Karlovy Vary: The Road to Wellville
A Filipino filmmaker goes to a European spa town.
by Dodo Dayao | August 25, 2015
People go to Karlovy Vary to get healed. And when they come, they come in droves. Old and young, foreign and local, with ailments both visible and invisible.
There was a biker gang speckled with tattoos and dressed in denim and leather with more muscles than me, only they were on motorized wheelchairs. It’s been this way for centuries, though, ever since Charles IV allegedly bathed his injured foot in the Karlsbad Springs and inadvertently discovered its healing properties.
There are close to 80 sources and 13 are used for drinking cures. Ingestion has been known to treat disorders ranging from the metabolic to the neurological to the gastrointestinal. Visitors to Karlovy Vary use special porcelain spa cups to scoop water from basins in sanitariums built around these sources.
Beethoven apparently paid regular visits back in the day. He and Goethe were said to be seen wandering around town, chilling between treatments.
Richard Gere and Harvey Keitel were there the same week I was. Not exactly Goethe and Beethoven, sure, but I didn’t get to see them either. They were there for a film festival, as was I. And Karlovy Vary was in the grip of it.
I think the biker gang was actually there to party. People were everywhere, milling at the parks with the living statues. The painters hawking their works and the street musicians, including this really funky jazz fusion quartet, playing. The immediate festival environs were a virtual 24/7 fairground of mostly vegetarian food. Also, there was more beer than water and you could start drinking at 10AM.
It was, in a word, paradise. I wondered aloud to someone how quiet the town would be like when the circus, such as it were, was not in town. I was told this was how it was all year round, daytime drinking included.
Which is not to say that Karlovy Vary is a hub of bustle. Despite the explosion of people, despite the festive charge in the air, there seemed to be a permanently blissed-out languor running through the place.
We were told you could walk the entire breadth of the town in less than a day. I took the challenge, but I jogged. I’m not sure if I went the distance but the further away I got from the main town square, where most of the shops and restaurants and hotels were, and the deeper I got into the outskirts, where the nature trails and art galleries and the residences and this wonderful little musical instrument store were, the serenity seemed to get more and more pronounced.
I obviously didn’t go there for healing, but not only was my diet and physical regime the healthiest I’ve sustained for this long, the air was tinged with enough endorphin to last me weeks. I may not have tasted their magic water. But the effect of my one week in Karlovy Vary was every bit as rehabilitative.
A lot of this was partly the calming effect of holidays, partly festival fever, and partly because it was my first time in Europe. But Karlovy Vary felt like a gorgeous, warm embrace.