December’s Resolutions – Why Wait for the New Year?

Since it looks as if I’ve managed to score an entire month at home – I should be in Toronto all December – I’ll use the time to get my writing life in order – and if some housework happens to get done at the same time all the better, but no promises there.

1) One big goal is to develop my blog into a serious mix of blog and webpage with loads of articles all neatly (ha, in my dreams) categorized, mainly in the areas of spa, solo travel, scandalous women and outdoor adventure. So far, I have managed to get my own website, wanderingcarol.com, and get wordpress up on it, but the thing is, I can’t figure out how to actually get in there to blog anything. As soon as I get over the embarrassment of admitting this (oh, wait, I think I just have) I’ll figure out who to ask for help.

2) By January my friend Michele Peterson, who is also working on a book, and I have pledged to hand over everything we have written so far of our manuscripts, including scattered chapters, vague outlines, etc, to each other so we can help each other with structure. Hopefully this will motivate me to fix my first chapter, which takes place in Paris and involves the Buddha Bar, the Hotel Crillon, too much wine and (as it stands) too much whining. Either I need to drastically cut it into a prologue or draw it out into full scenes. Right now it’s a sad hybrid, but I’m not ready to kill it totally.

3) Get my winter columns and articles planned out. My problem is that there are too many stories I want to write and ideas are flying around my head like banshees. I need to focus, pare down and um, well there’s always room for improvement, write funnier, faster, be more profound, more entertaining, and stop using ‘I’ so much. This, like housework, is not likely to happen, but maybe in 2010!

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Where Does a Travel Writer Spend her Money? On Spas

It’s 4:30 in the morning and I’ve got jet lag bad. No, I’ve never found a remedy for it except time. And I’ve tried everything. Right now I just rummaged through my cupboard to find some melatonin, the sleep hormone, and am waiting for it to kick in. If it kicks in. And while I wait I’ll just pretend I’m back in Switzerland, because I did not want to leave. And so I didn’t.

At the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz, I took one look at the thermal pools, the spa facilities, the crystal chandelier over my tub, the Belle Époque swimming pool (okay, it was rebuilt, but still), the surrounding Alps, the hip new decor of the resort, and that was it. I handed over my credit card and said, “Book me in for three more days.”

My chromotherapy tub - so chic

“You’re so lucky you get free trips!” People say this to me all the time. It’s true. It’s wonderful and I don’t take it for granted. But I also think giving a travel writer a free night or two at a good resort is like giving out free crack to create an addict. One hit of a good spa and I’m hooked.

Hooked on this pool!

Mainly my own vacation dollars go towards European spas. This year it was a week in Montegrotto Terme, an Italian spa town. Last year it was five days at the Grand Hotel Pupp (my Czech friend, Lenka, swears it’s pronounced ‘poop’) in the Czech spa town of Karlovy Vary, and before that I spent two weeks in Marianske Lazne, a historic spa town also in the Czech Republic. Oh, there was that week at the Grand Hotel Margitszigit in Budapest, as well. And that week in Heviz, a small Hungarian town with a whole thermal lake full of lilies and retired Germans.

I like the European tradition of spas as slow quiet healing places, often with gorgeous architecture, lovely landscape and fresh air. Not that I have anything against a week in Paris or New York, but I tend to want at least one quiet vacation a year. Or ten. This is because most of my trips are for work and are crazy, with packed itineraries and lots of shmoozing.

My first criteria for a spa vacation is  thermal water (hot springs) or at least mineral water (spring water full of  minerals but not necessarily hot, like at Mariansky Lazne). Other than that, cheaper is better, but I think Bad Ragaz has spoiled me for life because now I want to live like a sheikh.

Hot Springs - So hot! So cool!

Ah, well. You can’t spa everyday (says who?) and Toronto is a good place to be. Now if only I could sleep …

I Missed the Party in Zurich

Here's the fashion show - an official photo.

 

This is how cool I am. During Fashion Week in Toronto I was invited to zero shows, parties and/or events. Not one. Oh,wait … I just checked my email and was invited to the Andrew Majtenyi show. I did go the year before and he’s a rockin’ Canadian designer.

I guess travel journalists don’t rate in the fashion world. Except, of course, when we’re on the road. Here in Zürich I had front row seats at the Zimtstern snow and street wear fashion show thanks to Claus Zimmermann, Head of Trade and Marketing Events (and coincidently, brother of Florian who got us into the hockey game two days before). 

Afterwards some of the journalists stayed and danced the night away at the After Party rolling back into the hotel at 5 a.m. Meanwhile I was asleep by midnight. Was the good night’s sleep worth it? Not in this case – I heard it was a blast, the music was great and that once the Swiss get warmed up they are way more fun than you might think.

The Runway

Media weren’t supposed to take photos at the show but does a blog count as media? Let me rephrase that … does my blog count as media? Anyway, I had unofficial permission, so here’s what you missed.

We’re so hip!

Now I’m in a hotel in Bad Ragaz, a Swiss resort where the shops, like in St Moritz, showcase completely different gear. As in over-the-top Ivana-Trump-style glam.

We're so pricey!

This jacket, for sale in the boutique in my hotel, is by Bogner. Only something like 13 were made and the price tag is a sleek $7,900. Yup. Eight grand to look good on the slopes. Um. That won’t be me. I love to ski but I’m generally the bag lady of the slopes, which is perfect gear for the green runs I will always prefer. Wearing an $8,000 outfit would be like driving a Jag when you can’t parallel park.

Travel Blogging an Expensive Prospect

I want to blog about the Zimtstern fashion show I went to last night in Zurich but at 20 bucks to use the Internet at my hotel, forget it. It was in the hip and cool slightly dodgy area of Zurich West – dirty chic you might say – and the snowboarding fashions were much to be desired. If I were a snowboarder. Which I am not. But if I take it up I will now know what to wear.

Blogging on the Road – St Moritz

I had no idea it would be so hard to keep up a blog while travelling – especially when you’re on a press trip and your time is not your own. But how can I not mention St Moritz, the elite of the elite of the ski world.

From the highest hot tub in the world (so they tell me ) …

The tub at the top of the world

to the only natural bob sleigh run (which, because November is so gorgeous and un-snow-like, is not ready to go yet – the projected date is December 19th) St Moritz is one hot winter destination.

Maybe I didn’t get to do the bob sled run, but I did get to fake it …

No one told me to look at the camera

Even for the non rich and non famous like me, St Moritz is the place to be.

 

Hockey Night in Zurich – VIP Style

Stay on your feet!

 It’s not every day I go to a hockey game. It’s not any day I go to a hockey game. But when in Zürich, do as the local fans do. EVZ, the hockey team from a town called Zug are playing the ZSC Lions, the home team here in Zürich. The Lions are winning 3 to 1, and I’m in a VIP box with a bunch of journalists, all of whom know way more about hockey than I do.

Life in the fast box

I have no complaints about hanging out in a VIP box though. We’re here compliments of Florian Zimmermann, the former marketing director of EVZ, now the Managing Director of Number8 LTD, a sports event media agency. After the game he’s arranged for the head coach, Doug Shedden, of EVZ to stop by – the coach was a former player in the NHL (just in case you don’t know offhand the history of every single player to ever have graced the ice).

I’m sure you’re dying to know some differences between hockey in Canada and Switzerland so here’s a few exciting facts.

1) The Rinks: NHL rinks are 200 feet long and 85 feet wide.  Swiss rinks are bigger. 210 long and 98 wide.

2) The Teams: Switzerland has 12 teams and USA/Canada has 30

3) Fighting: NHL players are penalized 5 minutes for fighting. Players here in Switzerland receive a match penalty and are ejected from the game. Although, just in case you think Swiss players never fight – such a peaceful country – two players have already been ejected. It happened in the first period. We missed the excitement though, as we were spending too much time eating fondu at the Restaurant Swiss Chuchi.

4) Money: NHL players get paid waaaay more.

That's one big rink!

Oh, oh. The game is finished and we were rooting for EVZ from Zug – which, I hear, is a bit of a tax haven. They lost 4 to 1. And just when I thought that I was the only hockey ignoramus, Jennifer, the PR rep on our trip, told me that she doesn’t know what’s going on, she just cheers when everyone else does. While it’s advice I think I’ll take to heart, I had to explain that we are not cheering for the Zurich team, we’re cheering for Zug.  Oh, wait. Here’s the EVS coach, gotta go …. but I won’t cheer.

Florian Zimmermann and Doug Shedden

Zimmermann and Shedden - Good Sports

 Coach Shedden just talked about how much he loves working here in Switzerland. He says that sportsmanship is what it’s all about in Europe. “Play hard but don’t fight.” Words to live by.

Writing on the Road – Switzerland

Sleepy and Dull? I don't think so!

This is what my Rick Steves guidebook says about Geneva. “Skip the big, dull city of Geneva: instead, sleep in fun, breezy Lausanne.” Well! I loved Geneva, even if I was there less than 24 hours. I loved the view from my window at Hotel le Richemond that overlooks Lake Geneva, though it seemed particularly poignant since the Empress Sisi, the Hapsburg Lady Di of yore, who I am fascinated by (and, as an aside, used to spend up to 3 hours a day having her long hair combed and festooned with stars) was assassinated as she climbed aboard a boat here. A plaque marks the spot. Except I couldn’t find it. But still …

My biggest regret is that the Museum of the Reformation was closed because it was a Monday. Is that weird? Not that it’s closed on Monday, but because that was my number one pick for a tourist site to visit. I suppose I could have gone to the Museum of the Red Cross, but I wanted to learn about Calvinism. I think I liked the challenge of trying to make the reformation a fun and breezy travel article.

This isn't a bad view either!

Then on to Montreux.  I didn’t know Montreux existed until Swiss Tourism sent me here, and now I can’t figure out why I don’t live here. It is stunning, with the hills behind, Lake Geneva in front and a holiday turn of the century atmosphere. I stayed at the Montreux Palace which is one of those hotels that you just can’t believe still exists. The difference is that now conferences are held in the ballrooms and the old Belle Époque roller skating rink is a convention centre.

Montreux and nearby Vevey are spa central and I did my best to see as many as possible. The American woman who showed me around the famous La Prairie clinic said she ended up living here when she came to Switzerland for a holiday and went to a hockey game one night, saw a good-looking man there and thought, I’m going to marry him. And she did. Now that is positive thinking. Hey, wait a minute. I’m going to a hockey game in Zürich. Oh, oh.

I just arrived in Lausanne, and we’ll see if Rick Steves is right after all. It better be fun and breezy or he’ll have steered me wrong. Whether it could possibly be as fun and breezy as the Reformation, though, remains to be seen.