Down the Ribersborgsstranden, not quite to the bridge, sits the Ribersborgs Kallbadhus (also known as Kallis). It’s over 100 years old and has been declared a historic building by the City of Malmö. Extending out from Ribersborg Beach into the Øresund, the pistachio green bathhouse houses a cafe, restaurant, and separate men’s and women’s sides with two saunas each, as well as a mixed sauna in the middle.
A “single visit” ticket is only 55 kroner (about £5) and is valid for the entire day. If you show up right when it opens at 9 am, it’s a great value. Unfortunately, Lisa and I showed up at 7 pm with only an hour left, but I was determined to have my first Swedish sauna experience in this picturesque setting.
Walking down the long, faded pier to the sauna house, you begin to get a feeling for how beautifully clear the coastal water of Sweden is. Amongst the clumps of seaweed in the water below, I could make out the stripes and dots on the backs of the fish darting in and out of hiding. We were the only people making our way towards the badhus; a few people sat outside, finishing their coffees in the cafe area, or chatting on the benches that lined the boardwalk.
We bought our tickets and entered on the ladies’ side of the sauna. The entire back portion of the building is split in half, with the women on the north side and the men on the south side. Both have rows of changing rooms, a “damp” sauna, a “dry” sauna, pools for swimming that are closed off from the Øresund, and a walkway leading to a ladder where you can jump into the open water.
It is traditional to leave one’s clothes behind in the changing room when wandering around the badhus, and mandatory if you wish to go into the actual sauna room. Besides that, there are many, many written and understood rules governing the tiny, stiflingly hot space. Amongst the written rules was “No books or magazines in the sauna”; amongst the unspoken rules was that you would be quiet, or talk in whispers, and allow other people their headspace. From what I gathered, that is what the sauna is – a quiet space, a sanctuary, somewhere for the tired and harried Swedes to relax after their days of work. Instead of busying their minds with just one more thing – a book, a magazine, a phone, a conversation – they allow themselves to completely unwind and empty their minds. I laid my towel out on a spot directly in front of the window to take in the view of the steely blue water outside. Minutes crept by with only the hushed whispers of two women in the corner and the creaking of the heater interrupting the silence. You can’t even hear the collective breathing of the women in the room – it is entirely too hot inside to take deep breaths. I closed my eyes for a minute and tried my best to let trivial things slip away, measuring my breathing as I inhaled the sweet smell of cedar.
It isn’t advisable to spend more than 15 minutes at a time in the sauna, and they have little hourglasses stuck to the wall so you can keep track of this. But after about 5 or 10 minutes, most people will get up, quietly let themselves out, and then make their way out to the open sea. I can tell you right now that yes, it is frigidly cold, especially after being in a 70°-80° C room. You absolutely can’t do what I did, which was climb halfway down the ladder, stick a foot in the water, wail and stand there until your feet become used to the temperature. Amongst other things, you will look silly and the Swedish people happily floating in the icy water will give you weird looks. No, you must look at that perfectly clear, sub-Arctic water and jump in without any hesitation (which was the conclusion I eventually came to). Don’t worry about the form of your jump, as the locals will inevitably have more panache and experience than you.
How can I describe how cold it was? It was insanely cold. It was like being pinched all over your skin at once, it was so cold. My brain tried to register how cold it was and came up with a bunch of gibberish. I swam in circles, sputtering seawater, attempting to think about something besides how cold it was. But slowly, a hypothermic glow creeps throughout your body like a warm blush and it becomes quite pleasant to just lay back and bob on the waves. I finally stopped my frantic doggy paddling and watched the other swimmers cut gracefully through the water.
The second and third times I came back from the sauna to the water, I did it properly and jumped in with abandon and jubilance. Despite my slight phobia of open water (I really hate not being able to know/see what is below my feet) I swam a few lengths out to the diving platform. Out there it was even quieter than in the sauna, save for the lapping of the water against the boards. I laid down as the waves rocked the platform gently, making me feel like I was in a hammock. Looking across the water towards Denmark, I could see the famous suspension bridge disappearing across the strait into a haze. It was odd and thrilling to think that the only thing between me and a new country was a few miles of water.
All to soon, an hour had passed, and it was time to leave the badhus. I was only able to grab so many pictures because I was kindly allowed by the cleaners to stay a few minutes after closing time to indulge in my shutterbug tendencies. (I doubt I would have been able to do so if I had gone in the middle of the day when the sauna would be full of naked patrons.)
Lisa and I walked back to the flat and changed back into our normal clothes, plus some knit sweaters. Despite it being June, Sweden was still a bit cool in the evening hours; since we were on the waterside, there was a cooling, salt-tinged breeze as well. With Tim wrapped up in some blankets in a stroller, we all walked down to the harbour once more with strawberries, freshly whipped cream, a little bowl of sugar, and some cider.
Though it was 9 pm at this point, the sun was still a ways away from dipping behind the horizon. We spent a pleasant hour and a half chatting and sipping our drinks, dipping the sweet strawberries in the cream and sugar. The sounds of the sea lapping against the rocks and the laughs and murmur of other people on the docks filtered over our ears, creating a calm atmosphere. As we looked out towards the suspension bridge, the sun sank ever so slowly, spreading cotton candy hues across the wispy clouds and still sea.
All to soon, it was time to head home and put Tim to bed. After that, Lisa, Alex, and I stayed up talking about books, music, cooking, our travels, and Couchsurfing experiences until the clock read almost 1 am. Reluctantly, we all said our goodnights and headed off to sleep. We all had an early morning ahead of us; I had to catch a train to Alingsås before 7 am and they were driving into rural Skåne for their Midsummer celebrations. I’m glad they reached out to me to offer a place to stay, and I only wish that I could have spent more time exploring the city and enjoying the company of some truly lovely people. Malmö is definitely a place I plan to return to, hopefully soon.
But for now, my journey was to continue, early in the morning on the second longest day of the year…