Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Czech Republic – Bohemian rhapsody

May 8-10

Hello everyone!

Another week with a national holiday, another opportunity to explore land away from Prague.

Victory in Europe Day (VE Day) is celebrated on May 8th, which happened to land on a Friday for its 70th anniversary.

We used this long weekend to explore the western side of the Czech Republic, specifically the province of Bohemia. Having collected a surprisingly cheap rental car (named after my favourite Czech name: Zdeněk) from the airport, we sped west from the capital city towards the slowly setting sun. Our destination was a small town called Marianske Lazne. 

The place was historically an important and beautiful spa town, visited by the likes of Franz Kafka, Thomas Edison and two European kings: Edward VII and Franz Josef I. A statue of the royals stands shining on one of Marianske Lazne's open walkways leading up the hill towards the main magisterial buildings. 

Thousands would flock to Marianske Lazne for its spa treatments and to drink its water. We tried some of this famed natural liquid. It's fair to say that we didn't share the positive view held by the intellectual elite of former times. Indeed, some of the water tasted like it was from the 1800s. Still, the fact that over a million bottles were exported annually from the town at the start of the last century suggests that enough people believed in its 'healing qualities'. 

Modern Marianske Lazne was a pleasant town to walk through, pretty buildings designed in a similar fashion to many around central Europe surrounded by dark, lush green forests. Whilst grand old structures such as the Colonnade are a reminder of Prague and the country's stunning heritage, Marianske Lazne seems to operate at a completely different pace to the capital, meandering rather than rushing from day to day.

The tempo of life visibly quickens as you leave Marianske Lazne and head to its big brother spa town: Karlovy Vary.

Once again, Karlovy Vary (also known as Karlsbad) is a famed spa town which specialises in improving one's health through a wide and wild array of cleansing treatments. Once again the famous water, though hotter than that in Marianske Lazne, is sulphuric in its nature and horrific to drink.

Karlovy Vary is certainly more famous. Much of Casino Royale was filmed here, though we didn’t have time to see the hotel. The sheer volume of tourists, particularly those speaking Russian, made it seem similar to the German spa town of Baden-Baden. It felt more geared towards large tourists groups than Marianske Lazne. 

Both of these towns are famous for producing a Czech sweet treat called Kolonada. It is best described as a gigantic version of two wafer circles which you would get in church, which sandwich a soft vanilla or chocolate filling. My Czech assistant in school was insistent that I try one. I tried two and could have eaten many more, in spite of their slight lack of flavour.

I find it’s always nice to escape the centre of Prague and breathe in the fresh countryside air. Even though this was tempered by the revolting taste of the local water, it was a pleasure to stroll through these two historic, calm towns and enjoy a relatively relaxing weekend.

Love you all


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