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!

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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!








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