Der Schwarzwald

In turns out that just like in Seattle, winter in Ulm turned us into hermits, with trips to the Saturday market really our only excitement for the last bit of February and early March. With the gray skies and 4:30pm darkness, it was much easier to hibernate in the apartment than do any sort of exploring. Thus my approaching birthday was a perfect opportunity to get out of the house and get some exercise. Or perhaps just lay around a spa all weekend and top it off with some decadent meals. It’s nearly the same.

We picked up the rental car (unsurprisingly small and French) Friday afternoon and wove our way over to Baden-Baden, this time opting to explore the north end of the Black Forest as opposed to last summer’s excursion. Baden-Baden is generally known for its two major spas and a gorgeous casino, as well as for the lovely scenery and plenty of fancy shopping. After a bit of mapping confusion upon arriving and a seriously stressful parking garage situation, we opted to head straight for the spa. First stop, Friedrichsbad:

Now perhaps I’ve been very misled on what a “Spa Day” means in the US (never actually having had one), but I’m pretty sure it generally involves massages and facials and pedicures and whatnot. Not so much here. Germans take their spa time very seriously. There are rules and specific steps and no nail polish to be found. In fact, there is a whole category of travel here titled “Wellness Weekends,” with the whole purpose of hitting the spa.

In general though, the complex will include pools of differing temperatures, dry and wet saunas from warm to seriously cooking and likely a quiet room or two to wind down in after. Sometimes you pop in and out of whichever area you’d like and sometimes, like in Friedrichsbad, you follow a series of steps. It’s a wee bit stressful prior to sorting it all out, but eventually an official spa worker comes around to tell you you’re doing it all wrong.

We spent the second day exploring the town, trying out another spa, having a fabulous French meal (you’ve got to love towns on the border with France) and exploring the Baden-Baden Casino.  Called “the most beautiful casino in the world” by Marlene Dietrich, it features impressive chandeliers, velvet covered chairs and poshly dressed clientele. Unfortunately for those fancy clients, the house seemed to be having some serious Blackjack luck the night we visited, as we rarely saw the dealer get less than 19 at any of the tables. We opted to just observe instead.

While the casino was most certainly, gorgeous, it was also surprisingly small. Three rooms shared maybe 10 Blackjack or Roulette tables with a table or two of poker being played in the corner. Compared to the mega-casinos of Vegas, it was definitely a different experience.

Mid-Summer I would assume the town, casino and spas are packed full of tourists, but for a semi-sunny weekend in March we had an excellent weekend.

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