A convent-like experience

Finding accommodation in Oslo isn’t difficult. There are plenty of hotels and guesthouses to choose from. Finding reasonably priced accommodation though, with breakfast and free Wi-fi included, is  a different matter entirely. I knew what part of town I wanted to stay in so, on the advice of a friend, I booked myself into the Gjestehuset Lovisenberg.

IMG_6616 (800x600)It fascinated me on two counts. One, it was a former training hospital for nursing nuns. The walls are lined with old black-and-white and sepia photos of the graduating classes, decked out in their habits and wimples. I was half-expecting to see an apparition or three during my stay, but given the price of a pint, there’d be no staying up on the surfboard after 40 pints of stout. And two, it provided a sanctuary for Jews during the Second World War. Situated in the midst of a hospital area, I had to wend my way home through the grounds, skirting the psychiatric unit, passing the MS unit, and giving a nod of recognition to the meningitis unit. It was a little peculiar to say the least. I’m more used to skirting bars and restaurants when traipsing back to my hotel than medical clinics.

IMG_6612 (800x599)At about €100 a night, the single room with private bath was the same as a double (and no single supplement – seems like Norway doesn’t penalise the unwed) so I splurged. Rooms were clean and basic, almost sterile. Toiletries supplied amounted to a single bar of soap – no shampoo, body lotions, cotton buds, or any of the niceties I’ve come to expect on my travels. Obviously vanity of any sort was not encouraged. It was a couple of days before I noticed I had no TV either. But I did have a chapel on my floor.

IMG_6535 (800x589)The abundance of holy pictures, angels, and other religious iconary may have made some a tad uncomfortable, but I was in my element. It was as close as I’m ever likely to get to living in a convent.

Breakfast was eaten in a silence that approached reverence – and again, I thanked the Lord for local knowledge because without it, I’d never have known to put the Kaviar cream on the hard-boiled egg, or to eat the herring with cucumber slices or to try the brown cheese with mackerel.

My one complaint was that my Thunderbird wasn’t compatible with their Internet so I had to collect my emails separately – a right pain in the proverbial. Yet the flip side was that this drove me out… to find other wi-fi in the area and discover other places in the locale. My conclusion: this part of town is convenient, well serviced by public transport, has good bars and restaurants, and were I to get ill…. I’d be well looked after.

Healthy waters

Hévíz has long been on my list of places to go in Hungary. The lake there is supposedly the world’s largest (or second-largest – depending on what you read) biologically active natural medicinal lake. Water spews forth at a rate of 410 litres per second and at a temperature of 40 degrees Celsius (104 F), keeps the lake rather temperate. In effect, this means that the lake water changes every three days (or daily; again, depending on what you read!).

IMG_4521 (800x600)The city itself was a hotbed of blue-haired honeys so it was no surprise that most of those in the water that day were slightly older than yours truly. Known for its restorative powers, Hévíz lake is where the masses come to be cured. Mind you, there is a rather extensive list on the outer walls of ailments not covered by the cure. And should you have one of those, you’re advised to stay well away without your doctor’s approval.

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It is thought that the Romans knew of the curative effect of the lake, given the ancient coins found there in the early 1980s. Its development as a spa began in the mid-eighteenth century when Earl György (I.) Festetics built a wooden bathing house on a float but it wasn’t until March 1868, when his son György (II.) Festetics started the building project in earnest.

At the turn of the twentieth century,  brewery magnate Vencel Reischl wrought his commercial magic and turned the place into a success. Replacing the old buildings with more modern hotels and restaurants  and landscaping the grounds paid off.  Figuring there was money to be made were he to partner with the right doctors, Reischl brought the first one in, in 1906. One of its later doctors, Dr Moll Károly, was the first to use subaquean traction treatment. This involves hanging from your neck or arms in water…. depending on what part of you needs sorting out: cervical, dorsal or lumbar spine, hip, knee, or ankle.  The mind boggles.

IMG_4523 (800x595)Like most other places in Hungary, the war saw a change of fate. Between 1944 and 1946 the buildings were used by the Germans as a hospital and then by the Russians.  In 1948, the state took charge and the State Medicinal Bath was established by the Ministry of Health in 1952.Today, it’s a happening place, year round.

When trying to find out more about the lake, I came across the term ‘health tourist’ and it made me laugh … and then stop and think. While I like the odd dip, I’m not a dedicated spa fan. And the thoughts of travelling the world in search of the ideal spa or bath or healing water seems rather ludicrous. That might change though, were I desperate to find a cure for whatever ailed me. I’ve been dubbed a ‘cemetery tourist’ but even then, I’ve never specifically gone anywhere to see a cemetery, preferring to stumble on them wherever I happened be. But each to their own. Hévíz is definitely a popular spot with Russians and Bavarians alike – with the odd Hungarian thrown in for good measure. Worth stopping by, if you’re in the neighbourhood.



Grateful 11

I’ve discovered a lot about myself this past week, particularly about the importance/significance of exaggeration in my life. I’m Irish, ergo I’m predisposed to storytelling. Why would I be mildy ticked off if I can, in the retelling, be extremely irritated? Feeling miserable sounds so much better than not feeling well. Voltaire pegged exaggeration as the inseparably companion of greatness. And I can certainly live with that illusion.

Eric Hoffer reckoned that thought is a process of exaggeration – the refusal to exaggerate is not infrequently an alibi for the disinclination to think or praise.  And God between us and all harm, I’d hate to be disinclined to either.

For the last week or so I’ve been inside, confined to quarters, and feeling miserable. The doctor diagnosed bronchitis and sinusitis, so any tips on how to deal with a cold were ignored. Don’t suggest home remedies or over-the-counter meds. The great medical minds in BP had ruled. I didn’t have a cold, dammit. I didn’t have the ‘flu. I had not one -itis, but two! [And there are those of you who think me a rational human being!]

As the drugs changed and the symptoms worsened and my Facebook updates became more graphic, I lost all desire to exaggerate. I was so busy being sick that I hadn’t the energy to add to it. Forget the -itises, I was having a horrible dose of reality mixed with hallucinations, cold sweats, and throbbing headaches.

And somewhere mixed in with that reality were the phone calls, the text messages, the e-mails, the Facebook check-ins from people I know well and some I barely know at all. That I turned down offers for help, food, and company is no exaggeration. And for those I’m grateful. But what I’m even more grateful for is that people stayed away. Odd, I know.

I’ve been accused in the past for taking people literally. Nay, accused is too strong a word, but I haven’t the wherewithal to find a better one. If you tell me you don’t want company, fine. If you tell me you’re okay, I’ll go with that. If you tell me not to come over, I won’t. I don’t factor in the possibility that you’re only saying this because you don’t want to inconvenience me in any way. I have perhaps too healthy a respect for other people’s wishes – and I’ve been wrong in this.

And I know some people struggled with me this week and wanted to help, and visit, and do what they could for me – and I’m grateful. I really am. But I’m even more grateful that you respected my wishes and didn’t. I’m the world’s worst patient. I need to wallow in my misery and get on with it and get it over with. I don’t want to be cheered up. I think that’s why I dread hospitals with an absolute passion. Why I hate visiting people  and why, when I do, I will only stay long enough to acquit myself.

So, as I slowly make my way back into the world of the living, one nostril at a time, I look forward to catching up on what I’ve missed out on and can only hope that you’ll still be returning my calls.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52