Friday, June 15, 2007


After I woke up from my nap yesterday, I headed out to Malastranka to have dinner in a restaurant I very much enjoyed last year. Called Grill U Seminaristy (according to their card their address is U. Luzickeho seminaire 13 -- but its easier to remember that they are in the shadow of the Charles Bridge), this place does a great trade catering to tourists, particularly Americans.

First of all, they offer you a nice chilled shot of becherovka right when you come in, and who doesn't like to receive free alcohol? The menus are very reasonably priced and the food is delicious. Best of all, the food is not Czech (more on that below).

I ordered the beefsteak, which I asked for medium rare (the waiter said "medium"? -- I guess many Americans order it that way -- and I said no, medium rare and then I added "a point," as the French say). The starter was gravlox with bread and butter. The steak was accompanied by french fries cooked just right: hot and crispy. Dessert was assorted ice cream. I ordered a beer to accompany it and of course, that meant the standard half liter size. While they accept credit cards, they would prefer cash (to avoid the charges), and the whole meal came to 350 krona (to which I added 40 as a tip). All in all, less than $20 for an excellent meal.

I'm really unsure on whether and how much to tip here. My guidebook is particularly useless on this question as it says that service is included, but that Czechs often round up (to what?), but foriegners are expected to tip 10%.

After such a big meal, I walked back across the Charles Bridge. Even though this is the second most touristed place in Prague (after the Old Town Square), it was relatively empty -- at least compared to last year. It had rained briefly earlier, so the sky was clean and clear, with the Castle Hill dramatically silhoutted against the clouds. It was a beautiful evening.

This morning, I got up early to head out to Karlovy Vary. I wasn't sure whether I should go again this year; I would hate for this trip to become too repetitive. But I decided that I should try new stuff there. I headed further up the stream into the heart of the town. I had a nice, light lunch in an open-air cafe near the river, with the beautiful nineteenth-century buildings rising up the hills above me on either side. I went light, so ordered the schnitzel menu, which came with a small bowl of cabbage soup (flavored with what my great-grandmother would have called soup wurstchens), and with a small salad. The dessert (listed only as frische obstkuchen -- fresh fruit cake) turned out to be a torte with peach slices topped with powdered sugar and chocolate sauce -- an unusual combination.

Then it was time to go to the spa. Last year I went to Lazne III -- the old, proletarian public spa; this year I wanted to splurge. I tried the Grand Hotel Pupp -- one of the fanciest hotels in town -- but they told me their spa was for guests only. Going online, I had seen references to the Castle Spa, but I couldn't find it. I had resigned myself to going back to Lazne III, when I finally happened upon it.

[Entrance to the spa -- it looks a little different in person]

I best combination available to me was the "Classic" three-hour spa treatment. For only 42 euros, I could choose one "major" treatment and two "minor" treatments. I chose the "pearl bath" (literally "bubble" bath in czech), the "electroaerosol inhalation," and the "Kneipp hydrotherapy."

I got into my bathing suit and then wrapped myself in the bathrobe and headed to the pool. They started me off right away with the "electroaerosol inhalation." That's where they put you in a small stone-lined room with these hissing aerosol jets, which are pumping the mineral water into the atmosphere. It feels slightly humid, but isn't damp like a steam room. You're supposed to breathe it in so that it improves your sinuses and lungs.

After that I went swimming in their pool, and then it was time for my "pearl bath." I wasn't sure what to expect (see photo below)

[the "pearl bath" in their brochure]

I basically got into this large, plastic tub, naked, and then the attendent turned on the bubbles. It is a fifteen minute cycle as the bubbles basically stimulate circulation in your outer and inner legs, then your bottom, and finally your back and chest. It all felt a little silly at first, but I was sorry when the fifteen minutes were up. I didn't think it really did anything until I tried to get out of the tub and suddenly felt very, very heavy. I wasn't sure if I was exhausted or just very relaxed, and as I wondered what the difference was, I figured it was the latter, since when I'm exhausted I can't concentrate, but I didn't have any problems doing that then.

After that, I had a nice cup of fruit herbal tea. Around 3pm, they dimmed the lights and did a music and light show over the pool, so I got back in to watch.

[Here's what the pool looks like during the sound and light show]

The final therapy -- the Kneipp bath -- is walking between two very shallow pools, one extremely hot, the other cold. I could've done without that.

After that it was dodging the sudden thunderstorm back to the bus station and the 2 and a half hour bus ride home.

I wanted to have a nice moroccan dinner tonight, but couldn't find the restaurant. My second choice, the Kafka cafe, told me the kitchen was closed, so I ended up at an open-air cafe in the Old Town Square. I ordered the lamb, but it was so overcooked and covered with brown sauce and these tasteless slices of czech dumplings, they could've been serving me horsemeat. I decided to head back to the Municipal House Kaverna for some coffee and cake.

[Inside the Municipal House Kavarna]

I asked for some strudel and a cafe au lait, but the waiter wasn't sure if they had any strudel. After he left, another waiter brought the dessert tray around, so I ordered the black forest cake instead. Bad mistake. Not only was the cake horrible, but a few minutes later my waiter showed up with the strudel. Turns out they have two different dessert services, which are not coordinated. I ate the strudel and left over the cake.

I wanted to read my Hannah Arendt essays in the cafe so I could feel very middle European intellectual, but it was so hot from the overhead lights, I just paid my bill and left.

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