Saturday, January 10, 2009

Merano - Spa daze for birthdays

We went to Merano, Italy for my birthday and stayed at the Steigenberger Hotel. It's a luxury hotel--especially luxurious for a European hotel. The best part about the place (aside from the personal pillow ordering system) was the underground tunnel which connects you directly to one of the biggest and best spas in Italy. Merano Terme has radioactive water, but it didn't stop us from spending hours in it. A bathing suit is required in the pools, but the separate sauna area has its own rules: no suit, no shoes, no towel. If you're old enough, you can enjoy the saunas from 9am to 10pm, 365 days of the year.
I wasn't surprised by the no suit rule. I was expecting it. But, I wasn't at all prepared for the no towel rule. Oh my! After you get past the em-bare-ass-ment of sitting across from a sweaty naked man cross-legged, the whole experience is really quite enjoyable. There are steam rooms, saunas of varying temperatures, a snow room, outdoor jacuzzi, ice pools: the works. There is also a bar in the nude zone. Beer, teas, or fresh ginger juices are easily charged to your wrist band for minimum hassle.
The water and salt scrubs had me and Mateo marveling at how soft our skin became.

Merano is a beautiful little town. The homes and hotels are mostly Gothic or decorated with Art Nouveau details, which look especially dramatic when the trees have lost their leaves. The Forst brewery was closed for "ferie" (holiday), but we were still able to sample their dark brews unavailable in bottle at the Gato Nero restaurant. The night that we ventured out for dinner in the centre of Merano, we shared a table with a couple and legroom with a small dog. The food was great, the wine medicore but cheap, and the atmosphere great.

The last day we were there, we ventured over to the Merano 2000 snow/sport area at the top of the mountain (accessible by cable car). The ride was a little scary, but the views were incredible. Once at the sporting area, we ventured about, took a short hike, sat and enjoyed teh view, then decided to catch a ride on the Bobsled. Going up to 44 in a bobsled is great! After our last ride we saw someone literally jump off the side of the mountain (at a steep slope point) and paraglide into the valley below. 95 euro and you can do the same. Guys, there is a 10% discount if we can find a third person to join us!
On the ski/board website I saw that there were sledding trails "for the advanced sledder." I didn't know what the hell that meant until I saw the trail. I don't think I could traverse the loop without a helmet and some lessons first. Germans take their snow sporting SERIOUSLY. Even sledding is a "sport."
I say Germans because although Merano is in the sudtirol area of Italy, there is a distinct difference in the mannerisms, culture, and language of these people in the area. It seems as if 95% of them speak German, or another dialect/language that neither Mateo nor I could wrap our heads around. According to the 2001 census, 51.50 % of the resident population speaks German as mother language, 48.01% Italian, and 0.49% Ladin.
Perhaps I should call them Austrians instead of Germans, as they all speak the same language and Austria is closer. Anyhow, traveling just 2-2.5 hours away from our town felt like living in a completely different world.
As a side note: Ladin (Ladino in Italian, Ladin in Ladin, Ladinisch in German) is a Rhaeto-Romance language spoken in the Dolomite mountains in Italy between the regions of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol and Veneto. It is closely related to the Swiss Romansh, Surselvan, and Friulian.

The Ladin alphabet is based on the Latin alphabet. It contains 27 letters:

A B C D E Ese F G

You can visit the following news website to get an idea about how the language looks:

Here are some pictures from our trip. Unfortunately no pictures of the spa. Sorry. No towels. No camera. No cell phones. Nada.

I don't know, yet, what the significance of the locks are (in the picture below). However, along the river, chained to the railing, there are these metals signs with lots of locks. I am figuring they are a wartime custom.
The last picture is of Mateo in an Austrian hat of which we are now the proud owners.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Happy New Year!

AUGURI! Buon anno! (Greetings! Happy New Year)

Thank you for all the holiday wishes and presents from everyone. It's an especially hard holiday season for almost everyone economically, but I was moved by everyone's sentiment and cheer. I did not celebrate Christmas growing up, so I don't as an adult. However, it's hard not to wish everyone a joyous season, because all of you are so wonderful and deserve the best regardless of the time of the year.

For Christmas Eve, Mateo and I went to an organic winery for lunch. I left simply stuffed to the gills! The food was so good and the portions small, but there were over SIX COURSES!

For New Year's Eve, Mateo had to work. I was invited to Munich, Germany and to my neighbor's house, but the weather was so awful I decided to stay home. Besides, it's not much fun to kiss a stranger at midnight while your husband's off working. New Year's Eve snowed and snowed and snowed. All night. They were the biggest snowflakes anyone here has ever seen! I literally keep opening the window to catch a few in my hand to shake my disbelief!

Needless to say, New Year's day the driveway needed to be shoveled. The only shovel we had was an emergency one we keep in the car, but the handle broke on it before I even started. Can you believe that not a single person I asked had a shovel?! Of course, it's also a holiday, so no stores were open either. Unlike in the states, we don't have 24-hour convenience stores. I guess that's why they call them CONVENIENCE stores because they are a convenient privilege instead of a right, which I had mistaken them for.
So I squatted down and scooped all the snow up with a handle-less shovel. It was a workout! The next day I was sore in the strangest ways.

In Italy, the holidays continue until January 6th: The Day of the Epiphany. It's the day when La Befana (the witch) comes and brings presents to all the good boys and girls. Yes, not Santa. A witch. I find this very odd. It's a bigger gift-giving day than Christmas. Christmas is strictly a religious holiday here: church and dinner with the family.

Christian legend has it that La Befana was approached by the magi (the biblical three kings) a few days before Christ's birth. They asked for directions to where the baby Jesus was, but she did not know. She provided them with shelter for a night, as she was considered the best housekeeper in the village with the most pleasant home. They invited her to join them on the journey to find the baby Jesus, but she declined, stating she was too busy with her housework. Later, La Befana had a change of heart, and tried to search out the astrologers and Jesus. That night she was not able to find them, so to this day, La Befana is searching for the baby Jesus. She leaves all the good children toys and candy, while the bad children get coal or bags of ashes.

Another Christian legend takes a slightly darker tone as La Befana was an ordinary woman with a child whom she greatly loved. However, her child died, and her resulting grief maddened her. Upon hearing news of Jesus being born, she set out to see him, delusional that he was her son. She eventually met Jesus and presented him with gifts to make him happy. The infant Jesus was delighted, and he gave La Befana a gift in return; she would be the mother of every child in Italy.

Also, popular tradition avers that if one sees La Befana one will receive a thump from her broomstick, as she doesn't wish to be seen. This aspect of the tradition may be designed to keep children in their beds while parents are distributing candy (or coal) and sweeping the floor on Epiphany Eve.

On this special holiday Mateo and I were in Merano celebrating my birthday. You'll see another post about that.

So, our hoidays were low-key, spent mostly with just each other, and enjoyable. Hope you all have picked resolutions you can stick with!!!