This morning we woke up at 7:00 to get ready for the day. Najeeah and I packed up our suitcases, ate breakfast in the breakfast area downstairs, and then took our luggage to the bus. (We call our bus Dr. Richard.). For breakfast, we ate bread, salami, jam, and hot chocolate. We then left Dorfgastein and drove to a Health Center (which we called a spa because that’s what it’s most similar to in America) in the Alps.
Dorfgastein was… interesting. It’s a quaint town located amidst mountains where people often do snow sports during winter, like skiing or snowboarding. There isn’t much to do there, and everything closed at about 6:00 pm. Rhandi, Najeeah, Felisa, Mary, and I walked around the town for a little bit before catching a cab to Bad Hofgastein. That town was a little bit bigger than Dorfgastein and had more shopping, but after being in Vienna, it seemed like a ghost town. I’m not convinced anyone actually lives there besides shop owners.
Once at the Health Center, we checked in and filled out a form.
The front of the Health Center.
I told Najeeah to look “zen” as we walked into the Health Center. Little did we know what we were in for.
A fountain in the lobby.
Then a doctor called us into his office three at a time and took our blood pressure. He told me that my Crohn’s Disease would be much better if I stayed in Austria and kept doing the treatment we would be doing later on, which seemed like a really bold claim considering, one, that my Crohn’s is doing really well and, two, that I didn’t know yet what the “treatment” would be.
We were then led up stairs to an area where we were given a key for a locker and a terrycloth bathrobe. My key said 287, so I set off in search of this locker. The lockers were each located inside a lockable changing room (two to a room, although no one was using the locker next to mine so I had it all to myself) which was located in a larger room filled with eight or so of these changing rooms. We put our belongings in our lockers, put on our bathing suits and robes, and went to a room where the doctor gave us a very uninspiring orientation about the treatment we were about to endure. (Even he seemed bored by his presentation.) He told us about the warm cave with 100% humidity that we were going into and the radon that it emitted. He recommended that we drink water beforehand, and then we went into a larger room to wait for a train to enter the cave.
His orientation DEFINITELY did not cover all that we needed to know before entering.
For example, when he said that there was a 40 degree temperature change between where we were and the first stop of the cave, he didn’t prepare us for the EXTREME TEMPERATURE CHANGE that it actually was. Oh my goodness, it got so hot! We didn’t start in the cold to begin with, so when it got hot, it got hot.
After the train arrived, we boarded little rickety cars that took us deep into a mountain. Little by little, the temperature started to increase. We got hot, and it became difficult to breathe. The train stopped and everyone got out on a small platform to take off their robes. The officials said that it would be too hot where we were going to wear them but that they would become necessary when we came back to the cold after spending time in the cave. We got back on the train and kept going. We were instructed not to talk after the stop where we disrobed in order to increase the relaxation experienced for all those in attendance (there were quite a few people going into the mountain with us) so the girls in my car and I exchanged panicked looks as we grew hotter and hotter, wondering if breathing had always been this hard and vowing to never take mindless breathing for granted again as we willed our lungs to fill with air.
The stops were labeled I through IV, and because we were new to this form of treatment, we were stopping at the beginning stage, Stop I. Although this was the first stage, it was the last stop on the train, so we experienced the heat coming from the hottest stage (Stop IV) all the way back to where we got off the train. You’d think that experiencing the heat from the hottest area would make our area feel cooler somehow. It didn’t.
Women entered a cave to the left and men entered a cave to the right. Inside the dimly lit cave, beds lined the walls to the left and to the right. KeLee and I found beds next to each other and, after hanging up our robes, we laid down for an hour of soaking in our own sweat.
It was unbelievably warm in that cave. As I lay on my bed, I remember mentally searching for any emergency exits I may have seen on the way in, just in case I stopped breathing. I couldn’t find any, so I allowed myself to relax with the thought that surely someone in the history of the medical center had had a medical emergency while “relaxing” in the cave, so if something were to happen to me they’d figure something out. About twenty minutes into “relaxing,” the head honcho walked in and asked in a hushed tone to the women laying on each bed, “It’s okay?” I thought to myself, if it wasn’t okay, isn’t twenty minutes a long time to wait before checking on someone? If someone had a medical emergency in that cave, twenty minutes was a long time to wait before checking on her. Either way, the only negative feedback he seemed to receive was from nude elderly women who were not thrilled that a young man was walking in on them relaxing in the buff.
I tried to fall asleep to pass the time and relax more effectively, but every time I was close to drifting off, a snore from the back of the cave jolted me back to the heat. I had to choke back laughter because each time the snore reverberated through the walls of the cave, a cranky old woman would shhhh the snorer. I have no earthly clue what good she thought that would do; I’ve never met a snorer who was stopped by a mere shushing. They’re asleep for goodness sakes! They can’t hear people shushing them. I later found out that the snorer was one of our girls, which made me laugh even harder.
Finally, just as I was beginning to unwind, the blessed time came to leave the cave. I should mention that I played sports often in my youth, but NEVER– I repeat N-E-V-E-R– have I ever sweat so much in my entire life. One of our girls weighed herself before and after the treatment, and lost 2 kilos in the process. We begrudgingly got back on the train and attempted to dry off as we slowly made our way bag through the cave. We stopped again at the stop where we first took off our robes, this time to put them back on. I’ve never been more upset at a robe before in my life, but I knew that the more experienced people in the group (i.e. the people who worked there who insisted we all put our robes back on) probably knew what was best, so I put on my robe and sat back in the car. Having arrived back at the start, my car tried to beat the line to the door back into the medical center. We lost and had to wait in a line longer than any I’ve seen when getting gelato. (And those lines can get long, especially for the more renowned gelato shops.)
We finally entered the center, dropped our towels down a laundry chute, and ran upstairs to locate a shower. Bless all those who were attempting to relax in the hallways because you’ve never seen anyone more frantic than these 14 Americans searching for a shower. We finally found them and rinsed off as best we could without soap. (Why the medical center, knowing how sweaty we were to become, did not have soap dispensers or give us soap along with our robes I will never understand.) We dried off, got dressed again, and waited in the lobby for our bus driver, Denis, to pick us up in Dr. Richard (our beloved bus). We had been given coupons for free water, so I went to the cafe to redeem it. I could choose between sparkling water, still water, or lemon juice, so I daringly chose the lemon juice. It was a tall glass of water filled with, brace yourself, lemon juice. I didn’t think I would like it because I don’t like lemon in my water at restaurants, but it tasted like unsweetened lemonade and was very good. I might try to make it at home.
Overall, the Health Center in Badgastein was nothing like American hospitals. If I had to compare it, I would say it was most similar to natural remedies that people use when trying to fix an illness rather than go to the doctor and take medicine. I’m not sure of its effectiveness, especially since people only go once a year, and I tend to be skeptical of home remedies for illness anyway, but it was an interesting experience to be sure!
We boarded the bus, and Dr. Demers told Denis that we were hungry and would like to find a restaurant before embarking on our four-hour journey to the train station. He said, “Two hours is good?” to which Dr. Demers replied, “Nein, two hours is not good; the girls are very hungry.” We erupted into laughter in the back of the bus because Dr. Demers is a very sweet and funny person, so this sass came out of nowhere and caught us by surprise. We ended up driving for about an hour– it was the best Denis could do– to an Autostation where we bought expensive and not-very-good food off a buffet of foods we couldn’t read. We payed for an expensive bathroom and then left for the train station. I fell asleep until we were pulling up to the station, so I missed most of the drive.
Saying goodbye to our beloved Dr. Richard and Denis.
We learned that we were three hours early for our train so we ate McDonald’s for dinner. (It was the only option, but we weren’t too upset about it because we wanted to compare an Austrian McDonald’s to an American’s McDonald’s.) I ordered at a big touchscreen menu that somewhat resembled the large drive-through menus at American McDonald’s. There were tons of options and you could craft your meal in a million different ways. (It also was in English which was very helpful.) I ordered McNuggets with ketchup, fries, and a Sprite (the smallest Sprite known to man, as it turns out), and payed with a card at the bottom of the screen. We then ate dinner at a table and discussed our siblings and tattoos.
The machine I ordered my food on.
Returning back to our waiting room, we brushed our teeth, washed our faces, and prepared for what would be a looooong night on a train.
When we boarded, there were people sitting in the cabin we reserved, so we awkwardly kicked them out. We had reserved two cars of six (Mary and Hayley had previously reserved their own tickets in a separate cabin since they were not returning to Vienna), so we put away our luggage on luggage racks above our seats (which seemed very looming and dangerous at the time because all of our luggage hung out over the edge of the luggage rack, so one swift stop from the train and someone’s leg would be broken by falling suitcases) and attempted to find a comfortable way to sleep.
I shared a cabin with Felisa, Addi, and Leigha.
The cabin between the two that we had reserved was empty, so three people slept in there, four people slept in my cabin, and five people slept in the third. Why we didn’t split up evenly with four in each cabin I do not know. The chairs in the cabins extended to make a bed, so three could sleep comfortable on a makeshift bed, four had to squeeze and snuggle to make room, and five slept sitting up. It was possibly my worst night of sleep ever, though I didn’t have it as bad as the group of five. Dr. Demers and Dr. Sego slept in a room with bunkbeds.
I don’t think I have a sign-off other than thank goodness for showers and good riddance to sleeping on trains. I miss Dr. Richard.
Sleeping on trains looked much more glamorous in the Harry Potter movies.