My wife Jody and I try to get away for a night without the kids every so often. Most recently it was the Dead Sea; before that, we stayed at the Mitzpe Hayamim spa in Rosh Pina.
Mitzpe Hayamim provides the context for a fabulous respite from everyday worries. The hotel is situated high up in the hills overlooking the Hula Valley and Golan Heights. On a clear day you can see all the way to Mount Hermon. One of the spa's biggest selling points is the stunning view from the Jacuzzi on the roof.
Mitzpe Hayamim's expertise is organic luxury. The hotel's vegetarian restaurant grows most of its own pesticide-free vegetables; the cheese comes from goats in the hotel's on-site farm; the eggs from free-range chickens. A "tea corner" offers infusions of sage, lavender and wild hyssop. The homemade walnut ice cream at dessert is simply to die for.
Then there's the pool - it has the freshest, least abrasive chlorinated water of any pool I've ever been in. With its exotic cinnamon-scented air, it's almost impossible not to float away your cares, especially given the ubiquitous signs reading "please refrain from talking" - something that is definitely not the norm for pools here.
Before you even arrive, the spa sends out a book with a long menu of massages with soothing names such as "Bridge Between Two Seas" (a Feldenkrais-flavored treatment); "Footsteps in the Sand" (reflexology); and "Earth, Wind and Fire," a combined massage mixing Thai, Swedish and a Native American "hot stone" treatment.
It had been eight years since our last visit to Mitzpe Hayamim - way too long, but given the price of a "spa vacation," not that surprising either - so it was with a great deal of anticipation that we made the three-and-a-half-hour drive from Jerusalem for a midweek special that included two free massage treatments in the regular room price.
As we opened the door to our room, though, our hearts sank. We remembered from our previous stay a gorgeous suite with a king-size bed, lovely balcony and bathroom with a mosaic floor channeling 2,000 years of history in Lower Galilee.
The room in front of us, however, was small with graying carpets, chipped tiles in the bathroom, a toilet that wouldn't stop running and a faint but pervasive smell of smoke.
Jody called the front desk to complain. Dana was apologetic but firm. "Those are our most sought after rooms," she said unconvincingly. "They're much more intimate."
Jody wasn't buying it. "We'd like to change rooms."
A few moments of clicking on a keyboard and Dana was back. "I'm sorry; there just aren't any other rooms. We're completely full."
Jody started to say something but Dana interrupted. "We'll try to make it up to you," she said reassuringly. "We'll throw in a tchupar." Now, a tchupar is slang for a "treat," a little something extra. It wasn't exactly what we were hoping for at that moment, but maybe it would be OK. How did we know that our tchupar would be small, furry and pink?
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Before dinner we headed off for our first massage, a romantic
"treatment" we'd booked in the hotel's Jasmine Room. Conducted in a separate building a five-minute walk into the woods, this was everything we'd been waiting for.
A deep Japanese-style bath built for two filled with herb-infused water - I think there was coconut and rosemary - was waiting for us. We were to luxuriate there for 15 minutes, then follow up with 45 minutes of massage at side-by-side tables.
The water was heavenly. We felt like we were in a Richard Gere movie - the only thing missing was the champagne.
As the healing waters transported us to another dimension, I spied a slight movement at the far window.
"Did you see that?" I said to Jody.
"What?" Jody asked, still too immersed in reverie to care about my worries.
"By the curtains," I said.
Two eyes, a nose and a long tail poked out and then darted away.
That caught Jody's attention.
Now, neither of us is particularly afraid of mice. But we figured we ought to report it. Health standards and cleanliness, something like that.
When our two masseuses knocked on the door to tell us it was time to get out of the bath, we informed them of our discovery.
One of the masseuses practically shrieked... it was like in one of those old cartoons where the stereotyped housewife is perched on the kitchen table terrorized by a rodent running innocently around the floor looking for some cheese.
"We're going to have to cancel the massage," the masseuse said, breathing heavily.
"What? Why? We don't mind, really," I said.
"I am scared to death of mice," she responded. "I just can't do it."
We climbed out of the tub and put on our robes just in the nick of time before an army of spa staff barged into our room.
"Why can't we just move to another room?" Jody asked.
"Everything is full," the spa manager said. "We can reschedule for tomorrow."
"But we already have massages booked for tomorrow," I said.
"Well, how about a credit for another time in the future?"
"It's been eight years since we've come," Jody growled while rolling her eyes at the same time (nice trick, honey!). The coconut waters had definitely worn off by now.
"We will be happy to invite you to the special meal at the Muscat restaurant," the hotel's assistant manager suggested. It was a festive event with a guest chef from Jerusalem being held at a separate gourmet restaurant the hotel runs.
Unfortunately, it was also totally treif ,/i>- shellfish, milk and meat together.
"That doesn't work," I said thinking about whether we could just pick the bits of bacon out of the strips of thin entrecote slices... no, no...
"Maybe you can give us a credit on the room," Jody said.
"Yes, we could do that," came the reply, as if it had never crossed their minds, It was probably also the last thing they wanted to do, but they were determined to make good on our not-so-welcome tchupar.
As we walked back to the hotel, I started to grumble. "We shouldn't have said anything. Then we would have gotten our massage and no one would have known the better for it."
"That would have been even worse," Jody replied. "What if we were in the middle of the massage and then the mouse popped out while we were all dripping in oil?"
When we calculated the bill, though, we realized that our little mouse massage had saved us big time. Our bill, for the room including the two massages, minus the credit, came to less than 40 percent of the pre-mouse total. It was a little like getting voluntarily bumped from a flight. You still get where you're going, just not exactly as you'd planned, but you make some extra cash for your troubles.
And although we would have enjoyed the extra massage, saving several hundred shekels wasn't too bad an outcome.
In fact, next time when we visit Mitzpe Hayamim - hopefully in less than another eight years - we'll be looking for our little mouse friend to help keep costs in line.
Or maybe we'll even bring one of our own...