Karlovy Vary – A Day Trip

IMG_1651This year we decided to go away for our Thanksgiving Weekend and do a trip to the Czech Republic. We stopped at a total of three locations and I’ll be doing a blog post on each location and a Recommendations/Tips post for Prague. With that little tidbit of business out of the way, let’s get into our first stop!

We spent Thanksgiving Day in a small little town called Karlovy Vary. Karlovy Vary is the most visited spa town in the Czech Republic containing 13 main springs and 300 smaller springs coming from the Teplá River. Charles IV founded the city in the late 1300’s and quickly shared high praises to the “healing powers” of the hot springs. This led to Karlovy Vary becoming incredibly popular and growing in size.

There isn’t a lot to the history of Karlovy Vary as it seems to have stayed out of all the major conflicts and just been a little escape area, so I’ll share some fun facts that I’ve learned…

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Karlovy Vary is home to two funiculars; the Imperial Funicular which is the oldest in Europe and one of the steepest in the Czech Republic and the funicular to Diana’s Tower.

Karlovy Vary is also quite popular in the film industry with several movies having been filmed there OR being the inspiration for backdrops/sets. They also host the Karlovy Vary Film Festival which is one of the oldest film festivals in the world and one of the more popular ones in Europe.

Karlovy Vary also boasts of some famous residents and visitors over the years. Apparently both Beethoven and Goethe visited frequently and would take walks along the colonnades and rivers. Fryderyk Chopin vacationed with his parents in Karlovy Vary (then Karlsbad). Princess Michael of Kent lived there for a time, as well as various sports and fashion persons.

Finally, Karlovy Vary was actually a mostly German Speaking, German populated city UNTIL 1945 when they expelled all the German Residents.

So, with the history bits out of the way, let’s talk about our visit and any tips that I have for YOUR visit.

To start with, we spent about 24 hours or so in Karlovy Vary and I think that that is probably about the perfect amount of time. You can “add it on” to a trip that you are already planning to the Czech Republic (granted it isn’t too far out of your way) and just spend a day or so wandering the streets and seeing the sights. We stayed the night at the Krasna Kralovna Hotel (Hotel Renaissance Krasna Kralovna), which is a very nice hotel right on Stará Louka. I would definitely recommend checking the hotels out on this street as you are right in the main town area and within walking distance to most of the sites.

After checking in, we started off just walking down the streets. The sites that you’ll want to see, including the various bath buildings, the river, and then the churches and statues, will be found just by walking around. We didn’t really have a plan of anything that we HAD TO see (save for one church and a memorial), but more just decided to walk around and see whatever came across our path. I honestly think this is the best approach to a town like Karlovy Vary. In Karlovy Vary specifically there are hiking/walking trails and the funicular, but again, you’ll find those by walking around the town.

The first “site we saw” was the famous Hot Spring. IMG_1674The Hot Spring was the first hot spring to be discovered around the 16th Century. The geyser of the Hot Spring is a natural phenomenon gushing to ~12 meters high and giving ~2,000 liters of mineral water in a minute. It was absolutely incredible to see, and it is almost completely continuous day and night.

We also got to see two churches while we were in Karlovy Vary, the first being the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. This is a catholic church originally dating back to the 14th Century. The current church on sight dates back to the 1730’s. The second church we got to see was the Orthodox Church of Saint Peter and Paul. This is an incredible Russian Orthodox church (modeled after a church near Moscow- very obviously) that dates back to the very {very} late 1800’s. This particular church was paid for by money contributed from the wealthy and aristocratic Serbian and Russian patrons.

We were able to stop at both the Mill and Market Colonnade’s. The Market Colonnade was originally a wooden colonnade and is in the location of the oldest baths in Karlovy Vary. The present-day Colonnade dates back to the late 1800’s and is the largest colonnade in the city. It seeps five of the mineral springs and is where we decided to test out the waters healing powers.

IMG_1728We purchased a little souvenir cup and decided to go for a cup from the Libuse Spring. This spring was discovered while they were rebuilding the colonnade in the 1800’s. I will say, I don’t know that the water is healing, but it pretty much just tastes like mineral water. It was a fun little bit and the souvenir cup leads to a good memory.

We took a little mid-day break for tea/coffee and cakes at Café Franz Joseph and enjoyed a little rest with some delicious treats.

We walked along the main streets a little more before heading up the hill a little way. We made an end of the day stop at the Jean De Carro Park. This spot gave a beautiful overlook of the city (although there are several spots to do this!). IMG_1773This park was founded in the late 1850’s and contains a little fun legend. There is a sculpture of a cat sitting atop a column in the lower portion of the park. Baron Lutzow used this cat sculpture to protest the location of another statue in a neighboring park. The cat is facing away from the town hall as a way of highlighting the “good for nothing” nature of the councilors work.

We stopped for dinner at a charming little restaurant called Restaurace U KŘÍŽOVNÍKŮ near the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. The food was delicious, and they had a good variety of Czech options to choose from.

And that was our day in Karlovy Vary! I think if I had to do ONE more thing, I would have done the funicular up to Diana’s Tower. This was one of the things that was on my maybe list, but I kind of figured we wouldn’t be able to get to it due to other circumstances. So, if I had to share something that I wanted to do and think you should do, it would be that. I would also recommend doing the hike on the far side of town as there are quite a bit of rotunda look out points to see the sheer beauty of the area.

We had a lot of fun on our little day trip to Karlovy Vary and I would say that if it fits into your itinerary, you should totally go! It’s a great little town to just wander through and take in the sights (and waters ha-ha)!

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2019 – Inverness

When looking at Scotland and where to travel within the country, I was torn as to where exactly to go in The Highlands. I knew that I wanted to be in The Highlands, to be near, but maybe not in, a city, and just have a couple of “slower” days to start ending our trip. Honestly I was torn between going to Inverness and going to Isle of Skye. I did a lot of map looking, a lot of price looking, and a lot of activity looking. Ultimately I settled on Inverness. I just felt like that area would be exactly what we wanted. I would like to go back and spend a little bit of time back in Scotland and not only be in the Highlands, but also go over to visit the Isle of Skye. There is just so much beauty there and I really just felt like my heart felt at home.

I’ll talk about the drive in a minute, but want to talk about this first. Our accommodation in Inverness was actually located on the Black Isle’s, about 20-30 minutes outside of Inverness city. IMG_8042We stayed in an Airbnb called the Taffs Barn and it was absolutely perfect. It is a former barn that has been renovated to fit 2 cottages (with a passage in between, so you don’t share walls or anything) and it had the dreamiest field/highland views. It felt secluded enough that we didn’t feel anything other than peace there. I highly highly recommend staying at this location if you stay in the area.

The drive from Edinburgh to Inverness is only a couple hours max, consisting of true highland country roads. We decided to make a pit stop on our way up to give us a little chance to see something that I wanted to see, as well as just stretch our legs.

 

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Our pit stop was the great Balmoral Castle. This is a favorite private residence for the Queen of England, and I can totally see why she loves it. It has never been used for formal royal functions, but rather is a country home for the Royal Family. A private estate, the tour consists of the gardens, a walk along the estate, a walk along the river, and a tour of an adjacent ballroom used by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. We may not have gotten to see a lot of the castle itself (and I wouldn’t want to as it’s a private residence), but what we did see was just beautiful.

One more thing, the weather was off and on for us while we were in Inverness. We had one day of gorgeous sunny warm weather and one day of grey, wind, and rain storms. I’m kind of glad that we got both weather options because, like I said in my Edinburgh post, I love getting that typical Scottish rain, but I’m also glad that we got some sun and warmth to go with it. It worked out really well for us, and once again, the day we left it was pouring it down rain.

Day 1:

Our Day 1 was all about battles and military force. We had decided that we would have meals at our AirBnB since we were a little further out in the countryside, so once we left the barn, we simply headed straight to our first stop, Culloden Battlefield. Now, if you watch Outlander or if you’ve read the books, you’ll know Culloden. If you don’t, Culloden Battlefield is the site of the battle of the final Jacobite Rising. There is an entire history spanning many years and many family lines in regard to the Jacobite Rising, The Stuart Family, and such, but this site is where it all came to a head in 1745. This site is where they battled, often to the death, for what they believed in. It was the last pitched battle on British Soil, lasted less than an hour, and had a death toll of around 1500. To say that the site was moving is an understatement.

I think I always have this kind of “shock” moment when I walk through some areas of history- the landscape and area is just so gorgeous here in particular with the highlands and the fog, but you have this history of such death and destruction of life. It’s something I’ve always kind of marveled and wondered at, even more so since coming to Europe. (Dachau in particular is one that really comes to mind- we had such beautiful weather and the area is gorgeous, but you have such a senseless loss of life, of the pain and torture of a large scale amount of people, and so much more that just puts you at odds with the beauty)

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They also have Highland Cattle at Culloden and I made good friends with this sweet one. 

Along with the battlefield, the visitor center has a really informative, well laid out exhibit that talks about the history and what led to the battle, along with the battle itself. There is also an immersive battle experience in one room that places you right in the center of the field. There are also speakers there to talk about the folks involved on both sides of the battle, from high up in the military, to what would have been considered royalty, to the everyday commoner. It allowed for a true experience of the battlefield and time period.

 

 

 

 

 

From there we decided to continue on the history timeline and head over to Fort George. Fort George is a military fortress from the 18thcentury. If you’re wondering on those dates and timelines, yes, Fort George was built/replaced shortly after the battle in response to the rebellion. It is still in use today and because of that certain areas of the installation are off limits. Even with those limits, there is so much to see, and this is such a cool fortress to explore. Not only is there a lot of fortress information and you can spend a couple hours wandering its rooms and battlements, but they also have a museum that breaks down the history of the unit that is stationed there. There is quite a lot of artifacts from various engagements that they’ve done (including a lot of WWII and Japanese items).

The view from the battlements is also quite gorgeous. It overlooks the Moray Firth and you can see across the water over to the little towns, not to mention on one side there is the possibility for Dolphin siting’s! We were there at the wrong time and the weather/water was too rough for us to see them, but it would be a cool spot if you could (it is regardless, but that’s an added bonus).

Our final stop on the way home was Chanonry Point.

This is a spot almost opposite of Fort George where you can look out at Moray Firth and the other water spots and potentially see Dolphins. Since it was the same day, same storm, we did not see any, but it is a simply beautiful spot to just sit and spend a little time (which we did do…).

Day 2:

We started our morning back at Chanonry Point right at the tide time to try and spot some Dolphins. This is a fairly regular occurrence and we heard it’s one of the largest most active pods, but in the time that we were there, we did not see any of the pod. This was a tiny let down, but being against such clear, calm, water on such a beautiful sunny morning was the perfect start to our day.

Since the weather was so perfect we decided that we would head over to see Loch Ness. Now, Loch Ness is basically a massive body of water that has a superstition attached to it. It is incredible in that the amount of water is astounding, so it is worth viewing and learning about even if you don’t care about the superstitious side of things. We started at the visitor center which details a lot of information about the Loch itself. It gives stats, shows movies detailing the different ways they’ve tried to survey the lake, and show various displays about different events occurring at Loch Ness (plane crashes, boat issues, world speed record attempts).

Once we finished the visitor center we headed over to Urquhart Castle.

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This was what was heralded as THE place to go to get a good view of Loch Ness. As it is also a ruined castle, we were especially interested to see it. I’ll leave most of my tips for this in my tips and recommendations post, but I found this particular spot to be OK. We got some very pretty views and a decent history of the castle, but I felt that the views were better outside the castle itself.

That wraps up our time in Inverness! Honestly, we wished that we had one more day in this area to actually go into Inverness properly and have a stroll round the city (we probably still could have done this, but we were so exhausted by this point), but overall I think we hit the nail on the head for the sights we wanted to see.

I hope that you enjoyed seeing Inverness through our eyes! Have you been? What was your favorite? What would you most like to see?