The Spa Break

The daily air quality in Florence is generally listed as very poor. The city is surrounded by mountains and high rolling hills which reduce the airflow. People burn wood and garbage on the hillsides. Many cars, trucks, and motorbikes give off thick black smoke and smoking is a common pastime.

“Peter, I need a break from Florence,” I declared. “I need fresh air and some exercise.  I have found a luxurious spa at Lake Garda that is offering out-of-season specials. Let’s go.” He agreed and I booked four days at spa hotel.

The drive from Florence to Lake Garda was boring, but once we reached Lake Garda, the mountains and lake were worth the three hours of boredom.

The hotel was located high on a mountainside and away from the lakeside cluster of apartments and hotels. By the time we arrived, it was dark and raining. We were completely dependent on Google Maps. We followed the map and drove up the winding road only to find the road narrowed into one lane with a treacherous, no railing, drop off the mountainside.

“Did they mention this in all the reviews you read?” asked Peter. He had a point, and I realized my answer was no, which meant we were lost. “We are turning around, Peter announced.

“There is nowhere to turn around.”

“I can do it.”

“Well, I can’t. I can’t watch this. The road is too narrow. I need to get out of the car.” Which I did. I have learned that when Peter slips into his racing car driver personality, I do not want to be in the car. I got out and watched, then closed my eyes as he took the car to the edge of the mountainside drop, maneuvered a turn, and had the car facing the other way. I then got back in.

Once down the mountainside, we realized that there was a fork in the road and that we had taken the wrong side. We drove the other way, only to find ourselves at the Spa hotel staff car park. We had somehow missed the main entrance. Peter parked the car in the staff lot and declared, “Let’s walk the rest of the way.”

Damn I thought, I really wanted the fancy entrance with the doorman rushing to open the car door, taking our keys, and dealing with the luggage. Now we have ended up parking the car ourselves and walking down the hillside to the entrance lugging our suitcases. We must really look like the commoners who can just afford the off-season special.

Built on a mountainside, the hotel was a maze to navigate. Everything was on a different floor. Outside heated pool floor 2, spa area floor 4, spa area for adults, floor 3. Regardless of the maze, the hotel was beautiful, surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

Half an hour later, dressed in the spa robe and slippers provided by the hotel we were ready to spoil ourselves. We began with the steaming hot outside pool. The setting was idyllic and there were many moments when we were alone in the pool. I never want to return to this spa, nor could I afford to, in high season. Also judging by the guests that were here it was obviously a hangout for wealthy Italians.  Wealth in European societies comes with snobbery and a sense of enlightenment which I would not enjoy being around.

I decided to treat myself to a spa treatment and opted for an anti-aging facial. If that is what the facial could truly achieve the spa would have a queue down the mountainside. Upon entering the room for my facial the young girl with limited English asks me what I wanted.

“Can you please make my face ten years younger? Get rid of the deep lines, bags under the eyes and age spots. Thank you.

Oh, and don’t forget to give me eyebrows. I have no idea why eyebrows disappear as you age.” She gave me a condescending smile and proceeded to begin. If I pulled and massaged my face the way she did daily I probably would have better skin. But I’m not one of those types of women. Cleanser and basic cream is my routine. I had treated myself to a ninety-minute facial and fell asleep during the procedure, only to wake up to her patting the drool coming from my mouth with a tissue.

“How do you feel?”

“Ten years younger. Thank you.”  The ten years younger look lasted about half a day and then the wear and tear broke through again. But this was part of the gestalt at the spa, and I planned to make the most of the luxury off-season price experience.

Peter and I spent days drifting from saunas, steam rooms, and hot tubs to the outside pool. Grabbing a handful of nuts and fruit that was on offer at various stations throughout the spa.

The hotel was renowned for spa packages where you could spend a week fasting or doing yoga or having your body pampered with daily massages. There were two restaurants in the hotel, one was plant-based, the other vegan. The plant-based offered special menus based on your spa objective; low calorie if you want to lose weight, detox if you are trying to rid yourself, like me, of too many Italian restaurant meals. There was no alternative to these restaurants; we were perched on a mountainside with nothing within walking distance. The first night we treated ourselves to an elaborate dinner at the vegan-only restaurant.

The restaurant was a very new age with the décor mirroring the colors of the sky and ocean. New age music played in the background and the lights were dimmed to create a soothing atmosphere. Peter had to ask for a light to read the menu and was given a small pocket flashlight. The restaurant staff had this elite aura about them. With their noses turned upward to the ceiling they appeared to only tolerate English-speaking tourists and reluctantly brought us an English-speaking menu. There was a staff member for every action, and I felt as if I was watching a slow-motion ballet as they moved in unison, first leading you to your table, pulling out a chair and offering to bring you water. Each waiter had a role. When they bought the bread, one waiter led the way for the person carrying the bread.

“This is like being a part of a live theater performance. Let’s participate and order the five-course menu,” I suggested. The waiter was delighted that we had made that choice and pulled his body into a tall, elegant pose, ready for his performance.

We looked at the appetizer and admired the twirled celery and carrot. Peter nodded and gave me a slight grin. He was obviously finding this humorous. The carrot and celery were followed by a miniature portion of vegetable noodles and a tiny spot of sauce.

“This is healthy. Do you think they will think we are raving alcoholics if we order a bottle of wine,” commented Peter.

“If it is organic vegan wine, we should be okay.” I replied.

“Vegan wine?” Said Peter with a roll of his eyes.

The main course was a mushroom dish. Tiny delicate mushrooms decorated the plate.

“The more I pay at this restaurant the less food I get,” commented Peter.

“They are showing us how to be healthy.”

“Let me die a glutenous beast chewing on a bone.” He replied.

We stayed in our bubble for four days. We had been on our journey for eleven months and we were tired. The four days gave us a chance to be still, to be pampered, to recharge. It was winter and both of us seemed to be craving home. A desire to hibernate until the warmer weather returned.

Peter commented, “I can’t do this anymore;  I need a time out. I want to do what we planned and live in London for a while, but let’s think about taking a break back in the States for a few weeks.” I agreed. I was finding it hard to be a nomad in the winter.  On rainy, cold days I yearned for my bed, my couch, and my kitchen.

Our journey was not finished. We know we have many more chapters in us.

Can I go back into the familiar and be at peace? Will I become restless? Probably.

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