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Published: June 16th 2018
Just a few steps outside our hotel was the Diana Observation Tower funicular. For less than $4.00 each we purchased round trip tickets. It felt a bit chilly in my shorts this morning but I suspected things would warm up. Unfortunately it didn't until we came back down off the mountain.
Today the X1 would get another day off. We would spend our entire day “taking the cure” in the spa town of Karlovy Vary. But first breakfast. Zlatý Sloup didn't offer as big a selection as our German hotels had featured, but it was more than adequate. No soft-boiled eggs but scrambled instead. There were also breakfast sausages and oatmeal to go along with the usual tray of cold cuts and cheese. I left the table satiated.
Lest anyone think I wasn't having a good time here based on my somewhat sarcastic comments regarding our arrival in the Czech Republic, it certainly wasn't that I disliked being here. It's just so different from Germany, especially Bavaria. The Czechs we met in the service industry seemed a rather dour lot. I can't recall any smiling or attempting to be friendly. They seemed so grim. Perhaps dealing with so many former Iron Curtain citizens soured them. Not being around friendly polite folk might leave one a bit grumpy.
Let's just say their Russian visitors certainly have a different conception of manners compared to mine. I didn't hear many “Prostite”s or “Spasibo”s shopping next to them in the stores. After those long
Our own private car
We were first in line when the funicular opened for the day.
cold Russian winters I suppose I can understand their elation at finally being somewhere sunny and warm. But they need to lighten up too. Just because you spend months locked up inside doesn't mean you don't need to interact with other humans eventually.
I absolutely loved the Czech beer, food, music, architecture and history. They have endured a lot over the centuries. I think I did my part in bolstering their economy and helping them establish themselves as legitimate players in the European Union.
Outside the hotel our weather was a bit overcast and somewhat chilly. We started our day of exploration with a ride up the funicular to the Diana Tower which overlooks the Tepla river valley. I've been on a number of these inclined elevator contraptions and have to say this is one of the steepest I remember. It wasn't particularly scary but I did wonder how stringent Czech inspection methods might be.
When we reached the end of the line we felt like the temperature had dropped another 10 degrees. A stiff breeze was also whipping through. We followed some of the other funicular riders to the base of a large
The cost is cheap but the ride is steep
This funicular was as much elevator as cable car heading up the mountain. In retrospect we should've saved this ride for later in the day when the weather cleared.
brick tower (Diana Tower). Thankfully there was an elevator to the top. From there I think the views over the spa below would normally be spectacular but now there was too much fog and a little misty rain hanging over the town. We took a few photos then left. Nearby a zoo was advertised. We went off to look. By now it was getting really chilly. The “zoo” consisted of a fat little pig, two nasty ponies and a couple of goats. None wanted any attention. There was also a peacock wandering around.
With the thought that some snow might be on the way any minute we took the funicular back downhill. I was hoping that the thermal waters might warm us up. Up until this time I had been thinking that “taking the cure” in Karlovy Vary involved going to a bath and luxuriating in the hot mineral rich water and/or getting a mud treatment.
Back on the streets of the spa area we decided to first check on my car in its semi-legal parking space. As we walked toward the City Theater where we had left the BMW, I saw an X3
We wimped out
There was a staircase to the top of the tower which we were prepared to climb, but when we saw other visitors boarding a modern elevator we joined them. We got plenty of exercise the rest of the day.
with Munich plates parked in one of those assigned parking spots that I had used the day before. His car had a parking boot or clamp on the driver's side front wheel. Further up the street a crew was already on the scene working at the theater but my car was still there. We nonchalantly walked by. No boot or tickets. The car was covered in more pollen and dust and little cat feet had strutted across the hood, but we didn't slow down as we walked pass. I didn't want someone yelling at me in Czech to move it.
As we continued up the street the sun miraculously appeared. Just ahead of us we could see columns of steam rising from a fountain in front of a large modern building. This was the “Spring Colonnade”. It was the biggest and the warmest of the many thermal springs in town. Entering the building I expected to see a big swimming pool or changing rooms. Instead there was a little shop selling these odd flat-sided china mugs. There were hundreds of different styles and colors but all had the same hollow handle that tapered upward into a straw.
View from the top
This isn't the reason you ride up the mountain and then climb Diana's Tower. You come up here to get a nice look at the town below. But it does show you just how beautiful the surrounding countryside is.
What one did in Karlovy Vary was to drink away one's ills. Apparently the thermal waters are quite rich in healthy minerals, and maybe some radioactive ones, that can cure everything from headaches to stomach ills to foot pain and everything in between. A patient sees a doctor here in Karlovy Vary and he tells you which fountain to drink from. They all have different properties and temperatures. And they are all free and open to the public. You just have to provide your own drinking vessel. There are souvenir stands all along the promenade selling these porcelain contraptions. Using a plastic water bottle doesn't work well because the water can melt the plastic and leave harmful chemicals behind.
So now our task became one of finding the coolest but cheapest mug to sample the water. We only needed one because I knew this was gonna taste horrible. I had tried the waters at Bath spa in England years ago and nearly puked. I didn't want to get crazy buying an especially nice mug only to have it break on us when taking it home. Something pragmatic would do. First we needed some Czech money. Near the
It's a long way down
Despite the strong gusts this morning the brick Diana's Tower didn't sway at all. It was darn cold up there so we didn't hang around up there for very long.
opposite end of the spa promenade lay the commercial center of Karlovy Vary. We searched a bit for a bank and finally found three next to each other. After getting our funds I suggested we head a little further up the road to the Jan Becher Museum which along with the Diana Tower was supposed to be one of the must-sees.
Becher was the genius who 200 years ago decided to use the therapeutic waters of Karlovy Vary to make booze that would cure you of all your ailments. Becherovka is sold throughout the world as a bitter but I never heard of it until I decided to visit Karlovy Vary. Becherovka was run by the Becher family for decades until the Becher father and son were both killed in WWII. When the Russians moved into CZ the company was nationalized. All ethnic Germans from the Sudetenland were stripped of their property and belongings and exiled to the West. Surviving Becher family members moved to Cologne, Germany then began selling a similar liqueur while living in Germany. They called it “Karlsbader Becher”. Karlsbader is German for Karlovy (Charles). Lawsuits between the German Becher company and the Czech
This was the one unique things about this 7 animal zoo.
company in Karlovy Vary ensued. Normalization of relations with the West resulted in an agreement whereby the Becherovka spirits are now only produced in Karlovy Vary.
Becherplatz looked to be quite an interesting place featuring a beautifully decorated rustic wood interior with coffee shop, souvenir stands and the entrance to a museum and tasting room. Too bad this was Monday and the museum was closed. The one positive note, besides not having to try the bitter liquor, was that the building also held an intriguing basement restaurant called “Karel IV Pivovar”. I know three Czech words: “Prosim” (please), “Dekuji” (thank you) and “Pivo” (beer). Pivo prosim. We knew where we would be eating dinner tonight.
We did some window shopping as we leisurely walked back toward the spa fountains. We chanced upon a bakery making those Oplatky wafer cookies. We stopped at the shop window to watch an unsmiling young lady baking then boxing them. Heading inside we saw the back wall of the bakery
stacked with 5 inch square boxes of Oplatky in various flavors. Cinnamon, chocolate, banana, vanilla, hazelnut and even chili. I bought three unboxed chocolate wafers fresh off the
At the "zoo" we walked over to a corral where two ponies, a pig and some chickens hung out. I normally have a way with animals and can get them to come over to me for a headrub or back scratch. These two wanted no part of human interaction. When the little pig tried to grab some food from the trough the obnoxious ponies tried to bite him.
stove. Then I went outside to a bench where I could sample one. At first my dieting wife wasn't interested. When I took my first bite and she saw the look on my face she asked for a little piece. In a few minutes both of us had finished all three. No wonder the Russians were buying boxes and boxes of them. I discovered later, much to my chagrin, that the boxed ones are nowhere near as tasty as the fresh ones we bought at the bakery.
Back along the promenade we did a careful study of just which mineral water mug to buy. Most featured a picture of the town or the name “Karlovy Vary”. Others were shaped like animals, or cars or trucks. I saw a couple with dinosaurs and Smurfs. Some looked like beer steins or bottles. Some had natural scenes painted on them. A few resembled teapots. One looked like a bong. Eventually we decided to go with the “classic” look. We found one with a Delft motif priced at 150 Kc or about $7.00. It looked sturdy enough to survive another week and a half in the bottom of a suitcase.
Feet back on the ground
After descending down from the mountain we decided to check on our car's precarious parking location. Karlovy Vary was a ghost town this Monday morning.
Near the kiosk where we purchased our souvenir cup was the Pramen Svoboda (didn't he play for the Canadiens and Flyers?). The “Freedom Spring” was underneath a pretty white gazebo. We washed out our little cup, filled it up and found a bench. The mug was definitely hot to the touch. Surprisingly the water was not God-awful. I still made an involuntary disgusted face. It could've used a teabag or a shot of MIO but it wasn't salty or bitter. Better than Perrier I think. We slowly sipped and spent the next hour thoroughly entertained by the procession of other tourists coming up to the fountain and topping off. The crowd ranged in age from as young as three to as old as 90. And not one made that same yucky face that I pulled. No one suddenly jumped and screamed “Eureka” either. No goiters disappeared. No crutches tossed aside. I have my doubts about the efficacy of these healing waters. It sure didn't make the locals a healthy and happy lot, but the show was well worth the price of free admission.
By now I was in need of a real drink. It was
The pollen comes with little cat feet
No ticket. No wheel clamp. No tow truck. Just a little kitty's tracks across my brand new car's hood.
actually getting rather warm. So much so that I was relegated to having to carry the jacket I so badly needed earlier in the morning. Walking on the opposite side of the little river we passed a couple of creekside al fresco restaurants. I picked the one with the fewest patrons. It turned out to be an Italian restaurant but they served that delicious Budvar beer. The first one went down quickly and smoothly. Then we ordered lunch. On a previous visit to Prague I had really enjoyed the Slovakian sausages called “cevapcici “. Not enclosed in a casing they taste a little like a cross between an American breakfast sausage and meatloaf. But neither this
restaurant nor the one we had had dinner in the previous night served it. I had to settle for pasta carbonara. It was fine but I regret not squeezing in one more authentic Czech meal. The second Budweiser made up for it.
By now we had pretty well strolled up and down the entire spa section of town five or six times. I decided I really needed to take some Oblatky back home with me. Near the restaurant we found
Two geezers visit the geyser
The Spring Colonnade was our first hot spring visit of the day. At this stage we still hadn't figured out exactly how this whole spa cure thing worked. It was nice and warm standing outside next to this hot spring.
a shop selling a fairly nice selection. We grabbed two boxes of the regulation sized cookies and four of the miniature versions. Once again an unsmiling young lady accepted our money after a couple of long seconds trying to decipher just what coinage we had in our hands. These boxed cookies later turned-out to be much inferior to the fresh ones we had snacked on earlier in the day.
As we made our way back to the area of our hotel we stopped once again inside the Spring Colonnade. Since we now had an authentic cure cup we headed over to the three fountains located in the huge lobby. The first fountain spews water straight from the source and served at 163 degrees Fahrenheit. The two other fountains allow the thermal waters to cool to 106 and 86 degrees respectively. Just like Goldilocks and the three bears we found the first one too hot, the third too cool and the middle one just right. Again we took a seat to watch the show go on around us. So many young people looking much healthier than us kept filling up and chugging down this supposedly fabulous elixir. By
Even though it was 1030 in the morning there was still very little going on in town. By the afternoon all these benches would be full and the family wearing parkas would be regretting that decision.
now I was getting nauseated by just the smell of this sulfurous concoction.
Once that become old we checked once again on the status of our BMW. It was still sitting there in her filthy majesty unticketed and non-booted. We returned to our hotel/apartment where we unloaded our purchases for the day and cleaned-up a bit. We decided to recharge our batteries, both literally and figuratively. I went through and deleted close to half of the hundreds of pictures I had taken so far then worked out our travel plans for the next day. This gave Gail some time to rest before the next meal.
Once again we headed back along the banks of the Tepla past numerous thermal springs. We didn't get to sample each and every one. We'll save that for the next visit. The crowds had thinned out. Apparently most of the day's Russian guests had only come for the day on tour buses out of Prague. There were no costume balls going on tonight. We finally reached the Becherplatz around 7 pm. Down in the basement restaurant the place was packed. European restaurants don't usual have a maître d so
Becherovka quick stop
Just in case a tourist might not be able to handle the mile long walk to the Becherovka museum and store, this little booth could sell them a quick snort of the bitter liquor.
we searched on our own for a table. The three that appeared vacant had “reserved” signs on them. Eventually a waiter came over and directed the two of us to a big table with 8 seats. Before we could order our first beers another couple was seated at the opposite end of the table.
After my wife and I ordered our beers in our unique English/German patois the husband at the other side of our table asked us where we were from. The couple were German visitors from Leipzig who had shipped their kids off to Grandma's so that they might have a romantic getaway. The guy was quite a character and kept us laughing for the rest of the meal. He had been a foreign exchange student in Florida back in 1993. He has remained very close with his host family and they alternate visits every year or so. He attends his American high school homecoming every 5 years in September. He entertained us with his stories about skipping school, messing with his teachers, having to deal with American alcohol age restrictions and the changes that came when the Iron Curtain fell. Like many other stories
What a shame the museum and tours weren't operating on Mondays. This looked like a nice place to relax and sober up after a tasting.
I've heard, this German said that life under communism was much simpler and less stressful. Everything was taken care of by the state. Freedom meant people had to look for work and prices skyrocketed for the former East Germans. Some lost their homes and property to former West Germans who had legal claims dating back before the division of Germany. But he was quick to add that he was doing fine financially. It was the older generation that suffered.
It was when we told him about our adventures with BMW European Delivery that he really got animated. He was so proud that we bought German cars and bragged that he too had a 1 series BMW convertible that his wife allowed him to drive. Throughout the night we spoke as kindred spirits being fellow members of the BMW fraternity. He wondered if he could go back and live with his host family in Florida for awhile then do an European Delivery. We told him he'd have to leave the car in FL and only use it every 5 years at homecoming. It couldn't be shipped back to Germany.
He apologized to us saying that
This was an interesting process: this car was placing big round cookies on a revolving machine that would press them into checkerboard ridged wafers. After a chocolate filling squirted out on top of the wafer she then took a second wafer that would be pressed on top to make a big cream filled cookie. The cookie would bake in the short time the machine did a full revolution.
his wife also knew English but wasn't comfortable speaking it. He said he hadn't practiced his English much lately either. As we drank more beer and got to know each other better his English improved significantly. At the end of dinner his wife also joined in the conversation and was just as good-humored as her husband.
When ordering our beers and food we had been very careful to choose things that would fit in our budget of remaining Czech money. We had 750 koruna (about $28.00) left. Our beer and food was very cheap and by my calculations we were under 700 koruna when our new German friends ordered more beer. I decided to join in by ordering a small beer. Imagine my shock and disappointment when our waiter brought the bill and it totaled 760 koruna. Apparently there was tax or a service charge we were unaware of. It was not a problem to put our bill and the tip I had forgotten about on my credit card, but we had been so careful to try to come in under budget. Had I known I would've bought a round of big
beers for all of
Boxes upon boxes of different Oplatky
The fresh Oplatky were far superior to those in the boxes. Since the boxed ones ended-up being the souvenirs people took home for friends and family no one was the wiser.
Our German friends left before us. Meanwhile I had noticed that a group had been seated at one of those “reserved” tables beside ours. From time to time I had heard them jabbering in Russian. One of the women had a very nice designer shirt on and I semi-consciously thought “This must be a Russian with some money”. All of a sudden she came over to our table and in accented, but perfect English asked where we were from. She wanted to know where I had gotten my BMW ball cap that I'd been wearing throughout our trip. She wanted to get one for her husband. We told her about BMW Welt and European Delivery. It turned-out she was from Toronto meeting up with Russian friends here in Karlovy Vary. She was very friendly and chatty. Quite unlike the native Russians we had encountered elsewhere.
It was a long walk back to the hotel but the town was beautifully lighted at night and the streets were nearly deserted. I felt like I was back in another age. I could imagine the splendor and glamour of the town when aristocratic guests arrived by train
Another satisfied customer
She had already taken a bite before even leaving the store.
and stayed in places like the Grand Hotel Pupp for weeks while taking the cure. So many great German and Czech artists had also come to partake of the waters - names like Franz Joseph, Beethoven, Paganini, Chopin, Mozart, Dobrovský, Gogol, Tyl, Barrande, Purkyn, and Freud.
Before long we were back at the hotel. Immediately I switched on the TV to catch the latest game show. The Czech version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” was on. At today's bank buying rate they're only playing for $45,771 but that buys a lot of Budvar and Oplatky. The contestants were a lot more gregarious than their countrymen that I had run into in Karlovy Vary. The audience joined them in the frivolity. Those Czechs were having a great time. It was then that I started thinking that maybe it was the supposedly curative waters that turned the local populace into emotionless zombies.
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