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I finally found out what that means!
If you are at all like me, you would have grown up reading novels of exotic faraway places, larger than life characters, spice bazaars, ancient battles, conquerors. I would read anything that would take me away to some other place and time. Often I would come across some princess or nobleman going away to “take the waters.” It was implied that this was a way to relax, to get away from the daily stress of the palace or manor house, but I never really understood it.
Sure, I’ve been to spa hotels, places with thermal pools, hamams, Roman baths. But is this what they meant? I think I came closest in Budapest when some friends took me to a steaming well and ordered a cup of boiling, noxious-smelling water for me to drink. They said it was going to “clean” me out!
Then we went to the spa town, Karlovy Vary, in the Czech Republic. Only a short drive from our new home, we just had to cross the border and take the river road; we were able to leave after work and arrive before dinner. As we entered this town full of colorful baroque buildings, we knew right away we were in for a treat.
The King of Bohemia, and Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV founded Karlovy Vary. His capital city was Prague, only 120 kilometers away. So, he would take his men hunting near the confluence of the two rivers, the Ohře and Teplá, where he and his men discovered the steaming waters. The town immediately started receiving tourists and people who wanted to heal their ills. Many famous people have spent time taking the waters here to include: Beethoven, Chopin, Ataturk, and Goethe to name a few.
So how does one “take the waters?”
First, there are a surprising number of springs, taps, and wells to locate. You can grab a map of suggested routes from the Tourist Information Center as well as many of the hotels, or you can just wander around and discover them on your own as we did.
Next, and this is a very important step, you need to have your own drinking vessel. You can bring a cup, but because of the hot temperatures it is better to buy one in a kiosk special made for taking the waters. The porcelain drinking mugs are thoughtfully fitted with a built-in straw, or spout, to sip the waters from so it is harder to burn your lips and mouth. You still need to be very careful as the water comes out of the ground at varying temperatures, some scalding.
Once you have obtained your drinking vessel, you are ready to hit the trail. There are a number of places in town where you can fill up your cup and drink. The waters purportedly heal a number of chronic illnesses such as anything to do with your gastro-instestinal tract, muscles, or nerves, and even some gum disease. However, you should follow a doctor’s prescriptive formula to get the most out of your visit if this is your intent. If you are just there to feel better for a weekend, it is best to take the waters before a meal. Each well is signed to tell you what minerals are contained in the water and how hot it is.
The beautiful surroundings, the quiet paths, the more hectic town center along with the spa hotels, great meals, and an overall peaceful feeling all lend itself to your having a calming, relaxing weekend. If you’re looking for other ways to take the water in the Czech Republic, or if a visit to the hot springs at Karlovy Vary isn’t you’re thing, you might try a trip to Plzen where taking the waters means a visit to the world famous Pilsner Urquell Brewery, or a luxury spa day at the Purkmistr Beer Baths.
It is important that you take being calm and peaceful very seriously, and not interfere with the other patients or water-takers. There are signs all over the place to remind you how to act and not to act. Some of them were rather funny. My favorites are: “No men in hats smoking cigars, no boxers, and no beach balls.”
On our trip we stayed at the Hotel Romance Pushkin (http://www.hotelromance.cz/en/). This is a comfortable, affordable hotel only a few steps away from the river and all of the wells and springs. Karlovy Vary hotels range in level from budget to top-end; check out the best hotels in Karlovy Vary here! We drove into town from Germany and were able to drive to the hotel which offered parking. You can also take a bus or train from Prague in a little over 2 hours. See the official website for more information: http://www.karlovyvary.cz/en