Every once in a while, we here at IT let National Geographic Traveler’s
researchers loose on a factoid frenzy, and allow them to share some of the wonderful wackiness they discover while fact-checking articles for the magazine. So far you’ve had the pleasure of such geek-out posts from both Marilyn Terrell and Jessie Johnston, but the third of our mystery-solving musketeers, Ingrid Ahlgren, has to date never stepped up to this particular blogging plate. That’s all about to change. Today, Ingrid goes to bat with a blog about saunas, inspired by a fact-checking frisson she experienced when working on a story about Helsinki:
When I studied abroad in Stockholm
during college, I loved going to the saunas. They seemed to be everywhere: hotels, homes, public swimming pools, even the dorms at Stockholm University.
During a ski trip to a town near the Norwegian border, my American classmates and I warmed up in our youth hostel’s sauna after a day of cross-country and downhill skiing. A few of the girls, including myself, thought it would be fun to jump in the snowdrifts outside the hostel. The group’s token teetotaler, I was the only one who hadn’t had a few shots of Absolut that night, so I actually felt the clumps of ice freezing to the soles of my feet as I ran on the packed powder and leapt into the nearest pile of it.
These memories came flooding back recently while I was researching Finland, and came upon an intriguing tidbit about the sauna: It might not have been invented in Scandinavia (blasphemy!). Encyclopedia Britannica’s entry on saunas explains: “The sauna may derive from baths described by Herodotus, who tells that the inhabitants of Scythia in central Eurasia threw water and hempseed on heated stones to create an intoxicating steam.”
The Finns might not have invented the sauna, but they’re still masters of it. The Finnish Sauna Society offers guidelines for experiencing the perfect sauna. (There’s also a lexicon with terms such as vihta, the birch ‘whisk’ used to improve circulation.) The society’s tips include taking a shower beforehand and bringing a towel. The Finnish Sauna Society suggests that you avoid drinking alcohol beforehand.
Shockingly, their tips do not include jumping in snow.
Wherever they may have started, saunas today certainly aren’t limited to Scandinavia. Weighing in on the subject, Wikipedia
says: “In Latin America, particularly in the highlands of southern Mexico and Guatemala, a version of the sauna indigenous to the Americas, called temazcal, is quite popular. The temazcal is usually made of clay or stone, and has a low ceiling. The temazcal structure is usually shared by an extended family unit. Unlike European sauna culture, temazcal is an individual rather than social activity.” Also mentioned are Asian versions; in Korea “saunas are essentially public bathhouses. Various names are used to describe them, such as the smaller mogyoktang, outdoor oncheon, and the elaborate jjimjilbang.” And in Japan, “many saunas exist at sports centers and public bathhouses (sentos).
The saunas are almost always gender separated, often required by law, and nudity is a required part of proper sauna etiquette.
It’s snowing in DC as we write, and we’re chilly even with our long underwear and wool socks, so it’s fair to say your bloggers would be prepared to drop our kit or anything else necessary for a little of that warm sauna goodness…
- Nat Geo Expeditions