Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: Bohemian Rhapsody (2014)

Another day, another town

By lunchtime on Tuesday, we had arrived at our second destination in Bohemia: the grand old spa resort of Karlovy Vary (formerly Karlsbad, often written as Carlsbad in English). I'm going to stick with the current Czech version of the name, as it presents no particular problems for English speakers. We had spent most of the morning knowingly doing what almost every guidebook advises against: travelling between Prague and Karlovy Vary by train. Although Karlovy Vary is a mere 127km due west of the capital, the rail journey takes a whopping 3hrs 17mins. With no direct line between the cities, the train has to start by heading off up into the northwest corner of the Czech Republic, where it reverses to run parallel to the border with Saxony until it eventually reaches the desired destination on its way to Cheb. It's like going the long way round the sides of a triangle.

Furthermore, as we were to discover, only the final half-hour or so is of any real scenic interest. Nevertheless, Bruce and I both have a penchant for train travel and we had no regrets at all. We enjoyed the comfort of having a first-class compartment to ourselves, from which we could experience our first glimpses of life outside the bustling capital. It was also an opportunity to relax for a few hours following two solid days of pounding the streets of Prague.

Karlovy Vary was founded in 1370 by King Charles IV of Bohemia. As we have seen, like many towns in the Czech Republic, it also has a German name (Karlsbad). However up to the Second World War, this actually was a German-speaking town and Karlsbad was its real name. The city gave its name to the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, as well as to settlements in California, Texas and Ontario. Karlsbad was part of what became known in the first half of the 20th century as the Sudetenland, a collective name for those parts of Czechoslovakia where the majority of the population were of German heritage. Following World War II, the government of Czechoslovakia indulged in an exercise of 'ethnic cleansing' (or at the very least, manipulation), forcibly expelling the German speakers without compensation, moving in Czech speakers to replace them and officially changing Karlsbad's name.

Karlsbad reached its zenith as a spa resort in the 18th century, but the renamed city is still well known for its hot springs and stately architecture. On a slightly quirky note, the latter part of the 2006 James Bond movie Casino Royale, supposedly set in Montenegro, was largely filmed here. For the purposes of the movie, our near-neighbour the Grand Hotel Pupp masqueraded as the fictional 'Hotel Splendide'.

We set off from our delightful new accommodation, the Quisisana Palace, in a search for some lunch and to have an exploratory stroll through the central area. The weather was grey with a hint of dampness, and noticeably cooler than we had been used to in Prague. Our walk kept us close to the banks of the warm-water Teplá, the smaller of Karlovy Vary's two rivers. We saw the City Opera House, the Church of St Mary Magdalene, the Hot Spring Colonnade (where a geyser spurted hot water and steam inside an out-of-place, Soviet Bloc-inspired modern building), the classical elegance of the Mill Colonnade and Park Colonnade, and the Elizabeth Baths - not bad going for an introductory walk!


After returning to base to freshen up and develop a plan for the following day's activities, we began the evening with pre-dinner drinks at the hotel bar.

LEFT and ABOVE: It's that man again - Antonín Dvořák memorial and hotel

ABOVE: And it's that tipple again, now in its home town

We then set out in search of dinner, mildly startled by how cold it had become, but also marvelling at how quiet the streets now were, following the departure of what must have been large numbers of day-trippers. Finding that our chosen restaurant appeared to be closed, we settled for what we could find and enjoyed a hearty meal of traditional Czech fare. The local Hotel Dvořák had an attractive bar and provided the perfect spot for a nightcap.

Based on what we had seen so far, there was no doubt that this latest destination was another winner!

Tuesday 04 Mar

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