Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Exposure

Feels like home
Naked bodies are everywhere. Yes, that's what you get when you visit Thermae 2000 on a sans vêtements day! Logical, isn't it?

The large pool which traverses from an inside basin along a canal to a large outside relax and whirl tub from where one can swim back to the start contains a 100 hundred or more of the aforementioned bodies. 
Below on the terraces overlooking the drop to the town of Valkenburg (Netherlands) are also pretty busy with bodies clothed in their birthday suits soaking up the sun. 
And beyond in the adjacent sauna complex where nudity is nearly always obligatory there are ..., well ..., more natural bodies.

This home of hedonism though is temporary, only twice a month does the management of Thermae 2000 allow soakers the ability of an all-natural soak. Other days suits are required with exception of the sauna section. There nakedness is obligatory and afterwards when one wants a swim it's back into your soggy and chilly swimmers!
Note though that every Tuesday the prudes take over, with suits de rigeur everywhere on the complex, sauna included. Apparently this appeals more to the youth!?

It is busy and it does seem to be the case on the naked days, though the non-naked days also have their addicts, so says the Thermae 2000 receptionist. Guessing from the array of assorted tan-lines these are not all customers who practice a natural sun-bath commonly. 
Then there is also the bathrobe brigade who seem to only drop their clothing guard in the brief meters between clothes hook and the pool and feel quite awkward.
So maybe not every one is up to date with today's dress code.

Naturally,  I am completely at comfort with the lack of clothes which enables one to enjoy the thermal waters as nature intended it to be. 

But, as much as this lifts me spiritually, Thermae 2000 is still a mass of steel and cement with no proof of it's natural source. Can this be regarded as a natural soak at all? Hmmm.

Going Dutch
Thermae 2000 is one of the just three natural thermal baths of Holland. Spread along the east of the country (bordering Germany), the northernmost thermal spring are the baths of Nieuweschans; centrally is the Sanadrome of Nijmegen and Valkenburgs Thermae 2000 in the south. 

Nieuweschans has little or no historic reference but Nijmegen as well as Valkenburg trace in some way their soaks back to the Roman times.

In Valkenburgs case archaeological finds of a nearby ancient Roman bath house are to be seen in the Thermen museum of Heerlen. The collection also displays other artefacts from the same period. Note though that the bathhouse had no natural hot water. So no historical connection?

Dating from 1989 Thermae 2000 draws it's waters from a depth of 380m; so not a real naturally occurring hot spring, quelle surprise. The temperature of the water pumped is 33 degrees (source).

Thermae 2000's own web site adds:
'Thermae 2OOO is built on three sources. The healthy water that comes from these sources has been protected from the meteorological cycle around 40.000 years. This means that the water has not been exposed to contaminants. The thermal water from the inside and outside pools has a special beneficial effect on body and mind and it invites the body to relax optimally'.
The Dutch website adds little more on the subject. 
Photography is forbidden and this strict policy is followed through: 
this photo is from the Thermae's own website.

Experience
But there are some draw backs to Thermae 2000:
* Parking fees are €12,50 which seems a bit hefty (but the all the more reason to switch to a push bike, the surroundings are great places to whizz around; beware though of the climb up out of Valkenburg!). 
* Entrance fee is also another €31,50 for a day pass, no counting by hours, though if only for a morning or evening cheaper options are available.

Inside the lay-out of the pools is far from clear. The sauna complex seems not so clean with quite a lot of standing water. And there´s a constant shift of persons coming in, going out making it far from a quiet area. Lot´s of shrieking coming from cold water baths.

Thermae 2000 limits visitors to the over 12, meaning that one won´t see a young family, whether the day is clothed or not. The same applies for youths in general. 

As said there was ample evidence of more prudish visitors which might go some way in explaining the lack of more hues of skin colour. Especially as the prior visit in Aachen showed that there are quite a number of visitors with their roots from elsewhere in Europe, Asia or Africa who equally enjoy a thermal bath. One might believe that the non-clothed option is a no-no. Or that Dutch culture somehow dissuades non-Dutch from soaking?

It´s also the nearness to other such places as Aachen´s Claudius Thermen, Spa´s umm ...  Therme and Chaudfontaines Chateau that leads one to believe that the hot spring bath deal can be had on better terms nearby. 
Note also that these are all of more natural origin.

Disappearance
A discussion on the Dutch language Naturismeforum lists nudists reactions:
Too busy; yeah, no under 10's; not too many old people; visitors on this forum have no respect for elder persons; yesterday a naked day: very busy, waited half an hour to get in.
Conclusion not too positive. ...

Another Dutch language site, zoover, rates Thermae 2000 as 6.0 (out of 10), with 86 reactions. Some of the comments from the last 12 months:
staff friendly; no smoking allowed; not clean; slippery floors; expensive; too many naked people; fun; relaxing; needs to be renovated; sauna's too small!; beautifully located; could be modernized; parking expensive; clothing rules unclear; our towel got stolen; good.
Tripadvisor gives Thermae 2000 a rating of 3,5 stars from 108 reviews. Are international visitors less fussy? Some of the past years reviews on tripadvisor:
dirty; not so nice; staff is friendly; lacking in flair and style [!]; overall, great service, great food; very clean; clean; spotlessly clean; dress code is clearly explained on the website; the infrastructure is very old; not modern and up to date to the latest sauna trends; very crowded is the sauna area and therefore not relaxing at all; too busy; swimming trunks "disappeared" [oops!].
The Spaonline gives it 4.2 stars out of 5 (52 reviews) while Sauna-review notes 5.2 out of 10 (23 reviews).

From the above it's clear that Thermae 2000 seems not to live up to expectations. Maybe expectations are pumped up exceptionally as for instance it's PR functions well (Thermae 2000 also has a Facebook page) and the absence of other Dutch competition.
However many point out that correctly it is expensive and on normal days, the competition is a much cheaper alternative.

What the competition doesn't have is the all-natural day, a winner for sure.

Euro soaks visited