There is nothing better than how you feel after an incredible massage. I have a stressful job and so I try to get massaged a couple times per month. Unlike other indulgences, I feel absolutely no guilt enjoying my massage because of the many health benefits. It is exciting to try different massage styles when you are traveling so I thought I would share a few of my more memorable experiences.
One of the most interesting massages I had was in Russia. I had an afternoon in St. Petersburg to myself and was a bit tired of touring museums and palaces. I had the concierge desk book a massage for me, and because of broken English, the concierge and I did not really have the opportunity to discuss details. So I arrived at the ‘Spa’- which lets just be clear, was most certainly not a spa. It was a non-descript storefront along a busy street. At first I was concerned that the concierge had sent me to some sort of ‘pleasure palace’ but I decided to go inside. I was welcomed into a very Scandic looking room that smelled like a cedar chest. The spa attendant was very kind and spoke perfect English and she told me that I was booked with Ivan for the Banya massage treatment. It all sounded legit. Ivan came to meet me and took me back to the changing room which is where it all took a very different twist. Before entering the treatment room he gestured that I change into a towel and then meet him inside the room. I put my items in a locker and went inside. The room was a tiled steam room similar to what you’d find at a gym or a Turkish bathhouse. It was very, very hot and you could barely see through the steam. Ivan motioned me over to the far side of the room and to lay down on the towel that was laid out on the tiled table. This is when I noticed that Ivan was shirtless and in a towel as well. Odd...but we’re in a steam room so it would be odd if he was fully dressed, right? I lay down and Ivan begins kneading my muscles with a very strongly wood scented type of oil. Imagine your mother kneading dough in the kitchen, now replace your mother with a 200 lb shirtless muscled Russian. I got worked over on the hard tile surface. Finally he stopped after about 15 minutes and I was grateful for the reprieve. It didn’t last long. Mere seconds later I was accosted with bucket after bucket of ice water. I lay in shock on the tile surface—physical shock from the stinging cold water. What came next I could never have foreseen. Whack! Whack! Whack! Ivan was thrashing me with tree branches. What the hell was going on? I lay there puzzled as I was beaten with eucalyptus branches...for the next half hour. When the whacking ended and I already knew what was coming. More ice water. Ivan left the room and I tried to recover and let the steam melt the ice pieces that still covered my body. A few minutes later, I assumed the massage was finished and got up and proceeded to dry off and get dressed. When the spa attendant asked me how it was, I was lost for words, pretended I didn’t speak English, paid and left.
In Iceland I had an in-water, or Watsu, massage at the Blue Lagoon Clinic. My therapist, Ilsa, met me in the pool and asked me to float on my back as she placed a short pool noodle under my knees. She cradled my head in her hands and proceeded to give me one of the best back massages ever. Her hands were strong and easily glided down my back and shoulders. The thermal water relaxed me and gazing up, the northern lights put me in a trance. Ilsa moved the pool noodle behind my neck and began to work on my legs and feet. Here I almost feel asleep as I floated away. At the end of the massage, she stretched me out by gently swinging me around in the water and twisting me. Imagine floating yoga. For the entire hour in the pool, we were the only ones there and she roped off a section of the pool just for my treatment. There was also an option to do a silica sand body scrub during the massage as silica has healing properties. The whole experience seemed very embryonic but it was delightfully relaxing. Ivan would have hated it.
I was in Egypt and thought I would try the ‘Hammam Heaven’ package at the spa at the Fairmont Nile City where I was staying. I had enjoyed hammams before and after trekking through the desert and the pyramids the day before, I thought I could use a thorough scrub down. It was all set up in a room that looked more like an operating room than a treatment room in a luxury spa. The room was mostly stainless steel and the table was covered in a cellophane sheet with a neck rest. My therapist got me to start off face up and began the exfoliation process by rubbing me down with a smooth clay masque. Then she turned on the overhead series of jets and the table became an instant massage shower. With the help of pumice gloves, she stripped several layers of skin off me. Flip over and repeat. By the end, my body was raw and red. Then the massage part of the package came. Instead of using an oil, she lathered me up with eucalyptus black soap, a tribal soap made in various parts of Africa that is said to have medicinal qualities. Black soap is made from sun-dried palm tree leaves, cocoa pods, plantains and shea tree bark. Basically the plant matter is boiled down for over a day and then the soap is left to cure for at least 2 weeks. The soap soothed my skin and within minutes I was lathered and covered head to toe in suds. She started the massage off with my scalp and neck and worked her way all the way down to my feet. By the end I was as clean as humanly possible. The overhead jets were turned on again, but on a pulsing pattern this time, and I was told to just lay here for 10 minutes. I felt like I was getting hosed down after a night out at a foam party in Ibiza.
Finally in Thailand, I booked a 3 hour spa package at my villa. Until you have travelled to somewhere like Thailand or Bali or India, it’s hard to imagine how over-the-top spa treatments can be. After I drank a custom-made tea blend based on my preferences, I was instructed to take a 15 minute steam. They handed me a jasmine scented iced towel to take in with me. Nice touch. When I came out, the bathtub had been filled with milk and rose petals. I got in the onyx bathtub and they came in to apply a face mask made of marigold petals and honey. After my soak and a shower off, I was asked to sit in a throne (seriously, it was a throne) where they ran a floral foot bath for me. The therapist massaged my calves as my feet sat in the steaming perfumed water. When the soak was finished, she pulled my feet out and gave me the deepest foot massage ever. Oiled up with mint oil, she hit pressure points I wasn’t even aware of. Then it was time for the main event and she asked me to lay face down on the massage table. Everything began normal—scented warmed oil and soothing Swedish massage techniques. I was totally relaxed. She walked around the table and then she walked right up on to the massage table. From here, she spent the next half hour walking up and down my spine and working my shoulders with her knees. Thankfully this was a petite Thai lady and not Ivan! She finished the massage with gentle Reiki-like touch, barely even touching my skin. When I left the spa, I felt like I had been put through a washing machine—but on the delicate cycle.
My suggestion is that the next time you go on a trip, try a massage. Some of my best holiday memories include spa stories from different places I’ve visited: being massaged with seashells in Hawaii, right on the beach in Grand Turk, with wine in Mendoza, etc. You really never know what you'll get but it will always makes a great story. So indulge, relax and try to avoid therapists named Ivan.