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Pictures: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today
The busy day of following the Russian president in Naantali had taken its toll and we needed a rest.
The summer residence of the Finnish president Kultaranta had reserved its beds to Putin and his entourage in case the after-party would extend to late-night hours. There was no room for hard-working journalists.
“We need to find a hotel,” I said to my assistant.
“How about the spa?” he said.
Indeed. A few kilometers away from Kultaranta was the legendary Naantali Spa Hotel. Never visited by us, but we had been preparing a story about the place, so my assistant’s idea was perfect.
The parking lot was filled with cars, but we found an empty space in front of the building.
The marble floors of the hall sparkled in the light of the evening sun, which flooded through the big windows. “It’s a very fine building,” said my assistant, while happily swinging my bags to the sound of a Phil Collins song, which a man was playing on a piano in the corner.
“Welcome! We have just the perfect room for you,” said the receptionist, a young lady with blonde hair and a beautiful smile. My assistant didn’t say anything. He just stared.
The elevator whirled us to the second floor.
“Oh, wow!” said my assistant after the room key was inserted into the wall to power up the lights. “Sammy finally made it!”
The room was a luxurious suite with a twin bed. There was enough room for a party for 15. The bed was big enough for two journalists of the same sex to sleep comfortably. The bathroom smelled like roses.
I had a deadline to meet on the story about Putin, so I started pounding the keyboard while my assistant opened a can of beer, lifted his legs on the table and turned on the TV to watch football. He interrupted me every now and then with quick remarks about how incredible the room was.
A few hours later we tried to catch a concert by the Finnish soulful pop singer Anna Puu, who was playing at Kaivohuone, a popular venue among the locals. We knew the doors had been open for hours but weren’t sure of when the gig would actually start. The venue was located about one and a half kilometers away from the spa. While walking there, we saw only a few people but many old wooden houses, which was only natural as Naantali, chartered in 1443, is one of the oldest towns in Finland. It’s a small city, with about 19,000 inhabitants.
“It was a full house, but you’ve just missed the concert,” said a man picking up countless of empty glasses of beer scattered around the large concert hall of Kaivohuone, under the shining chandeliers hanging from the roof.
“Where did they all go?” my assistant asked me while we were walking on the empty streets. The time was about 2 am on Friday night. We decided to follow a few locals and they led us to a long pier surrounding the shore. The night was warm and the fresh sea wind caressed our faces. My assistant was humming something.
We arrived at Ravintola Merisali, a restaurant with a terrace swarming with people; couples and small groups of friends mostly. We learned that the building is located in the old part of Naantali, where the Russian Emperor Alexander III had come ashore in 1885. The restaurant in its current form was established in 1899. It’s a popular venue for concerts, and many Finnish presidents have dined there since 1920, when Kultaranta, rising in the skyline on the opposite shore, became the official summer residence of the president. At this hour, however, there was not much going on despite in the groups of friends. We walked on and found another place in the near vicinity.
Ravintola Uusi Kilta is another popular restaurant, which during the nightly hours turns into a disco. The big backyard functioned as a terrace and also there were couples snuggling and friends talking. The dancefloor was empty, while the DJ tried his best to get people moving by playing some of the latest tunes . . . “spilling musical blood on the floor,” as my assistant put it. Maybe this was not that kind of a night or maybe like in many other small towns in the country, Friday is not the day for the young people to go dancing. (Or maybe they spent all the energy while listening to Anna Puu?) “There’s no way we are going to get a lady here,” said my assistant.
We walked out, and a local drunken guy in his 50s came over and soon he was hugging and dancing with my assistant to the mute beat carrying from the disco. They were both laughing.
I walked to a pier where the tower of Naantali’s medieval grey-stone church rose on the horizon and motorboats were docked to the many piers floating along the shoreline. I remembered reading that the church served originally as a Catholic Bridgettine Convent, a seat of learning for the nuns.
Then I saw some movement at the tip of the pier. A man’s bare behind was shining under a street light that illuminated the pier. He was leaning on his tattooed hands, lying on top of a lady, whose heels hung high in the air. My assistant had managed to shake off his dancing partner and came over. He sat on the bench. Watching carefully.
Suddenly, the guy on top the lady stopped moving. He pulled up his pants and walked toward us, taking heavy, aggressive steps.
“Why are you looking when I’m with my woman, bro?” he asked.
“I’m not looking,” said my assistant. “I’m just enjoying the view.”
“What view? Bro?”
“If you want to watch porn, go somewhere else,” the man said and soon the lady from the pier run hurriedly, passing us. She was muttering something and the guy ran after her while shaking his fist at us.
After a well-slept night, we woke around 8 am to eat from the breakfast buffet. The sitting was nice and the selection ample. There were Karelian pasties, porridge, eggs, salad, cheese . . . just to count what we piled on our plates. We swilled it all down with water, juice and coffee. The people having breakfast were mostly older couples, families and pensioners.
It was time to enjoy the spa section. Naantali Spa has been known to feature on a list of 100 top spas in the world. It’s also known as one of the Royal Spas of Europe. It makes sense . . . Naantali is an old spa town and in the 18th century, the water from a health spring called Viluluoto cured a headache, hangover and even pain in the bones. The first spa was established in 1863. The present-day Naantali Spa was built in 1984 and has over the years been expanded and renovated according to the modern standards.
We took the elevator down to the spa section in our white bathrobes, carrying the camera, wearing slippers and fedoras. The experience is best illustrated in the following pictures:
You start with a shower in a royal atmosphere. Then you can choose between the traditional hot Finnish sauna or a Turkish one, where the mild heat and steam wraps you in its blanket.
The recreational pool bath massages your neck and back.
My assistant is practicing his photographic skills.
We enjoyed a good three hours of the spa’s services. There would have been dozens of treatments available as well, from shiatsu to traditional massage, but we needed to get back to Helsinki to cover the heavy metal mayhem of Tuska Festival.
During the final hour, we decided to sit in the massaging pool and let the air jet do its thing. Then a man and a woman arrived and after they came closer, ready to sit in the bath, we saw the tattoos.
“It’s them,” my assistant whispered.
I squinted my eyes in the dim lights. Indeed. It was the couple we saw at the pier last night. They took a glance at us and smiled awkwardly. They sat in the pool, sinking slowly, until we could only see their heads.
Someone turned on the air jet, and we all were indulged in a sybaritic stupor.