My time in Slovakia – Winter Spa Weekend

The most memorable moment of our time in Slovakia? “There’s a man rolling around in the snow with his bollocks out!” Intrigued? I thought so.

We were going to Slovakia for a spa holiday. Our Slovakian friend was visiting home for the weekend and asked us to join him. I never turn down the opportunity to visit a new country and I never say no to a spa! Since Roman times, spas have been recognized for their relaxation benefits and healing properties, a natural way for your mental and physical health to rejuvenate. We all work in customer service (a known head-wreck) and are on our feet all day, so our time in Slovakia was much needed.

Snow Covered Slovakia

The air was clean and crisp. The cold brightened my cheeks while the sun made my eyes squint and warmed my back. A sunny welcome in snow-covered Bratislava was the perfect way to start our two-day getaway.

We got the early fight from Dublin on Sunday morning after an exceptionally late night at work. Two hours after my head hit the pillow my alarm went off and I awoke to a Canadian dream – the smell of maple bacon wafting through the apartment. Breakfast sandwiches are always a good way to start a trip.

The flight was two hours and we settled in for another three-hour drive. Thankfully we got the music working in our cramped rental car and were able to enjoy the beautiful journey, climbing the Slovak mountains with ’80s throwbacks as our soundtrack.

There was six of us in total. Myself and my boyfriend Steve, an Irish couple Sorcha and Dan, our Slovakian pal Marik, and an Irish fella Jack. We found the Grand Hotel Permon at the end of an icy road set in the alpine village of Podbanské. Waking up to the view of the majestic Kriváň Mountain dominating the landscape and standing out amongst the peaks of the High Tatras was an amazing site.

Our time in Slovakia – The Spa

Slovakian Spa
Hotel Permon Spa Paradise, Photo credit: https://www.podbanskeresort.sk/en/

The spa itself was substantial, a maze of 33 different saunas/baths. We all planned to meet in the leisure centre at a certain hour and went our separate ways. After getting towels, wraps, and a bracelet key, Steve and I wandered into the spa with no idea where to go or what to do. Sadly the friendly woman at reception didn’t speak English so we weren’t able to understand any instructions she might’ve given us. Eventually, we figured out how to work the lockers, found the change rooms, and entered the pool area.

Lovely place, but it seemed to be missing a few facilities. There was a massive pool, one hot tub, and a small sauna. We went for a dip and argued amongst ourselves about where to find the rest of the attractions. I noticed a lot of people were only wearing the purple cloth wrap that was given out at reception, and they seemed to be disappearing down a mysterious staircase. We had a look and interpreted the signs. Staircase, fob key entrance, changing cubicle at the top, and no swimwear signs.

Au Naturel…

A little nervous, we knew what we had to do. We ditched our swimsuits, wrapped up in the purple cloth, and entered the promised land. Steve and I had been to a spa in Amsterdam where most facilities did not allow swimwear, but this was a little different. In Amsterdam, we knew no-one. This time in Slovakia, we were there with colleagues. Yikes.

Down the stairs there was a whole other world. Very dark lighting and the illusion of being underground, there was an abundance of saunas, aromatherapy rooms, tropical showers, and steam baths to choose from. I was in heaven. We came across a beautiful indoor “cave” pool, a dark space with star lights all across the ceiling. The perfect place for a leisurely swim.

“There’s a man rolling around in the snow with his bollocks out!”

There were a few hilarious moments on the trip. Sorcha and Dan didn’t realize until they were in the outdoor jacuzzi that swimwear wasn’t allowed. Dan thought he was being subtle and said to Sorcha, “Quick, take off your swimsuit!” He then proceeded to shimmy out of his shorts and ditch them over the ledge. Later in the evening we all got out of the hot tub and politely tried to cover up as quickly as possible, only to find our wraps had all completely frozen into tiny shapes. That was awkward.

Then there was the time Marik and Jack (also oblivious to the “No Swimwear” policy) wandered outside, stood on the porch and admired all the snow-covered facilities: a massive sauna, salt cave, jacuzzi, huge steam bath, and more. Suddenly Jack exclaimed: “There’s a man rolling around in the snow with his bollocks out!” That man was Dan. Everyone needed a few treatments to relax after the shock of that visual.

The infamous hot tub… Photo credit: https://www.podbanskeresort.sk/en/

Spa Etiquette

All joking aside, in the end the no swimwear policy wasn’t scary. Why the policy? The primary reason is hygiene. The point of using a sauna is to sweat out toxins from the body and clothing can block pores, trap sweat and carry bacteria. Everyone’s in the same boat and are too busy relaxing to notice others around them in an equally meditative state.

Our time in Slovakia - lava stone massage

Our time in Slovakia: The Numbers

Ryanair flight from Dublin to Bratislava: €71 return

Accommodation: We got a special all-inclusive package with Hotel Permon. Entrance to the spa, buffet dinner and breakfast, accommodation, €100pp/night.

Treatments:
Foot and leg massage (25 min) €14
Lava stone massage (45 min) €26
Whole body lymph drainage (90 min) €50
Full price list found here.

Thinking about visiting a European spa? Don’t be a Dan! Stay tuned for my top tips on spa etiquette.

Our time in Slovakia - spa weekend

Are you interested in 24 hour holidays? Check out 24 hour holiday: Top Five Ways to Spend Time in Edinburgh, Scotland

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Belgian Bliss – A Brussels City Break

I got the waffle from a waffle truck.

The breeze carried the sweet smell of the dough, enticing me to find the truck and take a break from getting lost in Brussels. We ordered two waffles, each with a scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of Belgian chocolate. We sat at the top of a set of stairs overlooking a park nestled in front of city landscapes. With the sun on my face and the soft sound of French style accordion music from a busker, I had the perfect setting for indulging in my first Belgian waffle. One bite of the dense, sugary waffle and I was ruined for any future non-Belgian waffle.  It was the best pastry I’ve ever had, and the ice cream and chocolate made the treat all the more delectable. There’s a reason why Belgian waffles are famous.

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Best. Waffle. Ever.

I booked a trip to Brussels on a whim. There was a Ryanair sale so one day my friend and I sat down and booked three random trips. #44 on my Before 30 list (eat chocolate in Belgium) was reason enough to buy a 40 euro flight.

When we told people we were going to Brussels, a lot of our friends told us negative stories about their experiences in Belgium. I had a gut feeling I would still IMG_6922like Brussels, and I was right. Brussels is beautiful in so many ways – beautiful architecture, beautiful food, BEAUTIFUL men. I love Brussels.

Our flight was early Monday morning, which proved to be problematic because we had a friends farewell party Sunday night. Service industry staff tend to stay out late, so I opted for a no sleep option. After we hit up a couple of bars and had a little after party with some peanut butter toast, I went home, packed, showered, and grabbed a taxi to the airport as the sun rose.

What seemed like a good idea at the time quickly became slightly miserable. After catching a bus to a massive train station we had to find a tram to take us to the hostel. Combine extreme exhaustion, a pending hangover, and a complicated foreign language station and you can imagine how difficult it was for us to find our tram. We spent a lot of time looking pathetic which gave the Belgian people a chance to show us how nice they are. Multiple people asked us if we needed help and one person even walked us to the area we needed. The transit system in Brussels is very good once you figure out how it works, and even though all of the signs weren’t in English, we found it easy to find people that speak English.

After a much needed two hour snooze, we wandered around the city. We took the tram to Louise Station, an upscale area with storefronts sporting labels such as Versace and Vera Wang. As we waited for my friend Julie (who I lived with in Gold Coast and now lives in Brussels,) we had a chance to people watch. Brussels is very, very different from Dublin. From the areas we explored in the city centre, we found it to be a more peaceful city than Dublin. People speak more softly, everyone seems relaxed, and people have great style. Even our taxi driver looked like he could have been in a stylish magazine for  casual day wear.

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Health and fitness seemed to be a cultural value. We noticed a lot of people jogging all over the city and restaurants advertised organic food. For a country that’s

All of the food!
All of the food!

known for its chocolate, beer, waffles and frites you’d expect to find an overweight population. We found the opposite to be true — on average people were healthy looking. Oh, and did I mention attractive? From my perspective, this city is doing its part with maintaining the tall, dark and handsome stereotype.

Brussels is small enough that we were able to see most of the city centre landmarks on foot. We spent the day getting lost and stumbling upon gorgeous buildings and sculptures. We ate beautiful French food and visited multiple chocolate shops, and let’s just say I crossed #44 off my list several times that day.

#44 Eat chocolate in Belgium.

We also visited Delirium Cafe and tasted a few delicious fruit beers. Kriek is a cherry beer, and it is unbelievably delicious. My friend Iza hates beer, so much so that she had never even had a full beer and she’s in her 20s. She had two glasses of Kriek! Delirium had many beers to choose from, but you either had to choose from the menu or ask the bartender for a recommendation because the taps were blank. Normally beer is advertised on bar taps, and brands want the best display possible (for example, it’s best to be on the end of bar rather than nestled into the middle). The way Delirium is set up is a better experience for the consumer because if you’re chatting with the bartender or looking through the menu you’re more likely to pick a product that suits you rather than just choosing a pint of Heineken because it’s the first thing you see. In Belgium there is also a wide range of glass wear to pair with each beer and they pull pints differently. If you like beer, you’d be in heaven, and even if you don’t like beer I think there was something for everyone.

I loved Brussels, not because it’s a flashy, but because it’s quality. It’s been added to my list of dream cities to live in, and even inspired me to add something new to my Before 30 list — #97. Learn French.

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Spot the waffle truck!
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View from the waffle truck
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Brussels is the capital of the European Union.
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Yes please.
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“Welcome to my home!”

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coconut beer
Coconut beer served in a wooden bowl! Delicious.

belgian bliss