Thursday, December 19, 2019

For a Christmas experience unlike any other, try Rent-A-Santa

Santa Doug makes ready for a big Christmas season

CHARLOTTE, NC – No character or personality epitomizes the spirit of Christmas better than Santa Claus. Wherever you are jolly old St Nicholas is the universal embodiment of the season regardless of what they may call him in any corner of the world. Be it Sinta Klaus or Father Frost, Kris Kringle, Papai Noel, Christkindl or just plain old Santa, the spirit of his message is the same everywhere.

In fact, some people get so caught up in the aura of Santa Claus they even go to school to learn the nuances of portraying the season's most beloved symbol.

It wasn't me -- somebody else ate the cookies
 DougEberhart, a Princeton graduate from Charlotte, NC, is also an alumnus of the C.W. Howard Santa School in Midland, Michigan, where he learned long ago that being St. Nick involves a lot more than donning a red suit and being able to end every sentence with a hardy "Ho, ho, ho!"

Santa Doug has been bringing his alter ego alive for over 40 years using his love of people and his contagious personal charisma to entertain and visit both children and adults. All of his equipment is professional and custom made. Santa Doug visits schools, hospitals, homes, parties and apartment complexes.

Kids love house visits
Among Santa Doug's most popular specialties is house visits where Santa arrives before Christmas to the delight of children of all ages, including adults who are easily the most impressed members of any group.

Visits are a cooperative effort between Santa and the organizer(s) to make everything perfect. In advance, Santa Doug obtains the names of the children who will be present and a fact or two about each child such as their favorite color, a teacher they like, a special interest or a recent accomplishment. Anything that will help personalize the visit.

All of this is wrapped into the spontaneous conversations that evolve during the visit. If small gifts are involved they should be wrapped with a clearly printed label. The packages are all transferred to Santa's Toy Bag before he greets the kids.

During the holidays, anywhere there's a need for Santa, Doug is ready including schools, groups and corporate meetings and outings.

Custom-made costumes

As a true professional, Santa Doug dons the traditional red and white Santa suit with various styles and furs. His beard is real hair, hand tied and custom fitted for him.

Each costume is unique and custom made. Additionally, he has over five vintage Santa suits that are unlike any on the market which have been immaculately created from pictures and postcards from the late 1800’s of Jolly ole St. Nick.

Santa Doug even provides tips on his website to ensure the best possible "Santa Experience."

Two front teeth will be just fine with me
7 Tips for a Good Santa Visit

1. Have the room temperature no higher than 68 degrees.

2. Have a place for me to sit that is sturdy, no lazy boy chairs, and please not near a roaring fire.

3. Try to keep the kids away from me for a few feet, especially if I am bringing in presents.

4. If you have provided presents for me to pick up, let me know where you have placed them and have the names CLEARLY PRINTED on each package.

5. The tags should be taped securely and NO GIFT BAGS as things fall out easily.

6. If you have kids at a home visit, please have them INSIDE during the time I arrive and not outside playing, as I don’t want kids to see me getting out of my sleigh.

7. Take as many pics as you wish but if your baby or child is screaming, it is NOT a good time for the child or for me.

Makin' a list, checkin' it twice

Despite the traditional happiness of the season however, every now and then a serendipitous moment occurs that serves as a poignant reminder to Doug that he, too, can be on the receiving end of the Santa Claus experience:

"Yesterday I picked up a gig at an orthodontic clinic where a Santa had to cancel due to an illness. I had two of God’s beautiful non-verbal special needs girls ages 9 and 12 visit me.
 "The mom was great. She lifted the lighter child out of her wheelchair and placed her on my lap. The younger girl was so excited to have some time with Santa that I could feel her smile next to my face as I held her and looked at the camera. 

Joy and happiness are what it's all about
  "And then the pictures began. (Click. Flash! Click. Spontaneous joy. Flash! Ear to ear smiles. Silent contagious laughter. Click. Flash!) 
 "The older girl smiled and thrashed in her chair with excitement. I was so blessed to have picked up this gig and to meet these two wonderful children, for this is what being Santa Claus is all about.
The gift of Santa Claus is universal
"It's times like these that make me realize WHY I put on the red suit. This isn’t a job. This isn’t a hobby. This is a calling and I am insurmountably blessed that I answered it. We are the magic makers. We are beacons of hope for children of all ages and to those who believe." 

Friday, December 13, 2019

Irish eyes are smiling at Christmas markets in Dublin and Belfast

The Emerald Isle lights up in Dublin and Belfast at Christmas
(Courtesy: Ardfem -- licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license)
IRELAND — For anyone traveling to the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland for the holidays, the "Emerald Island" has spruced up and added millions of lights along with plenty of red to compliment its traditional Irish green.

Sparkling with twinkling lights, replete with delicious food and drink and brimming with great gift ideas, Christmas markets are the perfect places to discover a little festive magic, and the two biggest cities on the island of Ireland, Dublin and Belfast, have more than a few seasonal venues that are just bursting with Yuletide cheer.

High angle view of the colorful Christmas market in Galway

For starters a new Christmas market brings all things festive to Dublin Castle this year where the grounds will be transformed into a "magical new experience" from December 12th until December 22nd.

Christmas spirit is everywhere
Over 30 traditional alpine stalls from artisan producers will be present at the event held in the courtyard of the impressive castle.

Dubbed "Christmas At The Castle," local crafts-people will be selling unique decorative gifts and food throughout the day, while evening activities include carol singing and horse-drawn carriage rides around the castle grounds.

Adding to the ancient atmosphere, visitors are also invited to explore the castle’s stunning interiors with complimentary access to the State Apartments from 6.00 pm to 8.00 pm.

At St Stephen’s Green in the heart of Dublin another winter wonderland called the Christmas Market on the Green will open each Sunday until December 22nd to sell everything from vintage and sustainable clothing to vinyl, art and jewelry.

There's an alternative market too
(Courtesy: pxfuel)
Travelers looking for something less traditional with a unique twist, may find the perfect quirky gift for the person who has everything at the Alternative Christmas Market on December 15th at the Grand Social on Liffey Street Lower. Here you’ll find all things weird and wonderful from medieval crafts to gothic clothes.

Goth fashion is a clothing style marked by conspicuously dark, mysterious, antiquated and homogeneous features. It is worn by members of the Goth subculture. A dark, sometimes ghastly fashion and style of dress, typical gothic fashion includes dyed black hair, dark lipstick and dark clothing. Both male and female goths can wear dark eyeliner and dark nail polish - most often black. In other words it's the "Morticia look" for contemporary fashion.

The pub scene is always lively in Dublin
(Courtesy: good free photos)
Still searching? Why not take a trip to the harbor town of Dún Laoghaire just 30 minutes from Dublin to enjoy the Dún Laoghaire Christmas Festival on weekends until December 23rd?

This year's theme celebrates all things retro. Alongside the Christmas market filled with handmade gifts and mouth-watering treats, there will also be a 50s-style Ferris wheel, which was featured in the movie Grease, vintage chair-o-planes used in the TV series Into the Badlands, colorful hobby horses and an old-fashioned rollercoaster.

Christmas lights in Donegall Place in Belfast
(Courtesy: Albert Bridge --  licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons
Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 license)
In recent years, Northern Ireland has become a trendy destination, and Belfast is not to be outdone. The Christmas Market on the grounds of the spectacularly lit City Hall are thec focal point of the city’s Yuletide celebrations right up until the 22nd of December.

With an eclectic array of international traders in beautiful wooden chalets offering incredible food and delightful gift ideas, this is the perfect spot for immersing yourself in Belfast’s buzzing Christmas spirit.

Spicy hot Gluhwein is the
drink of choice
(Photo: Peabod)
Food favorites include French crêpes, Belgian chocolates, Dutch pancakes, and everything from kangaroo burgers and hog roast to specialty cheeses and as well as hot glühwein. All the delicious foods are served alongside quality produce from local artisan food and craft producers.

Looking for an unusual Christmas gift? You might find it here among the handcrafted selection of leather goods, jewelry and crafts.

Elsewhere in Belfast, the famous St George’s Market joyously filled with twinkling lights, festive food and drink and an abundance of locally crafted and made Christmas gifts for all the family.

Scattered throughout the rustic market stalls is a dazzling line-up of local musicians, including school and community choirs that add an extra touch of magic on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in December.

The always spectacular ever-changing Cliffs of Moher

These are but a few of the holiday treasures taking place during the Yuletide season in Ireland. However, while this story has only a brief shelf-life and appeals largely to those who are already planning to visit Ireland between now and Christmas, the Magellan Travel Club is offering a tour of both countries from July 13th to July 25th, 2020 (including air). A ground-only package is also available.

Ireland is a year-round destination that lives up to its reputation for legendary friendliness and hospitality regardless of when you visit. Yes, the home of the River Dance truly is a "land for all seasons."

Friday, December 6, 2019

Be it traditional to bizarre Finland in winter is Europe's playground

The church in Finland's Snow Hotel on the Arctic Circle
(Courtesy: Snow Hotel Finland)

– No country in the world embraces the short dark days of winter with more enthusiasm than Finland where Finns eagerly greet the first snowflakes of the season with reverent anticipation.

Here Mother Nature turns an entire country into a crystalline playground filled with exhilarating, and sometimes unusual, activities.

No sport represents the Finnish passion for winter more than cross country skiing. Even today, the Finn’s love of their woodlands and lakes is deeply rooted in their rural heritage.

Trekking on virgin snow
(Courtesy: Finnish Tourist Board)
Skis have evolved from a primary means of transportation to the most popular source of cold weather recreation.

Outdoor loving travelers with an appetite for exercise can do cross country hut-to-hut ski tours by trekking through pristine nature, through snow laden forests and across frozen lakes.

Hut-to-hut tours feature rustic accommodations, sometimes with no electricity. On the other hand, because you’re in Finland, no amount of rusticity ever goes without a sauna at every location.

Saunas are everywhere
(Courtesy: Finnish Tourist Board)
While much of Finland is relatively flat, all the familiar winter activities are available with plenty of opportunities to hit the slopes for downhill or alpine skiing. Just below the Arctic Circle in Kuusamo, Mt. Ruka is one of the most popular spots in the country for such traditional ski experiences.

Telemark skiing is another favorite. Perhaps the best way to describe it is that it’s like doing cross country skiing on downhill terrain. Like other forms of the sport, telemark is challenging because it demands stamina combined with rhythm, coordination and balance in order to derive maximum pleasure from skimming across soufflés of powdery white snow.

Much of the fun of Finland in winter however, is leaving traditional enterprises behind to find bold adventures that are unlike anywhere else in the world. It is here that Finnish creativity has no peer.

The Finlandia Ski Race is an international marathon on skis
(Courtesy: Finnish Tourist Board)
Each year in February, the Finlandia Ski Race attracts nearly 10,000 participants from around the world for a marathon on skis. Beginning at the Lahti Ski Center about two hours northeast of Helsinki, this test of speed and endurance features two major competitions. 

The first is a 20-mile race followed by the main event which is 47-miles long. For some the race represents a commitment to a healthy lifestyle, but for most the ultimate goal is to simply cross the “Finnish line.”

Reindeer skiing at a reindeer round-up in Lapland
(Courtesy: Finnish Tourist Board)
How about reindeer skiing which is popular in Lapland? Just hook a bridle and tow-rope to your favorite reindeer and race across the tundra at breakneck speed.

Lapland is also home to annual reindeer round-ups. Just as bison were integral to the lives of native Americans in the western United States for food, shelter and clothing, so too, are reindeer for the Lapps. Round-ups allow visitors to participate in herding reindeer, often by helicopter, as the animals are separated for breeding, slaughter, being returned to their owners or released back into the wild.

Dog sledding is also popular
(Courtesy: Finnish Tourist Board)
Throughout the dark-shortened days of winter in Finland ice sculpture contests are a popular diversion in many small villages.

Just because temperatures are freezing and summer is either long forgotten or too far in the future to dream about, does not mean that Finns don’t remember the range of activities that await after the snow melts.

Let's play 36 holes
(Courtesy: Finnish Tourist Board)
How about a round of snow golf where the “greens” become “whites” and balls are orange to make them easier to find. A little snow will never keep a dedicated Finnish duffer from making his appointed rounds.

How about fishing? After all, the fish are still under all of that frozen water. Drill a hole, set up a stool, get a hot glass of cider, drop a line and you’re in business.

There's horse racing too. The trotters at Vermo run all year long.

Summer swimming is for sissies
(Courtesy: Finnish Tourist Board)
For members of the Polar Bear Club, why not compete in a winter swim meet? A regulation pool is chiseled out of the ice and all the events are just like summer; breast stroke, butterfly, backstroke and freestyle.

Do an icebreaker cruise on the Sampo, then don a wet-suit
for a dip in the Baltic
(Courtesy: Scandi Travel)
Many travelers find cruising relaxing. So do the Finns. That’s why they offer ice-breaker cruises more than half of the year.

The best known and most popular is aboard the Sampo, a retired government ice-breaker that takes travelers out to chop up the ice. Sampo sails out of the seaport city of Kemi. During the tour, participants are allowed to outfit themselves in brightly colored wet-suits and go for a dip in the Gulf of Bothnia.

Where better to see the 
Aurora Borealis than Finland
(Courtesy: Finnish Tourist Board)
Summer has the midnight sun, but even that cannot compete with the Aurora Borealis or Northern lights of winter.

When conditions are exactly right, another phenomenon known as the “blue-moment” occurs just before sunset when eerie shades of blue envelop the surroundings to create an alien-like atmosphere.

Try snowmobiling or dog-sledding. If no dogs are available, no matter, you can do a reindeer safari instead.

Saunas are the Finnish National pastime
(Courtesy: Sauna Society of Helsinki}
Of course there’s always sledding, skating and campfire cookouts.

Whatever your interests, be they offbeat, traditional, adventure or something in between, Finland welcomes visitors to the wonders of winter. The Finns refer to it as “snow-how” because in Finland, there’s no business like “snow” business.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Learning the origins of some of our favorite Christmas traditions

Aerial view of the lively Christmas market in Prague
EUROPE – Thanksgiving 2019 is now only a memory and the December frenzy of Christmas and New Years looms on the horizon. Mercifully, since Turkey Day came late this year, the Christmas season is shorter and, for many, that is a blessing.

Still, no holiday season has more traditions than Christmas, but few of us know of their origins with Germany and France being among the greatest contributors to our yuletide rituals?

According to legend, a monk traveled to Thuringia, Germany in the 7th century to teach the word of God. Situated in the central part of the country, Thuringia was well known for its dense forests.

Christmas trees were one of
the first traditions
(Courtesy: Public Domain Pictures)
With its abundance of timber, the monk began using fir trees as a means of explaining the concept of the Holy Trinity to local peasants. Over the centuries the fir became known as “God’s Tree.”

By the 12th century, firs were being brought indoors during Christmas and being hung upside-down as a symbol of Christianity. The triangular shape represented the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. By hanging a tree from the ceiling people knew it had greater significance than mere decoration.

Over time, the idea of inverting a tree became lost, yielding to an upright position with candles as decoration.

Early trees were hung
upside down
( Courtesy : Flickr (Attribution 2.0
Generic (CC BY 2.0))
Earliest accounts of trees being decorated date to 1521 in Germany, but they were more than mere ornamentation.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, "The use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands to symbolize eternal life was a custom of the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews. Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans and survived their conversion to Christianity in the Scandinavian customs of decorating the house and barn with evergreens at the New Year to scare away the devil and of setting up a tree for the birds during Christmastime.”

During medieval times, December 24 was commemorated in cathedrals in many countries with mystery plays based upon Biblical texts. Beginning with the story of Adam and Eve, trees were placed indoors and decorated with apples in reference to the forbidden fruit. Wafers symbolized the Eucharist and redemption.

Glass Christmas balls replaced apples as tree decorations
(Photo: Taylor)
 One year a poor apple harvest in Europe diminished the supply of the red fruit to place on the trees. As an alternative, a glassblower from Lauscha, Germany created red glass baubles as replacements. Voila, the Christmas ball was invented, and the rest is history.

Though we generally don’t think of pretzels as a Christmas tradition, the popular doughy snack does have religious significance associated with both Christmas and, especially, Easter. Since the 12th century the pretzel has been used as an emblem for bakers in the Alsace region of Europe.

Pretzels are a tradition not 
many people know about
(Photo: Taylor)
The religious aspects of the pretzel have to do with the ingredients as well as shape. During Lent when Catholics were forbidden to eat eggs, lard or other dairy products, pretzels became popular because they only consisted of flour and water.

The pretzel’s shape was established because the strips of dough were said to represent the folded arms of someone who was praying in the manner typical of the period. In addition, the three holes represented the Holy Trinity.

In the Middle Ages, pretzels were given to children as a reward for learning their prayers.

Pretzels were forerunners to Easter eggs
(Photo: Taylor)
So popular were pretzels in Germany at Easter that they probably became the forerunner of modern day Easter egg hunts. Pretzels were hidden around the farms for children to find on Good Friday. When the search was over, two hard boiled eggs were placed in each of the large holes in the pretzel to represent rebirth and everlasting life.

Bad weather is a plus
(Photo: Taylor)
Because of their “infinite” design, pretzels were later introduced at wedding ceremonies resulting in the familiar phrase of “tying the knot.” The couple would make a wish, break the pretzel like a wishbone and then eat it to signify their union.

During Christmas, some cultures give each other slightly sweetened yeast pretzels on January 1 for good luck in the coming year.

Candy canes originated 
in Germany
(Courtesy: Pixabay)
Germany also claims the invention of the candy cane in 1670 when the choirmaster at Cologne Cathedral purchased “sweet sticks” from a local candy maker to quiet the children during the Christmas Eve service. Needing some justification for handing out candy during the service, the maestro asked that a “hook” be added to remind the children of the shepherds who tended baby Jesus.

Christmas has been celebrated during the time of the winter solstice since the 4th century when Pope Julius I chose to emphasize the light of the Savior during the darkest time of the year.

Most Christmas markets have manger scenes
(Photo: Taylor)
 In Scandinavia a huge log was burned on or about Christmas Eve until a couple of weeks after the holiday. Mistakes and faults were forgiven and burned away in the fire so that everyone could begin the new year with a clean slate.

The Yule Log is a Scandinavian tradition
(Photo: Public Domain)
 The Yule log was never allowed to extinguish entirely, however. As a symbol of good luck, a small portion was always saved to start the fire the following year.

Often it helps to know the story behind a story to make it come alive and provide greater insights about the traditions we celebrate each year. Who knows, maybe that’s why whenever we visit another country, the first thing we do is pass through “Customs.”

Reprinted and updated from December, 2014

Friday, November 22, 2019

Continuing the search for the world's most perfect massage

Finding the best massage was not an easy task
(Courtesy: Pixabay)

CHARLOTTE, NC After years of traveling the globe and listening to my female writing companions wax dreamily about spending a day at a spa indulging themselves with the bliss of being pampered beyond recognition, I determined it was time to discover what the fuss was all about.

Last week I detailed the first half of my epic adventure to discover the world's most perfect massage. This week I continue the  search which had thus far been an exercise in futility.

Sweden was my next encounter, and it, too, featured a bedroom floor treatment. For years I had heard the term "Swedish Massage" but I never paid much attention to it because it usually implied something other than a truly professional massage treatment. 

A Swedish massage is one of the most traditional treatments --
Stockholm Harbor
 I take that back.  The Swedish massages I knew about were definitely “professional” but at a completely different end of the spectrum.

Nevertheless, since I was in Sweden, I assumed that the method of massage would be of the genuine Swedish variety, with nothing sinister or untoward related to the experience.

Once again, I rang the front desk of my hotel to schedule an appointment.  I was on the last leg of an assignment for the Swedish Tourist Board, and there was a bit of extra time built into the end of the itinerary so it seemed like a good time to take advantage of some added relaxation.

Traditional Swedish massage
(Courtesy: Pixabay)

 The attendant arrived at the appointed time and introduced herself as Annika Jenson. She promptly went into the bathroom and got two large towels which she placed on the floor. Then, like her Japanese counterpart, she grabbed a pillow from the bed and placed it on the floor.

“Just get undressed and lay down on your stomach,” she said.  “I’ll get ready and be back in a moment.”

Being that Sweden is a liberal country, it didn’t seem unusual that being undraped was out of the ordinary.  When Annika came out of the bathroom, she had a face cloth in her right hand which she strategically laid across my backside.  I suppose she thought that provided some sort of privacy, but given my ample girth, it was like covering a three hundred pound Parkerhouse roll with  an unfolded cocktail napkin. 

Halfway through the procedure it was time to turn over.  Annika picked up the wash cloth and told me to roll over  onto my back. As I stared up at the ceiling, she strategically put the cloth back over me and continued her routine.

“Why bother now?” I thought, “There’s nothing she hasn’t seen or exposed already.”

Wellness travel is popular
(Courtesy: Pixabay)
Annika went about her business quietly and with great expertise. Perhaps I was overthinking the procedure, but though it was soothing enough to make the prospects of a great night’s sleep considerably more viable, there was nothing particularly sensational about the process.

Then again, conditions were not exactly ideal, and that may have minimized my level of relaxation to some degree.

When Annika finished, she returned to the bathroom to put her lotions away and wash her hands while I got dressed.  When she came out, I smiled and shook her hand.  Then I thanked her and told her how much I enjoyed visiting her beautiful country. Annika nodded politely and departed.

The quaint narrow streets of Gamla Stan, Stockholm's
Old Town
The following morning, I was in the lobby by 9:45 awaiting the arrival of our guide when Annika walked into the hotel.  Needless to say I was surprised to see her.  When our eyes met, I walked over to say hello. We stood in the lobby making small talk for several minutes and then I asked, “What brings you here so early in the morning?”

“Well, I’m supposed to meet a video crew here today. I’m going to guide them around the city.”

My jaw dropped. Not only was Annika a massage therapist in the evening, but she also worked for the local tourist office during the day! She was equally surprised to discover that I would be her client for the remainder of the day and that she would be our escort.

The shoot proceeded without a hitch. Not only did Annika turn out to be a truly lovely person, she was also an excellent source of information about the city of Gothenburg. Even so, for the rest of the visit I avoided eye contact with her as much as possible and, whenever I did look at her, it was as though she had x-ray vision. I found myself constantly trying to cover myself with no place to hide.

Sukothai was the ancient capital of Thailand
(Courtesy: Tourist Authority of Thailand)
While Thailand is an Asian country, baseball is not big there, so I felt reasonably certain I could avoid the trauma of being turned into mashed potatoes like I was in Japan. 

All the female writers I had read in my research had said that Thai massage is among the best in the world. Truthfully, my faith in their opinions was starting to wane, but I remained optimistic that I would eventually complete my quest for perfection.

Thailand is fascinating, though I could never quite get a handle on the stark contrasts within the culture.  On the one hand there is a dark, sinister quality about the place that far exceeded anything I have ever witnessed in the West.

Floating market
(Courtesy: Tourist Authority
of Thailand)
Then there's the side of the culture that is 180 degrees to the contrary.  It was so completely different that, for me, it was difficult to believe it was the same society.  There was a sweetness, gentility and purity among the people that I had never experienced anywhere else combined with equal doses of decadence that I had never before witnessed either.

The Thais are totally service oriented. There is nothing they will not do for you. There is a serenity within them that is hard to describe. Perhaps it’s the Buddhist philosophy that permeates their lives which gives them such a purity of spirit. Or maybe it's nothing more than a gentle simplicity within their ethnic identity that makes them seem so content.  Whatever it is, the two degrees of separation within the culture seem to be in direct opposition with each other.

An old friend who was now retired from the writing aspect of the business, but still very active in Public Relations was heading up a group of writers I was traveling with, and it was she who instigated the excursion to the spa.

Thai Yoga Massage is like the waterboarding of 
wellness therapy
(Courtesy: Pixabay)
Using keen insightful intellect, I weighed my options and came to the conclusion that if a bunch of women were going to get a massage then it had to be good.  After all, it was articles that had been written by women that began my quest in the first place.

Since I was the only male in the party, it was obvious that my treatment would be a one-on-one affair.  The women, on the other hand, did the typical female thing and decided to have a group massage.  Sort of the same phenomenon as going to the restroom together at a restaurant.

The preparation for this massage was, again, completely different than the others.  At the spa in Chiang Mai, they handed me some clothing that resembled silk pajamas and told me to put them on.

The  Thai that binds
(Courtesy: Pixabay)
Once attired in my Hugh Hefner outfit, I was taken to a room that was roughly 8 feet by 8 feet with a soft thick soft on the floor that ran wall to wall. The room was enclosed by a ceiling that was roughly 8 or 9 feet above the floor. The cubicle was dimly lit for serenity but there was no music or soothing sounds to be heard. Instead it was completely quiet. My first impression was that the room appeared very much like an enclosed ring the World Wrestling Federation might use for one of its cage matches.

For this treatment, my attendant was extremely short, almost frail looking.  Thais are generally small in stature anyway, but this lady was even smaller than most. She took one look at me, rolled her eyes and shook her head back and forth as if to ask, "Why me?"

Immediately I knew that I was in trouble again.

There was no oil.  No back or leg rubbing.  No light manipulation of the scalp and face.  This technique was something else again. It was destined to be an experiment in contortion that would turn me into the Thai version of the Gordian Knot.

Thai version of hear, see 
and speak no evil
(Courtesy: Pixabay)
I was motioned to sit against the wall and stretch my legs forward. The little Thai woman began with a flurry. She had a lot of energy and was accustomed to working quickly. She was not accustomed to dealing with Jabba the Hut. It would have been far better for her to pace herself. I could have told her that in advance had I been able to communicate with her or if I had known what she was going to do.  Being unable to either, I just let her commence at her own rate.

The massage was like an audition for Cirque du Soleil. The therapist began at my feet.  She grabbed my right foot first and jerked it violently to the left. Before the surprise, and pain, subsided, she yanked it just as severely to the right.  The second movement bent my knee in a direction I am quite certain it was not designed to go. As I screamed out in pain, the little Thai woman smiled with satisfaction.

Next, I was told to sit in the middle of the cubicle with my legs bent across each other Indian style. The therapist stood behind me, reached over my right shoulder, grabbed my right ankle and tried to pull my leg back over my head. 

“Lady,” I thought, “There’s just no way my leg can go that far.”

I could feel her pulling harder and harder. Then she began to rock my leg back and forth in much the same manner you use to rock a car when you’re trying to get it out of the snow or mud. 

She loves me "knot"
(Courtesy: Pixabay)
Once she determined she had reached my maximum dexterity point, she put my right leg down and moved to the left. Thank goodness she didn’t actually get my leg behind my head. If she had, I know she would have left it there.

When it was time to work my arms, the therapist sat with her back against the wall for leverage, put her bare feet against the left side of my body and pulled my right arm across my chest with as much force as she could muster. For a tiny person, this little lady was really strong. I probably could have twisted my body in her direction except that her feet were positioned in such a way that the only thing I was going to move was my arm. I was convinced that I now had a dislocated shoulder, and still, the treatment continued.

For the next exercise, I was told to lie on my back with the bottoms of both feet pressed against the wall. Then she moved to the top of my head, grabbed both arms and pulled as hard as she could with her feet jammed against my shoulders.

By now I was beginning to wonder if she was a "therapist" or some other facsimile known as "the rapist."

I sat up while she got down on her knees behind me and jerked my right arm down over my back.  You guessed it, the left arm was next.

Traditional Thai festival known as Loi Krathong
meaning "to float a basket"
(Courtesy: Pixabay)
For a full 30 minutes, the little Thai dynamo mangled my body parts into positions they had never known before and never will know again. My fingers and toes touched places they had never touched, or ever were meant to touch, for that matter.

Mercifully however, the process was, at long last, taking its toll. Powerful and expert as she was at her craft, the attendant was not accustomed to working on someone quite so robust. She was exhausted, and yet, she was only halfway finished.

Out of breath and gasping for air, the attendant motioned me to sit against the wall and rest. Then she looked at me with chagrin, rolled her eyes and said, “You big. Res' now.  Back soon.”

Thai women are striking, but
typically small in stature
(Courtesy: Pixabay)

I knew I was large, but I didn’t consider myself a candidate for toting teak logs at the elephant training school either. Nevertheless, I had worn her out. She needed a break before completing the second part of the program. I had to admit that I did feel better after all of the stretching, pulling, yanking and jerking, but I couldn’t honestly opine that it had been anything close to relaxing.    

When the therapist returned, we went through more of the same. Finally toward the end of the treatment, she sat down against one wall of the room and spread her legs. Then she motioned to me to put my head between her legs so she could work my shoulders, face and scalp. 

I was on my knees looking at her and trying to follow the instructions. When she motioned for me to come forward I leaned down on fours and moved my face toward her crotch. How was I supposed to know that she wanted the back of my head in her lap instead of my face?

The tiny woman screamed in a moment of frenzy and panic.  She held up both hands as quickly as she could while yelling at the top of her lungs, “No, no, no, no.  Ova’ roll ova’. No face, no face.”

In mere seconds she had become fluent in English!

I immediately realized my mistake and quickly changed directions. After an hour of merciless pulverization, I wasn’t in any to dive face first into her nether regions either.

 Apparently my error scared her into reality. She completed her assignment very quickly after that and hastily informed me that the treatment was over.

As for me, I was still in pursuit of the perfect massage.

The ancient ruins of the Baths of Caracalla in Rome
(Photo: Taylor)
Next stop, Italy. This time I was after something called a "Four Hands Massage." The unique aspect of this treatment was that instead of having one therapist do the work, there would be two. 

It was sort of like synchronized swimming for massage therapy. They would work in tandem so that both sides of the body received the same manipulations at the same time.  It sounded interesting and worth a try. The biggest drawback about the treatment was that since two people were working, the session took half as long.
On this occasion, there was a cover sheet, with no pajamas or claustrophobic closed areas and everything seemed routine.  Routine, that is, until one attendant handed me an article of clothing, sort of, that I was supposed to wear during the treatment. 

In theory, fours hands are
better than two
The added garment was nothing more than a thin paper jock strap that barely covered my masculine gender, provided I didn’t tear the elastic loose as I was putting it on.  Other than that everything else was normal.

There was nothing unusual about the treatment, except that it went twice as fast because four hands were working at once. In the end, I saw no real benefit to the double whammy and convinced myself that it was little more than a gimmick.

Once on my back, the women worked my arms, shoulders and scalp.  When it came time to rub the front of my legs, they removed the cover sheet leaving everything exposed except for the little sack they had given me to enclose my package.

Laying on of the hands, four hands that is
(Courtesy: Pixabay)

The grand finale came when they finished working on my legs.  That’s when each woman grabbed one of the flimsy pieces of elastic that was wrapped around my hips and pulled the jock strap away in one grand gesture.

It was rather like being at an elegant dinner party where all the waiters simultaneously lift silver domes to reveal the food. The difference this time, of course, was that the paper jock was the dome and my goodies were, well, not food, but you get the picture. 

As soon as they tore away the covering, the attendants hastily left the room.  In fact they got out so quickly I was thinking, “What just happened?” before I even realized the treatment was over.

As far as massage was concerned, I was pretty much over it.  I had tried. I had put my best foot forward, so to speak, and done my best to find the best massage in the world, yet each time the experiment ended badly off-center and out of kilter.

In the process, I did however, establish a short list of guidelines for all future massages to which I religiously adhere today:
Basic Massage Rules For Men
1 – Always request a female attendant
2 – Don’t stay in your hotel room for a massage
3 – Never trust a hairball therapist wearing a diaper
4 – Be sure to be kneaded rather than stretched
5 --At all costs avoid an attendant who is a baseball fan during the Japanese World Series

It’s a basic list, but it has served me well. Though I have since enjoyed the occasional luxury of a fine massage, I no longer scour the planet in search of the elusive ultimate massage.
Though I will never stop traveling, when it comes to my Massage Research International project, affectionately known as my personal MRI, I have vowed never be "rubbed the wrong way" again.