With my first village experience in the Czech Republic drawing to an end, I woke early and left my hostel in Český Krumlov. As much as I enjoyed this village, I was eager to leave and get going. The Internet at the hostel I was staying at was non-existent, and for a few other reasons, let’s just say it wasn’t in my top 10 hostels.
Aside from whatever I felt about this beautiful and romantic, historical place, I was eager to get my personal feeling of ‘adventure’ jump-started. There’s a moment when you realize that despite all of your planning, unexpected events are happening to you that upset your planned itinerary. So far, my vacation had been perfect as scheduled, and this for me is absolutely no fun at all. I like to feel that, despite all of my planning, fate has taken over and has redirected my journey towards places and people I am predestined to meet. When I finally pack my bags the last time to head home, it is always the chance meetings with fabulously crazy people and the spontaneous side-trips to previously unknown destinations that I remember. The feeling of adrenaline and excitement when fate has taken over is the goal I am after.
So I’m heading off to Karlovy Vary, every step, closer to the beginning of my adventure.
On the train, I popped into a cabin with two guys also with backpacks. These were two local Czech brothers that head the mountains two times a year. They became my saviors as they told me about the train switch I needed to make in order to get to Karlovy Vary. For whatever reason, the train wasn’t going all the way through, so we got off together and the railroad had a bus waiting for us to take us to the next station. There are very rarely translations for these instructions in English here, so these guys really did save me a lot of time. I was able to have a quick Pilsner beer with them, in the town of Plzn (where that beer originates) and then I bid them ciao, as we went our separate ways.
A few hours later, my train was arriving into the Karlovy Vary area and without my new Czech friends, I didn’t have anyone with me to tell me that the train stop ‘Karlovy Vary-Dvory‘ was not the main train station for Karlovy Vary. I should have been paying more attention, so I had nobody to get upset with but myself for this mistake.
I took a look at the map and I see that it is only a few miles until the stop I needed to get to. So I did what trekkers do, and just start walking.
I had no idea that the place I had booked for myself was a university dorm. It was, by far, the cheapest place to stay in the area. The $10 per night, 3-bed, room was a brisk 10-minute walk from the center of town, passing through one of the hillside parks along the way. I was the only person in my entire wing and I think that the nice ladies at the front desk gave me a room far away from all the noise. They could see that I was a bit older and probably not one of their regular all-night partiers. It was perfect.
Quick change and I am out the door to get my first taste of this famous spa town.
The thermal spring system in Karlovy Vary is one of the most famous and significant thermal-mineral water systems in the world. The springs originate deep under the Earth’s crust (about 2000 meters down) and are directed to this one, small 1.6km x 150m area with the waters raising through small gaps in the tectonic plates below. When the water gurgles to the surface at any number of wells within this small zone, the temperature ranges from 50 to 75 degrees Celsius. The waters do not have the sulfuric smell nor taste that you might usually associate with these types of springs, and the mineral composition found in this water very unique. It is said that the water is a useful remedy for an extremely wide range of ailments including digestive system disorders, metabolic disorders, diabetes, gout, excess weight, periodontitis, disorders of the musculoskeletal system, diseases of the liver, gallbladder, gall tract, pancreas, and oncological diseases.
This town has been famous for centuries for having water that makes people feel that they’re healthier. There is actually very little to do in this small town, except to relax and concentrate on feeling better. Tourists and locals alike stroll the promenade that stretches through the center of town and dip their special spa mugs (lázeňský pohárek) into any of the fountains along this route that produce the proven curative waters. I counted 17 spring fountains along the spa-walk, and each location has a plaque telling the spring name and the temperature of the water coming out of it. People that live here tend to have a favorite fountain, and there are actually local spa doctors that can prescribe the water of a specific spring for different types of ailments you might have.
Personally, I loved the water. It filled your spa cup completely clear, yet the initial taste, I can only describe as drinking hot gravy. This water is so jam-packed with minerals that it tastes like it should have a thicker consistency. So I joined the trail of tourists and locals and starting at one end of the spa walk leisurely strolled while sampling a bit of each spring along the way. First drinking a bit of the water and then, as if I was at a wine tasting event, nodding thoughtfully at the strangers around as if to say, “Yes… the bouquet of this Spring #12 is much more robust than Spring #11.”
It is all fun, healthy, and aside from the minimal investment of your spa cup ($6), you can drink all of the water you want for free. This is the way we party in Karlovy Vary!
There are a few more things that are unique and iconic in association with Karlovy Vary, and if you have the opportunity to try these things, you definitely should.
Karlovy Vary Waffles – These thin, massive wafers are made using the local spring water. They look like gigantic communion wafers. You can buy these all over town for 10 crowns ($0.40) and they come in a wide variety of flavors. I loved Lemon, White Chocolate, Coconut, Hazelnut. They toast these waffles on special irons before they hand them to you, and they are DELICIOUS! I got to the point where I couldn’t pass one of these waffle stands without getting one. And they are less than 1mm thin, so I don’t think they have any calories at all. :-/
Becherovka – This is herbal liquor, very unique to Karlovy Vary. Some doctors started making it here in 1807. The liquor consists of local mineral water, 20 sorts of herbs and spices and distilled wine and sugar. There are only 2 or 3 people that know this recipe. I bought a small bottle.
The main reason, however, of why I chose Karlovy Vary as one of my stops in the first place, was because I fell completely in love with the film ‘The Last Holiday‘ starring Queen Latifah. 90% of the film takes place in Karlovy Vary and more specifically at the Grand Hotel Pupp. I fell in love with this film many years ago but somehow had never imagined that the locations in the film where actual, real places. Fast forward to planning my trip to the Czech Republic and during my research, I find the town of Karlovy Vary. The town from ‘The Last Holiday.’ I am definitely going there!
In the film, the Grand Hotel Pupp is the location for world-leaders and diplomats to come on their holidays. It is portrayed as a super ‘old-money’ type of location that doesn’t have to cater to trendy jet-setters to retain its distinguished position as the most elegant resort you could possibly go to. In the film, Queen Latifah was skeptical that she would fit in there. In reality, so did I. But as I came to the end of town and stood to face the hotel, I knew I would regret it if I didn’t walk inside. If they kicked me out for being a vagabond, that is OK. For the few seconds I was inside though, I would get a look at the fabulous ceiling that made Queen Latifah cry.
I walked through the door and to my surprise, nobody questioned my entry. I used the rouse to pretend to look like I knew where I was going, this has helped me in the past. But absolutely nobody cared, so I quit pretending. A few steps into the building and I step into what I later learned is the ‘Small Hall.” This is the room with the fabulous ceiling. I nonchalantly take a seat at the bar, waiting for disapproving looks from the staff.
The staff could not have been any more welcoming and pleasant toward me. Ironic, this place that I thought would be extremely stuffy and judgmental to my vagabond appearance, was filled with staff that became my BFFs for the short time I was in Karlovy Vary. I bonded with one waiter, in particular (Patrik) over the fact that I was so in love with the film that inspired me to visit this city. I learned from him that the film was special to the staff of the hotel as well, because the staff were all in the film, just doing their jobs. The production for the film required the hotel to be closed to the public for 6 weeks, and during that time, the staff of the hotel performed their regular jobs, but this time for a major motion picture.
Patrik gave me a quick, 5-minute tour of a few rooms on my first night visiting the hotel that were used in ‘The Last Holiday‘ film as well as ‘Casino Royale.’ Then, on my last of three nights visiting the Karlovy Very bar, Patrik asked the manager of the hotel to unlock the gorgeous main banquet hall that was used in so many scenes during the film.
I was completely overwhelmed by the hospitality and friendliness of the staff, and if I ever make a TOP 10 list of things to do in Karlovy Vary, #1 will be to visit the Grand Hotel Pupp. It was bittersweet saying goodbye to Patrik and the rest of the staff there. Not only could I have stayed longer in Karlovy Vary, I could absolutely live there. It may not be a crazy party town, but it has everything I would need to be happy. Nice people, endless walking paths (Spa Walks) in the hillsides surrounding the city, free medicinal water, great dive bars, some local mystical legends, and good Internet.
Hopefully, someday, I’ll be back.
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