The end of our time in Barcelona took a strange and surprising turn. At least, it was a surprise for John; Lisa had arranged something in secret, which she likes to do (and John has no complaints!). Before we left, John had been instructed to pack a bathing suit. Keeping in mind that we left in early January this seemed like an odd instruction, but if he’s learned anything in life it’s that he should not ask questions in a moment like that one. And so, when the next day burst forth, sunny and cold, we strolled through the city and towards the harbor. Close to a small museum district Lisa gently pulls us towards a building on the other side of the street, and then into a discrete storefront labeled simply as “Aire”.
Apparently Lisa decided that we needed to have a quieter time together while still enjoying ourselves, and boy howdy did we. “AIRE|Ancient Baths” is a limited chain (8 locations worldwide) that provides classical bathing traditions (albeit from multiple cultures, mixed together as they saw fit) in a cozy atmosphere. I think they’d prefer that I describe them as “intimate”, and the photos on their website certainly go for that, but you’re never all that alone and sometimes among quite a few people, so “cozy” is as far as I’ll go. That said, it really is a lovely and relaxing time. One section of the facility is your classic Roman frigidarium / tepidarium / caldarium set-up (and if you think I didn’t have to go look those up you’re a very, very generous person). Neither of us could take much of the frigidarium, as they are not kidding around; there was ice piled up in the corners. It was mildly gratifying that almost no one else could take it either, but we would look at each with widening eyes every time somebody plunged into the baptisterium (thank you again, Wikipedia) and did not immediately climb back out. John went in up to the thigh a couple of times and that was about it. The warm pool (I’m not an ancient Roman and neither are you, so let’s drop the Latin shall we?) was quite lovely but also the most-populated, while the hot pool was… well, I suspect in olden days it would have been hotter to actually be a bit of a strain, but this was just like a nice hot tub. Which, you know… yay. Another portion of the facility was a salt-water pool that you could float in. Like, really really. From our own experience and also watching other folks, the common methodology is not to trust it for awhile, holding on to a railing, then gradually testing whether you were going to drown, before finally giving in and floating free. It was pretty neat, honestly, and if there hadn’t been a sense of people waiting their turn we could imagine staying there quite awhile. A sauna and whirlpool(? lots of churning bubbles in a warm-water pool) plus quiet brick corridors lined with low stone seating completed the experience. It was a charming afternoon.
After our time in the baths, we were led upstairs for a couples massage. It was very nice as far as these things go, although we had never before seen such a …. well, a retail experience merged with a spa environment. As in, there must have been 10 or 15 spaces set up for massage, all Tetris’d in together with a winding corridor carved out amongst them. The walls were often beaded curtains, when meant that you kind of felt private but also could easily sense other people if you stretched your mind out even a little. Still, they did a good enough job with it that you kind of had to try to notice it, at least in our experience. In any case, the masseuses were very attentive and (as far as we could tell) skilled, and it was a lovely hour spent. Still, a bit odd, as if we were incredibly pampered sardines.
Our time at AIRE was spent at a classic old-world sort of place called “7 Portes”. We’ve been to places like this in a few cities now – they highlight their history by having little plaques on the seats saying what famous person liked to sit there. In fact, when our bill arrived it even had a pre-generated note saying that our table was favored by Queen Sophia; well lah-dee-dah. (Now you know we aren’t jet setters. Jet setters do not say “lah-dee-dah”, if only because it’s a term that generally derides the sort of thing that jet setters like to do.) You can, naturally, read a review here.
This evening brought our first Spanish adventure to a close. The next day, we transitioned to a really neat hotel, the Barcelo Sants, which is attached to Barcelona’s train station. We’d be heading out for Paris early the following day; any time we have an early departure on public transit, we like to get to nearby accommodations so that the morning isn’t any more hectic than it has to be. Well, the Barcelo Sants is literally on top of the station, so an elevator and a 2 minute walk and we’d be going through security. The Barcelo chain is a global collection of hotels and resorts that often (maybe always? we’ve only been to a couple) have themes to them, and since they aren’t part of some huge consortium they can get a little… quirky. The Barcelo Sants goes for a space station theme, and boy howdy do they.
It’s spacey to the extreme in its look, apparently there was a big renovation in 2013 and they thought this was a good idea. As weird as it is, they also put in some VERY smart things that I wish every hotel would do. The shower was spacious and separate from the toilet, there were motorized blackout shades, and they had a pair of bed tables, tucked away hanging on the wall, Brilliant!
We’re pretty sure we’re going to be going in and out of Barcelona Sants’ train station, and this hotel is going to see a lot of us. (Oh, and it was 58eu for the night.)