07 May 2007

The bride and groom wore white

I'm eating a restaurant lunch with M. and looking around the room at forty other people, all identically dressed, like us, in white bathrobes and slippers. I'm wondering why everyone is acting like this is so normal, but then I remind myself not to ogle and to play it cool. Sure, bathrobes. Right on.

Was I hallucinating? Having one of those weird dreams where the line between public and private is crossed, repeatedly? No, actually this scenario is perfectly explicable, and true: we went to Spa this weekend. Not just "a spa," but "Spa," the town in Belgium where the word spa comes from! And also where they bottle the Spa brand water, which comes in three versions: non-sparkling blue bottle (Reine), "naturally sparkling" green bottle (Marie Henriette), and sparkling red bottle (Clementine). After quaffing several of the green bottles, we noticed that the fountains labeled Marie Henriette throughout the spa? Their marble was covered in RUSTY ORANGE-BROWN GUNK. One assumes that this water has been scientifically proven to be safe and all, given that people have been drinking and bathing in it for, um, centuries, but: orange gunk?

This trip to spa was a wedding gift from one of our friends who had given us a "day at Spa" gift certificate, which we only now finally got around to using. Goes to show how our weekends have been this year--you'd think we'd immediately find a day to spend being pampered and shuffling around in white bathrobes and ingesting spa water. But it took ten months. Still, it was just the right moment, because my birthday is tomorrow, and so it was kind of like a post-wedding pre-birthday thing.

Spa is situated in the Ardennes, close to the German and Dutch borders, and it took us two hours by train to get there. The modern spa facilities are at the top of a hill overlooking the town, so we got to take a cute little funicular that brought us to the top. Once we signed in, we were ceremoniously given the bathrobe and slippers that we were to wear the whole day, plus a little chip that we wore around our wrists--holding it up by the doors gave us access to the areas denied to the regular pool-goers. Our treatments and lunchtime had already been scheduled, so all that was left to us was to show up on time for the treatments and to figure out what to do in between.

First up, I had a "douche thermale." Now, in English, this sounds really scary, I know, but "douche" just means shower in French, so don't worry. Actually, though, it was a bit more unpleasant than I had anticipated. I was made to stand in a sort of round marble alcove like some Venus on a half shell in a bathing suit (and yes, the marble was yet again stained ORANGE-BROWN), and a "spa technician" aimed a powerful hose at my nervous self. The thing HURT! He sprayed up and down my legs (I was sure I'd have bruises), then my stomach, arms, sides, and back. The force of the water nearly pushed me forward, and my arms moved involuntarily when he sprayed them. It only lasted ten minutes, and I was kind of relieved when it was over. He asked if I wanted to repeat the process with cold water, and I emphatically shook my head NO. It was bad enough with the water at its natural temperature of 32 degrees celcius.

So I was relieved to exit the douche thermale and find M, who had been enjoying a "bain carbogazeaux" (more on which later). We strolled over to the "relaxation room" where we first stretched out on wooden chaise longues with panoramic views over the town of Spa, and then entered a pitch-black area with black lights, "soothing" music (you know, the rushing water, twittering birds, swooshing chords, yoga-meditation type) and piped-in aromatherapy (something a bit too piney for my taste). The chairs were awesome, once we figured out how to use them: you could tip back and be suspended in the air, perfectly cradled. Under the black lights, you can hardly see anything except rows of bizarrely glowing bathrobes and slippers, all eerily hanging in the air. Before we knew it, time for our next appointment: massages!

I had been having a sore neck and headaches last week, so I was really amped for the massage. It was excellent, but unfortunately, didn't feel like she really worked the neck area, and also the bed didn't have one of those face-holes, so my neck was twisted the whole time. M. had a face-hole for his, but he had the same reaction to the lack of force of the massage. We concluded that the masseuses probably don't dig in super hard unless directly instructed to, because if they did they would be exhausted by the end of the day. Still, I came out feeling like jelly, and so it was a perfect time for lunch, a really nice soup and salad buffet, and the scene of the bizarreness that is a group of adults refinedly eating in their bathrobes.

After lunch, we went swimming. The indoor/outdoor pools really are awesome, sort of like a water-theme park but without the cheesy fake palm trees and cartoon characters. Lots of different areas that bubble up and splash and do fun things at different times, pipes that pour water over you, or cause waterfalls that you can duck under. And jacuzzis! The water was a perfect temperature (I think the same 32 degrees as the shower), and we had a great time swimming around and floating (was it just me, or was the water more buoyant than normal water?) and dunking and laughing and intertwining.

Then it was time for our last appointment. M had a "bain niagra," which was basically a sort of jacuzzi bath, and I had the "bain carbogazeaux" that he had had in the morning. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to take a bath in your favorite brand of sparkling water? In a gleaming copper tub? With a view of treetops and sky? Well, let me tell you: it's wonderful. All the little bubbles burble up around you calmly, making those cute tiny little splashes on the surface. Behind my back, the bubbles would get trapped, and then come chuckling up all at once. The little pearly bubbles collected all over my skin, so I could trace shapes and letters on my stomach or arm by erasing them with my finger. The water was warmer, at 36 degrees, and boy, those twenty minutes felt like five. I was resentful when the little beeper went off, telling me my time was up, but I also hopped out like hot potatoes because I was scared one of the spa people would come in before I had my bathrobe properly on.

We still had a large stretch of afternoon left, and we still hadn't checked out the sauna, steam bath, and progressive jacuzzis. The idea is that you heat up in a warm bath, take a sauna, hop into cold water (!), then warm, then go into the steam bath, hop into cold water (!), then warm, then warmer, with rest periods between each. Here's what I did: warm bath, check. Sauna, five minutes. (The whole time I was freaking out because I felt like I couldn't breathe and that my lungs were being scorched.) Cold bath: toes dipped in. (EEE!) Warm bath: aaaaaaaaah. M went into the steam room but I stayed put, feeling like I had done my part. You know, for the collective sauna-Northern European thing.

While he finished the whole process, I went back to the "relaxation room," and promptly fell sound asleep. (We had gotten up at 6:30 am to catch our train in the morning.) When M woke me, about forty minutes later, he had to seriously shake me to bring me back to consciousness. Maybe I need a "relaxation room" in our house.

To finish off the afternoon, we had some rosehip tea, and made moon-eyes at each other, all swoony with our day of relaxation. After a hot shower, and dressed again, I felt like I could barely walk. Also, I was quite the internal furnace, what with all the warm waters; it took a good hour or two before my body temperature went back to normal. We took the funicular back down to the town, wandered around and then caught the eight o'clock train to Verviers and then on to Brussels.

I kind of miss the bathrobe.

1 comment:

Dave said...

Wow, sounds terrific! I'm glad you had a relaxing time. It reminds me of the spa in Leukerbad, Switzerland that I've heard Brian and Freddie talk about (www.burgerbad.ch).