“Not much will have changed,” I thought and had packed a somewhat older travel guide for the trip to the Czech Republic.
If Karlsbad is too busy for you and you are tired of the same encounters when strolling along the colonnades, we recommend that you escape to Kyselka. This is a smaller spa town, but no less refined.
Count Mattoni, a manufacturer of mineral water, has created an exclusive resort, which has already enjoyed the honor of being visited by the imperial couple, the archduke and foreign regents such as King Otto of Greece, the Shah of Persia and the Emperor of Abyssinia.
Now, I am more a republican than a monarchist, and the time that has passed since the publication of the guide to Austria-Hungary – and the countries like Czechoslovakia that have emerged since then – has proven me right, but that Kyselka town sounds interesting.
And it is only a half-day walk from Karlovy Vary. I walk into the forest behind the synagogue and the Virgin Mary statue until I find the white-red-white marking and follow it, seemingly always uphill. It is one of the most beautiful hiking trails around Karlovy Vary, often on very narrow, barely trodden paths, then on paths carved into the mountain, on which steep slopes on the left drop down to the river Cheb.
Beautiful views, and from time to time, there is a sign telling me that I am on the right path, that there is a bus back from Kyselka, and that I still have 10 km ahead of me. However, the path winds its way around mountains, over hills and around the bends of the river in such a way that the indicated distance does not decrease over several hours.
I am cold, hungry and thirsty, but never mind. Once in Kyselka, I will treat myself to a royal meal by a warm and cozy tiled stove.
After many hours of hiking, I spot the first noble signs of Kyselka through the forest. The closer I get, the more the reputation as the most peaceful of all spa towns of Bohemia is confirmed. I do not hear a single sound, no people, no cars, not even dogs.
Mr. Mattoni, the founder of this exclusive place, seems to be spending the winter elsewhere, because his villa looks a bit deserted.
“Or maybe he’s at the mineral water works,” I am thinking. But there too, nothing sparkles anymore.
To make a long story short: the whole city looks inactive and deserted.
I won’t get anything to eat here, it slowly dawns on me. Only in the grotto above the artificially created waterfall, there is still drinking water, and even a cup next to the pool. The last person to drink from it was probably the King of Montenegro. Or the goblins and gnomes now inhabiting Kyselka instead of the kings and counts. But the water tastes good.
A car stops and a family gets out. Father, mother, child and a plastic bucket with toys. The child walks around a bit. After five minutes, they put everything back into the car and whiz off, deeply disappointed by this depressing place. Yet another family outing that has backfired.
The only other car is a fire engine, but it hasn’t put out any fires in a long time. The tires are as deflated as the local entertainment program.
It’s getting darker. It’s getting colder. And although I have heard that cities that have nothing else to offer are advertised as “air spas”, I will hardly be able to survive on air alone.
The promised bus won’t show up either, because it’s a Saturday.
So I place myself by the road, stick out my thumb and hope that one of the spa guests from the early 20th century delayed their departure long enough to return to Karlovy Vary today. And indeed, soon a car a car will stop. It’s a Czech-Russian couple who live even further back in the Cheb Valley and are taking old bottles to the recycling station in the district town. As befits a city founded by Mr. Mattoni, Italian turns out to be the lowest common linguistic denominator in the cosmopolitan car.
Speaking of language, this was probably the reason why Kyselka never reached the fame of other spa towns. In German, the place is called Giesshübl Sauerbrunn, and that sounds rather unmelodic, even to German ears.