As I am still getting myself settled in the Great White North, I will provide an account of my enlightening stay in Austria a few Christmases ago for your enjoyment. 😀
School finished in Korea for the semester, and I hopped on the plane to fly to Munich to meet my family for Christmas. I was looking forward to a break from all the cultural experiences I’d been having in Korea but I wasn’t going to get one.
We were staying in the lovely town of Radstadt, Austria. Being Austria, our hotel was inevitably called Amadeus, and our cabin- Die Zauberflöte- the Magic Flute.
Our hosts were a lovely couple called the Grubers. Frau Gruber was a well-endowed woman, always impeccably dressed in beautiful dirndl dresses. My mother and I thought dirndls were gorgeous and considered buying one until we realized that we didn’t have the right um… assets to wear dirndl dresses.
Herr Gruber was a portly gentleman with a fondness for cigars. According to the hotel brochure, on special occasions Herr Gruber would dress up as Elvis, and put on the Elvis Memory Show. Sadly, we missed it by one day…..
Unfortunately Austria was having an unseasonably warm winter so there was very little snow; we did more hiking than skiing. But at the hotel was a spa. And ladies and gentlemen, what a spa! According to the hotel brochure, there were 2 saunas, 2 steam rooms, a light therapy room and then the English translations became a little confusing. The other rooms in the spa were rather intriguingly named – the Caldarium, the Ice Crash Grotto, and (my personal favourite) Shower Fun.
Always up for an adventure, my mother and I donned our bathing suits and headed down. How North American we were! And how quickly I had forgotten Asian spa etiquette!
In the changing room was a large sign in 3 different languages that said (and I quote) “Please go nude in the spa (that means without bathing suits).” Perhaps a previous guest had been confused by the exact definition of the word “nude”. Thankfully the hotel provided optional large yellow towels. We ventured out, our modesty mostly intact, provided we didn’t bend over.
The first sight to greet our eyes upon opening the door to the spa was a large, naked man engaged in rather complicated callisthenics. He smiled in greeting, and returned to his stretching.
Right. Co-ed spa. How very European.
I spotted two lovely shower stalls filled with all sorts of jets and nozzles. Shower fun indeed! Both showers however had clear glass doors. Hmm… shower fun for whom exactly?
The steam baths were lovely; one smelled of lemon and the other of camphor. The Finnish sauna was delightful in a closet-like way, and the light therapy sauna had different coloured light bulbs that flickered on and off, painting everyone inside lurid shades of red, blue, yellow and various combinations of the three. Why?
My brother and I decided to try the light therapy sauna and we arranged ourselves (and our towels) modestly on the lovely hot benches. Imagine our shock a few minutes later when we opened our eyes to find a stout German gentleman smilingly engaged in yoga positions that were frankly astoundingly complex considering his girth.
I’m not entirely certain what the purpose of the light therapy room was but let me caution anyone who is tempted to try it that it does not lend itself to naked yoga. Unattractive bits of one’s anatomy are rendered even more so when bathed in flickering coloured lights.
Shower Fun turned out to be a large bucket attached high on the wall, full of cold, cold water. After you had finished in the sauna of your choice, you were meant to pull the rope and douse yourself. Not really my idea of fun somehow….
Or if you preferred, there was a door to the outside of the hotel where you could go sit in a snow bank. Austrians certainly have a weird idea of “fun”.
As we wandered through the spa, it dawned on us that towels were an option most people opted out of. What is the etiquette for carrying on a conversation about snow conditions with a person wearing no clothes? Where do you look?
During our stay, my family and I commented on the friendliness of the people of Radstadt. Everywhere we went people nodded or smiled; it made us feel right at home. After a few days we realized that while the people of Radstadt were indeed friendly, most of the people who were greeting us were in fact fellow guests from the hotel; we simply didn’t recognize them with their clothes on. 😀