Thursday, April 16, 2009

City of Springs and Pensioners

I was all excited when of our 3-day offsite meetings was scheduled to take place in Marienbad - the city of natural springs in Czech Republic. It was a wellness and spa place that all europeans frequented until the big war destroyed it. The city came back to life in the 1980s and is slowly gaining popularity again.

Although the meeting was in the end of March, supposedly the beginning of spring, temperatures were nowhere above zero but my spirits soared as soon as I checked into the hotel which was built probably in the early 1900s and still retained its antiquity in terms of the carved ceilings and exquisite furniture. I got all the more excited when I saw the analog telephone in the room. Remember the round dial with the numbers and you put your forefinger into the holes and move it in a circle to actually dial a number ?? I havent done that in years and so I simply called the reception (which had a 4-digit number much to my delight :D) 4 times for no (or silly-made-up :D) reason !

As I went searching for the conference room, the receptionist directed me to a hall with huge arched windows decorated with pink and red curtains and in one corner, there was a small stage built for a band. I was pretty sure that she had directed me to a ballroom instead of a conference room by mistake and as I was leaving, I noticed a small projector. I went much further into the room and took a left to find numerous laptops and coffee cups (on the exquisite furniture)...bingo...I was in the right place ! Turns out that it was the largest room they had avaiable for our conference....it was sure fun to discuss budget and product strategy in a room where probably Viennese Walz was danced only a few hours ago !

There was a walking tour planned for the evening as a group activity with a local guide (when the event was planned, everyone had hoped for spring !) and although the city looked beautiful like a fairyland, walking at sub zero temperatures with the snow falling on your face was not very funny ! The guide showed us where Goethe had stayed after his lady love from Marienbad had turned him down and wrote his best work (Love and Pain always bring out the best in everyone !). Then we took a walk in the promenade and went to the most awaited part - tasting the natural springs. One had to be really careful with how much tasting one wanted to do since the water has a laxative effect :D. A few sips were enough of me since it smelt like something you use in the chemistry lab and the taste was'nt any better when one of my colleagues complained ''why is it that everything that is healthy tastes like ----??''....i was thinking not totally true and in my mind was amma's home made delicious and as-healthy-as-it-can-get keerai (spinach) kootu :D

Facts I learnt from the guide (aka the reason she feels bored living there):
- The place has 15000 residents
- Residents are either tourist guides or in the hotel business or pensioners

I realised that I was better off speaking German than English (since I couldn't speak Czech anyway) since the hotel staff seem to understand and speak German fairly well. I figured out the reason much later in the day. It was also the reason why meals were served at the rate of half an hr per course with lunch being 2 hrs long ! It was also the reason why I hadn't used the elevator even once during my stay there although my room was on the fourth floor - the average age of the guests in the hotel was 60 (and I am being polite !) and they were all Germans or rather German pensioners (apparently the place was too expensive for Czech pensioners!) and the sad part was that even after waiting that long you got served soup that tasted like nothing and what was even more difficult was making them understand the concept of vegetarianism - I got salad with bacon, rice with bacon and vegetable soup with chicken broth and when I told them i was a vegetarian, they just stared at me uncomprehendingly ''isn't that why we gave you vegetarian food''...ROFL !

At the end of the meal, while having what was supposedly tiramisu, I got into an argument with a russian colleague who said that there was much ado abt nothing since food is simply fuel....I was almost offended....how can food be just fuel ?! well, thats going to be the topic for my next blog...i have a whole lot to pour out abt that !

Getting back to Marienbad, its a fairytale worth visiting but only if you carry a picnic basket with you or if you are a food-is-fuel person !
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