SWMBO reports from spa central after experiencing a most wondrous day.
In my post on Bad Waltersdorf (Austria), I commented that Fahbio and I were more used to Eastern European spas. Today we arrived at party central. Communist party that is.
We parked the car and it became clear that we were in a special place. It certainly ticked all the boxes for authentic socialist spa: healing, feral dogs, prescriptions, warnings about the strength of the water, very old people, line-ups, ice cream, low prices, lots of intriguing rules. It turned out that there was only one hot spring bath in Katalanovo. In retrospect we saw that our waiter yesterday was telling us that children would be admitted because the spa was an open bath available to everyone.
We walked in the front door and were faced with a line of people. The wicket seemed to be part hotel concierge, part hospital triage, part spa reception. There were room keys on display, ailing people handing in prescriptions and being told what to do and a sign indicating that they accepted Visa, Mastercard and Diners. After a long time, I stuck my head in the office and asked if we were in the line-up for the spa. A kind man whisked us downstairs and told us (some of) the rules:
- Entrance fee was 200 dinars ($5) per person. No reduction for children BUT
- Children were allowed.
- Men got all the even hours and women got all the odd hours. So it was not true that this was the only spa in Macedonia where men and women could visit at the same time (see #4). Since we arrived at 2:30, Fahbio and Onlyboy could go in right away. We were told that 20 minutes would be more than enough for them because the water was so hot.
- There were private baths that cost 1000 dinars but they were all booked for the day. If we had reserved a private bath, we all could have gone in together.
- Then we were advised by the receptionist that we should not stay in the water for more than 10 minutes (which conflicted with what the guy had just told us).
While waiting for Fahbio and Onlyboy, the girls and I headed to the (stinking hot) courtyard and experienced an Eastern European moment of epic proportions. The ice cream cooler was locked with two padlocks. Once these were unlocked and the metal cover removed, there was a third lock on the sliding door that had to be opened with a special key on a different key chain. With one gender always on hold to enter the pool, there was a constant stream of ice cream customers. Yet the Fort Knox security was put in place after each purchase.
At exactly three o’clock, Lastborn, Paris, Venice, and I entered the spa. Along with thirty ancient and infirm women wearing ankle length dresses and head scarves and clutching prescriptions outlining how long they should take the waters.
Here’s the thing though – once we got in the change room, these ladies were crazy. My conjecture was that there was a rule that you had to wear a bathing suit so they did. Technically. In reality, we saw an endless parade of “half naked ladies” as Venice described them. Some women had their bathing suits completely scrunched around their mid-thighs (ie nude) and were hobbling around, some had a one-piece pulled up to their waists and were topless, some had their bathing suits on but with straps undone. But every single lady had a disposable bathing cap on. That was one rule our guy forgot to mention. A matron came running in to hand us our hair nets and to chew out a lady who had forgotten to shower before entering the bath.
The pool was sulphurous and small and the water very hot. Fahbio had reported that the etiquette was to be quiet and act like a zombie. Yay! We were zombie experts! But the women were more fun-loving than the guys. There was lots of chatter and one lady was determined to teach Lastborn to swim. All the ladies were kind and welcoming and no matter how much we didn’t understand them, they insisted on asking us the same questions over and over and telling us the same stuff repeatedly.
Eventually, because the ladies were becoming more frantic, I came to understand (I think) that we were overstaying our “safe” time in the waters. This particular hot spring is known to heal pulmonary and gynecological conditions. Frustrated with how thick I was, one lady finally pointed to our abdomen/pelvic areas and gave us the thumbs out. What would have happened if we had stayed? Instant pregnancy or complete infertility? Fibroids? Blocked tubes? If only we were couchsurfing, we could ask these questions…
We emerged feeling calm, relaxed and spent. Somehow the air didn’t feel as hot anymore either which was nice.
What fascinated me most (well maybe not most but a lot) was how this spa was being marketed as a high-end destination spa for foreign tourists as well as an old style Slavic spa for sick people. Somehow it worked for both. Presumably, Western travellers willing to visit a spa whose name and location was scratched on the back of a receipt in Cyrillic were fairly adventurous and willing to trade certain niceties for healing waters, cheap fees and über-atmosphere. Local people were happy to come as recommended by their physicians.
Now you are probably wondering how we could top a day like that? Well, tomorrow is my wedding anniversary. Coincidentally, it is Fahbio’s as well. Twenty-one years! To celebrate, we will walk 12 kilometres down a mountain in the stinking hot sun. Then maybe we’ll have to drive back to Katalanovo to relax our tired muscles.