursing at strangers. Strasbourg out the windows of our van like a half timbered Mario Kart level, vehicles screaming out of alleyways, pedestrians lunging out from behind cars. When we finally emerged from the fog of battle, the freeway was sliding beneath us and the sun was out and we were breathless.

“How far is it to Basel?” Dad asked.

“About 2 hours.”

“Ugh shit,” he said, and a silent nod passed through the car. A nod of sweaty heads and worried brows. Were we really ready to try and navigate another city right now? Did we want to try to have to park this rattletrap in a new country with new pedestrians and new street signs?

 

The gas tank on the dash blinked empty and we collectively decided that our resilience 

Egu on the road

had bottomed out as well. We pulled into Comar, puzzling our situation  over while the car guzzled gasoline and when we pulled away from the pump we felt no closer to an answer. All along the hillsides, skylining against the crystal blue, castles stood bristly and exotic to our American eyes.

“I wonder what’s over in that area,” Dad said, mostly just to fill the silence.

“Let’s go see,” Mom said. A considerate silence followed and then there was tapping and scrolling and yelping and suddenly we were off the beaten path and off the path to feeling beaten.

Egu on the street

Eguisheim is a swirly snail shell of a town. Half timbered houses from the 10th century huddled around a steeple at the base of a hill topped with castles. Vineyards stretch out away from it, down the olive green hillside,  beneath a pale blue sky. We parked on the outside of the town, left our jarringly modern van with its backup cameras and satellite radio sitting beside a curb that had been there for centuries. Prehistoric birds circled on six foot wingspans, bony dinosaur legs tucked up underneath them, javeline beaks swiveling back and forth, scanning. We followed the winding streets and an alluring smell to the center of town. Restaurant Kas’Fratz drew us to her and we were seated at a table outside in the sunlight. My eyes snatched up a menu item that checked all of my boxes. Fried potatoes: Check. Cheese: check.  That’s pretty much all my boxes if I’m being honest. In the interim between ordering food and eating it, when there is nothing to do but sit and wait, we did just that.

Egu on the patio

The ancient birds clicked their gutteral clicks in their massive nests on all the building tops and the village streets were filled with the subdued tinkering sounds of a small town doing small town things. Scraping at a gutter, water running in a sink. The occasional shutter of a camera, clink of a glass.  No cursing, no honking, no white knuckles on a steering wheel. If we were starting to feel like we’d made a good decision coming here, the arrival of lunch drove that nail home with a flourish.

Egu Potato cake

What I’d initially mistaken on the menu for fried, cheesy potatoes with ground beef mixed into them turned out to be a perfectly prepared cheeseburger with fried potato patties for buns.

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Where have you been all my life? The potatoes were perfectly seasoned and the crisp on them added a texture that many burgers are missing. The cheese held what could have been a real mess together and the meat was earthy and rich.

I got up into that meal. Fingers were licked, and beer was glugged and happiness was abound.

Those birds in their bushy nests stopped regurgitating into each other’s mouths, looking down on me, thinking, that guy is a disgusting eater.

We spent the next couple hours there, winding through the streets looking at knick-knacks in shops and inscriptions above doorways. We basked in the sunlight and smelled the flowers and when the time finally came to fire up the rattletrap, we were ready. We were rested, we were energized, and most importantly, we were well fed.

Egu the hills

 

Check out Restaurant Kas’Fratz facebook here.

 

 

 

20cc’s of Basement Wine: Day 2 in Strasbourg

     Standing on the balcony of our hotel, looking down into streets of Central Strasbourg, almost free of cars, almost free of people. The sun hung orange and heavy in the cloudless sky and Melissa lay out on the elegant bed behind me, trying to sleep off the stress of the drive in. On the street beneath me, a four man police patrol in riot gear threaded their way along the sidewalk, peeking into alleys, routing homeless people off of benches and away from garbage cans. Another four man team passed them and they all nodded to each other and continued on their way. I felt the contrast between Strasbourg and Baden Baden acutely at that moment and part of me longed for the coziness of that quiet German town. This a dangerous spiral to fall into as a traveler. Looking back over your shoulder wistfully, when you should be hopefully looking ahead. You IMG_4910.JPGcan’t compare cities, any more than you can sunsets or excellent cookies, and trying to do so just takes you out of the moment and leaves you frustrated. Nobody falls into a death spiral on purpose, though, so I stood there on my balcony looking down on this new place sighing bad vibes out into the afternoon air until there was a knock on the door. I opened it on Mom.

 

“We’re going to do something cool,” She said. “Wanna come?”

The Strasbourg Hospital was built in 1395. Because of the medicinal value of wine during that time, it had a cellar in the basement where they stored the wine that gave to their patients. That cellar is still in operation to this day. It produces 150,000 bottles of wine each year and houses over 40 ancient barrels of the stuff, at least one of which dates back to 1472. We walked to it in the stagnant sunlight, doing our best not to be the suicidal pedestrians from our earlier drive. Slipping through the throngs of people, HBW1hearing Russian and German and French and Spanish all gurgling past us, babbling brook. We found the hospital through a wrought iron gate. The cellar down a flight of stairs. Cool air wafted through the place. The kind of chill you associate with cellars. The kind of damp and brick construction as well. We handed Euros to a woman at the front desk and she handed us listening devices, which were shaped like an old TV remote with a speaker phone on one side of it. Mine lights hung from the ceiling joists, covered in their ancient spider webs, growing their ancient mold. Wine casks the size of VW’s hulked behind massive iron bars with dates embossed on them. 1576, 1624. Unfathomable times that put America in a weird perspective. This place had beverages older than our country. It’s booze from 1796 wasn’t ready yet. What made us think our nation was? We wandered through this underground maze of history, learning about the medicinal uses of wine and the dissections that used to occur down in the place before the Inquisition and we unwound a bit down there. surrounded by ancient booze and the macabre, a PBS voice in our handset, murmuring factoids at us.


When we’d finished our tour, we went searching for libations of our own, moving with the masses between the buildings, soaking in the sights and sounds. Strasbourg hot potatoed between Germany and France for centuries and you can hear it on tongues and see it in the half timbered houses. Smell it in the cooking smells and taste it in the food. We sat on a French speaking patio, drinking German beer watching crowds shuffle past us, headed somewhere. We wouldn’t know where until the beers were gone and the tab was paid. Freshly oiled on hops and malt we coasted between two buildings and another Notre Dames leapt out at us. It did so the way the one in Reims had and ,again, I found myself absolutely transfixed by the grandeur of it. Rising from the city floor like the wrath of god itself. Excluding the shock value, though,the similarities between this building and the one in Reims were few and far between. Strasbourg’s Notre Dames was prickly and  intricate. Absolutely bustling with busy little images, topped with a green roof that resembled oxidized copper. This building was different from ones we’d seen before. Different as the cities that built them. But no less beautiful.  

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More info:

http://www.strasbourg.info/sights/wine-cellar/

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g187075-d1394523-Reviews-Cave_historique_des_hospices_civils_de_Strasbourg-Strasbourg_Bas_Rhin_Grand_Est.html

 

From Breakfast to Bedlam: Day 1 in Strasbourg

Morning, Baden Baden

The sun rose over the  hills of Baden Baden, shining around the prickly spires of castles, and found me like a wet noodle in our hotel bed. The festivities of the day before had left me loose and limber and I slithered out of the sheets to the bathroom, where Melissa was getting ready to take a dip in the indoor pool beneath our hotel. I told myself I wasn’t going to go swimming with her, but I quickly did the math on how many pastries I could eat if I backstroked a few laps and the figures added up. I slapped around gleefully in the jungle heat of the underground.

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Afternoon, Strasbourg

Our crumpled can minivan huffed and puffed and doddered down the autobahn in the slipstream of sports cars that sizzled past it. We were inbound to Strasbourg

“Does the email from the hotel  say where to park?” Dad threw the question into the back seat and mom began flicking through her phone for an answer. We took our exit into Strasbourg.

“Not really,” she said. I peeked back at her, saw her brow all knitted up. “It says something about a parking lot near a park, but I can’t find the park on the map. Oh, wait… No… Hm.”

Strasbourg climbed up onto our windshield, buildings looming up against the sky. We all began to spastically type the name of the park into our maps as Dad steered us to the city center blindly. Finally, we found something that seemed comparable to what was on described in the email and I began to navigate us to it.

 

Morning, Baden Baden

After my relaxing swim, we all walked along the Oos in dazzling sunlight, gawking at the houses along the gurgling water, up the streets of Old Town Baden Baden, mostly empty in the early morning. Cafe König was tucked down one of veins that carried foot traffic away from the heart of Old Town and we had wandered past after closing time the day before and almost broken into the place to get a better look. Cakes and pies and tarts like something out of a Willy Wonka wet dream set up behind the glass sparkly and exotic. Yelp had a lot to say about the place, and none of it was negative, so we stopped in for their breakfast menu, crowded ourselves around a table awash in the clinking and clanking of polite company and waited for the show to start.

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Afternoon, Strausbourg

A half mile from the center of Strasbourg, the streets filled up with brake lights, cars laying on horns and steering down impossibly narrow alleys, side views slapping against bicyclists, who just rode on, BMXing their way between fenders, whispering into traffic like they weren’t made of meat and pain receptors.

“Fuck.” Dad muttered into the steering wheel, draped over it, sweating. The closer we got to the middle of things, the worse it all got. Pedestrians stepped out into the street with their phones in their hands, oblivious to squealing of horns and tires. Testing brakes and reflexes with their souls.

“Fuck.” we all muttered, like an anthem. We finally pulled into the parking lot, sweatier, and dumped a handful of change into a meter. “PAID”, it said.

    The walk to the hotel wasn’t as hectic as the driving. We pounded feet between old high rises full of new businesses, SUPERDRY and LULULEMON and MCDONALDS looming in neon overhead. Busier than Baden Baden. Grittier.

“Your room is ready,” the woman at the hotel reception said and there was a ‘but’ just below the surface of it. “But it sounds like you’ve parked in the wrong area.” She unfolded a map and drew an X on it. Then she drew a squiggly line back across the mayhem through which  we’d just driven, over bridges and down alleys to a gate that she would open when we got to it. We left our bags with her, snaked our way back to the car.

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Morning, Baden Baden.

Breakfast was delightful.  A tray of pastries that we tore into with fervor. Cheeses and meats curled on plates, and we mashed them into croissants and folded them into our mouths. Organic eggs upright in a little dish and we cracked half the shells off, scooped out the gold with a spoon. Orange juice, coffee, butter and jam, bliss in several consistencies. We left a tip and a mess and we floated out into the daylight, wondering what other treasures the day had in store for us.

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Afternoon, Strausbourg

We found two men combing the parking lot, looking swarthy, on the prowl. One was wearing a multicolored tracksuit,  ill fitting shoes, decked out in all gold, bracelets and necklaces and earings. His compatriot looked exactly like Nico Bellic from Grand Theft Auto 4. Down to the leather jacket and sweatpants. I watched them wave a car into the Image result for Niko Belliclot. Took money from the confused looking driver to pay the “parking fee”, pocketed it. Nothing about them said, “city employee”. As we approached our car, Tracksuit started to sing a song, and it was the kind of nervous singing favored by men who want to look like they aren’t nervous. My hands left my pockets. My family continued to the van and I intercepted tracksuit behind it.

“You pay,” tracksuit said, and his hand opened and closed between us like, gimme gimme.

“we paid.” And I pointed at the meter, still green.

The car started, reverse lights painting us white, toe to toe. GTA 4 smelled trouble and started over from his corner of the lot, stuffing cash in his pocket.

“You pay.” Tracksuit said again, gimme gimme. All the happy-go-lucky fell out of his voice and I remember deciding that if there was going to be a fight I needed to start and finish the Tracksuit portion of it before GTA 4 got there. Tracksuit’s carotid was banging away next to the spot that I’d picked on his jaw, GTA4 still in route, picking up the pace and I saw Tracksuit smell the serious in the lot and decide that whatever scam they were running would survive just fine without my portion of the parking fee.

“Tranquil” he said, tripping over his feet stepping back and I thought, if  I hit him now, he’ll fall down, even if I don’t knock him out.

“Okay, Okay, Calm down” he said and I followed him back and the van followed us back and the door slid open and I was in it and we were gone. Tracksuit standing next to GTA4 in that parking lot looking shaken in the rearview. We jostled back through the fray of car horns and suicidal pedestrians, rattling over cobblestones and holding our breath in claustrophobic alleyways, screaming obscenities at other cars. We got lost. We found our way. We got lost again. When the front desk lady finally threw the gate open for us and we crash landed the van into the parking area there was a breathless silence in the car that was finally broken by Melissa.

“ Well that’s two weeks off the end of my life.”

And we all laughed and wondered what the fuck had gotten us from breakfast and Bedlam.

Pale Wieners and Stolen Cake: Day 2 in Germany

11:47am on a Wednesday, and I. Was. Naked. Steam hanging like a fog, ass planted on a bench, naked in a sea of naked strangers who were milling about with a calm indifference that I wanted to embody but could not because I. Was. Naked. I was at station one of the Friedrichbad spa in Baden Baden, seated in a steam room with my feet planted on a thermally heated floor, and my eyes fixed on my toes, wrestling with all my American sensibilities and western prudishness. A man shuffled past me holding hands with his wife, and I reflexively looked up from my toes to make sure that I wasn’t in their way. Who’s got two thumbs, no pants and would not be having a pale wiener with dinner that night? This guy. The clock on the wall ticked over to 11:50 and my fifteen minutes in station one were up. I shuffled off to station two.

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     The Friedrichsbad Irish/Roman bath house was opened in 1877. It sits atop the ruins of a Roman bath house and pulls most of its heat and water from thermal vents in the earth. The place is legendary for its rejuvenating and regenerative abilities. It’s also famous for making squeamish Americans cover their genitals in the presence of the opposite sex, which is exactly what I spent the first 3 stations doing. I sat in a hot room, covering my genitals. Then I sat in a hotter room, covering my genitals. Then I took a warm shower, covering my genitals. Finally, half way through a soap scrub, soft brush covered in milky soap grinding the exhaustion off my skin in the soupy heat from the center of the earth, I realized, nobody gives a shit about your genitals, dude. And I let go like a knot unraveling, fell into the place with abandon. I breathed mineral infused air and floated in a pool of thermal water. I slipped into room after room and let the air and the moisture and the heat and the silence take the stress that had grown like a cancer in me over the course of the first few days. I pulled deep breaths down into me and there was no room for spiraling into a pseudo-stroke on an airplane or standing in front of a foreign hospital with no shoes on. No room for May Day riots or panic attacks. Just warm thermal air and hot, still, waters. I mean, someone swaddled me in heated blankets for fuck’s sake. Try to keep worrying  about a lady you don’t know seeing your beanbag while that’s happening. You can’t.

     I walked out of that spa, into the light of midday and everything was different. Melissa, who had opted for the clothed spa next door (a royal fuck-up if you ask me), met me on the cobblestone street out front, apprehension in her eyes.

“How was it?” She asked.

And my face said it all.

Kellen Friedrichsbad.jpg

On our way back to the hotel, we ran into Mom and Dad at a restaurant nearby. I sat and ate a bunch of their leftovers, like a cow grazing in someone else’s pasture. Docile and unashamed. When that was done, I floated back to the hotel along the Oos river, grass glowing in the sunlight, water gurgling over stones.

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In the lobby of our hotel, a dessert buffet was laid out and the smell of it drew us on our tip toes like in a cartoon.

“Do you think that’s for hotel guests?” she asked.

 

“Sure.” I said.

“Really?” and there was skepticism in her voice, because we were both avoiding the obvious next step, which was to just go ask someone, because there was a pretty good chance it wasn’t for us in which case, someone would have told us not to take any, which would make it pretty egregious if we did.

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s for us,” I said, still coasting on the high of total relaxation. We took cake and helped ourselves to coffee and we slunk off to a little corner of the lobby giggling at our mischief and elating in our stolen confection (which definitely wasn’t for us), because once you’re able to relax naked in a room full of total strangers, it’s hard to play by anyone’s rules but your own.  

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If you’re interested in seeing Rick Steves waaaaaay too naked: