Czech Pont Charlie – Karlovy Vary & Loket, Czech Republic

Karlovy Vary

Founded in 1370 by Charles IV, King of Bohemia, Karlovy Vary is renowned for its thermal springs and is the largest spa town in the Czech Republic. ‘Karl’ is Czech for Charles and ‘Vary’ derives from the Czech word vařit which means ‘boil’, so roughly translated, Karlovy Vary means something like, ‘Charlie’s Hot Tub.’

Charlie also has a bridge. Charles Bridge in Prague is named after the same king and could quite feasibly be known as Czech Pont Charlie.

I thank you.

Our walk into Karlovy Vary had a bit of a whiff, probably from the mineral springs

Our campsite, Camp Vary, was on the top of one of the many hills that overlook Karlovy Vary. From there, we walked into town through a mixed conifer and beech wood. Although the morning temperature was edging towards 30C, it was cool in the forest, which afforded us some lovely previews of the eclectic mix of tall, colourful buildings and folly towers through gaps in the trees.

The town itself had all the grace of a bygone era, but felt a little past its prime. A strong smell of drains assaulted our nostrils as we entered the town, although this may have been a result of the minerals in the water. However, a huge pipe running along the Teplá river did nothing to add to the view! A few people sat at pavement cafés along the river, although the smell would have put me off my food.

One of the horse-drawn carriages in Karlovy Vary

As we continued into the town, the smell subsided. Horse drawn carriages plied their way past the ornate and imposing, multi-storey facades on our side of the river. Facing us on the opposite side were elaborate colonnades, which house the mineral springs for all-weather enjoyment. A violinist played in front of the largest, the Mill Colonnade. He delivered a few curious renditions; his version of My Way was memorable, particularly the second movement, which attracted the accompaniment of a howling dog.

The Mill Colonnade, Karlovy Vary

Since we were out of data, we searched for a phone shop to buy a data SIM. Our mission failed, so we crossed the river to console ourselves with coffee and a cake. In stark contrast to Germany, where such a treat rarely saw change from a €20 note, our delicious apple strudel and ultra-caffeinated latte for two cost the equivalent of about £3. Welcome to Czechia!

Our shady table had a view of what looked like an ornate band stand, which was home to a small and undistinguished watery eruption. I was perplexed to see lots of people taking selfies next to the barely perceptible burble, which prompted me to say the first of two stupid things,

“What are people doing filling their water bottles from THAT?” I demanded of Mark.

“It’s a spa, Jackie, like Bath. They are taking the waters!”

Then I saw a Dachshund and wondered aloud,

“Is the German for Dachschund Wurst Hund – sausage dog?”

Mark launched straight into full-on mocking mode.

“You’re worse than George W. Bush! ‘That’s the trouble with the Germans, they have no word for Dachschund!’” he scoffed, in a paraphrase of W’s reputed beration of our Gallic cousins,

That’s the trouble with the French, they have no word for entrepreneur.

George W. Bush
Mark tries to hide his slightly mocking face after the second of my stupid utterances!

The signage was not hugely clear, but two police approached us very politely to advise of the dog restrictions in the colonnades,

“Dogs are not allowed on this side of the river.”

“Sorry. We have seen lots of dogs there, so we thought it was okay.”

“There are, because many people don’t respect the rule!”

We crossed to the other side, from where we could still enjoy the architecture, if not more bubbling springs.

The canine inhabitants of Karlovy Vary were all very smart; groomed to within an inch of their lives. We saw a Chinese Crested trotting along in a neat, pink jacket, although the majority of the puppy population did not deign to walk. Most were clutched beneath designer-clad arms or languished in the expensive handbags of Beautiful People.

As budget-conscious early-retirees, we groom The Fab Four ourselves. At the best of times, their hairstyles fall well within the realms of ‘rustic’. By the time we reached Karlovy Vary, they had run 4km through the a forest. Then, after lying in the shade under our table in the café, they all emerged covered in dead leaves!

It always makes me smile when I see little boys with untidy hair, scuffed knees and their socks around their ankles. In the same way, I like that our pups are ‘proper’ dogs and get to do doggie things. Nevertheless, it was no surprise that the Pawsers of Karlovy Vary looked down their noses at us and dragged their pampered pooches away from our punky pack!

The Market Colonnade, Karlovy Vary

Smart shops lined the streets, some of which contained the most unbelievably tasteless objets d’art. If you were looking to kit out your Bohemian castle, Karlovy Vary would be a good place to source your ostentatious chandeliers and gold-plated grandfather clocks.

Although it was quite a climb back to the campsite, the path wound around the hillside, following the blue and white striped markers, so the ascent was barely noticeable. It was a most enjoyable diversion!

My arty shot of the Market Colonnade, Karlovy Vary

In the afternoon, we took a drive to Loket, a delightful medieval town with a stunning, hilltop castle. Loket is where James Bond and Vesper Lind meet their MI6 contact in the film Casino Royale, but you can be forgiven for thinking it is in Montenegro, as portrayed in the film! 

Loket

On the way there, we stopped at a large Tesco, since we were out of data and had been told in Karlovy Vary that supermarkets often sell SIM cards. It took about half an hour of sign language, but Mark did return triumphant with a data SIM for 3GB of data, which cost about £8. This was somewhat more appealing than the charges in Germany and should keep us online for the week or so that we planned to be in the Czech Republic. We also filled up with fuel for approximately 84p per litre. I know that fuel prices have gone down because of coronavirus, but when we left the U.K., diesel cost around £1.50 per litre. We wished we had a bigger tank!

Loket with its ‘elbow’ in the river

Loket, we decided, was our kind of place. It was small, pretty and pedestrianised, in the centre at least. Loket means ‘elbow’ in Czech, and is a reference to how the Ohře river cradles the town in the crook of its arm. The current was very slack, so it would have been a great place to get out the SUPs (Stand Up Paddleboards), although we opted just to walk around. The Pawsome Foursome rounded off their day of shady forest walks with a swim, so it was a most satisfactory doggie day!

Loket street – note the Suvenyry shop as this will become important later

Loket seemed to have been very popular with German writer Goethe – he stayed in one of the hotels many times and there was a quote in Czech and German on the wall. Mark and I stopped for a beer opposite and I commented,

“It’s like the Rosetta Stone! German translated into Czech. I wonder what it says.”

Our resident language expert, Mark, didn’t skip a beat,

“Up your ass with a gallon of gas!” he elucidated.

The words of Goethe. I have it on good authority that it says, “Up your ass with a gallon of gas!”

We giggled like naughty schoolchildren as we offered the bastardised words of Goethe as a toast to celebrate our new-found fluency in Czech. On our trip around town, we had seen a shop selling Suvenyry – Souvenirs. In Tesco’s we had bought Krakersy – cheese biscuits and had quickly worked out that Pivo is beer – a variation on a similar theme in many Slavic languages. And according to our neighbour, Jan, Mapy is Map. Sorted!  

As fluent Czech speakers, we guessed that Pivovar means brewery!

That night, I had a horrible, disturbed sleep, and dreamed that Mark was being executed! Throughout our life together, Mark has been able to conjure up silver linings from the darkest of clouds. When I got the body-blow of losing my job, it was,

“Well, we were thinking of giving up work, so this gives us a chance to learn to manage with less cash coming in, rather than losing two well-paid jobs at once.”

In my dream, in his insuppressibly positive way, he held my hand and told me,

“Not many couples got the chance to be together at the moment of death!”

It was a pure Monty Python moment, which reminded me of the film Life of Brian. In the final scene, Eric Idle’s character sings, ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ to cheer up Brian while they are all being crucified.

Thankfully, Mark’s shackles in the dream were some form of puzzle, so with his excellent lateral-thinking skills he did manage to escape.

Nevertheless, I was pleased and relieved that it started raining and woke me up before the situation got any further out of hand!

Locket, Mocket. The tone of Mark’s smile suggests that I may once again have said something stupid!

Today we were in Elbow, that about all description already loves and treats itself as a landscape work of art from all sides.

Might have been me. Might have been Goethe. I like to think I might have been more concise and used better English.

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