Personal Treatments

Trip Start Dec 16, 2007
Trip End Feb 24, 2008

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Flag of Czech Republic  ,
Friday, December 21, 2007

We moved on from Nuremburg this morning, boarding a Regional Express from the Hauptbahnhof after another Ibis breakfast. The Regional Express was originally formed by 3 2-car diesel triebvagen (railcars). As we had been advised when we made our seat reservations a few days prior these 3 individual railcar sets were to split throughout the journey, with each bound for a different terminus. Our set to Cheb was the lead unit and our small (16 seat) first class section was devoid of any other passengers, providing a private traveling experience adjoining the driver's cab.

Departure was on time and the train proceeded at a nice speed of 140km/h through the outskirts of Nuremburg, passing many small stations. During this first leg Dad and I went up to the vestibule behind the driver and looked at the track ahead though the window in the cab door. The driver noticed us, opened the door and, in perfect English, asked us where we were from, where we were going to and told us that we could film through the cab if we wanted to. This friendliness helped set the mood for the trip, which after our first stop and loss of the rear triebvagen, picked up with the use of the train's tilting capabilities.

We sped up a river valley, tilting heavily into the corners before diving into tunnels to reach our destination in the most efficient manner. The scenery was stunning: cold frosted fields, sleepy valley towns, mountains and valleys with stunning rock outcrops. After traveling pretty much express for a while we stopped at Pegnitz to lose the 2nd triebvagen and continue alone. The service then ran all stops to Marktredwitz, where we faced a timetabled 20 minute wait. During this layover another DB railcar, a private (Arriva Trains) Vogtlandbahn railcar and a diesel-hauled mixed freight and coal service from the Czech Republic passed us at the station. Once again on time, the service departed for its terminus at Cheb with the ride changing noticeably. Firstly, there was now only a single track through the corridor and, as we approached the Czech Republic, the track changed from continuous welded rail to retro individual sections bolted together. This of course meant slower traveling and that distinctive "clickety clack" sound.

At the station before Cheb 2 German Politzei hopped aboard to check that we had passports as we were leaving Germany. Arrival into Cheb presented an obvious change in built form; however the natural scenery was much the same. While the track from Germany had been unwired the Czech Railways had electrified all of the Czech lines, including the yard at Cheb and our onward trip to Mariánské Lázne. The 10 minute connection from our DB train was not the issue it could have been as our train arrived perfectly on time and the onward train was due into the platform across from the on which we arrived. Technically both trains were on platform 2, but just other sides of the island platform structure, it was an odd setup as usually this would be labeled as 2 different platforms.

Our train from Cheb had originated at Karlovy Vary and was formed by an electric locomotive hauling 3 simple, 2nd class only carriages. We hopped into the rear section of the last carriage and had the cabin pretty much to ourselves, only to find that the rear bogie suffered from a flat tyre. Luckily our all-stop journey on the single track line lasted only a little over 30 minutes so we didn't have to put up with the constant thudding of the wheels for too long. The absence of onboard announcements worried the parents but Charles and I played the look-out-the-window game to ensure that we would get out of the train at the right station in a timely manner.

Mariánské Lázne's station is at the southern edge of the town and does not have an ATM. As such we arrived without any way to pay for a taxi or buy a trolleybus (buses powered by overhead wires) fare and thus decided to walk up into the town itself. It took us about 20 minutes to follow the trolleybus wires up the hill and find our hotel in the town's main valley. Our hotel, Villa Butterfly, caters specifically for German tourists, which was a comfort for Dad, knowing that he could still use his German to get around. In fact Mariánské Lázne, or Marienbad as it was originally named (German language) is so German-oriented that almost all people speak German in addition to Czech and most places accept Euros for payment in addition to the local currency.

Being a spa town, most hotels in Mariánské Lázne have an extensive spa treatment program and indeed Villa Butterfly is no exception. The catalogue is quite extensive, ranging from thermal baths, massages and mud packs to cold packing, manual lymph drainage, diadynamic stimulus current therapy and CO2 natural gas injections. Needless to say we are yet to consider any of these treatments although many guests at the hotel appear to be staying on full board, including doctor consultation, recommended treatment and food in accordance with the doctor's recommendations.

In contrast we're staying here to see the town itself, where Dad's father grew up prior to the war and his family home was repossessed by the US troops. Our main goal was to find my grandfather's house, a 4 storey building on a sloping street corner that was originally called "Villa Waldeck". To this end we walked through some streets that we thought had some potential on the way back from lunch but had no luck. We do have the old address details of the house but since the end of the war the town and its streets have been renamed into their Czech names and thus the old details are relatively useless. On our way out to visit the tourist centre and see the town's gondola that runs up the mountain we decided to check the street at the end of our hotel. To our surprise there was the house, just across the side street from the hotel! It appears to be in a good condition and to be unchanged externally from the photos we have of it in its original condition. Dad was too timid to knock on the door although it appears that there are 4 different people living in this house that used to be occupied by only my grandfather, his 2 parents and their servants.

After this win we were deflated when the tourist centre staff informed us that the gondola would not be operating due to the lack of snow. Undeterred we walked onward into the town's central park, which fills most of the valley floor of the town. From the frosty park we decided to see for ourselves that the gondola was non-operational and thus walked to the end of the valley and up the hill a little. The tourist centre was right. As it is a part of the town's modest ski field the gondola was not running. This is a disappointment considering that there are some attractions at the summit that operate independent of the ski field and the only other way of getting there is by road or the bus that runs only 6 times a day. By this time it was getting quite dark anyway and we were beginning to freeze so it was best we head back to the hotel to warm up and think about making arrangements for dinner.

I typed some of this blog update to fill the time before the hotel's restaurant opened for dinner at 6:30pm. We headed up for the opening time and were treated to a great meal for a modest Czech price. The décor was spa town opulent with chandeliers and our dining experience was enhanced by a harp recital for the entire length of the meal.

This morning began with a quick visit to my personal balcony to experience the freezing crisp morning air, see the fog and, most importantly, take a whiff of that beautiful coal smoke in the air. All of the household fires here seem to burn coal/coke so the smell wafts throughout the town and it is a fantastic experience all day and night! This was of course followed by our complimentary buffet breakfast in the hotel, which was an extensive and filling affair. I particularly enjoyed the cake, profiteroles and biscuits that were available.

Today was a day to explore the town and its surrounding hills, which began with a walk from our hotel across the central park and stream and up the adjacent hill. The ice and limited remaining snow increased as we ascended to reach the town's Hamelika tower. It was built in the late 1800s to look like a medieval ruin and provide a good lookout over the town valley. Due to its proximity to the upper reaches of a part of the ski area there was a nice snowy patch with several Christmas-like pine trees, a few of which had been sawed from their roots and would make for fantastic household Christmas trees.

Mum was very impressed with our decision to descend the hill by walking down the snowy red and black run ski slope in the ski area on foot. We slipped, slid but never fell down the slope in a cautious manner to make it safely to the bottom. A visit to the Municipal Museum proved to be a crazy experience. The museum appears to not have been altered much since the 1970s and indeed the video they put on for - the only guests - was dated 1987, before the fall of the Berlin Wall and should have definitely been rated MA for full body nudity! Other than the video the most memorable part of the museum is the original rooms where the famous German writer Goethe stayed when he visited Marienbad for several seasons.

We passed through the town's central park and main spring to get over to the house that the composer Chopin stayed in when he visited the spa town. Here there was a special exhibition of amber jewellery that did not meat expectations due to its extremely limited size. Amber is in all of the jewellery shops in this town and some of them seemed to have a larger collection than this exhibition. Lunch was at the Winston Churchill pub and restaurant (he too visited this town, before the war) and then we headed home. Today has been probably the coldest we have experienced so far because of the clear conditions. It is impossible to stay outside for long without freezing to death.

I've spent the rest of the afternoon with MTV and completing this entry although Mum and Dad have headed off to check out the southern end of town toward the station in more detail. Tomorrow Charles and I take the train to Plzen, the home of Pilsner Urquell, while Mum and Dad stay here.

For those of you wanting to get a feel for some of the quality music that's big over here at the moment, here are a few artists for you to look up: Jimi Blue, Tokio Hotel (yes, they are all guys) and Cinema Bizarre (yes, these are supposedly all guys as well...)
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