Tag Archives: spa

Visiting Reykjavik

2015-07-18 18.04.23 Visiting Reykjavik

Arrival in Reykjavik is a bit of an eye-opener. A major international airport hub, the airport facility is in a constant state of expansion. The old days of a shed, a passport control, and a place for weary travelers to rest their legs before continuing on is long gone. You could practically live in this airport. It’s a short distance to the center of town and if you rent a car, which is recommendable but ridiculously expensive, you’ll find driving around safe and easy. Let’s face it, once you’ve gotten past the per day price tag, anything is going to seem within reach.

There is of course the very touristy but essential Blue Lagoon – it’s 15 minutes from the airport and it seems like half the traffic going there is simply on an airport stopover en route to somewhere else. It wasn’t as tacky as I imagined. It’s highly organized and I slightly hate to say it…but I sort of liked it. Not to mention an inside visit to a dormant volcano – essential that the volcano is dormant! Erupting ones can be problematic (pro-tip). With a geyser (that’s where we get the name from), the most powerful waterfall in all the world, and throw in the only visible above-sea meeting of the tectonic plates between the continents of North America and Europe and you have a fairly spectacular sightseeing tour.  All of this while peering out into the distance at ice-capped volcanoes situated in fields of volcanic black rock. And that’s the day trip from Reyjkavik!

Reykjavik is a fun town, a party town: lots of hub and spoke activities, lots of colorful houses all encased in corrugated iron to withstand potential fallout from erupting volcanos – seriously. The great thing about the sun never setting is that you can start your day at 9am and never have to worry about getting back before dark. It never gets dark here in the summer! If winter is your thing it barely gets light, but there’s always the Aurora Borealis to keep you occupied in between visits to the bars.  I stayed at the Hotel Borg http://en.hotelborg.is/ – the room was basic and the hotel looked pretty run down. The breakfasts were average and I got the feeling this hotel was resting on a once glorious past that had sadly expired. Location is just about the best you can find, but beyond that it was a highly forgettable experience. If I return to Iceland I would certainly experiment with another hotel – perhaps venturing out to the Ice hotel (http://www.icehotel.com/) to take a look. Though I personally wouldn’t stay there – igloos are not my thing!

IcelandFreshEating Icelandwhalesteak

Italian Spa Culture

I will always remember the time I went to Montecatini, a spa town outside of Florence. I pulled up to this beautiful gate and saw an elegant driveway that led to one of Italy’s famous spas. Fully expecting hot water thermal springs I was quickly initiated into the non-hot water type of spa. Here it was all about drinking the waters which includes tasting water pulled from taps that looked like beer spigots. You have to taste it to believe that anyone in a sane state would ever believe that this stuff is actually good for you. And so my introduction to the whole spa deal in Italy came full circle, I began to learn about the Italian Spa Culture.

I had previously taken the waters at Saturnia and recently at the delightfully trendy Fonteverde Spa in San Casciano. But here is what is interesting about spa culture in Italy – it is paid for by the government! This is because Italians actually believe that taking in the waters (i.e. drinking awful tasting rotten egg water and lounging in sulfur baths) is going to make a huge difference to our health and longevity.

Italian spa 2 050514

The Italian government allows a week every year to indulge in these ancient spas. Every tax payer has the right for one cycle according to the National Health System. In order to access this, the tax payer needs a prescription by a national health GP. Tax payers between the ages of 6 and 65 are charged a fee of 50 euros for the entire treatment. If your income is less than 36,000 euros, you are entitled to the spa treatment for three euros. Yes, that is right, three euros.

The board and lodging expenses are fully paid by Social Security. It is still not quite as liberal as the “old days” when you could get as many “paid holidays” as you liked within your “nine week vacation allotment.” Also, each spa configures its own scientifically based period for the treatment cycle. Water or mud treatments apparently have a different time period with different spas. So you may be entitled to 14 days according to the specific treatment that you are looking for and who would not look for the 14 day treatment? All hotels located in a spa location have an agreement with Italy’s Social Security to host the tax payers that have been prescribed spa treatment. This includes 5-star deluxe hotels as well as 3- or 4-star hotels. In other words, it is a wonderful paid vacation that even with the chronic economic situation in Italy is still ongoing. Nice!

italian spa gate 050514

Recently at San Casciano, I pulled up to this groovy 5-star retreat and saw a classic Italian moment. There was a wealthy looking guy with his younger companion both in their robes, both smoking cigarettes and with a glass of wine in hand. The notion that spas could have a wellness component that involved working out, yoga, and meditation is a just a mind boggling concept that is not understood in Italian culture. Here lounging in a hot bathtub fed by ancient sulfur springs while taking in the sun and taking time out for a quick cigarette is still all the rage.

So as I was having dinner of pasta with wild boar complemented by the inexpensive and delicious Montepulciano wine, I asked myself, “Who has it right?” I am making my reservations for next year already.

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