Czech countryside and no mishaps

Trip Start May 09, 2012
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Trip End Jun 05, 2012


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Flag of Czech Republic  , Moravia,
Saturday, May 19, 2012



The rolling hills of the Czech Repubic and no mishaps

Fact correction from last blog entry: It was Cassius, not Julius Caesar, who said "The fault ,dear Brutus, is not in our stars,…." My learned Australian editor, John Carrick, called that to my attention.

 Three days in Prague (actually 1 full ones) was not enough time, so maybe 3 full days (with no mishaps to slow you down) with 4 nights would do it. 

Our landlord was such a doll.  I will recommend that apartment for a return
trip to Prague if anyone wants to come back with me (I haven't had a misstep since the Passport and Key Fiascos, so I think I’m back to my old organized self)

 Apt Info:  The apartment is located behind the Narodni Divadlo (national theatre) which is a perfect location (a stone’s throw from the river and walking distance of everything—with great service by trams and grocery/bankomat nearby). I rented it through Wimdu.com and it’s name there is “Apartment at National Theatre- Ap 1” – host Jan Chleboun (janalex@seznam.cz), Ostrovni 7, 110 00 Prague.  Tram #9 from train station.   Two bedrooms – king-sized beds but made up of two single mattresses so one can be put one on the floor for a separate bed.  One bedroom has an extra single bed. Kitchen well stocked with implements. Large frig. Tiny balc. but in the shade and not good for cocktail hour.   Cost (prepaid in USA in dollars) +$35 Wimdu fee = $327 total for 3 nights.

 
Fortunately we had two sets of keys (3, actually, if you count the ones I lost then found) so Darcy and I could split up and walk around at our individual wills, which was good. Although we more or less wanted to see the same things, our walking paces are quite different. 

 Again, if you want to know about the sites, read a guidebook.  I’ll just give you my
impressions.   Loved the Czechs.  Very helpful. Found that they don’t smile a lot but especially the young ones are helpful and know pretty good English.  

 Darcy, as usual, had made a real attempt to learn Czech before coming and it was very helpful.   She was good because she paid attention to getting the pronunciation right.

Travel Tip: For countries where the root of the language is quite diff. from ours so it’s hard to recognize words - whereas in Western Eur. it’s not as much a problem – before
you go to these countries, study-up a bit on the usual (hello, please, thank you, excuse me) but also so you can recognize major signs you may need: toilet (men/women), train station, tram, exit, entrance, ticket, warning, etc.   English-speakers in the city are pretty available here, but signs are all CZ. German is probably the best 2nd language to have in CZ.


 

One great thing we found in Vienna and Prague is that major sites included an audiophone with your entrance ticket, so you could go through palaces and such at your own pace. However, once we left Prague and went into the provinces, the castles and chateaux had only guided tours (always in Czech) and just gave you a cheat-sheet with minimal info. in English, but you had to stay with the group – no wandering at your own pace and spending time over things that you really liked.  

 We’re going to write Rick Steves and give him a piece of our mind on one of the restaurants recommended in his book.  It’s called (for those who may stumble on it) Plzenska Rest. U Dvou Kocek (translates to something like “By the two cats.”   Nice enough atmosphere of a pub
but the two waitperson ladies were snide and vengeful.   First, we asked for a glass of water – not bottled but from the tap – so she brings us two separate bottles of water (however, the tops were off so for all we knew it was tap water).   Then she slams our plates down on the table
(as she did to others, so it wasn’t just us). 

While we ate there was this pretty bad accordion player who was being monopolized by a rowdy table of a man (German?) and 3 women who were singing the Russky songs the accordion player was playing.  I thought that might be offensive to the other diners, as there is no love lost between Czechs and Russians since they did awful things to the country.  You
could see nice-looking older people looking askance at that table.  But it went on and on and player just stayed at that table.  We though he didn’t
circulate because he knew he’d have no takers at any other table.   Well, when we got our bill it was almost twice as much as we expected.  Of course they charged us for the water but also they charged us for the MUSIC!!   That foul sound that issued from that fetid table?  That was music?   We protested vehemently but the waiter got distracted by a call from the next table, so we just left what we thought was fair recompense for the food and wine, and walked out…swiftly.   They didn’t come after us, but we ducked into some narrow streets as soon as we could.

The beer really is good in Czech Rep.   I am not a beer drinker but this was truly good tasting.

 We picked up our rental car to take off driving for 4 days into the countryside to see a bunch of castles and chateaux in Moravia (southern Cz.).  In Prague, we were in Bohemia.

 Picking up the car at the train station was easy, but we had to follow a not detailed enough map to get out of Prague on the freeway/ring road that they have.  You know how nerve-wracking it can be when you’re a stranger on a city expressway with the exits coming at you fast and cars zipping around you.   Well, I noticed that all the cars on the freeway around the city were going quite pleasantly slow, which made finding our exit much easier (even though we DID miss it).   Later on I learned that the speed limit on Cz. Freeways is 130 kph (that’s about 78 mph) BUT there’s a law that you can only go 80 kph (50mph) on freeways within city limits.   That is soooo sensible.  In Seattle it’s 60 mph through the city but 50 would be better (of course during rush-hour it’s less than even that).

 

Czech roads are good and the drivers are quite reasonable.  Darcy navigated as usual and
we had our initial, usual spats about her telling me something that was so obvious – like “you need to turn right up here” when I could see this huge sign that told me that.   But she was in the right because it is the job of the navigator to do just that and it’s useful backup in case I’m distracted.

Travel Tip: The road map was good but Darcy said the route size designations were misleading.  Red roads may be more minor than the white roads on the map, when it should be the opposite.  But no roads were bad.  Also, when going around a round-about or in towns when you are looking for the sign to the next town you want, the Czechs have a way of positioning the direction sign at a weird angle so it’s ambiguous which is the actual turn you need to make.

 

We took only minor country roads, which were gorgeous.   We went through fields and fields of some crop with bright yellow flowers.  I got out and picked one and the stem and leaves were the color of a fresh soy bean, so I assumed it was soy.   I would have expected more corn and wheat.   At first we thought it was mustard, but not even the Cz and German populations with the vast amounts of wieners they eat could use that much mustard.

 In Moravia, we went to 4 main little towns with castles or the like:   Cesky Krumlov,  Telc, Milukov, Lednice and Valtice (quick stops in Znojno,Breclav and Kromeriz).   We stayed in
hotels that all had these fabulous smorgasbord breakfasts (included), where we not only made our ham and cheese sandwiches for our lunches, but also snagged more cheese and bread for  later in the day when we would be having our cocktail hour. So we only really had to pay for one meal a day.

 Next time I come here I’m going to get a bunch of people, some of whom like to bike, and we’ll rent a villa in the middle of the wine country triangle of Milukov, Lednice and Valtice,  and just bike all over the place.  It’s totally flat and all vineyards, so lots of wine-tasting possible.   The
castles/chateaux are very nice and have lovely grounds that they call gardens but are really fields full of wild flowers and gorgeous oak trees.  Most palaces/castles have metamorphosed from medieval seats of power to 19th century seats of power, with the reconstruction
architecture changing with each century, and then there was always the inevitable fire in the 1500s or 1600s that burned everything down, so some exhibited nothing older than the late 1700s and many were from the 1800’s.

 

One curious thing is that every little town we drove into or through had a “torture museum” of some sort.  That tells you something about the tribulations these people have been
suffering for centuries.  And it wasn’t just from the olden days – the Nazis and Soviets did their fair share of it too to these folks.   You don’t go through a town in USA and see a sign for a torture museum which is probably because our country didn’t go through the Dark Ages and century after century of wars and invasions, so we missed a lot of that institutionalize torture…even though torture went on, you can be sure.

 Speaking of torture, one of the most chilling and dramatic things we saw in southern Moravia
was a portion of the old Iron Curtain that the Soviets/CZ commies built along the Austrian border in 1951.  It was a tall, barbed wire fence (electrified in those days), with watchtowers every so
often.  They built it 2 kms from the Austria border and razed all the villages in that 2-km no-man’s zone.   The historical marker said thousands of Czechs were killed at that border trying to escape, and 634 border guards died, but only 18 deaths were in the line of duty – the others committed suicide or were accidentally killed, and some no doubt got shot trying to escape themselves.

 Darcy and I always had our Gracious Hour at the end of each day, which was from our own bottles of local wine and cheese we’d picked up.For simplicity I decided not to drag gin around for gin & tonics because, logistically, they are too burdensome.   The wine was certainly good – except one “sauvignon” turned out to be more like chardonnay, which I couldn’t even finish.   The problem is that I didn’t pay enough to get the good local wine, which was a huge mistake because it’s not all that expensive.    The wines we bought were all less than $10.

 The closest we came to a disaster on our road trip was when we drove into the Brno Airport
to drop off the car (a cute little yellow fiat which I loved because it had manual shift).  On our reservation, it very clearly stated that we’d pick up the car at Budget in Prague and drop it off at the Brno airport at 5:00 pm.   I would have driven it into Brno
to drop it off but we were arriving on a Saturday and the only place you could
drop a car off on Sat. was the airport (up to 6pm).  We were a little ahead of time so we arrived
to drop it off at 3:00 pm.  Not clear where to put the car, so Darcy hopped out and ran into the airport to find the Budget counter to get instructions and tell them we had arrived. Well, just as she arrived at the Budget counter (all the other rental car counters were closed), the guy was closing up and about to take off for the day.  She just caught him in time.  We would have been totally screwed if we had gotten there at the appointed time of 5 pm.   He said he had no information a car was going to be dropped off at 5 pm (which he must have known because it’s all computerized), but he checked us in.  

We had been told by the Budget guy in Prague that it’s cheaper to fill the tank up at the Budget place than a gas station, which I didn’t really believe and it turned out he was wrong (or more
likely we didn’t understand his minimal English).  I had filled up not too far from the airport
because I suspected it’d cost more, but it turned out to cost TWICE as much per liter than at gas stations.  We owed 8 liters.  We told the guy that we’d been told it was cheaper at Budget and he felt sorry for us and said he’d knock the price per liter down for us.  Very nice of him.  They are going to put it on my credit card so we’ll see if he ended up being as magnanimous as he led us to believe.  Actually, the Prague agency will do the accounting and they may not be so magnan.

Travel Tip: When you have a rental car, always call ahead to the place you are going to drop it off to make sure they know you are coming and what time.

I will let the photos tell you the rest of the story of our trip around the country.  If you click on
them you’ll see my notations, I think. I'll add more later, because I want you to see Lednice.   I’ll fill you in on Brno (last day in CZ) and Budapest anon.  We’re actually on the train heading for Budapest now and there’s an electric plug by my seat so I can type on my computer.  The scenery from the train isn’t that great – but it was AWESOME on our road trip down to and through Moravia.
PS:  Darcy says I should forget this blog and just put my photos up on Picasa with a few comments.  I may do that, as I'm getting behind. 
 

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Comments

lynnefulp
lynnefulp on

I vote nay on Darchie's suggestion - the blog is really interesting and entertaining!

Amity on

I agree - keep up the blog - I can hear your voice...

Maxine on

Those yellow fields are most likely rapeseed. One variety is the source of canola oil, others yield vegetable oils, biodiesel, animal feed, and winter cover for crops. Have fun you two!

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