Public Sauna in Tallinn

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Estonia  Estonia

After docking in Tallinn and finding a leafy residential street in the Kalamaja wooden-house district to park the home for a few days, we went in search of a source for our new addiction:

Reception was a man, an empty desk and a few shelves of sauna snacks and drinks: fried black bread, crisps, chocolate and beer. The man behind the desk directed me to the left, upstairs to the female sauna, and directed Angus to the right, to the door of the mens'.

Up the stairs and down the carpeted corridor of identical, anonymous wooden doors, I'm thinking none of these look like the entrance to a sauna... How the fuck am I supposed to... And then there was a door with a small, brass lettered 'saun'.
Through a wood cladded entranceway with pink hangers for your coats, a mirror and a hairdryer, into a 1920's ladies dressing room in dim, orangey lighting. Half of the room was lined with pink wooden lockers with a low table in the middle. The other half was a step up to a raised wooden platform that held a huge stone fireplace, a desk with a green, felt drinks mat and 3 glasses upside down in a diagonal, a huge plastic plant, a full-length mirror and a stand-on weighing scales. A lady in an ankle-length pinafore emerged from behind a curtain and then disappeared again towards the sound of crackly Estonian radio.

Nobody around and not really sure whether this was where I should get naked, but took a chance.
Up two steps and through a door into a big bathing room dotted with naked ladies, rows of stone benches with taps arching up and out. A lady lay flat on her front while another lady lathered her up with soap. Showers lined one wall where a young girl was rubbing brown hair dye into her hair and another lady scrubbed coffee grounds into her knees. An oversized metal ladder meant for a giant, climbed you up and over a wall into a 'plunge' pool, water with a gentle yellow tinge, heaven to float around in.
Birch and oak sprigs were soaking in different coloured plastic buckets. Leg shaving. An assortment of felt hats on heads and I still don't really know why.
Through a door at one end of the bathing room into the blissful heat of the sauna. Only the sound of the lady next to me lifting up her ginormous breasts to lightly slap the skin underneath with birch sprigs. She'll lightly slap your hard to reach places for you too, if you want her to. 
I floated between sauna, shower and plunge pool feeling soothed and peaceful.


Meanwhile in the mens' sauna...
Walking through the door was like walking through the door into a busy, local pub for the first time, apart from the pub was a dimly lit locker room and the dress code strictly white towels and rubber sports sandals. I did what most people do in these situations, headed straight to the bar, and ordered a couple of bottles of Estonian lager from the stoney-faced but friendly bar man.

Groups of half-naked men stood and sat, swaying in animated conversations. Low tables were scattered with pizza boxes and tall glass jars of smoked fish. Laughter, back-slapping, drinking beer and vodka from plastic cups. Around the waist, slung over the shoulder, tied in a rope around the chest, knotted between the legs sumo-style... The variety of towel-wearing styles was impressive. I found a spot next to a locker and quickly stripped, donning towel around waist and beer in hand. A sort of after-work-drinks, pool-party setup that seemed strangely familiar, I begun to feel at ease amongst the mass of slightly plump, rosy male flesh. 

I moved towards the 'SAUN' door, past a 6ft deep plunge pool with it's green face bobbing in the still, ceramic surroundings, managing a few nods to people on the way. Through the tinted glass door I found a place on the middle of three, tiered, fiercely hot wooden benches, which encircled a large mound of red-hot rocks. An amphitheatre for sweating. Nostrils stung from the heat and the hench aroma of scolding wood. Hardy looking men took it in turns to whip each other's dripping backs with pre-soaked birch twigs, others chatted quietly, some sat still, eyes closed in a seemingly mediative state. I knew the routine: cook, stagger to door, plunge pool, sips of beer, cool, repeat, each time closer to the heat of the rocks, the euphoria, and an almost impossible front row seat. The walk back to the lockers, via the shower, resembled that stagger home after one too many. I got dressed slowly, leaning against the good old wall to save me from my dizziness, and wondered what sort of time Holly had been having.


We loved Tallinn, not just for Kalma Saun, but for it's wooden houses, friendly vibes, enough art studios and abandoned buildings to explore inc. Patarei Prison(!!!)... And if only all cities were as dog-friendly...