Once upon a time we were able to travel without any restrictions. Well, it depends on how powerful your passport was, but now traveling is more complicated then you think. During these times (COVID19) we had to do our part while fighting this pandemic. For some of us this meant to not travel, which is easier said than done. For months we practiced social distance and quarantine and our lives our put on hold while trying to contain this situation and trying to flatten the curve. However, after months of being standing still, the restrictions, one by one, started to be lifted and the trains, buses and planes started to run again.
Honestly, living as an expat during a pandemic is more stressful as not only you need to worry about your health (and a possible hospitalization in an institution with personnel that does not speak English) but you also need to worry about your legal status in the country you’ve been living in, where the rules change at 6am and you need to wake up earlier just to read the news and see what new limitation you need to obey (happy to comply, though). But all this being said, I want to say thank you for everyone who wore a mask, washed their hands, did not go out unless necessary, went to work, obeyed the rules and were kinder in this period.
Once life started to be back normal and I had to legally take my vacation I was wondering where can I go so that I can recharge my batteries. And the answer was not very obvious, but I am very grateful that I eventually got to it. So, one Sunday I just went to Western Bohemia.
Western Bohemia is located in the West (duh!) part of the Czech Republic and is is mostly known for its luxurious spa cities. However, this region is not just that!
My exploration started in Pilsen, the city which produces the best Czech beer (according to the connaiseurs). The city dates back to 1295 and it prospered due to its location which allowed a wealthy trade history, especially of goods coming from Germany. However, due to several fires in the 16th century, much of the city center was destroyed and it had to be rebuilt.
It’s main square is probably the best place to start your exploration of the city. All around it there are elegant gothic and renaissance buildings, with Pilsen’s most significant monuments such as the Cathedral of St. Bartholomew, the Town Hall and the Plague Column. Moreover, even the noble houses are so beautifully built that they attract any curious eye.
Not far away you will find the Puppet Museum, the Patton Museum, the theater, the Great Synagogue and the Pilsner Urquell brewery.
If you also have the time, be sure to venture into the historical underground, a maze of tunnels and cellars. The underground was not only used for beer-making process or keeping the ice but was also a key part of the city’s defenses during a siege.
From Pilsen, just a short drive away you enter into the spa region of the country. The most well known spa-cities are Karlovy Vary, Mariánské Lázně, and Františkovy Lázně (also known by their German names, Karlsbad, Marienbad, and Franzensbad, respectively) and these places were built especially to attend to the needs of the rich and famous. People like Goethe, Beethoven, Karl Marx and England’s King Edward VII were freequent visitors. However, after the Second World War the spas suffered a lot, as their purpose was against the beliefs of the communist regime. Many spas became hospitals and hence the purpose of the cities (medical tourism) changed too.
My first stop was the underrated Mariánské Lázně. Founded in 1273 (!) this city had a dramatic makeover in the second half of the 19th century. That is why everything looks so new and colorful and rich. I spend the first couple of hours just walking around the town and I am pretty sure I still did not discover everything.
The place I was looking mostly forward was the colonnade. This massive golden structure, built of cast iron, serves as the main point of interest in the city and it hosts concerts and outdoor events during the summer.
Here you can have any spa treatment you can think of and you don’t have to have any special arrangements made ahead of time. You can jump in the Roman Baths anytime you want. I highly recommend the sauna and steam room.
From Mariánské Lázně you can head directly to Karlovy Vary, or you can make a stop in Teplá. The monastery from Teplá served the Premonstratensians for centuries, until the end of World War II. In 1950 it was closed and it was used as a garrison for 28 years. After the army left them, the building fell into disrepair and neglect. After 1990 the building was given back to the Premonstratensian Order and they started to reconstruct the premises.
Should you decide to visit, you will see not only the Romanesque chapel, a park, a museum and a cemetery, but also an unique library which contains 100,000 volumes making it the second largest historical library in Bohemia.
The most mandatory stop to be made in Western Bohemia is Karlovy Vary. Since the 19th century Karlovy Vary was the place to be in, and the Old Town stands today as a testament to its continuous appeal. Everywhere you are, all you will see are neo-renaissance and baroque promenades, colonnades and hotels, and of course, thermal springs. I have to admit that I had the mos fun here. One of the factors which contributed what the fact that my hotel was empty. There was no staff and no other guests. It felt like I was the owner of this huge hotel and it was so cool.
If there is one thing that I would recommend to do here, besides walking in the city (you definitely need to stop by Stará Louka and the Market Colonnade) and the spa treatments, would be to go up to Diana Tower Lookout (either by funicular or by foot, you decide) for some amazing views.
From this magical place you can go to another magical place. And this is how I ended up in Loket (I was looking for magic, of course). Perhaps the most picturesque little town in the region, Loket has a history that starts in the 12th century and a castle which is ready to tell you all about it. Somehow, the charm of this small town has been preserved here, even though Loket is shown quite a lot in the cinema (“Casino Royal”, “All Quiet on the Western Front”, “Genius”) and it is a preferred shooting location due to its incredible “time-standing-still” atmosphere.
And to be honest, this is the general feeling of the region. Time definitely moved on, but Western Bohemia is embracing its chilling vibe.