I learned the town name in Italian means Volcano Crater. No wonder there are so many thermal pools, spas, and steam baths scattered around this geo-thermal hotbed of activity. Poised between Florence and Pisa, there are thermal services, pools, caves, and most anything of the spa variety you can imagine. My BFF and I went there to chill out for the holidays to experience the lovely holiday markets, the Gluehwein (hot spiced wine) and of course the pasta and all the spa’ing a person can take. We discovered things we never thought of and other things we wish we hadn’t. It’s all about discovery and being open to try new things. That’s when two brains are better than one when we try to figure out the procedures and how to manage ourselves in new environs in another language….though I learned all you really need in Italian is Grazi and Prego and that pretty much can take you anywhere.
Our first spa experience was what we later termed the sanitarium or insane asylum. Seriously, it was so sterile and clean and minimal and the people all wore white smocks, it was a little weird. We stayed for five hours to take in all the pools and water therapy we could handle. We were led upstairs to a completely empty floor….a bit like the movie The Shining. Seriously, nobody was on the floor except one housekeeper and the attendant who kept running between our two rooms to give us our treatments. No mood lighting, no candles, no soft music, just bright lights like an operating room, cold tables, and opened doors as she kept running back and forth between us.
We both got the special mud pack treatment and the magical mud/cream facial along with a massage. No warming of the massage oil at this crazy place….she slathered cold cream on you with startling precision and then gave the most lack-luster massage I’ve ever had…it did nothing for either of us. It was hard not to laugh because it was so weirdly sterile and antiseptic and not at all relaxing. We were slathered in mud that had incubated in the special waters for up to two years, then swaddled in wrapping. We felt like mud burritos when we were left to cook in the mud. All you could hear across the hallway was us laughing at the absurdity of it all.
Our next thermal experience was like nothing we’d ever experienced as seasoned spa-goers. This thermal vapor cave was discovered in 1849 and recognized as the 8th wonder of the world at one time. There is a resort and thermal spa built around this cave with stalagmites and stalactites that is the length of a football field. They give you little slippers and white canvas robes with hoods that look monk-like. Then you descend into the cave with one end called Paradise which is the “cooler” end and the other end is Inferno/Hell which is much deeper into the mountain and is considerably hotter in this natural sauna steam bath buried into the mountain.
In Hell you find teak deck chairs and a smattering of people just resting in silence and sweat in the dimly lit cave. You sweat for 45 minutes and then emerge from the depths to a shower and a fuzzy robe, then you’re ushered to a nap room that is surrounded by an inside jungle with vines Tarzan could swing on.
From there we were led to our sea-salt scrub and shae butter candle massage. They light the candle and drip the hot shae butter upon you for an amazing massage in an appropriately lush and lavish dimly-lit setting with spa music, heated beds and blankets and aromatherapy. After you feel like putty, then you’re guided to the outdoor thermal pool with individual bubble seats, waterfalls, robe and towel warmers and spectacular scenery surrounding the grounds.
We spent 6 hours at this place and luxuriated in every minute. It was a far cry from the sanitarium spa. Buyer beware – do your homework before you plunk down cash for services that are downright startling. Oh well, nothing that some red wine, great pasta and a little tiramisu won’t fix to help erase our memory of the insane asylum. It’s all about taking care of yourself and inviting new experiences. We had a good laugh at our own expense and know better next time when we research spas and treatments. What are you doing to try new adventures, unique experiences and to take care of yourself? What are you doing to add a little uniqueness, wonder, and excitement to your life? What are you doing to live Hartfully and renew yourself? Next stop was leather shopping in Florence. More on that adventure is customized leather later.
Keeping in touch with those who matter is a vital ingredient to keeping us energized. “You’ve got to give to get” is the important axiom here. Practicing the art of hand-written notes will help you stand out in a crowd. Sending thoughtful emails is a runner up, and the annual holiday letter falls in line somewhere down the list. Amidst the jungle of email and unwanted spam, snail mail still connects people and shows that you’ve taken the time to care and taken the energy and effort to put it on paper.
Be cognizant of the email you send to others to make sure you are not draining their energy by sending unwanted chain letters or forwarded spoofs that they have to delete. On the other hand, email is a fantastic invention for connecting people at any time of the day anyplace on Earth. Once we got our mother signed up, there was no stopping the connection to her family across the nation. Take the time to send a card, a note, or even an email to others to stay connected and energize their day. Who doesn’t like to get mail that isn’t bills, junk, or from Ed McMahon? Some people use their journaling time to pass along reflections or think out issues. Writing thank-you notes is also a terrific time-honored tradition. Connections and communication keep you energized.
Life is full of surprises and travel holds more than its fair share of them. I was reminded of this fact on a recent trip to Canada for a cruise on the St. Lawrence Seaway and through the Bay of Fundy around Nova Scotia from Montreal to Boston. It was supposed to be a fall foliage cruise, experiencing fall in the northern reaches ushering in the Fall all bundled up as we leisurely skimmed the seaway watching the pastoral sights of Canadian coast drift lazily by our suite.
My travel buddy, Barb and I met up in the Toronto airport and landed in Montreal during a heat wave of 95 degrees. We wandered the cobblestone streets of the old city glad we had packed hot weather gear, one of our first surprises. We were fortunate to have landed during their summer fest of cinema and short films shown upon city buildings, trees, streets, and alleyways. Between the quaint sidewalk cafés and being ensconced in art of every kind including one of the most spectacular Basilica’s I’ve ever seen.
When we checked into our hotel early, the nicest front desk associate I have encountered in a while asked us if we would mind having the largest suite in the hotel with a 60-foot balcony overlooking the old town and the river. Would be mind? We didn’t ask any questions and just said yes, please, that would be lovely. We had a hard time keeping our composure on that one and fell into giggles the moment we shut the door to our suite and sweet balcony. We also discovered that the oldest working pub in North America was attached to our hotel and we were pleasantly surprised to have a very nice chat with the bartender over happy hour concoctions that were her suggestion. Montreal was a nice surprise in more ways than one.
Next on the cruise we noticed the average age was decrepit and had never seen so many walkers, wheelchairs, and Rascals in one place in all our lives. Most of the cruises I take are active, adventure trips and this one was more for the relaxed scenery and to visit Quebec City in all its walled glory and for high tea at the Chateau Fontenac. I’m guessing the relaxed pace was just the right pace for those in their 80’s. I hope I’m still racing down the corridors on my Rascal or with my walker in my 90’s on an international trip. The Fall foliage was not as intense as we had expected, no bright red Maples due to the weird weather that summer. Instead we saw muted shades of olive, rust, and brown. Not spectacular, but pleasant nonetheless.
Our next unexpected experience was a surprise sea day compliments of Hurricane Maria. Who knew the rain bands and winds would kick up swells over six stories high so far north and inland? I was on the promenade deck ready to take a picture of the amazing sunset when a wall of water crashed over the side of the ship in the sixth deck. Those were some big swells, and so we couldn’t dock and kept on chugging eastward rocking and rolling with the waves churning around us. We felt we needed seatbelts in bed and everyone walked like a drunken sailor trying to keep upright. I felt for those people in walkers and wheelchairs, it would have been a difficult slog to the dining room. One thing about a surprise sea day….you can spend your time lamenting what you didn’t get to see or you can take full advantage of what you can do on board.
We immediately called the spa as soon as the captain finished his message and we booked the works. We also took advantage of port wine and chocolate tasting, high tea, the pool and hot tub. In times of surprises, do you fret over what could have happened, should have happened, or do you go with what actually happened and move on from there and enjoy what you do have and not what you don’t have. It was interesting to hear different view points on board from those who were flexible in their plans and thinking and those who were not. I dare say the flexible ones were in a much better mood than those who were not. We noticed a distinct difference between the crotchety types and the kind, friendly types and decided we needed to be mindful to be the friendly, kind type now and when we get to the decrepit stage of life. Looking for the positive in our situation, no matter what it may be.
Learning that we have taken a different heading on our course than we would have liked requires some regrouping and adjusting the helm. Assess the situation, eye your compass, and trim the sails for a new course to aim for the goal. It may take a little longer, but you will end up in the correct port instead of turning back. It is invigorating to know you successfully managed an about-face by regrouping your thoughts and resources.
Still your mind and take time to think about your next move. Sometimes your detour has taken you so far off course that it is difficult to find your way back, or move ahead on the same path you are on. By regrouping and gathering your thoughts and your data, you can better assess where you took a wrong turn and what you need to do to get back on course.
At times we are so over-busy with activity, that we mistake it for productivity or the right livelihood and we end up stressed out and burned out from hurry sickness or random busy work that doesn’t have meaning for us. It takes some quiet time and reflection with thoughtful attention to what is truly meaningful.
If what you are doing in your daily life doesn’t bring meaning and doesn’t bring you closer in alignment with your principles and values, then you need to regroup and move in a different direction. Gather your courage, gather your strength, gather your thoughts, and then gather your support network to help you get the regrouping started and make a new plan. Sometimes others can help us see our way better than we can see it ourselves.
A short time planning your course before you set sail saves a lot more time during the journey in the long run. Taking the time to settle down and regroup will save you from more stressful situations down the road.
We had planned a relaxing beach-side getaway in Florida to soak in some sun and fun. What we got was soaking wet for a few days as we hunkered down to ride out Hurricane Matthew which had the audacity to ravage Florida’s coast in the middle of our vacation. It was eerily calm, warm, and sunny as we watched the shop keepers install the hurricane shutters and at poolside, we sipped umbrella drinks and ordered nachos. It was weird that each time a guest would get up from their lounge chair, an attendant would swoop in and scoop it up, along with all the potted plants.
One by one, all the patio furniture was carted away and doorways boarded up as us die-hards watched the Weather channel non-stop while floating in the pool. I’ve never watched so many hours of weather in all my life, but we were in the “cone of uncertainty” and several of the tracks showed us getting slammed by the evening. The hotel staff told us the windows were rated up to 200 miles per hour and this storm was estimated to “only reach 140 miles per hour.” I wondered who did the math on that calculation.
Later that evening, we walked the strand admiring the kite surfers and as we meandered, the wind started picking up. We had heard a hurricane may hit landfall, but it was supposed to be further north, so we kept walking as dusk settled in and the wind picked up. It only intensified the tricks the kite surfers could do in the gusts…looked like a blast to me. Note to self – try kite surfing – but not in a hurricane.
Live jazz was playing across the street from a sidewalk café and we felt the first droplets of rain, so we dashed back to our villa stopping by the CVS to round out our provisions we had hoarded to ride out several days without electricity or water. The storm grew stronger as the sky grew black and the rings of the hurricane most certainly were upon us. Bless the CVS store owner for remaining open until the last possible minute while every other shop around them was boarded up so we could get just one more jug of water for good measure.
Then it hit with a ferocity I hadn’t experienced. Our doors started blowing open before we could get them locked. We sat atop the intercoastal waterway and watched boats being tossed about and whipped from their moorings. We didn’t get the brunt, but you could see the rain bands and feel the building swaying. After holing up for a day and a half, we were able to venture out again and it was as if nothing had ever happened. We went to the spa and when we reached the pool deck, all the furniture was in place and the steel drum band was playing and umbrella drinks were flowing. Later that night we toasted a narrow miss with bellinis on the balcony and watched the boat traffic flow effortlessly in the intercoastal waterway like nothing ever happened.
Sometimes you need to ride out the storm and wait for the sunshine and sunset after the worst part. We didn’t want to throw in the towel because we still had vacation days left and wanted to use up every single minute for our holiday. We prepared, assessed the probability of a direct hit, and decided it was going to be another adventure and a good story. We were very fortunate, indeed. The next day we went air boating in search of gators, a perfect Florida trip complete with the requisite hurricane and gator sightings, that’s what I call livin g Hartfully, feminine and fierce.
There’s always been a certain charm of Europe that grabs hold of you, a sense of great architecture, grand design, great food, amazing culture, and women who know how to wear a scarf effortlessly. I particularly like to be in Europe for the holiday season. It’s done so well, so elegant, old-world charm, light-handed, and all your senses are immersed in holiday cheer. Not the unabashed, neon, tinsel-town fakeness in America.
So my BFF and I decided to spend this holiday in Italy and Belgium to surround ourselves with Christkindlemarkts, gluehwein, kaesestanger pretzals, and French fries with mayo in a cone and little forks as only the Belgians and the Dutch can do so well. When we arrived in Bruges, one of our favorite towns in the world that we thought couldn’t get any more charming and quaint. Well… cue the horse-drawn carriages clip-cloppping down the cobblestone street, the smell of chestnut roasting on an open fire (no kidding), and the smell of chocolate, the sight of 18th century canal homes decked out in greenery, simple white lights and red ribbons, ice skaters on the square encircled by holiday market stalls, and holiday music piped through the streets. Bliss, simply bliss from all angles. All we needed was reindeer and some snow. It did spit rain, so we ducked into a 15th century convent turned hotel for high tea by the roaring fire in the walk-in fireplace along the canal. We were the only ones in the sumptuous drawing room replete with champagne, tea, and crumpets – just what we needed to complete the holiday mood.
Several trips and years ago we had decided to up our game in several areas of our lives. It’s funny how little things can be improved and when you string together all the areas you have stepped-up, it turns out your life has been up-leveled in interesting ways. This trip was no exception. We continued to step up our scarf game because they are plentiful in Europe, take up no room in the suitcase and don’t break. I’ve come to know that eyeglasses are much more creative and interesting in Europe than in America. Why can’t American’s have imagination when it comes to eyewear. There is no comparison. This trip was no different when we met a woman whose dad has been the creative force behind some wild and crazy designs since the 60’s. Of course, we couldn’t leave the country without a pair of hot pink and purple frames to add to the collection.
One this trip we decided to step up our balsamic vinegar and chocolate game. Visiting a tiny artisanal vinegar house in Modena was a perfect entre into the world of fine balsamic vinegars. They produce only 2000, 100ml bottles per year and the entire operation is in the attic of their 1800’s home. The sweet, tart scent of vinegar wafted throughout the home where they took such pride in aging their stash for 12-25 years completely naturally. Of course, we had to buy bottles at $65 – $130 each. The complex taste is out of this world and the consistency of heave syrup is divine. I had long stepped up from the watery balsamic of the grocery store to specialty vinegars, but had no idea this amazing concoction existed. It rocked my world.
The same held true for chocolate. The Europeans have the Americans beat to shreds in chocolate-making, bread-making and many other things. When we strolled the Galleries near the Grand Place in Brussels, the high-end chocolate shops looked like fine jewelry stores with Mary chocolates holding the seal of the royal family. Another divine sensory overload. Eat your heart out Hershey’s.
The cherry on top was the sensory overload in the Grand Place at night with a light show set to holiday music while eating a warm waffle and turning in circles to not miss a thing trying to catch a glimpse of the fabulous buildings from the 1600’s bathed in flickering lights timed perfectly with the music. It was magical, it was marvelous, it was setting the bar very high for holiday experiences European-style. Yet another area where we had up-leveled our experiences and our awareness of bigger and better things available.
What kinds of things have you up-leveled in your life? How have you stepped up in different areas of your life? What are you consciously letting go of in order to make room for newer, better things, experiences, ways of being, doing, having? From things such as pens, furniture, fabrics, foods, jewelry, books, what you watch on screens, how you choose to use your time, dishes, thoughts, habits, colleagues, job/work, friends, behavior, bed linens, towels, lingerie, bags, paper, lotions and self-care products to hotels, villas, restaurants. Treat yourself to some up-leveling at any level this year. One small thing or big leaps and be conscious of what works for you and how it feels and what feels right for you. It’s all part of continuous improvement in all areas of your life. Make an effort to notice your space, your closet, your kitchen and refrigerator. What can you improve to represent who you are or who you want to become?
I’ve decided I probably need to be in Europe the month of December from now on. It feels like home. I’ve always tried to stay off the road and out of the malls and stores between Thanksgiving and Martin Luther King Day in America. It feels bad for me and I refuse to get caught up in the self-imposed stress of running around for sales and buying obligatory gifts that you wouldn’t normally be buying. The rushing around and fake blow-up decorations are a big turn-off for me. What feels more right is the old-school way of celebrating the holidays is how it is done in Europe. One more way of stepping it up and stepping out to enjoy what feels best for me. What do you do to feel your best and take care of your soul, your psyche, your body and your mind?
An open mind is a good mind. Keep an open invitation to fresh ideas that can be enlightening, inspiring, and energizing. Blow out those cobwebs and entertain thinking that expands your creativity and your perspective. Be curious about life and learn a new or resourceful way of doing things. Continuously look for ways to view the world from another angle, or test-drive activities, foods, ideas, or philosophies that question the way you previously chose to look at the world.
Closed minds and closed eyes are no way to move through the world. Being entrenched in your own stance not only drains your energy, it drains the energy of those around you. You can open your mind and your life to new possibilities just by changing a few words in your vocabulary. Instead of saying “I don’t care” when your spouse or friend suggests an activity or an idea, try saying “I’m open to that”, or “Yes, I’m willing to try that”.
By using phrases of openness, you open yourself up to more possibilities. Avoiding the numbness and locked up feeling of “I don’t care”, helps us tap into our energy and our true intentions. When we get to the lowest levels of “I don’t care”, our soul dies. So open your mind, open your heart, and open your eyes to new adventures and ideas to avoid becoming numb and locked up to new possibilities.
I grew up on a golf course and started playing in the 3-holer league in grade school with hand-me-down clubs from my siblings. I’m left-handed and they are right-handed, so I learned to play with their equipment and continue the sport today in a right-handed way. I always thought I was not good enough to spring for new clubs since my college days….after all I wasn’t growing any taller, ahem.
So I kept the same equipment for a few decades until recently when I borrowed a friend’s clubs and shot the best game of my life. By George there is something to this thing of using updated equipment. I was hooked once again and sought out the ladies’ line of pink, flex, petite clubs because even if I can’t play pretty, at least my clubs will look pretty.
It turns out I looked pretty foolish my first day out with my new set and my new cart. Still in the parking lot, I couldn’t figure out the new-fangled strap. It seems they now make them like back-pack straps to go over both shoulders. Who knew? I was flinging that bag around trying to figure it all out and luckily nobody was paying attention. I find that’s usually the case…nobody is paying attention. Strike one.
Strike two came when I strapped my bag onto my new handy dandy pull cart that ever-so-swiftly folds into nothingness to fit in my trunk. I had everything in place and only got two car lengths away from my car when the wheel fell off the cart and down goes the bag and the clubs sprinkled about the parking lot. Quick look around to see if nobody was still paying attention and back to my car I went limping along with one wheel in my hand.
Returning to the backpack method, I waltzed up to the driving range to practice with these new petite, pink clubs. After a large bucket of balls, I was exhilarated and exasperated at the same time. I loved the clubs, my drives were better than ever, and I was sweating so badly my sunglasses fogged up and I couldn’t see a thing. Strike three. I’m sure glad the driving range stalls had barriers between then because I couldn’t see where I was hitting. It turns out I had severely over-dressed for the occasion.
Stripping down before hitting the links; I told the starter that I had a 10:24 tee time and instead of pointing me in the direction of the tee box, he announces – are you playing alone? You only have one person in your party? It felt like the maître d at a swanky restaurant announcing to the dining room that you are the loser eating alone or when they call price check at the checkout counter over the loud speaker for a special ointment. Yes, I’m playing alone this morning on my maiden voyage with my pink ladies and by the way do you have a pull cart, my wheel fell off in the parking lot. I also wondered if I could even see the ball with my bare eyes and without glasses with nobody watching where it goes except me. I decided to use pink balls – easier to see than white. It turned out I could see them, but maybe next time I pull out the glasses just in case. Just another reminder I’m getting older….bifocals for golf….ugh.
Turns out that after those three strikes, I got it out of my system and played pretty darn good and pretty darn fast thanks to my pretty pink clubs. Even teeing off in front of several fire engine crews who were doing training just beyond the fence line…no pressure with 100 firemen mere yards from you. Ah, but I remembered…..nobody is paying attention, so there really was no pressure. It’s all a mind game.
So you really can teach an old duffer new tricks with new clubs. I’m ready for next weekend for another tee time and more adventures on the range and on the course. I find trying new things keeps me on my toes and keeps me humble and it gives me something to look forward to….getting better. This will surely be a lifetime of getting better because there is no place to go but up. Though I did manage to get a par on the last hole, a couple bogies and a couple double bogies. I lost count on the other holes….the pink ladies helped me improve, but they are not miracle workers. I didn’t lose a ball and I didn’t hit anyone. I call that a good day.