In the Mud and Down the Salt Mine in a Romanian Spa at Bai Reci
By Caroline Crutchley
The Danube finally ends its European meanderings at Tulcea on Romania’s Black Sea coastline.
Hectares of water, mud, and reeds are a botanist and bird spotter’s dream. But it is south I go to Constanta, not only one of the largest ports in Europe but with the nine miles sand bar of Mamaia, a chic holiday destination for adventurous Europeans.
Just south was in Eiford where I started my Romanian spa experience.
Here the Black Sea gave way to sulfur-rich lakes, full of life-enhancing salts and minerals. My mission was to wallow in mud and with some persistent searching, (there was no signage), I found the Bai Reci.
Under a road and rail bridge, a steady stream of locals clad in only swimwear went and so I followed.
And lo and behold through the arch was a doorway where they all disappeared. A small kiosk was selling the tickets 10 lei (€2.50) and I parted with my lei and followed.
A security guard made sure of no cameras and I filed right to the Femme side of life. Here there is segregation of the sexes and I soon found out why.
Turning right and then left I emerged, blinking in the bright sunlight onto a beach with showers and lots of nakedness.
I found a spot and surveyed the weird scene. A beach, a lake and female naked bodies in nearly fifty shades of grey, standing around arms outstretched.
I spotted two buckets on a wooden board in the center of the beach and assumed this was the mud source. Being the adventurous brave soul, the only option was to strip naked and walk to the buckets over the warm sand.
The mud was shiny black and tar-like and stank to high heaven. My fingers submerged into the mud as I dug in and started smearing myself from head to toe. But of course, there was my back. Unbeknown to me I had been watched and a sweet local gal came to my aid.
With one swirl of hands, I turned and she smeared my back and I proffered to do the same for her. A new twist on the saying ‘You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.’
This was very sociable and soon more came to join the bucket brigade. A strict code of treatment was set out in Romanian only on a notice board!
Glistening in the Sun
Now fully coated, glistening in the sun we turned and dried for 20 minutes. Now resembling elephants in a wrinkly grey skin it was time to take the long walk.
I plunged into the warm smelly lake and bobbed up like a cork. Nothing to do but lie back, relax and chill for a twenty-minute float. The segregation was a bit of fallacy though because when I marched to the water’s edge it was easy to see the men but without my specs, I couldn’t see a lot through the mud!
My only pastime was watching the mud slough off to reveal skin. I righted myself and stood in the shallows to survey the hodge-podge of colors that I now was.
Mud in the Nether Regions
I headed for the showers on the beach where I opened the tap to find myself in a jet-propelled stream of cold water that sent me headlong against a wall. Trying to remove persistent mud from the nether regions was not easy.
Plastic mirrors helped to spot them lurking in armpits and other unmentionable places., Eventually I felt clean enough to make my way back to my pile of abandoned clothes to dry dress.
Now for the local ladies, this is a day-long social gathering but for me, it was time to move on.
At the exit, I surveyed the herbal potions and gels for every ailment imaginable. My skin was smooth as a baby’s bum but is stunk too of rotten eggs. I pitied the poor lady that sat next to me on the bus back to Constanta.
The Salt Mines of Praid Romania
Next stop was the salt mines of Praid (www.salinapraid.ro). Yes, I was about to descend 100 metres below ground in search of a cure-all for the inner me.
Are you asthmatic, phlegmy or the like? Then this is the place for you. Here the salt leaches from the walls in gigantic caverns and in the old days, a hospital was set up for serious cases.
Now a day ticket is 20 lei(€5) for fun, table tennis, a church to pray at and cleanse the soul and food.
The internet connection was the best I found in Romania and made it the perfect summer workplace. This is still a working mine for salt and I gave way at the bus for a change of shift – the workers in overalls and tin hats.
The salt vapors entered my lungs, I coughed and drank lots of water. I later emerged revitalized and breathing deeper than ever before. What a benefit for tar-laden smoker’s lungs.
There is a chemical reason for all this and since the 15th century, this mine has been a spa resort for European Royalty and much fought over. The Hungarians love it and come in the coachloads. Pack your sandwiches, a badminton set and have a day down the salt mines of Praid.
Close by is Bear Lake where the bears really do swim. The 27C hot thermal waters bubbled up from the depths below bringing minerals. With sun decks, showers and restaurants this is a popular summer destination.
Thirty minutes is the maximum recommended time before a ramble in the bear woods. Price is a snip at 20 lei for a day at the lake resort.
Finally, I had to do the spa the modern way. I checked in at the newly opened Kronwell Spa Hotel (www.kronwell.com) at Brasov. This four-star masquerading as a five star will soon have its own dedicated spa building. But right now I sampled the spa all to myself.
I ordered the spa to be turned on and in the intervening 30 minutes readied myself in my plush room. In my thick towel robe, I descended down to the Belaqva Spa.
Here a tea, coffee and water station had been arranged for me in the relaxing room. But where to first? There was a salt room, steam room, sauna, ice room and relaxing therapy shower.
Mist and Fog
Shower on, press a button marked fog and one for mist! Lights of all colors flashed and just like a car wash I was jetted at from all directions. I then went Finnish in the sauna and from there the ice room.
An ice maker was spewing out flaked ice scented for me to douse down the hot body. Then for a steam and relax in the salt room before a shower. It was so relaxing and exhilarating that I did it all over again.
In the heated seat in the relax room I rehydrated and let the world drift by. This is Romania at its best. I have run the gamut of just some of the spas and in the winter snow, there are more.
I guess I will have to return to get the full treatment under my belt. Spas like these are a fraction of the price of a weekend at Champneys.
The Hungarians and Germans go and so should you.
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