As I described the Karlovy Vary setting a bit yesterday, it shouldn’t take too long to write up today: we “spa’d”! The Russian atmosphere was already there at breakfast, in our hotel, with the Russian morning newspapers and not a Herald Tribune or USA Today in sight. We had made our spa appointments for morning sessions and walked down to the Eden spa (proper name was Zama… something or other), “checked in” and were issued with pre-packed bathrobes and towels and a wristwatch sensor to give access to our changing cubicles and the pools.
The Eden was a smart stylish place, recently revamped and rather how I imagine a luxury spa hotel “back home” to be, quite different from the “poor” spa at the other end. The central area had a good-sized pool, in which a few bathing-hatted heads were bobbing, looking like curious fish or birds. It gave the impression of a holding pool, from which the white-coated attendants called up the next patient, and made a very comical impression on me. Scattered around were various ancillary spa bits: a “Japanese massage” (a shower with jets along the length), two pools for stepping in and out – one very cold, the other very hot – to promote circulation in your legs. This was the Kneipp hydrotherapy, a “minor” treatment which we had chosen as part of our package (one major, one minor).
For the “major” we had chosen a massage, i.e. a normal traditional hands-on rubbing massage. Ness had had one several years ago at the Aveda place at Harrods, as part of a birthday treat from me, and she had not really enjoyed it, just coming out all greasy and oily. As for me, I had never had a massage before, wary of someone rubbing my flabby bod, but here it was different and we were less conscious of the need for “body beautiful” with so many wrinklies and beer bellies in evidence at the spas, saunas and baths we have been to in these past months. Somehow this seemed like a final inhibition to shed, anyway… we showed our appointment cards and then went to float in the pool until they called us.
Underwater jets around the edge created a slow circular stream around the pool, and by just floating, holding your breath, you floated around and around the pool. At times the jets were switched to a higher setting and you could hold on to the rails and let yourself be massaged by the jets – same as in Siguldas, Latvia. We had our two “treatments”. First the “minor”, the Kneipp hydrotherapy, stepping back and forth in the hold and cold pools.
Later we had our “major”, the massage. Surprisingly, my masseuse was a rather good-looking woman, not a thick-set not-taking-any-nonsense Slav with thick arms as I had imagined, but a tall blonde/silver-haired steely-blue-eyed and vaguely mysteriously smiling woman (think Cameron Diaz), and I felt rather self-conscious. Anyway, in for a penny and all that. The private room felt more like a doctor’s surgery, with the bench on which I had to lie down on my stomach. The massage itself was wonderful, a warm feeling of well-being spreading throughout as my back was rubbed, pummelled, knuckled, etc. Gentle music and the occasional grunt from me which were expelled involuntarily by the masseuse’s magical hands as she applied pressure. Ness enjoyed her massage too, both of us utterly relaxed and tingling. “We’re doing this again!” we both thought.
For a while we just chilled out and sat in our bathrobes on the wooden reclining chairs. Ness went off for her “minor”, I think – it’s all blurring a little now. We had cups of tea, and I wrote my diary for a while. As we were sat there in our post-massage bliss a large group of Chinese tourists came in for their sessions and it was comical to observe them. The exasperated Czech staff tried to keep control over the excited Chinese as they went wandering off here, there and everywhere, yabbering excitedly. Brilliant.
We finished at the spa, bought some souvenir cups at the stalls in the Vřídelní kolonáda, and ambled through town towards the Pupp hotel, behind which was the funicular station. We took the ride towards the top of the wooded hill and at the top there was a wooden rustic café/restaurant with a sunny open-air terrace where we stopped to have some lunch and a lovely Czech beer. I bought souvenirs for Mama and Mischa, and also for Frank and Teresa and for Luis and Pia. [...] We had a nice Czech lunch, and the atmosphere was “Polish” – we have started to use this as an adjective to describe the informal and friendly atmosphere of places, although the Czechs are a little stiffer, a bit more “German”, but I’m generalising again.
After lunch we went up the viewing tower, and feeling lazy we took the lift rather than the stairs. From the top we had splendid views across Karlovy Vary, across the winding river with the mansions and hotels spread on the hillsides and the thick green forest all around. We could clearly see the key buildings and the geyser and theatre below. From here we strolled through the woods, back downhill, and ended up behind the Pupp. A lovely little stroll through the woods. Back in town we had a drink on the café terrace set up on a little bridge across the canal, and then walked back to our hotel.
We asked to open the sauna/whirlpool and had to wait an hour to give them time to do whatever. We took a quick a peak inside the Russian orthodox church next to the hotel, where a “mass” was in progress, although the orthodox liturgy is quite a different kind of service, with the “priest” leading the proceedings with a small group of “worshippers” standing huddled together, the sound of the Russian voices, the chanting priest, etc. Outside, the golden onion domes of the church were lit up by the afternoon sunshine and set off clearly against the bright blue sky. We had to wait a little for our sauna/whirlpool and then went down to the small compact wellness centre, which we had all to ourselves, the size of a large bathroom, with a sauna cabin, a whirlpool and a shower which doubled as steam cubicle (only big enough for one person at a time). We switched between the three, getting quite good at this relaxation stuff. We cooled down a little and then got ready to go out for dinner.
We’re both so acutely aware that these are the last days and moments of our incredible world trip, and that it is now rapidly drawing to a close. Naturally we’re keen to enjoy it to the last, and these last moments have become even more special. We haven’t started to “reminisce” yet – that’ll be a pleasure to be savoured slowly over many years to come – but we do often compare things and places to others we have seen or been to, and that’s very long list by now! I digress… So, we went out for one of our final nights out, keen to pick a nice spot, not “perfect” but just convivial and with good food. We both felt totally relaxed and had that tingling “damn, I feel good” all over sensation and were in high spirits. It wasn’t that late yet but in quiet Karlovy Vary many places were already closed or clearly had just had the last few customers polishing off their meals. We managed to get a table in the Puškin restaurant/hotel, a nice table for two in the large well-lit grand room. Around us and on the outside balcony, bit by bit the few other customers settled their bills, until we were left as the last customers and slowly made our way back to our hotel, past the mansions and hotels, some dark, others lit up and with sounds of music and conversation. Fresh night air, stars above us, wonderful.