I went to one of my favorite places for my birthday - A Korean spa.
Now before you start jeering, let me interrupt your witty insult and say that Korean spas are family-oriented. It's not like a truck-stop restroom. There are no "erotic massages," and it's not a Roman bath. Well, actually it's a lot like a Roman bath, but a tasteful one.
My spa is located about 30 minutes outside DC in Centreville, in the Korean commercial district. It's called Spaworld and it combines Korean cultural habits with German engineering.The result is clean, relaxing - a real treat. If you don't believe me, check the "yelpings."
The place does has a protocol, kind of like the Soup Nazi, but with friendly Asians. You walk in and trade your shoes and $35 for a rubber bracelet with a key card thingie on it. If you balk at this price, remember: this is good for ALL day.
After you get your key, you enter a men's / women's locker room and hang your clothes up.
Now, this is the part that freaks Westerners out.... You enter a gigantic tiled room which looks like Atlantis, if it were located in a high-end gym. There are fountains, hot tubs and water jets and showers and steam rooms and icy-cold pools for giving you heart palpitations. The entire room is open, so, yes, you might be staring at naked people. But they probably won't be staring at you, because they are used to public bath houses.
They give you a toothbrush and toothpaste and you can shower, shave, and literally spend hours here moving from pool to pool. You haven't lived until you've had your kidneys pummeled by hot water jets... You get some benefits of "internal organ massage" - it's like yoga for really lazy people.
But the bathing room is only HALF the reason you're there. Because, after you dry off (with provided towels) you put on a pair of orange trunks and a shirt that they give you. Then you enter the poultice room, which is Korean for "the most relaxing room you have ever been in, ever." The first thing you see in this large rooms are large ornate fans whirling gently above people taking naps. Around them are various saunas - a lot of saunas. One 150-degree room has salt crystals coming out of the walls, which supposedly leaches toxins out of your pores. There is a room full of small heated clay balls that you call roll around in. There is a room of blackened charcoal that has a smell like an old fireplace, and many, many others. Whenever you don't feel like lying and getting a good sweat, you can can curl up on a mat and sleep, watch TV, eat lunch at their restaurant or use their free Wifi (although this seems silly to me).
The mix of people is usually 85% Asian and 15% "other." Quite a few Russians frequent the place, as do some amateur sports teams, presumably after a tough practice. There are often small children, senior citizens and everyone in between. Everyone is there to do the same thing - nothing. Tough to think of a better, more relaxing day to spend your birthday....