Posts Tagged ‘travel’

4:23 am

Birthday weekend in Mariánské Lázne

For my birthday, I decided to treat myself to a weekend out of town. I had originally thought of Karlovy Vary, but was told that "Ah, there’s nothing but rich Russians there!". Mariánské Lázně (which may be better known to some as "Marienbad"), on the other hand, was described as still being more Czech. Well, I’m in no position to compare, but there was certainly no shortage of rich Russians at Mariánské Lázně!

I stayed at the Nové Lázně, which is arguably the grandest of the spa hotels:

I had a very comfortable room overlooking the park:

That’s the Church of the Assumption in the upper right; here’s a closer view of this octagonal church:

And the archway over the door:

The assurances of the travel agency through which I arranged my stay notwithstanding, English was in short supply: there was German and Russian in abundance, but very little English. I spent most of my weekend communicating with the staff in mime, my highly limited Czech, and guessing at German!

When I showed up at the dining room for dinner, there was a brief flurry as the hostess, who spoke very little English, summoned a waiter to figure out where to seat me. The hostess and the waiter had a brief discussion, in which the only Czech word that I recognized was "Angličanka" (Englishwoman), after which I was led to a table which I shared with a very nice woman from Britain. She was coming up on the end of a two-week stay at Mariánské Lázně, and professed herself to be delighted to be able to have someone with whom she could speak English.

They take the whole "health resort" thing very seriously, and indeed, they don’t seem all that keen on catering to weekend dilettantes. I had to have an interview with a nurse before I could schedule any treatments, and supplemental services were either fully booked already or were simply unavailable over a weekend. Fortunately, my package included two treatments a day, and those were provided: I had two each of the partial medical massage, dry CO2 bath and mineral bath.

The dry CO2 bath was the most unusual experience. Here is the brochure description:

This is another signature treatment of the spa resort of Marienbad where the gas – Marie’s gas – that bubbles naturally out of the ground is used for the treatment. This gas is of volcanic origin and contains 99.7% CO2. In our other resorts normal commercial CO2 gas (the same as in the food industry) is used. During the treatment you lie fully clothed, comfortably on a bed enclosed in a large plastic bag that is sealed just under the arms. The gas is then pumped into the bag, which slowly inflates, where it is absorbed through the clothes and skin into the body where it slows down heart activity and reduces blood pressure. The gas also improves blood circulation and kidney activity and has an anti-inflammatory effect. The gas is also known to stimulate the production of the sexual hormones, testosterone and estradiol, which is why it is successful for the improvement of sexual functions and to relieve menopausal symptoms in women. Time: 30 minutes, Doctor’s prescription required: No, Benefits: Therapeutic, Well Being.

The mineral bath is pretty well self-explanatory, but here’s the brochure description for that one:

This is a signature treatment, exclusively provided in the spa resort of Marienbad using the natural local mineral waters and natural CO2 gas that naturally seeps out from the ground. The water is heated to a temperature of between 28-34° C in an individual bathtub, into which is pumped the natural CO2 gas that fizzes onto the skin, producing a relaxing, tickling sensation. The carbon dioxide is absorbed through the skin into the body, where slows down the heart activity and reduces the blood pressure. Several treatments will result in improved blood circulation, heart and kidney activity as well as reduced stress and anxiety. The benefits and procedures are similar to the carbon dioxide bath treatment, however the advantage here is that all the properties used are both local and natural. Time: 20 minutes + dry wrap (15 minutes), Doctors prescription required: no, Benefits: Therapeutic, Well Being

The thing that surprised me most about the mineral bath was that the water was no more than tepid! One of the ubiquitous rich Russians I chatted with one evening told me that, to get a hot mineral bath, I should go to a Hungarian spa!

In keeping with the whole "health resort" routine, life in Mariánské Lázně is very tranquil, and there’s not a lot to do. The main tourist attraction (aside from the waters and spa treatments) is the Singing Fountain:

Every other hour during the season, the fountain "performs" to a soundtrack of such pieces as Petr Hapka’s Music for the Fountain or Chorus of Hebrew Slaves from Verdi’s Nabucco or Dvořák’s Carnival, Op. 92. As my dinner companion pointed out, it would be more accurate to describe it as the "Dancing Fountain", rather than the "Singing Fountain". According to some of the flyers and brochures I saw around town, it looks as though the singing season is supposed to end on October 30. I guess they knew I was coming, though, because the Gala Closing actually took place on my birthday!

The fountain is in the Colonnade park:

The park also has a statue of Abbot Reitenberger of Tepla Monastery:

The abbot is credited with having established the spa town.

And perhaps it’s to cater to those rich Russians that this Church of St. Vladimir was built:

6:35 am

Czech pride

For one of my classes, I brought in a Business Week article, Poland Tries to Reverse Brain Drain, thinking that the Czech Republic might have seen a similar effect after joining the EU. But no, while my students found the article interesting, they were also rather smug about insisting that, while it made perfect sense for Poles to leave their country, Czechs would never abandon their homeland to seek their fortunes overseas. Upon prodding a little bit, they did concede that, while they would never consider leaving the Czech Republic for good, they would maybe consider going abroad for a year or two, "just for the experience."

Another student, in a different class, pointed out to me that it’s very hard for Czechs to travel. After all, while there are some beautiful cities out there, there are so few that compare favorably with Prague!

12:16 am

Prague Slideshow

Ya know, sometimes one of the reasons that I hold off on posting is because I have all these photos piled up, and so I wait ’til I get them formatted, then I have to think about how to weave them into a coherent narrative, and it’s just all so daunting that I put it off and put it off and put it off…

So, I’m just going to put up this little slideshow, mostly from a walking tour I took of Prague, and then I can just get on with posting about life here without having these photos hanging over my head!

1:49 am

I went to Disneyland!

As advertised, I went to Disneyland last Wednesday (the 13th).

Euro-Disney is very like its California counterpart: everything is spic ‘n’ span, lines at the rides move along briskly, there are ample opportunities to meet Disney characters, and there are more than enough places to buy over-priced food and drinks and merchandise.

It was not, in fact, very French at all. The French visitors were vastly outnumbered by the American and British visitors. It seems that everyone on the staff speaks English; in fact, I was surprised to see that a lot of the signs were in English only, which I had thought was prohibited. While Fantasyland was somewhat transposed to France, there’s blatantly nothing French about Frontierland or Main Street, USA. Discoveryland and Adventureland are pretty much stateless. The main French touch: the availability of wine and beer.

Neither was it particularly crowded; granted, it was midweek and rather early in the tourist season, but still… The lack of crowds, though, meant that I was able to get in two rides on each of the three roller coasters: Big Thunder Mountain, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril (aside: I didn’t realize that Disney owned, or at least was licensing, the Indiana Jones franchise), and Space Mountain: Mission 2. Space Mountain was my favorite: a lot of it takes place in the dark and I found that the resulting disorientation increased the excitement. Star Tours (and I didn’t realize that Disney owned or was licensing the Star Wars franchise, either) was also fun. Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast was really geared towards little kids and was rather hokey, but it was still entertaining. On the more sedate side, I always like carousels, and the riverboat ride was pleasant. Alas, Phantom Manor was closed during my visit.


I’ve put the rest of my pictures into a slideshow (this will open in a new window).

10:15 am

Next Stop: Prague

Well, I’ve decided that Paris is really not for me, at least not just now. So, with the end of classes and the lease on my apartment next week, I’m moving on to Prague, where I’ve signed up for a TEFL/TESOL Course.

After that, I’m not sure what I’ll do. I’m kind of toying with the idea of China. Or maybe Russia. Or I may decide on Central or Eastern Europe. Or I may backtrack to Western Europe.

It all depends on how well I take to Prague.

See, here’s the thing: moving to Paris was relatively easy (once I got over the whole "Oh my God, I’m completely and totally insane" phase with which I was boring people). France is, after all, a Western, industrialized nation and I was already familiar with the language. So on the comfort scale, France isn’t all that far out there. In fact, I think that’s the problem: it’s not far enough out there. So I’ll try a little farther out the comfort scale, i.e., the Czech Republic.

If it turns out that Prague is just way too uncomfortable, I’ll backtrack, if not to France, then to Western Europe. (Spain or Portugal might work.) On the other hand, if Prague is still not uncomfortable enough, then I’ll push out the comfort scale still further. Then again, if the comfort level seems just right, then I’ll stay. In brief, I’m doing a Goldilocks number.

I’m also partially motivated by a concern for hanging out someplace that’ll look good on my resume when I get home. And really, Western Europe has been done to death. As for France, in particular, not even the French are trying to start careers in France.

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