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 karlovy vary

26 kveten (may)
Touted by Czechs as the town of mineral water springs, I was surprised that Karlovy Vary didn't appear in my Prague and environs tour guide books. Another book of Central Europe left in my flat by the previous tenant had a small write up. I was disappointed to see it was not easy to go for an afternoon swim without advance reservations. Once there, I realized it was a playground for the well to do. You may have heard the name from its famous film festival in June, a few notches below Cannes, it hosted the debut of Fahrenheit 911 and attracts movie stars and jet setters. It's also known as Karlsbad, since it was part of Germany intermittently, although now popular with Russian tourists as well. While lovely and historic, it's not a backpacker destination.

There are fountains at intervals along a lengthy colonnade following the Tepla River. As is the custom, I bought a small porcelain souvenir cup to sip the healing waters as I strolled. One of my students said he makes it a point to sip from each of the thirteen springs. The other custom, not in my schedule, is to stay at one of the elegant spa hotels for "the cure", which requires a week to work its wonders and includes access to mineral baths.

The colonnade building at one end has a beautiful gazebo that opens onto a park. Mill Colonnade, with stately marble and statues along the top, has five fountains inside and fronts the river. My favorite, the white Market Colonnade, with delicate wood trimmings and long veranda, houses the oldest fountain. A modern building in the center has the highest spouting fountain. People sit around it in the steam filled room breathing in its sulfur vapors, perhaps hoping for a small sliver of the cure.

My traveling partner and I continued on to the end of the elegant hotels and expensive restaurants to be rewarded by a simple Hussite church, primitively painted decorations on the walls, out of place in this town but a welcome resting place. We rode the funicular to the top and climbed the high stairs of a tower for the scenic view, then hiked a trail down through green forest past a cross memorial, hidden spa hotel and small statue of a deer giving this area its name, Stag Hill. On the way back, we trudged up another hill to find the blue and white, gold topped onion towers of the church of Peter and Paul. The day would not be complete without tasting a teple oplatky, a warm wafer, sold everywhere. A street vendor warmed one up for us - it tasted like a light thin cookie.

One of my classes, four women in their twenties and thirties, brought me a present: a map of the Czech Republic with little pictures of castles and other notable sites, with information about each in multiple languages including English. Now I have an almost endless list of interesting places to explore, many close to Prague and accessible for a day trip!

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