48 Hours in Karlovy Vary

??????????I wanted to visit Karlovy Vary for a very long time, but not obviously for very logical reasons. Blame it a lot of Central European literature, including Czech, indiscriminately and voraciously consumed during my childhood, or the regrets of never being able to attend the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, the famous movie fans gathering in Central Europe.  As the last year was one of my best in a while in terms of travel, I marked another priority (out of many hundreds) on my travel bucket list.

??????????I arrived there in the middle of the autumn, at the beginning of November, exactly at the end of the spa season. But the city was far from being dead, as I noticed while walking slowly from the bus station where I arrived from Prague to Dvorak Hotel, that generously hosted me during my stay.  I not only got to know the local generosity, with people helping me to get the right directions to my accommodation, but also a very glamourous night life, with luxury shops open till late in the evening, and ladies in fancy dresses checking the last offers or maybe a must have Faberge egg or a massive gold pacifier, who knows? Only the steam of the famous hot springs created an ambiance of mystery and suspense.??????????Ignoring the late arrival and the whole day of travel by bus from Berlin to Prague and then to Karlovy Vary, I decided to have a short tour of the central area. Hungry, I ended up in a German-Czech local and guest house, Egerländer Hof with many historical references on the walls of what used to be the Sudeten area and dusty stuffed animals. I ordered some Czech dumplings with eggs and mashed potatoes, whose oily and too salty composition gave me some nasty stomach pains the day after. Maybe the antidote would have been the famous Becherova, a local Anis liqueur made here from 200 years, but was not that brave to try it.

??????????The next morning, a beautiful autumn palette that seemed hastly painted overnight on the hills around invited me to go out of my bed as soon as possible and start the city discovery.??????????If ones arrives in Karlovy Vary dreaming about a very active night and day life, he or she may be disappointed. The life goes slow, except the exciting times of the film festival, with slow walks  and shopping sprees, before or after some treatment sessions. The local theatre, offering shows not only in Czech, but also in the omnipresent Russian, spoken everywhere by everyone, brings more cultural events in town. Some local jazz festivals held here are opening the doors to everyone in love with the universal language of music.

??????????The mild light and colours of the autumn are calling me though for some hiking adventure, a call I am ready to answer, as soon as I am able to see the main points of interest in the city.

?????????? Most part of the people coming here are for a more serious reason than I: the unique qualities of the thermal waters. Used for treating problems of the digestive system, diabeters, weight excess, post-oncological diseases treatment and metabolical diseases among others, the mineral waters do have the same composition, but their health effects differ up to their different temperature and carbone dioxide content. The spectacular strength of the giant spring (Vridlo) makes the beautiful architecture around to look like doll houses.

??????????As the springs are spread all over the city, decorated pavillions were made in order to allow people to get to the mineral waters whatever the weather conditions.

??????????One of the most famous such construction are the Mill Colonades, hosting 13 major springs, built as a neo-Renaissance Temple, by the same architect who designed the National Theatre in Prague. During the high-season, special open air concerts are creating an ambiance that makes the sick visitors forget for a while the reasons they are here.

??????????When I am not too busy to find out about the special mineral waters, I am amazed by the architecture, that combines all the possible Central European styles, with fine golden lines matching green decorations, or with Portuguese tiles bordering big windows of building covered by castle-like rooftops. ??????????The visitors are busy sipping their mineral waters from the special bottles especially created by the legendary Ludwig Moser, the famous porcelain producer. The pipes were added later. Nowadays, the Moser factory can still be visited, and many of the locals in Karlovy Vary used to work or are still working there. The special patterns of his glass work, oftenly combining porcelain with crystal, are another trademark of Karlovy Vary that can be found on the exquisite lunch tables of many world personalities, including European royal families, such as the new Spanish king.

??????????The autumn is the queen of Karlovy Vary now, and the leaves from the parks are displaying passionate nuances of red and burning yellows.

??????????Only the too much serious building of Hotel Thermal, hosting for over 49 years the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival brings you back to a less spectacular reality. Held in the first week of July, it gathers famous movie personalities, among which John Malkovitch, Robert de Niro, Woody Harelson, Sharon Stone, Leonardo di Capri, Gerard Depardieu, Franco Nero or Fanny Ardant. Many of the famous guests do have their own star on the Hall of Fame in the front of the luxurious Grandhotel Pupp, where the VIP guests coming to town are usually hosted.

??????????The heavy impression of the film festival venue is easily dissipated by the mild colours of the architecture and the diversity of the options to spend the easy life in Karlovy Vary. When the weather allows, a short tour by carriage can be a pleasant option.

??????????For a short break before planning the next stage of my trip, I am back to the Giant spring area, at Cafe Reserva, where I sip a  coffee made with mineral waters – all I can say is that it is a really good strong coffee as I am used with – with some Oblaste, thin rice waffers that are available  in town in different flavours.

??????????Although buses are available in the city, as well as cabs, I am doing my best to enjoy as much as I can the rays of autumn lights. I pass fast near the tempting shops from Lazenska street, not without a short stop looking at the special Mikimoto pearls, or the Hasi Shopping Center, a building where Freud stayed long time ago, and I go up on one of the many streets around, in an area with many villas and  hotels with discrete entrances and huge parking spaces.

??????????I don’t need to think twice before heading on an alley with stairs and foliages, till the top of a small hill from where I can see the crowded buildings of Karlovy Vary.

??????????The hiking is short and relatively easy, but comfy shoes are required. Some people do Nordic walkings – there are many such routes in many places around the city – some, like me, just enjoy the pleasant beginning of the afternoon.

??????????Behind the wild stones covered by leaves, the discrete human intervention makes you feel safe.??????????The beauty of nature is simple and inspiring, and before I am heading back, I enjoy the quietness and the original colours.??????????The combinations between nature and hard human work probably fascinated many European intellectuals and crowned heads that tried to found a remedy to their maladies from the spring waters here. Goethe, who ran here several times for meeting a much much more younger lady, Freud, Marx, Franz Joszef and Sissy who loved so much the oblates it seemds, or Peter the Great for whose highness a special door was modified in order to allow him to go in or the Turkish reformer Atatürk were some of the famous visitors. ?????????? Nowadays, the visitors only looking for wellness, are tempted with a long list  of spa services, that includes a variety of treatments, based on wine, beer, hemp or using various techniques aimed to regenerate and rejuvenate the body and mind (more about the best spa options in town in my next post).

??????????My first full day in Karlovy Vary ends with a full tour of the main historical and touristic sights of the city offered by a very talented guide booked by my hotel. As usual, getting in touch with local people brings valuable information, and most hotels are able to offer such knowledge, mostly in Russian and German, but also English.

The next day, early in the morning, I am ready for more hiking. I follow the street near the Carlsbad Plaza, surprised to discover also a Thai and Chinese restaurants, after spotting mostly local Czech or German-inspired cuisine, or some classical Italian restaurants. From Goethova street, I arrive at the 60-year old Karlovy Vary Art Gallery where together with some school children I have a look at an art exhibition by a local artist. From the Park Hotel, I start doing more hiking on the top, and the banks every couple of hundreds of meter guarantee that I should not worry for getting exhausted any time soon.

??????????Soon, it is about time to say ‘good bye’ to Karlovy Vary for now, not before saying a last hello to the huge statue of the Soldier Svejk, a typical Czech character, a busy tourist spot for selfies most part of the time.

??????????The beautiful pastels of the live exhibition that Karlovy Vary offered me in the last 48 hours was worth the long years of waiting. There are places you might fell in love with before visiting them and following your feelings can prove to be a perfectly inspired decision.

Fore more visual insights from Karlovy Vary, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/karlovy-vary-czech-republic/

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Small tips for a great city. What not to miss in Prague

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Every year it seems to have a favourite city where I am back more than once. Once upon a time was Budapest, or London or Tel Aviv. The winner of the 2014 trips was the lovely Prague, which I had the occasion to visit at least four times this year, after more than 2 trips on previous occasions in the last years. This last time, as it was a spontaneous trip, I tried to spot those things that should be on the bucket list of the traveller to Prague, and mostly can be done without too much money or special efforts.

During my first trip to Prague, the spectacular Dancing House – nicknamed Fred and Ginger, after the famous dancing partners Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers – caught my eyes. Designed by Frank Gehry in collaboration with the local architect Vladi Millenic, it goes against the classical standards of local architectural beauty, but it definitely has its special charm. If you see it once, it’s hard to forget it!

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The lovers of classical architecture and especially of Art Nouveau, will have a lot of opportunities to nurture their eyes with beautiful apparitions. All you need is to learn how to use your eyes. After the first hour of walking around the old city, it will easily become a habit to speedily browse with the sight every building looking for some special unexpected corner.

??????????There is not only the Charles bridge. Although the most famous, it is only one of the 10 bridges over Vltava river. Many of them can be crossed by foot.

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Prague and the Czech Republic are famous for their exquisite glass art. Around the capital city, there are a couple of glass factories that can be visited, but otherwise, the best works of glass art can be admired in the small shops, some of them also offering live workshops introducing the visitor to the secrets of this traditional craft. Booking in advance is not necessary.

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If you start your journey early in the morning, it’s hard to avoid the open markets, selling besides souvenirs, among which various drawings, also fresh fruits and vegetables. My newest discovery was the Havlova Market.

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Some of the local samples of architecture are more than simple habitats, but decorated as unique works of art.

??????????Prague is a traditional city for jazz lovers. One of the famous one is Reduta, but there are many others inviting places for those passionate about this music style.

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The newly reopened Prague Technical Museum offers an extensive introduction to the Czech industrial history, with its samples of cars, airplanes, balloons and bikes. An interesting journey also for the non-practical humans, like this writer.

??????????If not necessarily in the mood to spend one or two or three late nights in a club with live music, it’s easy to have your own musical auditions. Some of the bands can be really good so they fully deserve some $$.

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While walking in a completely new area during my last trip, I was surprised by the ugly yet interesting insertion of the highway in the middle of the small buildings from the Vinogrady neighbourhood.

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My first encounter with Prague took place at the Art Nouveau decorated Central Station, as I was coming by train via Budapest. Built at the beginning of the 20th century, the Hlavni Nadrazi – the busiest railway in the Czech Republic – went through massive renovations in the last years.

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Although Prague is still an affordable city for tourists, little by little it is developing its luxury side too. Proof: the recent Jimmy Choo boutique opened, where else, but on Parizska – Paris – street.

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If not in the mood for some luxury shopping, a good coffee, near the window, from where you can observe the daily coming and going of the street is a good solution. This time, I tried O’Papa, a quiet bistro with a lot of healthy food options too.

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Last but not least: don’t forget to try some good traditional Czech beers. Near the Florench bus station, you can find the smallest microbrewery in the world, Pivovarsky Klub. Don’t forget to order some traditional Czech food too!

For more pictures from Prague and links to previous posts, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board