I had the privilege of traveling to Finland and Sweden from September 19th to 30th. What made this trip interesting were the opportunities to sauna bathe.
After a couple days in Helsinki, Finland, my wife and I took a ferry, the Silja Serenade, over to Stockholm, Sweden. We were happy to bump into some old friends from both New York and Helsinki. Instead of sharing a table at one of the nice restaurants on board, we had arrangements to spend some time in the ship's spa section. Luckily for us, this is the start of the off-peak season and most people on the ship were dining, so the spa was not too crowded during our visit.
There are separate saunas for ladies and gentlemen, and in addition at least one or two private saunas that can be reserved beforehand on the shipping company's website. So off we took to the spa an hour after the ship sailed. We were greeted by very nice waitresses at the entrance and were escorted to a surprisingly spacious private dressing room with couches, etc. The sauna could easily accommodate a half dozen guests so there was plenty of room for the two of us. An added bonus was that we were served drinks and finger food directly to our private quarters, and it was not overly costly, either. The common section of the spa consists of three large jacuzzis, a steam room, and a bar. Because of the early hour of our visit we were able to have one of the jacuzzis to ourselves. What a beautiful way to spend time it was to watch the archipelago sunset in the bubbly water through floor to ceiling windows while feeling elevated and relaxed by the sauna. We were two truly happy campers. It was not a party cruise, though, jetlagged and after two hours of sauna bathing we went to sleep in our nice cabin around 9PM. Have to say, though, that the next day couldn't have been better. Unfortunately we didn't have time to take the ferry back, but had to fly to Helsinki due to a previous engagement.
The following Saturday we drove to central Finland to visit relatives and were able to fire up a very old smoke sauna twice. This sauna has been there since the 18th century. Again around 2 hours of sauna bathing each time, but this time we were sissies; no plunging into the river since the water was already a fresh 52F. You have to know what you are doing when you heat up a smoke sauna, because if you don't follow the ancient protocol, there is a chance that you will end up with carbon monoxide poisoning. However, since basically the whole humankind has been doing this for thousands of years, apparently deep down the heating process is manageable. That smoky smell on your skin afterwards is just so soothing and nice. In this busy world one can yet question the habit of heating the sauna for five hours straight and then enjoying it for only around a couple. But like in sailing, the preparation is part of the enjoyment.
The day before we left back to New York, we were also lucky enough to visit the new "Loyly" high-end sauna/restaurant establishment in downtown Helsinki, which seems to be super popular. We arrived there early, at lunchtime, and it was hard to get a table, let alone get tickets to the sauna. We started our sauna when the sauna section opened at 1PM and when we left the premises around 3PM it was already sold out for the day. However, this was Friday after all and it was refreshing to see some corporate people spending time there together, men and women. Not a problem in that part of the world and it is important to point out that bathing suits were mandatory. So like at the beach, people were sitting together, this time however by the fire with a glass of champagne in their hands.
I also met the guy who runs the sauna section. It consists of one traditional sauna that seats perhaps 25-30 people and one smoke sauna that seats 15-20. I wish I had had this conversation with him before entering the saunas. There is a hatch on both heaters that should be kept open just right. You leave the hatch open for too long and the saunas become too hot and dry, you keep them closed and the saunas are humid but lack a little bit on the heat side. This time we did dip into the sea, me once, wife twice. Apparently there is a vast difference since now the water was 55F!
All in all I wish the high-end sauna culture would start spreading more in the US as well. Here in New York, it is mostly ethnic Russian traditions that drive this type of thermal therapy. You can always of course build a sauna in your own house; then it is as high-end as you want it to be.
President of the North American Sauna Society