Experience the Couples Massage!

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Not us pictured … Divorce might result if it was!

Hope you enjoy this very carefully, very tastefully written review of our first couples massage experience.  Hopefully I will not end up sleeping on the couch … again, when the incredibly lovely Carol stumbles across this post and discovers I shared an semi-intimate moment solely as a way to promote tourism to the Dominican Republic.

OK … and for the laughs.

As I see it … at my age … any day that starts off with me in a pool with a naked female is a Very, Very Good Day!

When it comes to the massage, one must acknowledge that the ability to render a proper massage is an Art!  The techniques are to be admired and enjoyed, but require training and experience.  Although many an intimate couple will play at the Art of Massage, without the proper knowledge and experience, the massage is just a means to an end.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that ….

I will be the first to admit my skills at massage never advanced beyond the clumsy basics.  After this experience while in Punta Cana, I can honestly state that I had no idea just how inexperienced I was.

The Couples Massage package was an extra to the all-inclusive concept at Barceló Bávaro Beach.  But it’s worth every penny!  The spa is located within the Palace Deluxe Hotel complex. and is accessible at any time by Premium Club members.  Besides the quiet, fragrant massage rooms, the spa includes a large outdoor pool and jacuzzi, indoor jacuzzi and small pool, but no drink service.  (You can bring in adult libations if you so desire.)

The experience begins in the gender-specific locker rooms where one can shed all the decorative physical trappings of modest society … at least on the female side.  The men however were encouraged to keep their swimsuits or shorts on …

Bummer … Completely understandable, I guess … Still a bummer …

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Draperies are closed to enhance the romantic mood, and were opened only after the massage was completed.

Once ensconced in a fluffy terry cloth robe, Carol and I met up in the couples suite.  Quiet, dimly lit by candles, with a romantic arrangement of towels in the shape of a heart and two obviously smitten terrycloth swans, richly appointed with fragrant flower petals.  The atmosphere exudes everything you need to slowly slip into a coma of complete relaxation.

What caught me off guard was finding Carol sans ALL Decorative Trappings of Modest Society, while I was still in a swimsuit.  WT … ?!?

But I guess the presence of two female masseuse explains the discrimination to which I was unexposed.  Not that I’m complaining …  At least one of us was completely stripped of all Decorative Trappings of Modest Society!

Even funnier was the experience of the gentleman in the couple who accompanied us to the DR.  He was instructed to shed his swimwear and sling his … uh … male-hood in a “banana hammock”!

When I heard of this AFTER our massage, I was relieved I wasn’t required to sling The Hammock!  Otherwise Carol would have been laughing throughout the entire massage experience!

The massage itself starts with an exfoliation, cleaning and massage of the lower legs and feet while reclining peacefully and blindfolded, which simply makes the experience a bit more mysteriously unsettling.

“What the heck is she doing?  What’s that stuff??  Oh, that’s nice …”

Next comes the main massage event, complete with security-inducing sheet and coverlet on the traditional massage table.  It was during this transition that I noticed Carol and I were differently dressed.

Have I mentioned that already???

To make a long post shorter, I will not go into a detailed playback of the massage itself.  Rest assured it was expertly applied and deeply relaxing.  This being my first professional massage experience, I can say without reservation that the good masseur at Barceló know what they are doing!

champagnesetup02Once the experts were done, the drapes to our private couples room were thrown open to reveal a small pool set off in an equally private walled-off courtyard.  And when we slipped out the door, we were surprised by the presence of two lounge chairs, a bottle of champagne and two glasses!

As one masseuse bid us farewell and drew closed the drapery, she made a very clear pronouncement, “I will be back in 20 minutes!”

That’s when the light went on!

Hmmmm … Carol still au naturel … champagne … massage oils … a pool and complete privacy … for 20 minutes!?!

Well, I appreciated the optimism, especially as to my personal stamina, but that presumption was a bridge too far.  We did however enjoy the personal intimacy of being secluded in an extremely relaxed state in a very cold pool, and enough bubbly to liberate one’s inhibitions.

But that water might have been a bit too cold …

As it turned out, it was one of the best days of the vacation.  The couples massage is definitely worth the price of admission, assuming of course you get a masseuse who knows what they’re doing!

For me … I hit the daily Double the next day with ANOTHER naked female in the pool.  But it was a dolphin …

Travel: Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

dominican-republic-fact-fil-578x298I am not much the world traveler.  When the kids were young, all our vacations were Domestically oriented.  It was simpler, more affordable, easier to manage with kiddies.

That will hopefully change a bit now that Carol and I are entering (almost) Empty Nest Syndrome.  My better half has the leg up so far, enjoying several south-of-the-border vacations with a friend.  But if they are having this much fun, I may smarten up and start following her around more.

For our 30th anniversary (October 2015) we promised ourselves a nice tropical trip; and finally decided to book an Apple Vacation to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic with another couple with whom we have vacationed with the last few years.  For me, it’s been awhile that I hit the Jamaican beaches on our honeymoon.

A long time ago … in a land far, far away …

We left in late September, returning in the first week of October.  More on that experience and our closer-than-comfortable proximity to Matthew later.

Being a neophyte at international vacationing, I prefer Simple over Elaborate; so chosing an All-Inclusive route fits my emergent needs perfectly.  Our choice was Barceló Bavarro Beach, an adults only all-inclusive situated within a larger, free-range resort complete with family oriented and other less-inclusive … I assume … options.

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Barcelo Bavaro Beach, Punta Cana

 

To rate the experience as one of our Best Vacations Ever is no overstatement!

The Barceló Group is a family owned Spanish tourism company founded over 85 years ago.  Employing 23,000 people at 100 hotels in 19 countries and 685 travel agencies in 22 nations, they really have their act together!  Despite that I had never heard of them before last week.  Now they top the list as my favorite international resort.  (Yes, as mentioned, it’s a small sample size.)

The accommodations were very good, given the great idea to upgrade our package to the Premium Club, that – among other benefits – gave us an ocean-front view.  The upgrade allowed for dinner at all the resort’s restaurants; provided discounts on excursions; and access to other limited-access amenities.

The resort staff were nothing if not exceptionally friendly and obliging.  The resort was spotless and comfortably appointed.  The adult beverage stations were convenient; the service friendly, generous, and – most times – quick.

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View outside our room

The food was good, not great; although the resort’s best restaurants (Kyoto Japanese, La Comidie French) made for memorable meal experiences.  Skip México Lindo and the Sante Fe Steakhouse establishments.  The El Coral Restaurant (seafood) and La Dolcé Vita (Italian) were also very good.  We heard Le Fuente (Spanish menu) was excellent, but we missed that one.

The breakfast and lunch buffets were good, clean, and nourishing.  But you know buffets … Timing is everything!  Almost everywhere the meal wait staff was friendly and attentive.

Yet … It was a trip we almost did not make.

Attempt #1 … Scheduled for June originally, we had to push the trip back a few months due to one of our – ahem – less youthful companions ripping a vital tendon while playing power forward with “less experienced” individuals.

Attempt #2 … Scheduled for the very end of September through the first week in October (“That’s hurricane season, ya know.”, I helpfully added at the time.) drew near just as Category 1 (soon-to-be-a-4 ) Hurricane Matthew drew near to the southern Caribbean.  The night before the scheduled  participants (all with intact tendons) debated the Probabilities, Possible Outcomes, and Risks until eventually concluding we all really, really needed many fruity drinks in a clothing-minimizing locale and “To Hell with …” caution.  (And it was going to cost too much to change!)

That evening Matthew passed to the south of the D.R., then spent a few days nagging the northern coast of South America … and growing in strength before heading north. Much more fortunately for us than the good people of Jamaica, Haiti, and Cuba, Matthew threw us nothing more than a day and a half of rain.  It was not even enough to keep us from doing what activities we had already scheduled.

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Carol & I … pre-drowning attempt on snorkeling/booze cruise

The excursions and packages we took advantage of were …

  • Snorkeling & Booze Cruise (A+ … Look for a separate blog post later.)
  • Dolphin Discovery (A)
  • Couples Massage (A+++ … Will touch on this also at great personal risk.)

Of course, one does not need the expensive (but honestly well worth the price) excursions to have an entertaining time!  Barceló Punta Cana has much to offer without leaving the friendly confines of the resort.  There’s golf, a casino, a discotheque, a bowling alley, miniature golf, water parks for both young children and adults, several live show venues and offerings (Most of these were a bit corny and amateurish.), Dolphin Island (We chose to go off-campus for our experience.), tons of shopping opportunities, a sports bar, and daily activities on the beach and in the pools.

The beach itself is a beautiful spot, yet we only spent parts of two days there.  Most of our resort “downtime” was spent in the pools, fountains, and walk-up/swim-up bars.  There is plenty of shaded areas for the sun-adverse, like me.  You really cannot beat the quiet relaxation of the pools on the adult-only side of the resort.  And if you want more noise while enjoying the refreshing waters, head over to Barceló Palace, the center of the resort, where most of the action takes place, including the swim-up pool bar!

In my humble, inexperienced opinion, you would really have to struggle to not have a grand time at Barceló Punta Cana!

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Pool at Barcelo Bavarro Beach

 

 

 

27

A beautiful day in late October

She glided down the aisle on a cloud of Whethers.

Will this work?  Is he the right guy?

I would never answer for her, although I do try.

*

None of life’s challenges ever bested that feeling

Of watching her approach as I stood beaming.  

The road ahead would be rocky for sure,

That she came anyway gave me the Courage to endure.

*

Twenty-seven years of a journey through pages

Of happiness, worries, a few battles for the ages.

We struggled sometimes, had laughs we still share,

Three incredible kids made it all worth the wear.

*

Now we look forward to those years not yet golden.

So many experiences still there to be holdin’

Each other in arms that stretch back to that day

When despite all uncertainty she came anyway!

.

Happy anniversary, Honey!

When I look back at how far we have come, it’s a breath-taking view!

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California trippin’: Headin’ North

Prologue:  We started our first California excursion in 9 years with a flight from Philly to LA with a stop in Denver.  If you never had the experience of flying into Denver, you should try it once.  The turbulence on approach, caused by winds coming off the Rockies, will give you several opportunities to re-examine your religious faith and fire off a quick Act of Contrition (assuming you are Catholic)!  But other than losing in Scrabble to my better half on the plane and being constantly ridiculed for losing tiny plastic travel Scrabble letters due to fat-finger-itis, it was an uneventful flight.

The objective of our trip was to help my brother, Pat celebrate his retirement.  Pat’s spousal unit would be our hostess and co-guide throughout our excursions, which would include a jaunt up north to the Monterey Peninsula to play two rounds of golf at the Pebble Beach Resort, followed by a leisurely drive south along the Pacific Coast Highway.

Day One:  Sunday … Woke up in the Shirley Temple Room.  ‘Twas a delightful repose!  But I can’t get used to rolling out of bed at the civilized of hour of 9:30 PDT (Suffering from reverse jet lag!) to find out I have only 30 minutes until the Eagles game comes on!  Sweet mother of Chuck Bednarik!  I barely get a toe-hold on my caffeine intake and I’m supposed to be pumped up for game time!?!  Who lives like this?!?

Day Two:  Monday … Up at oh-it’s-still-dark hundred hours (a repeating theme throughout the trip), but frankly you have to be up early to beat the LA morning rush-hour traffic, which was already extremely heavy going into the city at 6:30 as we headed out.  Can’t imagine what that looks like at 8:00!

As we head out of the city, the scenery begins to change.

Hills everywhere … houses perched on ridges, homes hanging from steep hillsides … hills in dry, brittle browns spotted with squat green trees … steep vertical slopes rising rapidly from winding roadways …

Quaint Danish architecture

We stop in a neat little village called Solvang, which touts itself as the Danish Capital of America.  Founded in 1911 by a group of Danish teachers looking to escape midwestern winters, the town sits in the Santa Ynez Valley and consists of shoppes, bakeries and restaurants, many in buildings of bright, colorful Danish design.

Ate breakfast at Paula’s Pancake House.  Great coffee … Have the Danish pancakes, they are fantastic … the size of dinner plates but thin, light and delicious!
 
Did the touristy thing for a while, then climbed back into the car for the sprint up Rt 101 to Carmel.  Our plan was to hit the Monterey Peninsula quickly, and enjoy the coastal sights on the return trip south.

obligatory Danish windmill

 
And so we made our sprint northward  …
 
Vineyards … everywhere vineyards … signs labeling types of wine made from specific grapes … farm country … dry, barren hills give way to green cultivated fields set on valley floors …  fields of produce worked by bent figures and large machinery … trucks full of lettuce, a trailer filled with butternut squash … dust clouds rising from fallow fields being prepped for planting off in the distance …
 
The number of vineyards is perhaps the biggest change I noticed from our last visit almost a decade ago.  In addition to the acres and acres of vines, you must – of course – have hundreds of outlets for wines.  And so it appears that the state’s official past time is now Wine Tastings!   
 
As we approach  Carmel, an ominous sign … a thick ocean layer blocks out the sun along wide swaths of the nearby coast. 
 
We get into Carmel, which is situated just south of the Monterey Peninsula, at mid-afternoon and check in at the Mission Ranch Resort, which was preserved and renovated by Clint Eastwood – actor, director and Carmel’s former mayor.  The resort is absolutely gorgeous, ten buildings in rustic design with incredible views of Point Lobos, the Carmel River and the Pacific.  You can enjoy these views from the restaurant and expansive patio (great for late afternoon cocktails) that overlook a large meadow complete with its own herd of grazing, well-mannered sheep.  
 

View from near the Mission Ranch restaurant patio

 Dinner at the restaurant that night was excellent!  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the duck, but everyone clearly enjoyed their meals.  The service was excellent; the drinks strong; the atmosphere cozy, relaxed and pleasant.
 
One very nice amenity at Mission Ranch is the complimentary breakfast, served in the tennis court clubhouse.  Nothing fancy, just good, basic continental breakfast fare.
 
Day Three:  A Tuesday …  Played Pebble Beach!  (Click the link for a detailed description of that golf experience!) What a day!  We were reprimanded for wearing our hats inside The Tap Room, the renown post-round watering hole that sits less than 100 yards from the 1st tee.  Although the ambiance is impressive, the food was not much better than your average 19th hole found anywhere.  I hear the chili is very good, but I’m not a chili guy.  

Carol (left) enjoying the atmosphere at Pebble Beach Lodge

 
Day Four:  Wednesday … Played Spyglass Hill … another amazing golf experience!  If you ever go, you HAVE to play Pebble Beach for the history, scenic beauty and extraordinary golf holes.  But the best golf course – condition wise, for playability, and for the average golfer – is Spyglass Hill!  (A later post will be dedicated to playing Spyglass. And will be linked here once available.)
 
Formal Carmel canine presentation to Lady Lorri Ellen
 
Meanwhile, the women folk spent the day shopping, having lunch and enjoying a splendid afternoon in Carmel, where they were greeted by from a local canine representative (right).
 
That evening we drove up to the town of Monterey (situated north of the peninsula) for dinner and general touristy activity.  Cannery Row is your typical tourist magnet, dollar sucking locale; but every travelers’ haven has one.  We ate at an unremarkable sports bar-type establishment after we had hit the Pebble Beach (discount) store, which is a great place to find PB clothing bargains once you have recovered from the sticker shock of shopping at the Pebble Beach pro shop.
 
Day Five:  You guessed it … Thursday!  Our Pebble Beach experience 
Pat’s too sexy for his car; Too sexy for his car; Too sexy by far …

was coming to a close … until the someone brought up the Lexus freebie!  Apparently, if you stay at the PBR, you get a free excursion in one of their available Lexus automobiles.  And since it was a cool,  50-degree overcast day along the windy peninsula coast we opted – of course – for the sporty Lexus convertible coupe! 

So we took a leisurely joyride around the most scenic parts of the 17-mile drive.  It becomes obvious pretty quickly that the Monterey Peninsula must have the highest golf course-per-capita rating in the U.S.!  But it’s the ocean scenery and dramatic sea cliff topography that makes the area truly unforgettable. 

 
Rocky, forbidding beachfront … roiling surf … waves crashing over partially submerged rock formations … placid tides choked with clumps of kelp … trees bent permanently landward by ocean winds … beautiful homes perched on open hillsides … others hidden by steep drops and dense woods … spectacular ocean landscapes framed by a softening fog …   
 

Rocky shoreline along 17-mile drive

It wasn’t the best day for amateur photog work, unless you like barren, rocky sea beauty cloaked in fog.  As you wander along the drive there are ample opportunities for picture-taking or just staring at the kind of scenes you do not have on the east coast south of New England.   

The iconic symbol of Pebble Beach

 
Eventually we came upon the iconic symbol of Pebble Beach, the Lone Cypress well-preserved on a treacherous-looking outcropping of rock jutting out into the forbidding sea.  It serves as the symbol of Pebble Beach Quality, so it says on the corporate-looking signs posted at the entrance to its viewing area.  The fact that the tree is basically held together with anchored cables and duct tape – you would think – might suggest they find another symbol of Quality.  Just sayin’ …
 
Once we were finished with that Lexus POS, it was time to hi-tail it off the peninsula and return to our mundane daily lives.  But along our meander down the Pacific Coast Highway, we would spend a few relaxing days in Cambria, which will be the subject of our next California post!  
 
But I would be negligent not to recommend that, on your way out of the Pebble Beach area, you should take a leisurely drive south along Carmel Way.  Unique homes in a neighborhood setting and beautiful ocean views are plentiful there.  It is a bit disingenuous to refer to most areas of Pebble Beach and the 17-mile drive as “neighborhoods”, but Carmel Way has a different, more homey feel to it even if you’re just drivin’ through.     
 
For now I’ll leave you with a few additional pictures.  
 

Sheeples with demonic eyes in the Mission Ranch meadow

More stark beauty from the Monterey Peninsula

 

More traditional California beauty (Happy Anniversary, Hon!!)

Brownie points! 
 

Teaser photo for a later post on playing Spyglass Hill