Naked and nervous: Mom's famous spa story (from our archive)

An American traveller visits the Piešťany spa for an unexpected wellness experience.

Piešťany SpaPiešťany Spa (Source: Anton Frič)

This is an article from our archive of travel guides Spectacular Slovakia. It was written in 2004. For up-to-date information and feature stories, take a look at the latest edition of our Spectacular Slovakia guide.

I had been in Europe six hectic days when my son decided it was time to relax. We rented a car in Bratislava, and drove through Slovakia's beautiful countryside to the small city Piešťany. We walked through the cobblestone streets, admired the shops and made our way to the city's famous health spa.

As we toured the spa's sprawling grounds, my son suggested we indulge in massages. I had purchased massages before as gifts, but I had never enjoyed one myself. I was eager to try it.

"First you'll have a mineral bath," my son said. "Now listen - no swimsuit. But don't worry. You'll be on the ladies side. Most of them will be much older."

No problem, I thought. I grew up in a house with five women.

Inside the spa building, Matt told the ticket lady I didn't speak Slovak. "Just get me if you have any problems," she said. My son went through the door to the men's section, and I went confidently into the ladies'.

A woman dressed like a nurse led me to a small, curtain-covered room, with a bed and blanket inside. The woman said something in Slovak. I assumed it meant to undress. So I did. I wrapped myself in the blanket, sat on the bed, and waited. It seemed like forever.

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I finally peeked through the curtain, looking for instructions on what to do next. "Excuse me, excuse me," I said, standing there, wrapped in the blanket. A masseuse from across the hall uttered something in Slovak. I signalled with hand gestures that I didn't understand. She walked over, yanked my blanket off and pointed down the hall. Where was my interpreter now? I thought.

I turned and almost bumped heads with a middle-aged man! There we were, eyeball to eyeball, he dressed, me naked! Don't betray me now body, I thought. Just pretend this is no big deal. The man directed me to a shower room, where I found two elderly women. Good, I thought. I'll follow them. They'll know what to do.

After rinsing off, the women left, and so did I. We walked down the hall, naked and dripping, to the heated pool. I got in the warm water. Just soak and relax, I thought. But I couldn't get comfortable. Inside, the shock of the last half hour turned to pure fear. What would come next?

After 20 minutes, the other bathers got out, one by one, taking a sheet from a stack by the steps. I did the same. It was my first cover since seeing the man in the hallway.

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We walked back to our rooms. As I opened the curtain, the masseuse from across the hall caught sight of me. "Sleep woman!" she commanded. I reclined on the cot. Soon, a man arrived and carefully wrapped me, cocoon-style, in a warm blanket. He returned in 20 minutes and escorted me to a massage table. Did he give massages, too, or would I get the lady who hated me? And who did I fear more?

I lay on the massage table face down. A sheet draped over the top of my legs barely covered my derriere. I heard two male voices and felt large, warm hands kneading my back. I could see the feet that belonged to those hands, but nothing more. I tried, but I couldn't relax.

The masseur directed me to turn over, then rubbed down my neck (wheh!). Finally - with the sheet covering my front - I found the courage to look up and make eye contact. The warm hands and sandal-covered feet belonged to a David Hasselhoff look-alike! He started to leave, but then turned back, and spoke.

"Peace," he said.

Yeah right!

Editor's note: My mother visited Slovakia for a week in Fall 2002. She saw castle ruins and cathedrals, Vienna and Budapest, and one night, in an underground restaurant, a broad-shouldered Slovak serenaded her for an hour. But back in Upstate New York, all she talked about was her day at the spa.

Editor's note II: David Hasselhoff is the star of the American television series Baywatch. He plays a lifeguard.

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