Five great European thermal baths

european thermal bathsBefore the spa revolution saw most upscale hotels offering spa services to guests, there was the venerable European spa town tradition, centered on thermal baths built around natural hot springs. The water on offer for bathing at these sites has historically been thought to possess therapeutic qualities. The tradition of taking a “cure” remains an enthusiastic habit across Europe today, in particular in Central Europe.

Here are five noteworthy thermal baths, in Austria, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, and France.

1. Bad Gleichenberg, Austria. This small Styrian town is home to a thermal bath with a grand history that stretches back to Roman times. There are seven springs here, all producing mineral-rich waters known for their beneficial effects against respiratory and skin problems.

2. Bad Nauheim, Germany. North of Frankfurt, this town’s waters are meant to be particularly good for the treatment of heart and nerve disorders. These waters have a salt content of three percent, as high as most seawater. At Therme am Park, day tickets for bathing begin at €15.

3. Széchenyi, Hungary. Europe’s largest thermal baths are the most urban of the handful profiles here, located as they are in Budapest’s City Park. These waters are supposed to have great therapeutic value for those suffering from joint ailments.

4. Therme Vals, Switzerland. This spa, designed by the in-demand Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, benefits both from architectural significance and an impossibly picturesque location in the mountains of Graubünden. Vals is also the source of Valser mineral water.

5. Alet les Bains, France. This southwestern French village, not far from Carcassonne, is but a speck on the map. Since 1886, water sourced here has been bottled for consumption. During the warmer months (May through September) the town’s thermal baths are opened to the public. The waters here are supposedly very good for the treatment of digestive and metabolic problems.

[Image: Flickr | karaian]

Knocked up abroad: second trimester travel

second trimester travel

Not far along enough for second trimester travel? Read more about pregnancy in a foreign country, Turkish prenatal care, travel in the first trimester,Turkish superstitions, and foreign baby names on Knocked up abroad.

A few years ago, before the word staycation foisted itself into the travel lexicon, babymoons were all the rage. A babymoon typically referred to the last getaway for expecting parents, often a deluxe resort vacation replete with couples’ massages, room service, and lots of pampering. I’ve spent my my pre-baby travel slightly differently, exploring post-Soviet museums before needing a stroller, eating at restaurants that have never heard of kids’ menus, and learning what non-alcoholic drinks are on offer in local dive bars. Living abroad in Istanbul has also changed my short-haul destinations considerably. In the first trimester, my husband and I traveled to Kiev and Warsaw, Russia in the dead of winter, and to Frankfurt for the Christmas markets, and I don’t regret having gone without the his-and-hers massages. For second trimester travel, I found Singapore to be nearly ideal: the food and shopping are epic, the street food is safe, and the people polite and helpful. Though the hotel prices and high temperatures can be hard to deal with, the Southeast Asian city-state is a nice balance of relaxation and city exploration.

Ask any new parent or doctor and they will tell you that the second trimester is the best time to travel, after the early days of morning sickness have passed and before you get so uncomfortable that a walk around the block feels like a marathon. Given the relative comfort level, the second trimester is also the best time for longer trips further from home. I flew 10 hours home to New York (my first trip back to the US in 10 months) in late February at 20 weeks, and just returned from a week in Malaysia and Singapore at 27 weeks. Today I hit the 28-week mark of pregnancy, a big milestone as it means the end of unrestricted air travel. For many international airlines, including Turkish Airlines, British Airways, and Qantas, you are required to bring a doctor’s note certifying you are fit to fly overseas. We all want to avoid childbirth on a plane, even if it could mean free flights for life.

Here are a few lessons I’ve learned from travel in the second trimester:

  • Travel when you are showing: Part of what makes first trimester travel tough is that no one knows you are pregnant other than you and your travel companions. Exhausted and need a seat? Tough luck, lady, we’re all tired. Need to make sure that foreign drink is non-alcoholic? Better stick to (bottled) water. While my friends cooed over my five-month baby bump, not a single person gave me a seat on the NYC subway in a week of rides, even when I unzipped my winter coat and looked longingly at strangers. Two months later in Singapore, I barely stepped onto a train before several people offered me a seat and every car has a few reserved seat for passengers in need.
  • Don’t skip the creature comforts: Even if you skip the traditional resort babymoon, you should still give yourself a break when traveling. When booking air travel, if you can find a way to upgrade yourself to business class, you’ll be glad to stretch out even if you can’t sip that free champagne. Coming from rainy and chilly Istanbul, a week in tropical Southeast Asia seemed heavenly, but walking around in humid 90-degree weather felt more like hell. I must agree with my food blogger friend Kate over at Savour Fare who said that “swimming pools are God’s gift to pregnant women.” Staying at a hotel with a pool gave me much-needed relief in between wandering the historic (but seriously hot) streets of Penang, Malaysia.
  • Bring documentation: As noted before, many airlines require a doctor’s note for women to fly between 28 and 35 weeks. But how do you prove how far along you are in the earlier weeks? At my last doctor’s appointment before flying to Asia, I asked for a note allowing me to travel just in case, having heard that Malaysia sometimes restricts entry to pregnant women in later months for fear that they will give birth in the country. Good thing I did as nearly every Turkish Airlines personnel asked me for my medical report: when checking in, at the gate, and on the plane. If you’re traveling internationally after 20 weeks, play it safe and bring a note.
  • Do half as much: For first trimester travel, I noted that you should realize your limits have changed. Though energy levels may increase in the second trimester, jet lag and extreme weather still take a major toll. I had a long to-do list in Singapore but could barely manage half the things. I scoffed at paying for the tram at the zoo, but in hindsight, it would have been much easier and more comfortable to get around Singapore’s massive animal park. Even if you normally avoid overpriced museum cafes, they might provide the break you need to stay a little longer. Taxis are another friend of pregnant women, especially when they are air-conditioned.
  • Buy local snacks: Pregnancy is a double-edged sword when it comes to eating: your hunger is greatly increased but you have to watch what you put into your body, whether you’re in a foreign country or not. Often flights arrive late at night or you mistime your lunch break when all the restaurants are closed, leaving you without many food options. Penang is known as Malaysia’s food capital but I had to make different choices for safety’s sake and avoid some of the famed street food, though Singapore’s hawker centers are quite hygienic even when you are eating for two. A visit to a supermarket can provide an expecting traveler with a range of unusual but safe food. Each night in Asia I tried different bottled drinks, from the tasty calamansi juice to the vile lemon-barley drink. Having a stash of local snacks made me feel better about staying safe with street food while still enjoying products only found in Malaysia. America needs to get with the Kit Kat drumstick ice cream cone, though I’m not so sure about the blueberry-and-hazelnut Pringles.
  • Dress for comfort: Nearly all pregnant women experience swelling in the hands and feet, particularly in the last few months. Air travel, salty foods, and humidity exacerbate this, so halfway through my vacation, I worried I’d burst out of my shoes like the Incredible Hulk. If you’re traveling to a hot place, pack shoes that give you a bit of room and remove your rings before flying (good opportunity to find a nice necklace to wear them on). Also be sure to dress in cool clothing that still provides coverage to avoid (or protect) sunburn.

With three months to go, there’s still more Knocked up abroad to come, stay tuned for more on pregnancy travel.

Condor airline to offer service from Frankfurt to Seattle

German budget airlines Condor is set to open a route between Frankfurt and SeattleCondor, a German based budget airline, has announced that it will begin offering service between Frankfurt and Seattle starting in June, with twice weekly flights that will give travelers more affordable options for visiting Europe this year. The new service is expected to begin on June 23, with flights taking place on Monday and Thursday of each week, running through October. This new route is in addition to Condor’s other North American flights, which which includes regular service to Las Vegas and Fort Lauderdale in the U.S., as well as Calgary, Vancouver, and Whitehorse in Canada.

The addition of Condor to the Seattle-Tacoma (Sea-Tac) airport brings a 23% overall increase in seat capacity between that region and Europe. That boost will come just in time for the summer and fall travel season, which is expected to be a busy one once again this year. In the summer of 2010, airlines operating between Sea-Tac and Europe filled 90% of their seats, and traffic is only expected to grow in 2011.

Condor is well known for offering very affordable flights throughout Europe and for running unique promotions. For instance, they’ll regularly offer cheap airfares from German airports to a surprise destination that isn’t revealed until after travelers book their flight. Those flights can cost as little as 49 euros ($66) each way for cities in Europe or 199 euros ($268) both directions for destinations further abroad. As for flights between Seattle and Frankfurt, bookings in July are currently running about $1200, which is roughly $450 cheaper than flying the same route with Lufthansa.

Right now, there are no plans to continue operations after October, but that could change in 2012 as Condor continues to upgrade and expand its international fleet to cover more destinations and carry more passengers. Either way, it is nice to have more options for air travel, and competition is certainly a good thing for consumers.

[Photo credit: Makaristos via WikiMedia]


Lufthansa contest offers free tickets on the world’s largest plane

Lufthansa Contest Who wants to take a free flight across the Atlantic on a super-jumbo? Lufthansa is offering such an opportunity to travelers to commemorate the launch of their sixth A380. The new jet will begin flying between New York and Frankfurt on February 28, just in time to whisk you away for a much needed European vacation. The contest winners will clamber aboard the world’s largest plane, for free, and be treated to a behind-the-scenes tour.

The first contest, “A380 SeatTweet,” begins on February 16 and ends on February 19. To register, you need to select a seat on the Virtual 380 on the Lufthansa contest website, and a tweet will post to reserve your spot. Once all 526 virtual seats are filled, the day’s winners will be announced. A number of prizes will be distributed including four A380 prize packages. You can follow Lufthansa USA’s tweets @Lufthansa_USA.

The second contest is a bit more location sensitive and will be open to those in New York City. This contest is titled “Catch the 380 Crew” and involves clues and a bit of good old fashioned sleuthing. Starting February 25, @Lufthansa USA will begin tweeting clues about the contest. After the inaugural flight from Frankfurt to New York’s JFK airport on the 28th of February, 23 “crew members” will descend upon SoHo. Only one will be holding the golden ticket – a pair of business class return tickets to Europe. To successfully game the contest, you will need to pay attention to the clues and locate 10 crew members that will lead you to your destiny.

flickr image via JeremyKunz

VIDEO: Inside new German high-speed train


In 2013, Europe could become even easier to navigate, with a new high-speed train connecting Germany with other major cities in Western Europe. The new Deutsche Bahn train would travel at 200 miles per hour from London through the Euro Tunnel, arriving in Amsterdam in four hours (currently only reachable with a connection) and Frankfurt in five hours (down from seven hours on DB). Additional services are planned for Brussels, Cologne and Rotterdam and officials are hopeful this could pave the way for additional high-speed routes.

The above video from BBC goes inside a prototype train currently at London’s St. Pancras Station for safety checks and a test run. Reporter Richard Scott shows off the train’s reclining seats, real-time travel information, and even multi-country emergency stops. Let’s hope they work out any air conditioning problems for the new trains.