May 29, 2010 Cesky Budejovice to Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

30 05 2010

I don’t think I mentioned it in yesterday’s blog, but we stayed in a really nice two bedroom loft apartment in Cesky Budejovice.  The decor was lovely and the design was quite nice.   It would certainly have been a great place to stay if I were to be staying for a week.  Unfortunately we were there for just one night. 

We got up early and headed down with Maggie and Francis for breakfast.  Breakfast was totally a la carte and included in the night’s stay.  We ordered omelettes and toast as well as OJ.  They made us fresh squeezed Veggie/Orange Juice that was delicious as well as coffees and hot chocolates… Great service!  We walked around the hotel for a bit and did a bit more shopping (surprisingly, there was more shopping to do!)  The girls headed back to the Bata store (shoes) and managed to find even more stuff to buy.

We had arranged that we could “check out” at 10:30 and move our luggage all to one room so that we could walk along the riverside and shop some more.  When I talked to the clerk/cook/waiter/all in one guy, he talked to the cleaning girl who told me, “No problem, you can put your bags all up in the 3rd floor room that you used”.  That was the one that Mrs D, Francis, Maggie and I had stayed in.  The vote of the women in our group was “No way in Hell am I going to carry my luggage UP those stairs again just to haul it back down”.

We politely declined to offer to let us store our bags in one of the rooms.  We left Maggie and Cathy watching the luggage and enjoying coffee and ice cream while the rest of us wandered down to the riverside for some relaxing views. We started walking down the side of the river and I had the 100-400 out in the hope of catching a bird or two.  I was walking about 50m ahead so that they wouldn’t scare away my birds.

About 10 minutes into our walk down the river, Mrs D calls me back.  “We’re going back to the hotel”

“What???”

“We’re going back – we don’t want to leave Maggie and Cathy there abandoned.”

Personally, THEY made the choice to not carry up their luggage.  They made the choice to stay and now we cut our riverside walk short.  Grumble.

“OK dear”, really – what else was I going to say.

We made it down to the bus station in plenty of time to catch the 1320 bus. It is a short ride, shorter than the regular 50 minute ride, this one is only 35 minutes!  We got on the large coach to find that Cesky Budejovice isn’t the first stop and that the bus is fairly full.  We get our seats and I watch cartoons (Tom and Jerry) on the bus TV while drifting in and out of sleep.  As we start slowing down the “guide” on the bus announces in English and Czech something about the next stop.  Maggie says “We get off here!”

We got off the bus, and then quickly showed someone our map and asked “Is this the stop that we just got off at?”

“No, Next stop.” came the answer.

I turned to the woman that had announced things earlier and asked “Can we get back on – we’re at the wrong stop?”

“You should have listened” she says bitterly.

“Sorry… we didn’t hear the announcement well”, I say, holding back the comment about her accent being so thick you could cut it with a knife, and where does she get off being so rude to me.

“Can we get back on?” I repeat.

“Why?”

You’ve got to be kidding me?!?!?!  Why?  Because we’re at the wrong stop, you horse’s ass! 

My real reaction was just to stand there dumbfounded.

She then motioned to put our bags back on the bus, I wasn’t going to wait for anything nicer.  I didn’t want to walk and extra 2km uphill in the rain.  We loaded our bags feverishly back on the bus and timidly found seats for the short ride.  People seemed to be understanding that the dumb tourists were at the wrong stop.  I’m guessing this wasn’t the first time this happened.

We got off at the RIGHT stop about 5 minutes later and unloaded from the bus – AGAIN.  We settled in with our rain gear and starting pulling our luggage along the cobblestones again.  Someone would make a killing if they make luggage with wheels that handle cobblestones better.  We trundled down the narrow roads and had a glimpse of the castle tower while descending.  We walked, and walked and walked some more.  Eventually we pulled up to our lovely little home for the next two days, the Alchymy Hotel.  Being a beautiful building from sometime in the 19th century it meant that elevators were out of the question.  Good stairs, while optional back then, didn’t make it into this place either.  Uneven wooden stairs wound their way up to our places on the European 2nd and 3rd floors (The ground floor is Floor Zero).  The rooms were lovely.  nicely decorated in period style furniture and floors must have been 100 years old if they were a day.

After settling into our hotel at around 1500 we decided to split up and wander on our own to see and explore Cesky Krumlov (UNESCO World Heritage Site) I thought this would be a great time to take time and shoot things with Mrs D.  Not so.  She stopped at almost EVERY shop along the way.  So, I managed to escape from the group shopping and ended up in my own personal shopping hell.  There are way too many crappy souvenir and crafty art stores in town…  We ended up with more for the house.  I did get SOME shots, but so many tourists cramming in and around made it tough.

After freshening up at our hotel rooms at 1800 we headed out and found a good place for dinner that served a good South Bohemian cuisine.  We had roast duck, fried cheese, salad, Pork knee and a platter simply called “Mixed Grill”   It made me wonder how many cariovascular surgeons live near the town… I imagine that one or more tourists has maxed out on meat and cholesterol at some time 😉

When we got back to the hotel there was no reception dude.. .no dude meant not being able to get Internet.  No internet means that today’s photos and today’s blog will end up being posted tomorrow.  Bummer.

We were home by 2200.  At that point I went out on my own and shot some night shots of the castle tower and the square as well as an alley or two.  Overall – quite successful.  I am really pleased with some of the results.

I got to sleep by 0030… making me happy – I was planning to heading out to shoot the tower castle at sunrise at 0430 with Francis.  hope.  For that there would have to be a sunrise. I went to sleep quickly in anticipation of the morning photo shoot.

The photos are a day or so behind… they can be found at:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dragonspeed/sets/72157624150660692/

or http://www.fotothing.com/albums.php?action=viewphotos&albumid=3592

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May 28, 2010 – Day 4 Praha to Cesky Budejovice

28 05 2010

Today was a tough day.  Not only was it the first day during our trip that we had to pack up and move, it also came after a night in which I got a total of 4 hours sleep. I had figured that this wouldn’t be too bad since I’d have a couple of hours or more to sleep on the train.  Wrong.  More about that later.

Mrs D and I got up and headed down for breakfast by 0800.  I didn’t eat much.  These heavy meaty/bready meals have kept me feeling full to the point where for breakfast I only had a small helping of eggs and a bit of bacon with a bunch of orange juice… planning to beat dehydration by drinking more.  We headed back to our room and continued packing and shutting down the laptop that had run so well with the great internet connection.  It was sad to shut it down. I really had no idea what connectivity would be like in C. Budejovice.

By 0930 it was becoming a great debate whether or not we should hire a taxi for $600cK and stuff 2 people and luggage for 8 in or if we should all walk to the train and suffer the rough road.  We asked the hotel front desk if they could call the taxis and how much they would be.  They told us that two could be here in 10 minutes and that the charge would $250cK/taxi.  We could get everyone and their luggage transported to the train station for the same price that they had paid for a fraction of the capacity when they arrived here.  We took it.  This brings up an interesting sidebar.  I had been warned of the less than scrupulous ways of some taxi companies.  It seems that getting your hotel to arrange taxi transportation may be a good way of avoiding getting ripped off.

We arrived at 10:50 for our 11:16 train and headed up to platform 2 to wait.  After a few minutes of trying to figure out in which car we had reserved seats a woman, who must have been killing herself laughing inside, came over and helped us.  The reason we couldn’t find the train car and seats listed is because this wasn’t going to be our train.  EVER.  She helped us decipher the Czech signs and we promptly dashed down to platform 7 where our train was waiting and due to take off in about 10 minutes. Sigh.

We boarded our train and kicked out some local because we had “reserved” seats.  We very quickly realized that with the amount of luggage we had that we would be lucky to ever have our feet touch the ground once we were all in the little “booth” for 8.  It became apparent that the reservations were probably a waste and that we really needed to spread out into different booths to ensure some space while travelling.

The ride was uneventful and I nodded in and out of sleep for a while until Francis came down and told us that he had been told we would all be getting out and taking the BUS at the next stop. 

“That’s silly”, I said, “This is a direct train.. they won’t make us change”

The conductor came by to check our tickets and said “You transfer to bus next stop”

“Why”, I asked.

He simply repeated his last statement and carried on punching tickets, leaving us wondering what exactly was going on.

Twenty minutes after our chatty friend told us we’d be getting off, we stopped.  And, we got off.  EVERYONE.  We were hustled off the train and the announcer voice in the station said that they were doing work on the lines hence we would be shuttled to the next stop.  OK.  Or so I thought.  We began detraining – no small feat with some of the luggage that we, as a group, were carrying.  I dropped on piece on Mrs D while taking it down from the rack.  Yikes.  It glanced off her shoulder.  It hurt her, but it DEFINITELY could have been worse.  Once we were all on the platform and migrating toward the exit we realized the dreaded thing about small stations… NO ESCALATORS.  Once again, we fumbled down steps rather haplessly and then back up again to get to the street.  There were buses lined up, we picked one and just as I was about to bring my luggage to the hold, the driver closed the luggage compartment.

“Sorry. Full”, and off he went to go drive his bus.

Mrs D complained that our party was being split up.  I’m not sure if he heard or not but he certainly didn’t give much of a hoot.  Another driver said, “They all go same place… get on!”

So we got on and settled in.  The bus ride was about 30-45 minutes and we arrived at our next station after passing the point on the rails that they are repairing.  It was interesting to see that they are installing concrete railroad ties instead of wood.

Once off the bus we all hauled over to the train with our luggage in tow, being bounced about as it crossed over steps, rocks, etc.  Our group got on a car which appeared quite full.  Maggie and I negotiated a spot in a booth that seemed much more modern – it was sealed windows and air conditioned in contrast to the open window cooling that previous car had. Francis was convinced that we had somehow found our way into 1st class and that we would have to move.  The rest of our group relocated back a couple of cars and they had told me it was more spacious.  I wasn’t about to move…I was going have A/C!

About 15 minutes after starting up, it quickly became apparent that A/C was some engineer’s idea when designing the car, but someone seems to have left something vital out of the equation.  Despite the best efforts of myself and two other Czech gentlemen twiddling the A/C dial, nothing cooled us.  Thanks to the sealed windows we actually were set up for a slow cook.  As I sat there in the train trying to sleep I could feel drop after drop of sweat slowly form on my forehead and brow and then run down my cheeks.  It was like Africa all over but without the cool views 😦

Mrs D came by again and convinced me to move. (Not too hard really – I would have happily relocated to Hades for the cooling pleasure at this point).  They had open windows and cool breezes.  Wow!  The last hour of the train ride was WAY more comfortable. 🙂

We arrived in Cesky Budejovice at 1400.  We would have to walk about 1km to our place.  No problem.  We talked to the info center lady and she pointed us on our way with a free copy of the town map.  The walk was pleasant, if not a bit hot.  We found our apartments that we would be staying in for the night.  Mrs D, Maggie, Francis and I were staying in a two bedroom loft apartment while the others were staying in a mid floor apt.  They were both quite nice.  The fellow that checked us in was very helpful and ever carried a bag up the 3 flights of winding stairs (MORE STAIRS!) for one of the women in our group.

Having finally made it to our destination, it was now time for us to eat lunch and then pop over to the bus station to organize tomorrow’s bus trip to our two day stay location of Cesky Krumlov.

The little restaurant in the “complex” with the apartments had a nice lunch and once again we really confused the heck out of the poor waiter by asking for spare bowls and plates to share our meals asian style.  LOL.

With some food in our bellies, we headed out to see some features of the local square.  The “black tower” closed at 1800 and it was already 1600 so we decided that we had best get up there and see what we could see.  It was a 72m climb up concrete and wooden steps and ladders until we came to the viewpoint.  30cK/person seemed pretty reasonable after climbing that far.  We had a great view of the old village square and the area around the town. I shot a couple of panos that I’d certainly like to see later – they should come out quite nicely.

The descent was more perilous but easier than the ascent.  We got down fairly quickly and then headed into the old town square, the centrepiece of which is a fountain.  We shot all kinds of shots around that fountain including some mock “beauty shots” and other fun times. We spent about an hour just shooting there!

Since time was ticking on we decided we had best get down to the bus station as soon as possible.  Where was it?  Oh – right next to the train station!!!  Another 1km walk to get down to the station. We paused and shot some lovely flowers along the way and arrived at the bus station window at 1835.  We fiddled and fussed and asked the lady at which time the buses ran to C. Krumlov.  She showed us a timetable and we fiddled and fussed some more wondering which time we should go.  We were just about to decide when she started closing up. AGGH! She pointed to the sign indicating that she was only open until 1830.  Nooo!!! We asked if we could get 8 people on the 1600 bus… she nodded and then proceeded to continue closing.  Nooo!!! We then asked if we could buy our tickets for that bus now.  No.  Apparently it’s first come, first serve seating on the bus and you just pay the driver when you get on.  Yes, this means that our trip to the bus station was in vain. Haha… Urgh.

Not to let an opportunity to shop pass us buy, the women pointed out that since the bus station was attached to a shopping mall, it would be waste not to shop.  Francis, Maggie and I settled down at a cafe and had iced coffees while the others shopped (and shopped some more)  2000 and all the shopping was done.  Now we were going head out and have dinner at a classic Bohemian beer parlour.  Boy did that ever describe it.  We were going to sit inside but the smoke and the noise made hard to enjoy so we sat outside where only the wafting smoke was a problem as it oozed out the front door and dragged its tar soaked odour across us on its way out into the great expanse. 

We ordered a round of Budweiser Budvar and even those that didn’t really drink had some.  We also ate pigs knuckles, roast duck, sausages and salad… quite the perfect foods for having with beer (well – maybe not the salad).

As we walked home, at 2200 fireworks lit off from the direction of the train station.  We don’t know why but it made a nice diversion to stop walking and watch them for about 10 minutes.  It was really cool when the first one exploded and bats all flew out of their resting places… like something you’d see in a Stephen King movie.

Well – again I find myself writing the blog at 2300 and looking to find some more photos to upload. I’ll try and shoot up a dozen more today!

I hope you’re enjoying the trip virtually along with us!

Cheers!





May 27, 2010 – Day 3 Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic

27 05 2010

Mrs D and I got out to an early start today.  We were up at 0630 and getting things organized in the room.  We had an early breakfast at the buffet (standard – scrambled eggs, bacon, beans, wieners, yoghurt, sliced cheeses and an assortment of cold cuts).  With some time to spare before the others would be ready, I headed back up to the room and attempted to do some basic photo editing… Wow.. we took 3GB of photos yesterday.  Bigger is NOT always better :(  Do I really need 18Mpx resolution of a “snapshot”?  I’m definitely going to have to resize the photos that are in that category… My poor harddrive on my laptop will never survive this trip otherwise.

We arrived at the bus stop at 0915 to be ready for the 0930 pickup for the trip to Karlovy Vary.  It was an interesting trip.  We had 8 of us and 8 others.  The tour guide said everything in 3 languages: English, German and Russian.  Boy, that must have been annoying for him.  The bus ride was about 2.5 hours with short pee break at a gas station about 1.5 hours out of Praha.  Everyone was happy for the break. 🙂

Before heading into the hot springs core we stopped at the Moser Glass Factory where we watched the glass blowers work in teams of three to create beautiful glass vases and goblets.  I even had the opportunity to go and try blowing some glass myself.   Definitely NOT an easy task.  A 10 minute opportunity to visit around the store gave us the chance to see some amazing products… there was just no way that it was going to be able to make it home in one piece 😦

Upon our arrival in Karlovy Vary we went straight for lunch.  It was a good lunch. we started with a cheese and onion soup and I had chosen the pork and “potato pancakes” while others had the goulash or the chicken.  I had a nice Pilsner Urquel with my lunch and we finished it off with an apple strudel.  Satisfying.  With lunch behind us, we headed out to see the town.  

Our guide led us down the “hot springs” path and we stopped and saw the 12 different springs, highlighted by the “number one” spring that is actually a geyser spouting up to 17 metres in the air.  It was inside a large glass hall so that you could even enjoy it in the snowy winter.  “Yellowstone in a building” :)  The thing to do with this water is not to sit and soak like many hot springs… you DRINK it.  Mrs D and I purchased a special little drinking cup that allows you to sip your hot springs water while walking.  Apparently good for all that ails your stomach.  I don’t know about that, but I’m pretty sure I have had my annual dose of Iron, Mg, Ca and a few other minerals.  An acquired taste.

We wandered the path along the river and took some photos and enjoyed the day that had started with rain but was beautifully sunny this afternoon.  We went up to see the hot springs pool at the top of the “Thermal Hotel” but it turned out to be rather disappointing. It really was just a pool which was warmed by the springs.  Nothing overly special.

Our bus left at 1700 and we got back to Praha though the fields of rapeseed and rolling hills by 1930.

Francis and I headed down to the train station to acquire tickets and reservations for tomorrows trip to Cesky Budejovice, while the girls all went and shopped (again!) We had planned to meet back at 2030 but Francis and I were so quick we were back by 2000.  We hung out by the old square and had a coffee to keep us happy while we waited.  While seated in the restaurant, eight members of the France Chapter of the Hells Angels sat down next to us.  Seemed like nice folks.  I guess they are if you don’t piss them off 😉

The girls arrived at 2030 and we headed off to dinner.  We had a variety of foods – steak, roast duck, spaghetti, chicken and salad.  It’s odd trying to explain to European waiters that you want to share your food around the table “Chinese Style”  They really give you a funny look.  We stopped at Hagen Daas for ice cream on the way back to hotel.  We got back to our room at almost 2300.

Having settled in and started my photos uploading, I headed out to the local casino to try my luck.  People here aren’t exactly regular blackjack players so it was a bit of a struggle with some of them at the table, but I had fun and managed to win a bit of money to help with the trip expenditures!

It’s now 0230 and I have to get up in about 5.5 hours so I’ll bid you all good night… Hopefully, I’ll be able to get back on in either Cesky Budejovice or Cesky Krumlov.

I’ve got some photos up:

http://www.fotothing.com/albums.php?action=viewphotos&albumid=3592

or, for the flickr oriented crowd:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dragonspeed/sets/72157624150660692/





May 26, 2010 – Day 2 Praha, Czech Republic

26 05 2010

We were supposed to get up and meet our friends down at the lobby to to go by 0930.  that kind of fell to the wayside…  We had 1 power outage last night and then another 4 this morning.  It’s POSSIBLE that some tech geek overloaded the circuit, but you can’t prove that ;)  Nice shiny hotel, old wires probably.

It was cloudy and had rained last night.  We made sure we were all prepared.  Rain gear for backpacks and camera bags as well as something to make sure WE were warm and dry.  We headed out to the Prague Castle to see the various interesting things there by 1000.

We walked similar paths to the ones walked yesterday and strangely enough, things looked different in the morning light so we stopped and shot some pics as we walked over to the Charles bridge. Once at the Bridge, Mrs D and I waited for the group and had a good time hanging out and shooting snaps.  By 1100 the rest of the group caught up and we began the climb up to Prague Castle.  The castle structure is centered by one VERY huge cathedral, the cathedral of St. Vitus.  We rented the audioguides which gave us a great understanding of St. Wenceslas and the history of the Czech state while explaining the cathedral.  We took a LOT of pictures in the cathedral as there really was basically one beautiful thing after another.  Wow!  Such beautiful and storied history.

Following the Cathedral, we headed into St. George’s Basilica… A lovely old church that was first built in the 10th century.  It, like the Cathedral has endured fires and bombardment from many centuries.  The Basilica was quite simple but very nice as well.

While in the palace grounds we visited the old palace, the Rosenberg palace and the toy museum.  Wow… what a long day! We had left our hotel at 1000 and didn’t get out of the Castle Grounds until 1800!  We walked down and into the downtown via another bridge.  This time we had a much better view of the Krumlov (Charles)  bridge because we were down river.

We arranged our trip for tomorrow – Karlovy Vary and we looked for a nearby restaurant.  Tonight we had Italian.  It was quite good.  Odd to be eating pizza in the Czech Republic :)  Dinner lasted us until 2100.  At that time the majority of the group headed out for some shopping and looking around while I met up with my colleague Stepan to have a few beers of the original Budvar.  Not that watery tasteless crap that they call Budweiser in the US but real, QUALITY pilsner lager and only about $1.50/pint!!!    We drank until 2300 when it seems that Prague rolls up the streets.  Only a few places are open past 2300 – clubs, casinos, discos.  I walked home with my directions from Stepan… I didn’t get lost!  So, I wound my up to our hotel room and promptly blew the breaker – AGAIN -  After getting that fixed, I finally got this blog finished.  We’ve got a 10 hour tour tomorrow, so I’m off to get my sleep while I still can!

 

p.s. the Internet is lightning fast here!  1Mbps UPLINK which means I’m getting my photos synced to home every night!  We’ shot 3GB of photos today!

 

See you tomorrow!





Vancouver-Seattle-Amsterdam-Praha

25 05 2010

Wow…  what a long day/2 days. 

We started our journey at home at 0730 PDT on Monday and we are finally about to crash out and sleep at 23:45 CET on Tuesday.  The flights weren’t bad, but they were flights…it sucks the life out of you.

We caught a Taxi (AAA Radio Taxi are the ones you want to use) from Praha Airport to our Hotel.  What a lovely hotel.  The Grand Majestic Plaza Hotel is quite nice.  Definitely more than I was expecting.  They have free WIRED internet… and it’s FAST! 🙂

After getting our room, we found Francis and Maggie.  Next thing I knew we were going on the grand walking tour of Praha.. Oh my…. We saw the towers, the bridge, and the palace/castle from far.  The weather was warm and sunny, so between lack of sleep and a lot of walking I felt about ready to pass out.  We went back to our hotel room for 1730.

I always wondered how foreign medical service is in various global countries… Today we got to find out – Here it was quite good.  Apparently one our travelling group had come in contact with something that caused her to have an allergic reaction.  We had to call a doctor to come and make a “hotel-call”.  A hydrocortisone shot and a prescription later he was on his way.  He was richer and our travelling companion was on her way to recovery.

For dinner we checked out the upside down Koala pub/restaurant and had some goulash beef tenderloin and other Czech specialties.  Of course I had some pilsner 🙂 Delicious.

We walked off dinner pretty much the same way that we killed ourselves in the afternoon.  We headed down to Charles Bridge to shoot the castle/palace at night.  Got some decent shots along the way.  I’m glad we did it but I AM tired!

We bid good night to all and headed up to our room, only to find it in the dark.  Totally.  Trip down to the desk to get someone to look into it.  It would appear that _SOMEONE_ blew the circuit for 3 rooms.  I wonder who that could be… I was only running a laptop and charging two batteries… me?  Hmmm, probably coincidence.

Midnight now – Time for some shuteye!





Pike’s Peak

16 05 2010

Since you’ve read about it, I should also show you:

Click on the images for larger versions 🙂

From below:

PikesPeak Colorado

And a panorama view from almost the top:

pikespeak mountain panorama colorado pikes peak





Mile High Meadowlark

16 05 2010

I was down near Denver this past week and work had me so busy, I thought I’d NEVER get out to shoot. Saturday morning gave me a brief opportunity and I wasn’t disappointed. I got my first meadowlark:

Such a lovely song!








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