AUG. 15 — MARIANSKE LAZNE, Czech Republic
I just got up for the second time to see if it’s still drizzling outside. I’m deep in the forest of the Czech Republic’s West Bohemia region, taken from what old Czechoslovakia was called back in the 19th century. Marianske Lazne is one of the towns in the region dedicated to spas. Nearly every hotel has one. It’s like an entire isolated region in Central Europe is dedicated to the concept of wellness.
I feel beyond well. I feel uplifted, refreshed, strong, spiritual, even orgasmic. I am beyond happy. The only thing that could make me happier is if the sprinkles would stop and I could step out onto my deck and write this while looking out at the thick greenness of the Slatkov Forest. Outside my window is a kaleidoscope of green. The trees and vegetation here are as dense as the Amazon. The temperatures, even in mid-August, are dipping into the mid-50s. After those sweltering afternoons in Rome, rural Czech Republic is like taking a cool shower with a beer in your hand.
Marianske Lazne is about 10 miles from the German border. To reach it, I drove two hours west of Prague through the beautiful, pristine Czech countryside. The government has done such a great job of cleaning up this country, it as if communism was just a bad 44-year dream. I passed pristine farms, cute villages with what looked like fresh coats of paint, a field with dairy cows and sheep.
The perfect Kodak shot of Czech life came when I passed the Krusovice brewery and the few cars in the parking lot were dwarfed by giant stacks of empty beer kegs. It reminded me of my fraternity days and, I admit, I got immediately thirsty.
Pull into Marianske Lazne and you can almost smell the massage oil. Big, beautiful hotels all advertising spa treatments dot the pretty main road and side streets. I’m in a place called Villa St. Georg, on a hill at the very edge of the forest. Quaint trails lead under huge trees into the wilderness. I saw older couples walking hand in hand as they emerged from the foliage. The trail snakes through the forest for 12 kilometers, just enough to make the spa the best of your life.
I’m not into spas. I’m not into massages. I’ve had one professional massage and a number of amateur ones from a bevy of ex-girlfriends. None of them were as satisfying as a hot shower and a good book. But the menu the St. Georg desk clerk handed over lists something for everybody: acupuncture, laser therapy, four cell galvanic bath, oxygen inhalation. However, I think I’ll pass on the colon hydrotherapie. That sounds like something left over by the Nazis.
The hotel is romance on the level of fairy tale honeymoons. It has two balconies, one with a table between two chairs looking down into the thick forest. The other is lined with a flower box filled with purple and white petunias and overlooks a trail that dips under towering lindens, the national tree of the Czech Republic. The red and white outdoor furniture of an outdoor beer garden sticks out from under a tree not 100 yards away.
A bottle of Frankovka wine WAS on a silver platter between two wine glasses and cans of chocolate peanuts and cocktail nuts. The St. Georg is one of the few hotels in town with no spa but a town map has spas littered all over it, like wine stains.
This is the place to recharge your batteries. Marianske Lazne is one giant jumper cable. In fact, it has been therapeutic for the rich, famous and merely exhausted since the early 19th century. The likes of Goethe, Thomas Edison, Franz Kafka, King Edward VII, Franz Josef I came here regularly to refresh before going back to inventions and slaughtering mankind. It took a 44-year hiatus during communism but made a fast comeback in 1989.
Today the town is packed due to a Chopin Festival but there was no problem getting into one of the best local restaurants in town, as per the the desk clerk. Ceska Hospudka is a big wooden restaurant with long wooden seats and a homey, Bohemian country feel to it. I had a Czech staple: veprovi, zeli, knedlicki. It’s roast pork in brown gravy with sauerkraut and potato cakes, all soggy with gravy. Washed down with a big mug of ice cold Pilsner Urquell, for which I’m slowly developing a lovely dependency, I felt as Bohemian as my hippy days in the ‘70s. The only difference is today I want to quote Kafka.