Defying gravity in Karlovy Vary
Taking part in space flight simulation is not the only way to overcome gravity while remaining on earth. The other method is more accessible, a lot cheaper and involves getting wet. I'm talking here about the remarkable invention known as a floatation tank, which I recently experienced for the first time in the gorgeous spa town of Karlovy Vary.
A floatation tank is essentially a large bath with a lid full of saline solution; the Czech name for it - Mrtva More, or Dead Sea - should go a long way to explaining the concept. You lie in the salt solution (which I might add is unpleasantly greasy) and it supports you perfectly, coming up to a mid way point on your body, and you float.
I had booked my first floatation session at a spa hotel in Karlovy Vary a day in advance and the night before somehow ended up playing pool with a young Russian who insisted on buying a load of shots and...well, let's say I was in quite a fragile condition by the time I turned up for my first experience of floating. In I got (naked - the attendant warned me the salt would damage my swimming trunks) lay back and started to get used to the sensation. I lasted about thirty seconds. I'm not normally so claustrophobic but when the attendant shut the lid - and given my morning-after fragility - I simply panicked and jumped out, extremely relieved to find that she hadn't locked me in.
The attendant recommended I calm down by taking a dip in a small swimming pool with an oncoming current. After a few minutes of that I had gathered my senses and was ready for another try in the floatation tank. I had - after all - paid in advance for a whole hour.
Be strong I told myself as the lid was shut for the second time, only a tiny light providing any illumination. Then the music started, or rather the slow, ambient pulsing started and - slowly but surely - I began to drift away. The weightlessness means that after a while you simply don't feel your body any more, you don't know where is up, where is down, and you are reduced to a brain, pure consciousness.
The aim of the floatation tank is to help you relax and half an hour later - when the attendant turned off the ambient sounds to signal the end of the session - I was as relaxed as I've ever been in my life and feeling considerably healthier than I had when I crawled out of my bed.
There was one amusing footnote to my floatation tank experience. As I was leaving and thanking the attendant for her patience, she pointed at the egg-like machine and said the words Lucie Bila, the name of the Czech Republic's leading female pop star. Excuse me I said, Lucie Bila she repeated, with evident pride. Ah-ha, I said, feigning understanding, only later coming to the conclusion that Ms Bila herself must have floated in the tank at some time...