Friday, January 04, 2008

Karlovy Vary

On Christmas Day, we went to Karlovy Vary, located about 85 miles (140 km) and a 1 ½ hour drive from Prague. As we went through rural Czech Republic, I admired the frosty trees. With our group, we took a tour of the town, famous for its hot springs. We walked past several fancy spa resort hotels. A river, also kept warm with thermal waters, flows through the center of much of the town. A fair number of mallard ducks were enjoying themselves in the warm water, including a few female mallards that began having a squabble. Following the river, we entered the utilitarian (but not pretty) Russian building, which contains the Thermal Spring, the largest of the mineral springs. It can spurt up to 40 feet high (12 meters) and is also the hottest, at 161°F (72°C). Olja bought of the traditional “porcelain” cups, so we each had a drink of the highly-concentrated and hot mineral water. Drinking the water is supposed to be good for digestive disorders.

Back outside in the winter air, our group walked past the Mill Colonnade, a highly controversial building with 124 Corinth-style columns completed in 1881. Many of the residents, when the cover was finally withdrawn from the building construction, were aghast, particularly at how the building looked horribly out of place with the rather harmonious look of the town. I would have to agree. Interestingly enough, the building was used in a James Bond movie that was supposed to take place in the mafia-filled country of Montenegro. Karlovy Vary also has some increasing problems with mafia, particularly by Russians who are also buying up a lot of property and exerting undue influence. I did see a surprising number of Russian Cyrillic signs and Olja noted that there were quite a few Russians entering the fancy shops.

Next to the Mill Colonnade is the Market Colonnade, a wooden structure inspired by Swiss architecture and built in 1883. It was meant to cover the mineral springs for a couple of years only, but local authorities decided to keep it and reconstructed the white lacy wood work building. Crossing one of the pedestrian bridges, the St. Mary Magdalene Church, built in the Baroque style in 1737 was prominent.

After lunch, we traversed the streets, peeking into the shop windows and admiring the colorful architecture. Due to a devastating fire in 1604 that destroyed everything except 3 houses, there was nothing that was significantly old. Art Nouveau/Secessionist architectural styles were noted in a number of buildings. Most were very well preserved and freshly painted. For the wealthy, Moser glassware and Thun porcelain were local specialties to be purchased. For the average person, buying the Becherovka herbal liqueur, Mattoni mineral water, or spa wafers were much more affordable. Olja and I tried the thin, but large cookie wafers filled with a selection of flavors, but we didn’t find them all that flavorful. After a pleasant walk through the town, we boarded the local transport bus (very crowded) that took us back to the parking lot and headed back to Prague.

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