When visiting the largest aquapark in the Czech Republic, there are three simple lifestyle adjustments which, if made in advance, will certainly make your experience more pleasurable:
1. Give up smoking 2. Give up vegetarianism 3. Have kids. The fourth option would of course be to bring a swimsuit.
Average train time to Liberec: 7 to 8 hours.
Average bus time to Liberec: an hour and a half.
The slower bus actually costs more than the faster one. I leave at the crack of dawn and end up in Autobusové nádraží Liberec. I can see the waterpark in the distance, but I decide to find coffee first, and consult a handy municipal information panel. It talks to me ... and it'll probably talk to you too.
Třída 1. Máje: Imagine Václavák stretched into a charming sprawl of winding streets and plazas and you have the main drag - good walking and good shopping amidst a train wreck of architectural movements ranging from classical elegant to red-steel ugly, the love child of Vienna and Detroit. Cool.
Hotel Praha cafe: The reach of this charming cafe's menu includes not only Norweigan salmon but stretches as far as Chili con Carne ("Jeden Pozdrav z Mexika"). At this hour, however, I have only one thing on my mind.
"Do you have anything for breakfast?" I ask.
Without prompting, the waiter offers to make me some scrambled eggs. He is already on his way when I stop him. "And a really, really big espresso." The eggs are fantastic and the coffee is both big and strong. I start to feel more at home, the illusion of being in Prague complete in all but one respect: the service is too good.
Balls out: Liberec is not short on culture - this is the first place I've seen that actually has a published schedule of balls. The size and splendor of most houses, the top-line shops and stores, the ballet, the opera, the concert season, make it clear that any tourist needs at least a week to make a dent in this town.
But Liberec is a colder place than Prague this time of year, and like most people I would prefer to keep my wandering to warmer environments. Fortunately, I am here for one day and one purpose only ... to get wet.
Centrum Babylon: In America, the phrase "Fun for the Whole Family" can communicate anything form "boring" to "non-smoking" to "bring your own flask". In Babylon, it means "How can something so wrong be so right?"
Coffee King Garden: A typical shopping mall foodcourt that serves Douwe Egberts coffee ... and shots of Absinthe. I'm sitting in a faux orchard of golden apple trees flanked by Grecian nudes. A mural on the wall depicts scantily clad women and children engaged in good old-fashioned bacchanalia. Like I said, fun for the whole family. A sexy young woman in a tight leather miniskirt chases her two year old daughter around a fountain in the middle of the garden. At a nearby table a man, presumably the father, watches and smokes from under dark glasses. No Brady Bunch here - try The Sopranos.
Městečko: I head out in search of a swimsuit and find myself in what effectively constitutes an indoor boardwalk. You can buy clothes, souvenirs, cigars, gaming cards, and even office furniture in this self-titled "townlet."
The complex also includes an arcade, barbershop, tattoo parlor, and even a local radio station. I find a sporting goods store and peruse the meager variety of lime green and hot orange swimming trunks: available sizes are Too Small, Laughably Small, and Nearly Naked. Oh well. .. l didn't really want to swim anyway.
The Aquapark: At the entrance you change your money for tokens, Babylon's answer to Disney Dollars. For a deposit and a small fee you can rent a locker, a towel and a speedo. A speedo?! Fuj!
Coffee King Garden (again): I decide to go for that shot of Absinthe after all.
Renting a Swimsuit: The only thing worse than a speedo is a speedo which has been worn by many, many people. If you can get past this realization - I didn't - you're still stuck with the fact that your rent-a-speedo keeps secrets from nobody.
Aquapark Stop 1 - Sauna Club Afrikanan: In a desperate attempt to hide from all of humanity, I search out the wide variety of steam rooms and saunas. I keep nodding off and jerking awake, afraid I'll wake up a raisin.
Aquapark Stop 2 - Quest for Food: The Aquapark provides a variety of bars which offer baguettes and Tatranky. If you're a vegetarian, your meal will consist of Gambrinus.
Aquapark Stop 3 - Kukarna: Water and cigarettes don't mix. Thank God for Europe, I think, when I locate the smoking lounge on the top floor. Unfortunately, I soon realize that this is the only place in the entire park beyond the reach of Babylon's extensive heating system. I sit wrapped in a towel and shiver over half a cigarette before finally calling it quits.
Aquapark Stop 4 - Fuck This: I've been wandering around looking at happy families and young couples splashing around in the beautiful array of pools and baths, feeling out of place as a lone twenty-something male in a Rent-a-Speedo. I'm starting to think this was a bad idea, but it's winter, I've come all this way, and I've paid for a whole day. I have the power to make my own fun, I tell myself. And I know just how to do it...
Water-slide 1 - Little Red Riding Hood: This is fun, I think ... if you're five. My Rent-a-Speedo is now wedged firmly up my ass.
Water-slide #2 - The Great Big Banana: If you're big on fun but not on terror, this is the slide for you. It's long, it's loopy, and ... well, it's bright fucking yellow. I start to feel like I'm getting the hang of this.
Water-slide #3 - Light Show: I should really call this one Light-and-Dark Show: it begins in a long covered tunnel teasingly lit with rings of light, and I'm starting to enjoy myself when suddenly the tunnel plunges into a menacing darkness ... right as I pick up speed. I'm actually screaming by the time it shoots me out into the water below. I forget to hold my nose and soon hear soon my brain is swishing around inside my skull.
Water-slide #4- Vortex: I take it back - I'm not getting the hang of this at all. With locker key banded safely around my wrist, I stare at a clock timer above the entrance to the tunnel and wait for my turn with a deep foreboding.
Two seconds later I'm sucked down a giant tube at inhuman speed and spat out into a giant spiral. From a balcony above, a group of spectators watch as I ring the spiral about five times and finally slide, weak and broken, into a hole at the bottom, and disappear. Awesome.
I ride my qualms away on the slides for another hour like an addict, and from then on I've forgotten everything. By the end of the day I'm elbowing young mothers out of the way to get to the slides, I'm terrorizing little kids with the mounted water guns in the sun terrace, I've missed five consecutive buses back to Prague.
And, I don't really give a shit.
If you are a shy, timid, or socially reluctant person (read: if you smoke too much pot), the thought of jumping into a rented speedo and hitting the waterpark probably fills you with a nameless dread.
So what are you waiting for? Do it!