VILNIUS - A blast of cold air rushes over my achy hands and body while mounds of flaky snow and ice fall clumsily down the corners of the so-called "sauna" at Vichy Aqua Park in Vilnius.
These unfavorable conditions are just one part of a special hourly program to entertain guests at the "Lava Baths."
To my dismay, the Aoraki sauna mimics New Zealand's highest mountain, Mount Cook, inviting guests to experience the shock of temperatures that dip to a biting negative 10 degrees Celsius.
The rest of the program, thankfully, is of the warmer variety. Visitors lounge and socialize in the five warm, steamy or dry saunas of various construction types: Russian, Roman, Italian, Finnish and Swedish.
As the old Lithuanian proverb goes, "Warmth won't break your bones." The steam, the minerals and high temperatures support wellness and are a typical part of the sauna experience that Balts share with friends and family.
Resort towns around the country, namely Drus-kininkai, Birstonas, Palanga and Nida, are popular weekend getaway destinations. Not only do their sanatoriums provide serious treatments for chronic diseases, they're also havens for work-weary urbanites during the more bone-chilling months.
Druskininkai has the longest of resort traditions, going back more than 200 years. It was the Polish king Stanislov August who, upon hearing of the medical benefits of mineral water in the territory, declared the town a resort in 1794.
Linas Bubnelis, reservation manager at the Druskininkai tourism center, said the town's natural beauty and peaceful setting attracts foreigners to its treatment centers.
"Druskininkai is surrounded by pine forests and is well-known as a town with a very clean atmosphere. There are a lot of mineral streams coming from the ground, and that's how the town got its name," Bubnelis said.
The town attracted more than 40,000 visitors from early spring to August this year. Most of them come from Poland, Latvia, Ireland, Germany, Russia, Belarus and Israel, and most stay longer than one night.
"For foreigners, the spa and sauna prices aren't so high, so they can afford it," Bubnelis said.
The average price at a sanatorium in Druskininkai is about 345 litas (100 euros) for two, including meals, doctor consultations and treatments.
Druskininkai Health Resort Marketing Director Kestutis Ramanauskaus said the town is starting to grow in popularity as a leisure town. It now has a total of nine sanatoriums, seven mineral water springs, and a modern aqua amusement park.
"I think it's good to have such a variety of leisure activities here," said Ramanauskaus.
In Birstonas, a resort town on the loop of the Nemunas River two sanatoriums, Tulpe and Versme, offer baths with mineral water, hot steams, swimming pools, massages and salt rooms.
"We think that our treatment is natural and it's more healthy than chemical [pill] treatments. Not all types of problems you can treat, but you can try and sometimes it really helps, especially with neurological problems or if you're just tired and want to relax," medical manager Rimantas Kucinskius said.
Regardless of my own experience, for those in Vilnius, the Vichy Aqua Park is still the nearest sauna amusement center for warming the body and soul on a cold and rainy day.
Vichy Aqua Park
Ozo 14C, Vilnius
Tel: (+370 5) 211 11 12www.vadensparkas.lt
4-hour ticket: 49 - 69 litas