Steamy Tales: Exploring the Tradition and Thrills of Public Saunas

Our son and daughter-in-law blessed us with a gift certificate for a unique experience. Last week, we enjoyed the healthful benefits of a public floating Finnish sauna (sow-nah). I’m sure you have heard of a sauna’s relaxing and cleansing merits. Bathers have pampered themselves in saunas, sweat lodges, and ancient Roman caldaria (heated rooms/baths) for thousands of years, from the purification of releasing toxins from your system to escaping the daily stresses of life for an hour or two (not much you can about the kids, the house, that report, the bills) while sitting and sweating in a wooden box.

Public bathhouses also help us maintain our dwindling contact with other humans. In these communal spaces, strangers and friends come together to share jokes, tell stories, and even solve minor problems (remember, we are chilling.) 

Don’t forget the ultimate sauna routine- the hot-cold cycle. Cooling off between sauna heats, whether it’s a cold plunge into Duluth’s Saint Louis Bay (see picture) or the Roman frigidarium (cold pool), is not just a tradition; it’s a crucial part of the sauna experience. It’s the only way to get that tingling full-body jolt of pure sensation. So, the next time you take a sauna, remember, the chillier, the better. 


The video (below) is from the Cedar and Stone Nordic sauna on Duluth’s waterfront—two wood-fired stoves surrounded by nature’s frigidarium. Hot, cold, rest, rehydrate and repeat.  

Excerpt from Fortunes of Death

They had decided to meet at Sabina’s favorite bathhouse near the luxurious villas built one upon the other up the side of Mount Bulbuldag. …..

Portia paid their entry fee of four bronze denarii and additional monies for towels, oils, and refreshments. Two slave women escorted Sabina and Portia to the changing room, undressed them, and led them into the heated tepidarium. Lying, stomach down, on massage tables, Sabina relaxed, delicious heat radiating from the stone table. Soothing harp music drifted in from the pool area.

She rested her head on folded arms. The kneading hands of the slave rubbed olive oil into her skin. “I went back to Dionysius’s house.”

Portia rolled on her side. “To spy on Ursula’s family members?”