On cold November day we met as new friends and colleagues, to share a spa day in our adopted town of Leiden in The Netherlands. By the end of the day, we had laughed, steamed, and scrubbed ourselves into a sense of camaraderie.
Sitting in the steam room, we cackled with laughter. By the end of the day, there *may* have been stout Dutch people frowning at us and our laughter, but there was too much steam to clearly see their disapproving stares. One of the things that got us started was at the beginning of the experience we were greeted by what looked like sorority sisters in cheerleader outfits. The natirs, female bath attendants, were, in fact, wearing the traditional red checked cloths tied around the waist and perfectly attired for the hot work they were about to embark on. However, they wore it miniskirt-like and on their six foot tall, lithe frames they looked like Dutch Bobbsey twins.
We were moved rather quickly out of the steam room; not being 20 years old any longer, unfortunately, our pores needed more time than we were given to sweat out the toxins. Moments before we were whisked away, a couple came in that used the provided squeegee to remove sweat and water from the sauna bench before they sat down. We wish we had known that. Luckily, we were moving to the hammam room to be bathed and cleansed, so anything we inadvertently sat in would be scrubbed off.
Hammams are typically beautifully decorated in an arabesque style and, in more traditional settings, ambient natural light fills the rooms. Olive oil soap for bathing and olive oil for massaging are the products on hand. A hammam has a warmed marble slab, with sinks around the perimeter of the room which often splash over as the taps run for most of the experience. This is a constant in all hammam experiences, providing an ambient, relaxing sound. Luckily for us, the hammam in Leiden also had splashing water, as the bluetooth speaker battery died in the midst of the proceedings, bleeping, and squawking, until the music was finally turned off.
Happy to find a spa sister, we left with baby soft skin and a desire to keep going. We stopped in at Van der Werff restaurant for soup and wine afterwards, finding one of the few quiet corners in the restaurant on their busy Saturday night. The live music provided quite the contrast to our serene night, but also energized our thoughts and ideas for sharing our spa/travel adventures with others.
Two phrases were spoken that night over olive soap bubbles, wine, and onion soup:
- I’ve tried many things, and if I don’t like them, I’ll usually try a second time just to make sure.
- We can’t be the only ones who want to find amazing spas wherever we live or travel.
For most Dutch spas, you should bring your own robe, slippers, and towel, as well as any toiletries that you need, but alway check ahead with the facility. Wear your robe in all the hallways until you are in a sauna room. And, unlike us, do use the provided squeegees on the steam room benches.
How to travel there
Getting to Leiden couldn’t be easier as Centraal Station is a hub. Enjoy the city views and canals (if it’s not raining)! If you’re just visiting the Netherlands, after flying in to Schipol Airport take a train to Leiden Centraal, one of the stops on the way to Den Haag. If you’re looking for a day trip from Amsterdam or the Hague, again, just hop on the train! Public transportation here is so simple.
Why travel there?
Leiden is a great little town in South Holland, filled with history, museums, the best Saturday Market (if you’re American you’ll think it’s the best Farmer’s Market you’ve ever seen, even though it’s so much more), a great University, and canals everywhere. As expats, we’ve chosen to live here, and hope you’ll agree how charming it is when you visit. Centraal Station is well, central, if you don’t want to stay in this lovely town, you can be in The Hague in less than 15 minutes, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, or even Utrecht in less than an hour.
A few of our favorite restaurants here in town (in no particular order)
- Fast and Fresh – vegetarian, meat, hipster vibe, near the Pieterskerk
- Lot & Walvis – in the Haven neighborhood, great patio with heaters in the winter, fantastic Sunday Brunch (called the “Recovery” Brunch), and a beautiful view of the harbor
- Grand Cafe Pakhuis – The outdoor garden area is enclosed, so even if it’s windy you can still sit outside, enjoying food and “borrel” (drinks for those of you who don’t speak Dutch)
- The Bishop – for foodies who also love the Farm to Table concept – add in the fish options, and they will accommodate vegetarians as well
- Pino’s Italian – Go for the take-out and be prepared for some real Italian attitude and delicious food
* Yes we are nerds. Wonderfully full-on, embrace-your-inner-geek, chicks who are referencing the first phrase use in computer programming to talk about beauty treatments (1972, Brian Kernighan).
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton