Finding Montenegro - Or Is That Karlovy Vary?
If you read my previous post about finding James Bond movie locations in Prague, you'll no doubt remember that I had built an entire vacation in 2016 around finding 007's whereabouts in Europe. I mean, why not? James Bond goes to some of the most beautiful places on Earth. Why not build a trip around them?
But many times, the places we think 007 has traveled turns out to be completely different from where the film crew and actors actually went. Take my favorite Bond movie Casino Royale (2006) for instance. The city of Prague sat in for Venice, London, and even Miami of all places!
One location I definitely wanted to see was listed as being in Montenegro. It was the luxury hotel where Bond and Vesper stayed during the poker tournament with Le Chiffre. Upon further review, I discovered that not only were the hotel and the building used for the casino not in Montenegro, but they were in fact in the Czech Republic, a location not too far from my travels.
I altered my plans and made my way to Eastern Europe.
Getting to Bond's Hotel
As fortune would have it, I ended up parking my rental car in Marktredwitz in Germany and taking a train across to Cheb, just within the Czech border. There I picked up a Czech train (cost) that took me through the winding hills of what was formerly known as Bohemia. I had really hoped the Czech train would be the same as the one that Bond meets Vesper on, but it was an older train with separate sitting rooms, like the train to Hogwarts in Harry Potter. In hindsight, I would take the Student Agency bus in the future, instead of the train. At around $6 from Cheb to Karlovy Vary and from Karlovy Vary to Prague, It's much less expensive you get a free drink, I enjoyed a cappuccino, and watch a movie.
The Mill Colonnade
When you get off the train, it does not drop you off where you think it will. In the movie, Vesper and Bond are picked up at the Mill Colonnade. This is not a train station, but instead a large beautiful structure where you can dip a cup into the healing waters of the Karlovy Vary mineral wells.
The real train station is a 25 minute walk from this particular colonnade. Silly me decided to hoof it and it started to drizzle. Not a good plan. I almost took a wrong turn that would have sent me up a pretty steep hill, but decided to walk a little longer on a little bit more of a flat terrain. It wasn't until the second time I went to Karlovy Vary that I finally saw things from Bond's perspective when reaching the Colonnade. This is looking southeast.
The Holy Trinity Column
As I continued walking, I made my way past the Holy Trinity Column. This is featured at one point during the drive to the hotel. What I find funny about this scene is that they are actually going the wrong way. The driver must have thought they left something back at the train!
The Grandhotel Pupp
In total, the walk from the train station to the Grandhotel Pupp is about 35 minutes. It's not terrible, but you won't feel very Bond by the time you get to the hotel.
The neo-Baroque and neo-Renaissance architecture along the way speaks to opulent 19th Century living. This was the place to be if you were from Russia, Germany or the Austro-Hungarian regions. In fact, previous to Daniel Craig and the Eon Productions entourage, Beethoven was said to have been a guest. And in fact, there is a thought that he may have been planning his secret rendezvous with his "immortal beloved" here.
Many of you may recognize this building from another movie. In The Last Holiday, Queen Latifah's dying wish is to come to this hotel to meet a world-wide famous chef. She spends most of the movie enjoying the splendor of this place.
The outside of the building is a little different than in the movie. The driving circle in front of the door doesn't exist. And the signs are in Czech rather than Montenegrin.
Walking into the building you are suddenly transported inside the movie Casino Royale. I walked to the front desk, where Bond blew his cover, much to the chagrin of Vesper, and they set me up in a wonderful 5-star hotel room. This actually was the first 5-star hotel I've ever stayed in. And with Czech currency somewhat undervalued, I paid almost the same as you would pay for a night in a Hampton Inn in the United States!
After I received my room key, I made my way to the elevator that Vesper claimed was too small for her and Bond's ego. I love that line!
Time For a Vesper Martini, Shaken Not Stirred
After relaxing in my room for a bit, I pulled out my Hugo Boss suit and black tie and headed down to the hotel bar. Now I was really living it up. As I walked in, I saw booths dedicated to different famous visitors. I particularly admired the Judi Dench booth. But I was on my way to the bar.
I asked the bartender if he knew how to make a Vesper Martini. He said yes. However, as soon as he brought it, I knew it wasn't right. A Vesper Martini has 1 part Vodka, 3 parts Gordon's Dry Gin, a 1/2 part Lilet (an orangish wine/liquour) and a slice of lemon. The first clue was the shaved lime. It was good, but I make these at home, so I could taste the difference.
A few minutes later a younger bartender came up to me and took my dinner order. I asked him what the locals ate and he suggested the roast duck and dumplings. Wow! That was a fantastic meal. I followed it up with an espresso and a most delicious chocolate cake. I also ordered another Vesper Martini but asked the young lad to tell me what he was about to put in it. He nailed it. I asked him to take a picture of me for posterity. It came out a little blurry, but still, it brings back happy memories and a happy belly.
When he brought the check I almost fell over. I think I paid around $30 US. Now I will say, the next time I ate there a couple years later, a similar meal cost me $50 and the bartender who was so nice to talk to, of course, wasn't there anymore. But the highlight of that trip was when I ordered an apple strudel and they asked me if I was fine waiting 25 minutes for it because they make it fresh. Mind? Pardon my Czech but "Hell no!" I don't mind. They put some vanilla ice cream melting on top and I was in heaven.
When I finished up my meal, I told the bartender I was heading up to the casino. He said, come this way - and he took me up a back staircase. I felt like a VIP! It pays to chat with the bartender. This guy was a pleasure to speak with and gave me volumes of things I never would have learned from a travel guide, but it's also nice to be treated like a king for being a good conversationalist.
Grandhotel Pupp Casino
Truth be told, I'm not really a gambler. However, I was getting pretty good at Baccarat (James Bond's card game of choice) on my phone. But not only was this not the casino featured in the movie, but they also didn't have Baccarat, which is more of a high rollers game. Another piece of confusion was when I took my token up to get my free drink. I asked for a Vesper but the bartender couldn't speak English. Try explaining 1 part, 2 parts, shaken not stirred by only using hand signals! I ended up with a Johnny Walker Black, ha! I sat in the corner and played Baccarat on my phone for a few minutes, but soon grew tired and went off to sleep.
No One Puts Bond In a Corner!
I slept like a dream. The next morning I had to put on the hotel slippers and robe just to feel like the rich and famous. It was time for breakfast. On the way I saw pictures of all of the famous people who stayed at the hotel. Rod Steiger of On The Waterfront fame was down the hall from my room.
When I got downstairs and walked into the restaurant where Bond and Vesper had enjoyed caviar and martini's before she was abducted, I saw the most amazing spread of food. One thing I'll say about the Czech Republic, they do breakfast right! On my second trip, I stayed at the Hotel Romance and it had a wide variety of unique options as well.
I asked the waitress to take a picture of me sitting at Bond's table. Of course, one of my friends got a little snarky when I posted in on Facebook and said "nobody put's baby in a corner!" Oh lord no, not a Dirty Dancing reference while I'm on a Bond trip! I laughed.
The Real Casino Royale, Sort Of
Unfortunately, when I got to Karlovy Vary, the Kaiserbad Spa that doubled as the Casino was closed for renovation. But when I came back 2 years later, I was elated to see it was open and being turned into a museum.
If you're a Bond fan, you should pay the $2-3 dollar fee to go check this out. The staircase where Bond is met my Felix Leiter after Bond loses to Le Chiffre in the first round is here. The interior of this building is magnificent. And you can walk into the main casino area, which doesn't have anything from the movie except the beautiful oak walls. But you'll still see what the Bond location scouts saw in this place.
Whipping Out The Walthier PPK
On my second trip to Karlovy Vary I did miles of walking, looking at beautiful architecture and eating amazing food. I will tell you though, bring comfortable shoes. I seriously walked 24 miles in 2 days and all on hills. One of the toughest climbs was to a place called Magnum. Here for a very low price, you can shoot like Bond. They have an extensive collection of guns to use at this shooting range. However, they didn't speak a lot of English. But when he asked me what kind of gun I wanted to shoot with, I told him a Walthier PPK. "Oh, James Bond!" Yes, they know about it here! In fact, the Grandhotel Pupp has a Bond package and this is one of the options. As you'll see, the bullseye was not my friend. However, in my defense, I couldn't see where I had shot. My glasses really showed how weak they are. For guessing, I'd say I did okay.
More Bond Places Around Czechia
Going to Karlovy Vary and Prague could very well fill up your Bond wanderlust. But if you rent a car, a couple of other spots to check out include the beautiful little town that houses Loket Castle. Be careful, there are two towns in Czechia that lay claim to the name Loket, so don't be fooled. However, this one is just a few miles away from Karlovy Vary. The castle is beautiful and you'll get to look down the street the same as the movie cameras when they capture the Aston Martin driving up.
Where Bond sat with Mathis and Vesper was made up in the middle of the street. It no longer exists. And sadly, you can't pull into the spot where Bond parked because there is a seating area placed there. But still, a pretty cool setting for a Bond fan.
And the other thing to do in the Czech Republic is to ride the train. Remember that? Yeah, I discovered the real train they used was the Pendolino Train. This is a high speed rail that can take you from Prague to the southeastern corner of the Czech Republic. While you're on the train, you'll pass the town of Hradek, which is where the camera shows the train snaking between two mountains. To see that, you may have to rent a car. I didn't quite make it that far.
Bond Will Return
So, I hope you enjoyed my experiences around the Czech Republic chasing Bond. If you have any questions, let me know below. And good luck planning your own Bond getaway. I'll be posting more about my two trips around Europe where I was searching for Bond locations. I found some great ones.
In the meantime, safe travels!