Saturday, July 18, 2015

Natural Wonders

There's no bigger news than that concerning a perfect soaking area being overrun such that the managers are to contemplate closing the site all together. But that's what Iceland's tourist boom is increasingly resulting in, apparently.

The Reykjavik Grapevine (Jul. 5) has a feature on the placid Hrunalaug hot spring, they don't come better than this. Having visited here before there's precious little room for many tourists and probably you'll need a wait during the busy summer months. It's very much common sense.

Hrunalaug, cause moi needed a emoji. We were accompanied by hitchhiker and then friend Sydney, whom we picked up close to Seljalandsfoss.
The Grapevine article (based on an Icelandic interview) contains the following excerpts:
'The Hrunalaug hot spring has undergone so much damage from the sheer numbers of visitors it has received that the owners have considered bulldozing it over.
The problem stems primarily from tour groups, particularly when they arrive by the busload, being disembarked at the site to try it out'.
A pity this, but it's not the only overuse issue that Iceland's grappling with as they seek to emerge from a financial crisis with inbound tourism leading the way. It does prove that the days of the laissez faire approach may well be numbered.

Then hot off the press, Viterbo city council (we're in Italy now) have ordered per direct the Il Bagnaccio hot spring (see a recent posting from our website) management to quit and thus probably close the site. The next step seems unclear.
In and around Viterbo lie quite a few hot springs which all seem to operate under varying management schemes, most though not officially recognised; certainly not legally. The municipality seems to have revoked any tacit agreement and what will follow is unknown (, Jul. 14). 

Understandably, soakers are in revolt. Petitions are to be signed. And according to the Il Bagnaccio website, local council have swiftly relented and set a date for closure somewhere in August. To be continued.

Less so in the headlines is what follows: a sample of what's making waves in the (natural) soaking spectra of Europe.

Let's start alphabetically (country wise) with a photographic odyssey of German spa towns  by  Alexander Krack (Wired, Apr. 8):
'Krack visited more than 30 locations in 2013 and 2014, creating beautiful medium-format photos that depict the surreal atmosphere of kurorte. Facilities vary wildly, but Krack was most interested in the mood they evoke. “To me [the project] was really about the aesthetic cosmos of German spa towns,” Krack says'.
Huffington Post (May 29) looks at the naked and heat loving relaxation as is common in Germany:
'For the saunas and mineral springs, naked is normal. And, because everyone is naked, and because they are all real people with real bodies (not photo-shopped, just ordinary) nobody cares what you look like. Taking the baths, having a sauna day, is all about health and well-being. Everyone is entitled, no one judged. It has nothing whatsoever to do with sex. And, when everyone is in their birthday suit, you become, in a weird way, invisible.
Every culture that has access to hot mineral springs has developed rituals and protocols for soaking. Some of these cultures, where it also gets quite cold, have combined rituals and protocols for saunas as well. In Germany, where every other town has the word "bad" in its name, there are a lot of springs and a lot of "bads."'
It's basically an article on German's love for sauna and sauna relaxing, as well as general soaking.

A lengthy article on what and where concerning Tiblisi's (Georgia) sulphur baths (, Sep. 2014).

#grek #samothraki #island #road #terma #termal#natural #narsist #doğa 
Need I mention Greece? From what seems a hot spring paradise, Samothraki, source
A feature on the famous baths of Budapest (Hungary) in the Budapest Times (May 17):
'Budapest and thermal spas belong together like egg white and yolk.
While in other European cities you might meet up for a coffee, in Budapest you go bathing together'.
The author continues to laud accolades to the Rudas baths and ends with this probably little known fact:
'Every two weeks there is an occasion in Rudas that is not so old-fashioned. When the water is changed, the visitors defy the historic atmosphere. Hard liquor flows instead and a Wellness Party is held until early morning'.
Oddly considering that Budapest hardly knows public bathing au naturel, but the city does make the list for the 10 best places to be naked in public without raising too many eyebrows  (plaidzebra, Apr. 8). 

Then from ThinkGeoenergy (Jun. 24) a note on Italian geothermal power:
'The net national production for geothermal increased by +4.4%'

#bagni #festa #bagni_bianco #fosso_bianco #siena #toscana #terme #san_filippo #giugno #italia #italiani #bella_calda #termenaturale 

The fear
Iceland seems to need a paragraph or two of it's own; it's a place where things are happening ...

A rating system for Reykjavik's public swimming pools (many are hot spring fed or at the least have a hot spring fed tub on the premises) as published in Reykjavik's Grapevine (Apr. 7). The exhaustive list comes with this final caution:
'Please remember: YOU WILL WASH SANS BATHNG SUIT before entering any pool in Iceland. Those who fail to do so can expect to receive glances of deep hatred and disgust from locals. In Iceland, subjecting strangers to soaking in your dirt is not considered good manner'.
And that seems to be the focus of the Grapevine. It has more research on public bathing in Iceland (Apr. 22):
'Visits to the great public pools of Reykjavík have not increased anywhere near as much as city officials would have expected given the tourism boom. Why?
One explanation is a fear of showering in the nude'.
That's just one reason, others suggested are that the public baths are not known enough or that foreigners fear the worst: cold pools.
'Whatever the reason, the municipalities in the Greater Reykjavík area have announced they will launch a joint marketing campaign to inform tourists of the opportunities of their many public pools'.
The article garners 38 responses. Some of the better replies:
'Grapevine, I love you, but you have done so many articles of late that are hyping up the "showering naked" factor that I almost wonder if you are contributing to tourists' phobias about the pools. The less information out there about showering naked, the better. If a tourist shows up at a pool, uninformed, pays admission and reaches the locker room, I highly doubt that he/she would leave upon seeing the nudity/shower situation. No hype = less terror.
I think iceland needs to highlight why you're expected to wash-that there is no chlorine in the pools so bacteria doesn't really die off. Hardly anywhere does it explain this.
Why do I need to visit public pools in Iceland?
But I doubt the 'regular' pools, although naturally heated, are on a tourists must-do list, especially when there is so much to see and do already and limited time because it's so expensive in Iceland'.
Nude Iceland III #iceland #nudeiceland #hotsprings #middleofnowhere #exploreiceland
Still public, but more natural at Landbrotalaug, source

Disregarding the emphasizing the naked shower bit, the Grapevine has another theme-like article (May 9), this time on how to let go of shame.
'There is nothing quite like soaking in the soothing waters of Iceland, checking out the locals in minimal covering and staring up at the wide sky. 
Well, dear friends. If you are not aware, ICELANDIC LAW states you must shower/clean yourself SANS bathing suit before and after entering a public pool. Big deal, I hear you say? Well, these showers just so happen to be communal'.
The consequences:
'... but bearing my bod in a safe setting is doing wonders for my self-esteem'.
On a different matter, Reykjavik's Grapevine (Apr. 21) mentions that the possible threat to be charged cash money to enjoy Iceland's premier nature spots has dissipated:
'The long-contested and controversial “Nature Pass” has died in parliament, of natural causes'. 
Other ideas flouted are an air ticket tax, it probably won't stem the tide but would generate revenue; however the devil would be in the details of spending ...

🛁 #naturalhotspring #hotspring  
Pay by view, Icelandic style? source

It would have meant that access to for instance Iceland's Geysir area would require an entrance fee. Talking of Geysir, UK's Daily Mail (Apr. 25) mentions a stunt of a Chilean artist:
'Marco Evaristti, [...] poured red fruit dye into the Strokkur Geysir, found around 70 miles to the north east of Reykjavik, at dawn.
When they boiled, vibrant pink steam blew up from the ground as a result. Professing that 'nature belongs to no one', he did not seek permission from local authorities before the stunt'. 
Hmmm ...., he did receive a few nites stay in an Iceland prison.

More hot spring news from the Grapevine (May 6):
'An Icelandic man got fed up with how dirty Seljavallalaug [hot spring] has become and cleaned it, whilst taping himself'.
The (now not so) secret lagoon of Iceland? Unlockingkiki (May 7) has all the info on this hot spring near Flúdir, a better alternative to the apparently overrun Hrunalaug.
'The Secret Lagoon, located in the Golden Circle area, is a natural hot spring with the mission to keep it natural and unique so that guests can get the true Icelandic experience. I had never heard of the Secret Lagoon before, nor has anyone else I have talked to about it, but when I saw this steamy beauty show up on Instagram I knew I had to visit'.
Finally a taboo in the soaking community. Reykjavik Grapevine has a small article on sex and soaking (Jul. 14) especially with regard to the Blue lagoon:
'The reported “problem” of people having sex in the Blue Lagoon is vanishing, says an official for the popular tourist spot'.
I don't know where the Grapevine gets the reports from, but they seem to trying to make more of this than there is:
'“It hasn’t happened in many years [that we know of],” he said. “But if it happens, they’re immediately shown the way out.”
Far away out on the Atlantic, Portugal's Azores island of São Miguel the Poça da Dona Beija hot spring has been renovated. The dezeen magazine (Jun. 16) has an extensive article and photo's on the changes made. This soak has been bumped up my to soak list ...

#caldeira #velha #terme #Azzorre #portugal  

Portugal's northern most districts and Spain's region of Galicia are seeking more cooperation on thermal enhancement so reports Termatalia (Apr. 1). Though it focuses mainly on joint surface water quality enhancement, promoting it's thermal waters is also included.

Sascha's soaks
Skléné Teplice, Slovakia
The hot springs of Skléné Teplice are completely commercial and I would recommend not mentioning them any more as “natural hot spring” on European Natural Soaking Society. 
The picture left shows the entry hall. You have to put off your shoes, before having paid 6,50 EUR in another building. Considering the fact that you are only allowed to stay not longer than 10 minutes in the water, this is quite expensive. Entrance is only possible once per hour. You have to lock your clothes, take a shower and then go into the pool hall. 

The bottom is completely tiled. Only a part of the natural rock remains, the bottom of the rock was cut. The water is 42°C hot, but as said, there is unfortunately nothing natural except parts of the rock. After 10 minutes, you are gently reminded that the session is over and that you have to relax in a cave for 20 minutes. 

Outside, there are real natural hot springs that goes into a river, but they are not accessible for the public. My evaluation: 0 of 5 stars

The picturesque town of Ronda (Andalusia, Spain) is to initiate a geothermal power project with a greenhouse spin-off according to ThinkGeoEnergy (Jun 18):
'By investing in a renewable source of power and heat, the industry can operate at low cost year around, reaping a huge advantage. The project seems to have run into several delays, due to licensing and administrative barriers, but now, funding has been secured'.

Trip to the Hot Springs in Santa Fe last week with these guys was amazing! #hotsprings #spain #aminiadventure 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Right fight

A natural hot spring with reference's by Dante as it's Inferno (source) or sketches of it's ancient baths by Michelangelo (source)? There's no doubt that with these endorsements every tourist will be queueing up to visit such a place.

But it's not the case. 

Despite these prominent mentions, interest in the Bullicame hot spring has  dwindled to such an extent that eventually local residents were the ones to breathe a semblance of life back into this soaking source. 

Located just outside of the city of Viterbo, Lazio (Italy), it's literally sucked of it's sources by the commercial run thermal establishments of Terme di Papi and the Hotel Salus Terme

The slow descent to nothingness of the Bullicame hot spring soaking pools was halted as local soakers were increasingly asked to shift closer as the waters were disappearing; the commercials were siphoning more and more water off. Combined with the subtle hints to it's previous grandeur, citizens of Viterbo demanded their right to a soak at Bullicame itself. Lobbying the local authorities has resulted in what the Bullicame environs are today. 

For more on this struggle, see the previously published interview I had with the Bullicame unofficial ambassador Giovanni Faperdue. Note also the existence of:
Associazione Il Bullicame: a group of interestees in the public cause of the Bullicame hot spring source as well in the conservation of other local springs. High among their priorities is keeping the hot springs public and free for all to use.
Under control
Despite this increase in consideration by the local authorities, little attention has been made to access: a dirt pot-hole filled road leads one either from Viterbo or from the Piscines Carletti (the other free soaking hollow nearby) towards the final lane which also doubles as the parking area. A parking area with precious little shade.

Botanical fanatics take note, early mornings one can visit the local botanical garden / slash arboretum (Orto Botanico dell'Università della Tuscia) which also has it's entrance at this non-descript crossroad.

Efforts have been made to rehabilitate the terme, the source and the surroundings, no less evidenced by the high fence which surrounds the approximately 2 hectare site. 
There's one small gate, which closes at night time, all the better to control possible abuse.

Once on site one can see a long pool to one's right with another much smaller pool beyond this, under the shade of a single tree. 

Near the center of the terrain on a slight rise is a plastic see through boarding which surrounds the source itself, a cauldron of bubbling water (below).

Though entrance is limited in time, there's no requirement for a fee. 

The larger pool offers opportunities for local residents to cool down in some (let's hope) clean waters; it's quite a large pool after all. And the quantities of sourced waters are limited thanks to aforementioned competition.
The smaller pool is a lot hotter and thus must see a good flow through most certainly meaning cleaner water.

On my evening visit I witnessed a struggle of soakers enjoying the inviting waters, while a mid-morning visit saw more soakers, though more sun worshippers than soakers most probably.

Toadal info
As seems habitual for the Viterbo soaking sites, there's not much original English language accounts / information on the internet:

The association has a website in Italian, though other than the associations charter there's no up to date info. For this it's better to keep abreast of it's Facebook page; there's a constant flurry of reports hoping for news from authorities that they will restore previous flows to the natural springs. Alas in Italian. A competing Facebook page has quite a lot of Italian reviews. I nicked the following photo of the larger pool just to illustrate it's dimensions:

There's also a limited Wikipedia site. In Italian.

Experiences. Ecobnb
'This park is also famous for hosting a toad, a protected species for which it was built a pond that collects water from the source. Unbelievable but true, the toad is the true master of the place, everything is done according to its protection'.
In 2014 Minor sights wrote:
'The city of Viterbo recently  cleaned up the whole area, put a fence around it, as well as a rock garden. It’s well-maintained, yet it’s completely free of charge and freely accessible. That’s your tax euro at work. The large pool means the water temperature varies depending on the distance from the source- choose the temperature that suits your mood'. 
Then Tripadvisor gives the Il Bullicame experience 4 stars (from 87 reviews); 90% of the reviews are in  Italian.

With this comes the end of the postings on a number of Viterbo's hot springs, certainly worth a visit.
But Viterbo and it's surroundings has more on offer. The medieval town itself is a gem to wander around in.

Beyond are quaint villages and towns such as San Martino Al Cimino, Montefiascone or Vitorchiano
More feted on the tourist trail is the village of Civita di Bagnoregio, somehow perched on crumbling rock waiting to subside itself.

Naturally you'd appreciate the hazelnut orchards of Lago di Vico, a large crater lake surrounded by a natural reserve.

Historically there are a few palace's and gardens such as Villa Lante (Bagnaia) or the Villa Farnese of Caprarola.

Then there's the medieval Parco dei Monstri, a must see of monster like sculptures at Bomarzo.

Finally we also decided to check the pools of Orte, apparently thermal fed. Certainly seemed hot, but no soak was to be had as their seasonal opening hadn't yet extended itself to weekdays ....

Terme di Orte with no place to go ...

Euro soaks visited