Sunday, August 7, 2016

Primal soaking


The areas of land along the stretches of water between mainland Greece and the northern part of Evia island (let's say North Euboean Gulf / Malian Gulf) host quite a few hot springs. Some are lesser known and others (such as Aidipsos) attracting quite some fame (and fortune to the tourism sector).

However the prime soak of this area is yet to be highlighted here. 

The village of Thermopylae translates as hot gates and may well have been the entrance to the caves of Hades, God of the underworld and thus of the souls of the Dead.

Though the hot spring gives the village this awe inspiring name, it's the terrain around Thermopylae what has brought the village more fame
The single lane village now lies quite some distance from sea, as the shore line progresses seawards each year due to sedimentation. But back more than 2000 years ago, there was little land between the Gulf of Malia and the Kallidromo mountains. This gave the area huge strategic significance, and Thermopylae has borne witness to a number of battles, none the more significant than the Battle of ... Thermopylae. 
The Battle witnessed a Persian army held up for quite some time by a relative small number of Greeks and is nowadays remembered as a heroic fight of nationalism against the invader(s). 
Today there's a large museum remembering this battle and a statue of Leonidas to admire, the hero leader the defence.

Visitors to both can wander around the surrounding plains and discover that along the base of the mountain, flows a stream which reeks of sulphur. Follow this and one comes to a man-made waterfall, pictured below. 


Sometimes referred to as Loutra Thermopilon / Loutra Thermopylon, this is also the focal point for thermal tourists who frolic in both the waterfall itself as well as the canal above and stream below.

Refuge
Further away are what have been bathing buildings. But now these were slightly overrun and function as  a center for recent (?) refugees.

Let's look at the history of the hot springs development. Oddly enough this comes from the Japan Times (Apr. 11, 2014):
'To the uninitiated, the site appears inauspicious, close to an abandoned gas station and a derelict hotel. Bathers change in their car and step over a wobbly wooden pallet to reach the springs.
“We have an exceptional product, but it is poorly used,” sighed Markos Danas, secretary general of the union of Greek spa towns. He notes that across the country, fewer than a dozen sites offer acceptable tourism infrastructure. “Hot springs are mostly run by local communities, and this has limited the scope of development,” he said.
...
The spa towns are now hoping an EU directive that authorizes reimbursing citizens taking hot baths in other member states will revive interest. Greece’s state privatization agency last year also offered four hot springs in central Greece, including Thermopylae, for sale to private developers.
But there were no takers — meaning more free visits for Kyriazis and his fellow bathers in the foreseeable future'.
But as said, the buildings now house refugees. On this, Al Jazeera (Jul. 16, 2016) notes:
'Thermopylae, Greece - Akram al-Majidi lifted his left arm to show the skin disfigured by severe burns after a car bomb exploded outside his shop in Baghdad in 2008.
The flesh, once on the outside of his forearm, was pushed to the other side, leaving just a thin layer of scorched skin on top of his radial bone.
Akram, 34, says his life was simple in Iraq. He owned a bakery, preparing special cakes for weddings, birthdays and other occasions.
"I'm left-handed. I wrote, ate, made cakes - all with my left hand," Akram tells Al Jazeera in his family's tiny room in a bankrupt and deserted hotel converted into a refugee camp for hundreds of people in Thermopylae, central Greece'.
Apparently since a few years, the pre-WWII (1935, source) bathing establishment has closed and was awaiting new (private / foreign) investment. And in the meantime functioning as a refugee camp. 

It could be much worse, but there certainly seems to be quite some overpopulation and the distances from a proper supermarket are considerable. So lots of boredom for the refugees, waiting for what the future will bring. 

A positive mention is that they were not impeding on the soaks themselves, thus the hot stream was available for tourist.


Sourced
As it was quite busy at the falls themselves, we decided to hike a bit further upstream to seek the soaking source, solitude and solace. Only 150-200m further there's a quiet pool which forms the source of the stream. 
Strip and soak. 
For a hot day it was certainly a hot soak. I note a temperature of 40°C
(source). 

Though it felt hotter. Witness this sign saying it's 42°C ...:


And it may cause heart problems.

A  photo of the source pool: 

 

Pits
Some practicalities. 
Getting here is not too difficult: north of the village, pass the museum on your right and before the defunct petrol station turn left down a dirt road for the 200 meters or so that it lasts.
Directly adjacent to the waterfall is a shop slash snack bar . 
From the internet there's not too much to add. There are great photo's from roughly 5 years back, here and here.
 
Tripadvisor is not over-impressed by the soaking possibilities: it's no. 4 of the 4 things to do in Thermopylae (link), fours stars though. One review: 
'The natural hot springs provides a great pit stop if you are travelling with kids from Athens to Pelion or Meteora. This hidden gem has very few visitors and is free. Sitting under the hot waterfall provide you with a natural jacuzzi that any kids (and adults as well) would love. Combining it with a small history lesson for the kids in the nearby monument for the battlefield of Thermoplastic complete the experience. Highly recommended site.
Please note: this is a natural site. There are no bathroom or change room facilities'.
Marginally better the same review site under the name of Loutra Thermopilon puts the hot springs at no. 15 (out of 19) of things to do in the Phthiotis region (link).
 
There's this:
'The thermal springs of Thermopylae were already known in the ancient times and they are placed at 15 km south of Lamia, in the centre of Greece. A large flow of water is received and the rare phenomenon of a thermal waterfall is constituted. The therapeutic indications of this particular place are rheumatic conditions, arthritis, neurological and gynaecological disorders, diseases of the respiratory system, asthma, bronchitis and pulmonary emphysema'.
Finally, not always can we expect good news at natural soaking sites. Especially in a poor secure site near motorway access, though that's no excuse.  There are reports of seediness, as a policeman (!) is arrested for voyeurism (Newsbomb.gr, Nov. 6. 2015) while earlier last year there are complaints of loads of rubbish (Aftodioikisi.gr, 15 Jan. 2015).

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Horror

Geothermal river bathing @natireyna #likeagirl #iceland #geothermal #nature #outdoors #hiking #reykjadalur

Despite the lack of written updates lately, there's not too much topical going on, Europe wise. Or is that my sources of info are just disappearing?

From the recent info delved up on the internet it seems that there's excessive amount of news coming from Iceland, as the tourism boom in that country is probably generating equal amounts of internet sharing. From that Icelandic news, I took the following as the lead:

It came to me via ThinkGeoEnergy (May 12) which refers to an article from the Iceland Magazine (May 11) which reports on a Visir article on how geothermal power (and cheap access to heating water) adds significantly to the living standards of the Icelanders. At the same time the ability to enjoy hot springs when ever / where ever means a great deal for the islanders happiness.
The latter relates to an article in the New York Times magazine (Apr. 21) in which the author connects soaking to happiness In the Icelandic context
It's an interesting article which explores quite a few facets of what makes Icelands soaking culture different:
'These public pools [geothermal origin], or sundlaugs, serve as the communal heart of Iceland, sacred places whose affordability and ubiquity are viewed as a kind of civil right.
...
The more local swimming pools I visited, the more convinced I became that Icelanders’ remarkable satisfaction is tied inextricably to the experience of escaping the fierce, freezing air and sinking into warm water among their countrymen.
...
The pool is Iceland’s social space
...
Not only must you interact; you must do so in a state of quite literal exposure. Most Icelanders have a story about taking visitors, often American, to the pools and then seeing them balk in horror at the strict requirement to strip naked, shower and scrub their bodies with soap from head to toe.
...
Sigurlaug Dagsdottir, a graduate student researching the pools, speculated that the sundlaugs’ social utility in Icelandic communities derives in part from the intimacy of the physical experience: In the pool, she said, you can “take off the five layers of clothing that usually separate you from everyone else.”
There's nothing though that ties the two in (I mean happiness and soaking) scientifically so to speak, the basis for the link seems a hunch here and there; it would be wonderful if it were scientifically proven. Even though the Icelandic soaking culture is certainly one to be admired: there are very few nations where inhabitants seem to be addicted to enjoying hot thermal water. Possibly Japan, but Japan only comes in at no. 53 on the hapiness scale, so not so happy. 

 Hot spring hunting surrounded by amazing nature! Photo from our Midgard Suprise trip today. #Iceland #hotsprings #hotspring #geothermal #spa #luxurytravel #icelandtravel #icelandtrip #iceland2016 #summertime #island #travelbug #adventuretravel #adventure
And though I'm not in the fortitude that I have ample access to soaking opportunities myself, I can relate how visiting on a daily basis to the local clothing optional beach in season (and out of season to a wellness center) gives my life more meaning, even though where I live I'm sort of stuck in employment / career opportunities.

Hop
What else is there to experience in Europe, natural soakings wise? 

Let's start with an A for ... Armenia. Follow the link to a  video concerning the experiencing of Jermuk. 

Below is what soaking at Jermuk looks like:

 Raudmees 💛 #armenia #hotspring
Then it's a B for Bulgaria:
 
This has got to be my favorite photo from my time in Bulgaria because I finally got over my fear of shooting strangers head on.
Down by Varna Beach is a hot spring filled with old Bulgarians bathing. They sit along the turquoise water, stoic as statues, skin of bronze glowing in the summer sun.
For forty days I saw them from afar, but dared not enter the baths with my camera until my last afternoon in the city.
I slurped down a beer or two to get over the awkward feeling, changed into my swimsuit and slipped into the steaming water. No one looked my direction! No one cared at all. The fear of being yelled at or abused or whatever else I thought was going to happen was completely in my head.
How often do you get caught up in your thoughts? How often do you talk yourself out of doing something you really want?
Does anyone have a story of a missed shot? You know, the one that got away? This was almost that photo for me, but I'm so happy I got it.
With tourism becoming available to more and more people on this world, so does social confusion. 
The spa town of Teplice (Czech Republic) has problems with what are described as Arab tourists. From Russia Today (May 26):
'Financed by the Ministry of the Interior, the literature educates Arab visitors on how to behave in public spaces, the need for obeying the speed limit, and even what to wear in the swimming pool.
“We don’t care what kind of swimsuit they wear, as long as they don’t enter the swimming pool in regular clothes, which happens quite often...,” Teplice's deputy mayor, Hynek Hanza, said'.
The article gets quite a few comments and no surprise that these include paternalistic  Muslim-bashing. 
The problem though with any kind of tourism is that tourists are quite often allowed to operate outside the local social norms. Take f.i. nudity of Greek beaches. It's certainly outside the Greek societal norms (being conservative), though it's pretty much accepted behaviour for tourists. 
Maybe it's just that certain more progressive attitudes are tolerated, whereas in the case mentioned above it seems that the tourist attitudes are more conservative and thus liable to attract discontent?

 
Rennes les Bains, France from luciestvrtnova:
Termální prameny 👌👌😍 #bff #thermalsprings #vacation #summer2016
Pictures from the past, a postcard from Aachen, Germany:
pullmanaachen 
Lernen Sie mehr über den #Quellenhof! Am 4. August 1936 öffnet das damals europaweit größte Hallen-Thermal-#Schwimmbad seine Pforten im Quellenhof in ‪#‎Aachen‬. © Unbekannt #Therme #hotel #hotellife #Germany #retro
Another tough place to get to in Ikaria but worth it, the prize was hot mineral springs! 💦🏖 #greece2016 #icaria #greekislands #natural @ikariamag
Budapest.info has a section on Spa news for July! Some of the news:
'The great news for July is that the revamped Paskál Beach awaits those wishing to relax with a baths hall and seven new pools. As far as the Széchenyi Thermal Bath is concerned, they have come out with a new service offering an abundance of beer delights, inviting individuals and couples to take beer bath in thousand-litre tubs'.
The latter: a unique thermalbeerspa! From their website:
'The tubs are filled with freshly poured 36 degree warm thermal water combined with a jug of natural beer ingredients: the malt, hops and yeast have an amazing impact on your skin and body. But don’t worry – the water has a nice herbal scent!
Meanwhile you can pull yourself as many pints of beer as you wish from the taps situated on the side of the tubs!'

Looking over Budapest from the Rudas baths, beerless. emesegrfl:
❕#soaking #up #some #healthy #minerals

Suitless
Iceland sees it's fair share of tourist excesses. I don't know if this fits in with being an excess, but the Iceland Monitor reports (Feb. 9) on the following:
'Grímkell Pétur Sigurþórsson was going for a Sunday walk with his wife and daughter in the picturesque Reykjavik quarter of Seltjarnarnes when he came across two seemingly naked tourists who had squeezed themselves into a popular foot spa'.
The Monitor doesn't know whether or not this fits in with tourist craziness, nor apparently does the witness:
"I was really surprised when I saw the tourists, I never would have thought that one, never mind two people could actually fit into it. But they seemed very happy with their find. Good on them."
It seems the fact that two fit in this tiny soak seems to attract more awe rather than the nakiness. 
Which btw is not so uncommon, there are quite a few photo's around on the internet of naked bathing here, so it does seem not so crazy afterall.

 
still.wonders at Seljavallalaug:
Sweet & Sour Dip №06. We dig hot springs early morning.
______________________________________
#justgoshoot #ig_myshot #freepeople #love #sensual #ig_sensual #visualsoflife #passionpassport #worldtravelbook #hotsprings #icelandmag #icelandair #wowair #view #swimming #swimmingpool #iceland #travelgram #travelstoke #acidmirroragency #summer #bath #mountains #skinnydip #freedom #alone #nature
Moving on and slightly off topic (but still in Iceland). 
Sauna lovers in Ísafjörður (Iceland) would like to have the opportunity to dress in their birthday suits when using public sauna. The Reykjavik Vine (Jan. 22) notes that the sauna goers are demanding the mayor not only to allow nakedness but due to health reasons nudity should be the only dress allowed.
More on this sauna drama, this time from slate.com (Apr. 27):
'The 70-year-old swimming hall, designed by the midcentury national architect Gudjón Samúelsson, has a very small sauna attached to one dressing room. (The dressing rooms are swapped daily so both men and women get a chance to steam.) Recently a small laminated sign was tacked next to the door—at the mayor’s behest, according to pool employees: “PLEASE WEAR A SWIMSUIT OR A TOWEL WHEN GOING TO THE SAUNA.” Factions had formed. An open letter had been posted. An article had run in the local newspaper. It had been reported as far away as Reykjavik.
...
Eiríkur’s open letter is a complicated text, befitting a winner of the Icelandic Literary Prize. He wrote: It is greatly unsanitary to bring dirty, chlorinated swimsuits—drenched in dirt and bacteria, which are well fostered in the fabric until the suit hits the heat and its nasty abominations dissolve and desecrate ... the senses of men (and women), their bodies and souls, so that they return to the world sickly and diseased, and not invigorated and spirited, as they had planned.
...
Sweating in the sauna one morning, two of Nadja’s colleagues at the school and opponents on this issue told me the one place the sauna drama would never take hold was in the sauna itself. “I believe one should wear a suit,” said Janus Frach, a music teacher. “But if anything is said or written out there, it doesn’t come in here.”
As one can imagine, the article gets many comments, with on the one side the hygienists / purists on the other side the hygienists / conservatives.

Tying in with the quote in this blogs lead comes a video explaining how to wash pre-soaking! The source is Newscult (Feb. 25) and if interested you can watch a pixelated gent. 
Or:
 
After going to the #hotsprings, seeing this #postcard cracked me up! 😂😂 #sotrue #truth 🙈Secret place to have a natural bath L'eau avoisinait largement les 38degrès, le top! #secretbath #naturalbath #icelandic #icelandicroadtrip #islande #eyjafjallajökull #volcano #hotwater #geothermal #pool #naturalpool #chill #hotspring #hiddenhotsprings #hottub
In Iceland soaking is a way of life, so what to do when there's none? ThinkGeoEnergy (Apr. 11):
'With about 90% of the country’s population with access to geothermal heating, there are today only a handful number of communities who have not been able to take advantage of this abundant source of energy.
...
Particularly with increasing tourism, year-round swimming pools are seen as a crucial element in the social life, wellbeing of its population and local tourism.
So when now news broke in Iceland that the exploration efforts in a community called Höfn have been providing some promising results, people are now quite hopeful they soon can enjoy geothermal heating'.
Tales
Is Icelands iconic Blue Lagoon (BL) a tourist trap? 
CondéNastTraveller debates this issue (Jan. 20). Apparently there are two sides to the debate depending on who you listen to and how you feel about being a tourist. The debate spills over on Facebook.

Meanwhile renovations took place earlier this year at the BL, suffice to say that all went as planned. Reykjavik Review (Jan. 21):
'MBL reports that the expansion and redesign of the Blue Lagoon, which has been ongoing over the past two weeks, is now complete. Seawater was brought in to refill the lagoon, but it still retains its telltale blue colour'.
Finally while on the BL subject, ThinkGeoEnergy (Feb. 26) provides us with this interesting financial detail:
In presenting financial results for 2015, Canadian Alterra Power Corp. (TSX: AXY) reports on its 66.6% owned Icelandic subsidiary, HS Orka hf.
While showcasing the highlights below, there is one element that sticks out in the results and this is the financial contribution of a spa operation, partly owned by HS Orka that utilises “waste water” for a thermal bath, which is the predominant tourist attraction and destination in Iceland.
Though this should prove as a guiding light for the rest of the thermal power pushers, combining soaking with geothermal power generation is ultimately an underestimated aspect and hardly even given a thought when projecting thermal power generation.

Unclear
Missadventuresabroad reports on a visit to Bagno Vignoni, Tuscany, Italy (Mar. 31):
'I thought these springs were an excellent way to see something new and unexpected in the heart of Tuscany'.
Equally in Tuscany, I came accross this image from charhr
Three babies at the #TermediSaturnia. #terme #sulfursprings #hotsprings #springintuscany

Ilmessaggero has an article (June 29) on the Bullicame hot springs, Viterbo and the murky waters which have now dried up. 
A plethora of administrative indications is still not able to restore the natural flows of this hot spring which are being syphoned off (illegally) to 2 commercial hot spring centers nearby.
Earlier (Jun. 8), the same source announced that plans were under way to study the options to keep both commercial operations active as well as restore the natural flows of Bullicame. 
Lafune.eu adds to the unclear situation (Jun. 30) noting plans for redistribution of waters and the expectation that the plan would be approved in the near future and hopefully be brought into realisation.

Then a curious older day photo (1935) from the Viterbo memorie e cartoline Facebook page concerns what are the current day Bagnaccio baths. The subtitles reveal how especially the muds were valued with reference that even the cardinals dogs bathed here!



Sascha's soaks
Josanicka Banja, Serbia 
Josanicka Banja is a good place to make stop before heading to the mountains of Kopaonik.
After crossing the bridge in Josanicka Banja to the direction of Kopaonik there is a very good restaurant (“Velez”) that locals recommend for their fish. It was indeed a very nice restaurant with a beautiful terrace. 

But before having a lunch or dinner you should take a very special shower in the ancient ottoman hammam. When you walk to the park there comes first a newer building with thermal baths. You have to pay a fee if you want to take a bath. For those who like the post-communism atmosphere, this can be rewarding. 


It is probably better to continue the walk to the ottoman hammam that is for free and still in use. In fact, all locals go to this hammam and not to the baths because the water comes from the same source. 
Only one person or couple can go inside and then closes the main door of the hammam. You take your shower (about 40°C) and feel super relaxed because of the highly mineralized water. Although I expected a possibility to soak, the shower in a real ottoman hammam was a beautiful surprise. 


When you follow the footpath you come to the real hot spring in the park. It is so hot that a cage protects visitors. Some of the water goes directly into the river, but at the time of my visit it was not possible to soak into pools. 

The shower was definitively the better option. 



My evaluation: 2 of 5 stars because very authentic but in the town and therefore highly frequented. 




Not
Extraordinary hot springs. This article (on Spanish Sabores, Jan. 24) lists six of these in Spain. And adds that they are off the tourist track
Three though are in Ourense city, which means there are less left elsewhere.
Listed are also Catalunya's Fontcalda  where the temperature many not be referred to as hot (28ºC):
'While they may not be the hottest thermal baths in Spain, they are arguably the most natural. These 82º F springs are tucked between the Mola and Crestall mountains about halfway between Barcelona and Valencia. The best way to access this all-natural hot spring is by hiking in on one of the various trails throughout the surrounding mountains'.
midu_89:
Fontcalda 😜 #fontcalda #viaverda #terraalta #excursio #riu @jonagr23

Euro soaks visited