Hope springs eternal

You say you want a revolution. Well you know, we all want to change the world

John Lennon, Revolution, 1968

In 1968 John Lennon was telling the citizens of the world who were daring to rise up against their oppressors that everything was going to be all right.

It didn’t seem that way then to the people of Prague and Czechoslovakia. Five days prior to the record’s release tanks had rolled into Wenceslas Square to put down their peaceful democratic uprising, the Prague Spring.

Among the protestors was playwright Vaclav Havel who 21 years later would help throw off the Communists’ shackles with the Velvet or Gentle Revolution. Lennon was right, everything would be all right.

Give peace a chance: At the Lennon Wall in Prague

I am stood at the Lennon Wall in Prague, my two fingers up in a peace sign. The Czechs had put two fingers up to the Communists themselves again in the 80s when they daubed Lennon lyrics on the wall off the main square under the watchful eye of the authorities.

They had brought colour back to their city… the grandeur around Prague, the Castle, the Astronomical Clock, the Charles Bridge with its more than 30 Baroque statues, then it had been allowed to decay for four decades… in its place a grey architecture and the world’s second ugliest building, a transmitter rocket TV tower with babies climbing up the rigging, yes, you did read that right.

Proud: Prague

There is a spring back in the Czechs’ step now in 2016 , this year they are celebrating the seven-hundredth anniversary of the birth of the Father of the Czechs, King Charles IV, and I am happy to join these proud, passionate people and wish them Nostravia.

You might have heard they like a beer, they are in fact the biggest ale drinkers in the world which they are extremely proud about… It’d be us if our beer was only this good. I recommend Longin Polotmavy Special Ruby beer from the brewery in the castle town of Loket especially with their spit roast pig and sweet apple pie.

In truth though the Czechs have always had a spring in their step… it’s probably all that spring water they drink. And they have Charles IV to thank too for that.

I’ve only come today to where it all started, Karlovy Vary (Charles IV), two hours from Prague, where the Holy Roman Emperor, as he was, came upon a hot spring by accident while out hunting and used it to attend his wounds.

I will have my war wounds attended to too on this Wellness trip in a mineral bath while an oxygen hit clears the hangover like nothing else. I give the female mud fertility treatment a miss for obvious reasons. 

Karlovy Vary is the epicentre of an area known as the Spa Triangle which also includes Frantiskovy Lazne and Marianske Lazne.

I am strolling through this idyllic town’s collonades, holding my ceramic beaker with its tiny spout, or sippy cup, as one of our party refers to it. I feel like a local, everyone has a beaker and everyone is drawing warm salty healing water from the 12 taps.

Pleased to meet you: Emperor Franz Josef and King Edward VII

It’s how Peter the Great and Goethe must have felt too. They too came here to take the waters. 

The best spring though is No.13, the herbal liqueur Becherovka, the Czechs’ national drink. It contains cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and other ingredients and was originally developed as a medical stomach settler.

We sample it at the Jan Becher Museum which also opens up its lecture room/bar to us. The cocktail of choice at The Grand Hotel Pupp is Dry Martini where the gaming scene in Casino Royale was shot.

Karlovy Vary is a film town, it held its 51st Film Festival this year and its Walk of Stars with footprints of the rich and famous fronts the Hotel Pupp. We visit the Xx hotel which houses two cinemas and they have been good enough to roll out the red carpet for us and get the bubbly out.

A great drink deserves a great glass to quaff from… Karlovy Vary has thought of everything and has the celebrated Moser glassworks on the outskirts.

We observe the skills of the glassblowers before seeing the finished article and inspect the walls adorned with pictures of royals, celebrities and holy men who have clinked its crystal.

Frantiskovy Lazne and Mariansky Lazne have their famous visitors too,  from Beethoven to Queen Victoria’s son King Edward VII who fell in love with a milliner in the town and kept coming back. Here he is in bronze in the centre of Mariansky Lezny with Franz Josef, Austro-Hungarian Emperor and uncle of Franz Ferdinand, yes that Franz Ferdinand.

Those damned paparazzi: Karlovy Vary

But it is Edward’s cabin and his copper bath which I’m here for.

They are in the town’s most famous hotel, the Neuwe Lazne and I have just walked 800 metres through the corridors of another hotel and a grand dance hall to get to Neuwe’s Roman Baths.

While Florence’s Medicis had their elevated pavement to stop them from having to mingle with the Great Unwashed Mariazny has its labyrinth of hotels and underground corridors and I’m about to be washed cleaner than I’ve ever been before.

If it wasn’t for the fact that I’m wearing trunks with fishes on them I could imagine I’m an emperor myself, soaking as I am in this mosaic palace with its marble pillars.

I drag myself out and drag my shorts off… it’s the custom in saunas in the continent. Your water treatments too!

This sauna also has an Amazonian Forest simulator. I am too relaxed. I go to the overhanging bucket of water, pull the cord and shriek with joy. 

Water show: Marianske Lazne

In Marianske Lazne it’s water, water everywhere and for the encore I visit the Singing Fountain for the evening performance where an orchestrated dance of the fountain jets set to Czech music rounds off the night under the stars.

The jets even bow to us on our round of applause. What a curtain call to my three days in the Spa Triangle.

I cannot leave the Czech Republic though without thanking my host, Charles IV, our guides Katerina and Martina deserve honourable mentions too for their patience and encyclopaedic recall – they really were founts of all knowledge.

Sippy cup: With the magic water

I spend my last morning back in Prague on Charles’s bridge. I tap my feet to the jazz band, only bettered by the jumpin’ trio who entertained us the previous night in Mariazne Lezny, and then waft away to the classical violin. I stroll along the wide Vlatva river and take pictures of the river boat.

The swans make their own way, there’s always one black scene-stealing one though, isn’t there?

Swanning around: The Vlatva

A wedding party has the same idea. I browse the souvenir stores and look through those end-of-the-pier viewfinder glasses… at the scenes of the Castle, obviously!

And I stumble upon the Franz Kafka Museum. Two everyman statues occupy the foreground, their waists swivelling mechanically and they are peeing water onto a map of the Czech Republic.

I discover that it signifies politicians urinating on the country…  I will recommend to our OPW that we erect such statues on my return home.

Should I draw from it… well, I have been drinking warm salty water  all week after alI. I opt instead for a glass of Pilsener Urquell. Nostravia King Charles IV and here’s to another 700 years.

HOW TO GET THERE

Ryanair www.ryanair.com and Aer Lingus www.aerlinguys.com fly to Prague regularly. For latest deals follow these websites.

WHERE TO STAY

Hotel Lindner, Prague www.lindner.de/en/prague-hotel-prague-castle/. Hotel Ametyst, Prague. www.hotelametyst.com. Hotel Imperial, Karlovy Vary. www.karlovyvary.cz/en/hotel-imperial. Danubius Health Spa Resort, Nove Lazne. www.danubiushotels.com. Hotel Hvezda, Maria Spa, Marianske Lazne. www.danubiushotels.com



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