February 9-12, 2016
Getting to Prague
Sylvie and I had a long day of public transport. We caught a bus from Zakopane at 6:20 that arrived in Krakow at 8:30. We then spent 6 hours walking around Krakow and planning more for our Eastern Europe leg of our trip. We caught our bus leaving Krakow and watched Brokeback Mountain. Wow, what a good movie! We arrived at a train station after 3 hours and had to wait for 1.5 hours until our train to Prague left. We enjoyed a subpar Czech beer before boarding our train. I refused to pay a dollar to pee in the train station—instead I just went outside. The train was very nice and we had had our own room (well we shared it with only one other person). We watched the movie Sophie School – The Final Days. It was a biopic German film about Sophie Scholl. The movie was touching and Sophie Scholl is truly an amazing woman. We learned about her during our walking tour in Munich. Our train arrived at 10pm and we should be at our hotel by 10:30…Sylvie will surely be exhausted after 17 hours of traveling.
We slept in and ate breakfast at 9. Boy was it a feast- free breakfast provided by the hotel, a rare luxury. Sylvie loaded up on carbs like she was on death row. After breakfast we walked around town for several hours. We visited Old Town and walked through Old Town Square. The architecture of the buildings surrounding the square reminded us of a fairytale with a gothic edge because of the black pointy roofs. To get a better view of Old Town we paid a couple dollars to climb to the top of clock tower. I was able to take some great photos while over looking the city. Climbing down from the clock tower we were able to catch the clock striking two o’clock. It was quite a lackluster show- just a few moving figurines and ringing bells. From Old Town Square we headed to the old Jewish quarter. The small three block Jewish ghetto contained several synagogues.
Black Light Theaters
We continued walking through town to check out several black light theaters that we had researched as an option for entertainment later in the evening. The black light theaters interested us because they are mime/musical shows without words-so, no language barrier. We stopped by a few theaters, but upon further research we learned that the shows are a big gimmicky and designed for tourists. Instead, we decided to catch a jazz show at Reduta Jazz Club, which features live music every night of the week. Bill Clinton even performed there is 1992.
We came back to our hostel and I wrote pitch letters to a few dozen magazine and websites in hopes of writing travel articles for other blogs and websites. I also negotiated a higher base rate for an article with one of our sponsors, now $90/article of 1,000 words.
Dinner and a Show
After resting for a bit we went for dinner at a Vietnamese place around the corner from our hotel. We ate a quick meal in order to make it to the jazz club by 9. We arrived at the club and found our reserved seats. We bought some drinks and sat down for the show. We were disappointed to learn that the drummer for the three-man band was home sick. The band was ok, but would have been much better with the percussion. We left at intermission.
On our second day in Prague, I walked across the famous St. Charles Bridge toward the Prague Castle. On the way I made a stop at the colorful Lennon Wall. I walked around the castle, but didn’t go in. It was beautiful and reminded me of the cathedral we saw in Cologne. It was a shame that a more modern building was built around the perimeter of the castle so that the only way to see the full castle is from up close. I was able to see the entire city of Prague from where the castle was situated on the hill.
After my trip to the castle, I met Sylvie at a beer hall to try some of the Czech beer that we’d heard so much about. But, after trying it, I have realized that beer in the Czech Republic is not good! 90% of all they have are Pilsners…and they are <5% alcohol to top it off. Their pilsners aren’t even that good. Their most popular beer is Pilsner Urquell. That’s like going to the states and finding out that Budweiser is the best option around! I have also found some of the people here to be unwelcoming and a bit rude. If you work in the tourism industry, it would be in your benefit to treat tourists in a friendly manner… most of our servers, the people working at the Casino, and several people on the street have been cold and rude. However, despite the lack of hospitality, I do love the city’s beautiful architecture.
Getting to Cesky Krumlov
We left our hotel by 6am sharp to catch our 7am bus. We raided the included breakfast buffet before heading out—they were still setting up but we were able to make out with some sandwiches and pudding.
We watched the biopic film, “Factory Girl”, and arrived at 10am. We dropped our belongings off at the adorable hotel that is comprised of only 3 rooms. The owner lives here with his children and the main area is used by nearby students to practice, take lessons, and perform on the occasional evening. The owner gave Sylvie and me a bunch of great advice about visiting the city. He warned us of tourist traps and informed us of more ‘genuine’ places.
The first place we went was at the recommendation of the hotel owner—a café owned by a nice woman. The cakes are handmade by her each morning before she opens for the day. We enjoyed coffee and carrot cake (all for only $5). We continued down the adorable cobblestone streets across the river to the central area of town. There was a square with a large monument in the center, similar to one in Prague’s Old Town Square. We walked around a bit admiring the quaint atmosphere. The streets were lined with souvenir shops but there was still a light peppering of authenticity—family owned shops restaurants.
We walked across another bridge to get to the castle, which is over 700 years old—it gets its current appearance from the 16th-18th century. The painting of the castle seemed a bit tacky by today’s standards. It looked like something a modern building would use…you know, where wallpaper I used to look like marble or stone. However I had to keep telling myself that it was actually painted hundreds of years ago and was not in face wallpaper. We walked up a steep hill towards the castle’s gardens to get a better view of the city and hillside.
On the walk back from the castle we stopped at the pub Depo. They had Pilsner Urquell on tap and not much else. We have noticed that beer is served differently here in the Czech Republics. One can order a beer three ways—sweet, slice, and smooth. A smooth pour is a beer served in the typical style we all know. However ordering a beer served “sweet” means you get a beer that is 1/3 beer and 2/3 foam. A beer served “slice” means a tad more beer and a tad less foam than a “sweet” beer.
During our walk back to our hotel we stopped by the restaurant “Papa’s” to check their menu. The restaurant, along with the pub, was suggestions that came from the owner of our hotel. We also tried to find the “Gypsy Room” a small live music spot that played authentic Roma music. We struggled to find the place but finally discovered its location thanks to Google Translate. The place was called “Gypsy Room” but in Czech. Unfortunately they were not playing live music this evening.
Back at the hotel Sylvie and I admired the décor of our little room. It was amusing to have a bathroom without a door. As we finally sat down to take off our shoes after having been on the go for the last 10+ hours we were greeted by a little fellow. A fluffy white cat had found it way in through the window that Sylvie had just opened. The cat made his way onto the bed where it plopped down on my chest. It didn’t help that Sylvie kept calling to it and welcomed it into our home for the night.
After our refreshing nap we went out to eat at a place called, “Papa’s”—a nice restaurant recommended by our hotel owner. We ordered a goat cheese salad with caramelized onions that was quite decadent. The wedge of goat cheese was slightly larger than a hockey puck! The chicken wings and grilled veggies we also ordered were just ok! We also split a glass of Czech red wine—all of this for only $21.
The next morning I went to a grocery store while Sylvie made breakfast. I was trying to spend every last Czech piece of currency I had. I had 106.5 and was able to use 103. We took a 8-person shuttle to Vienna early the next morning that I had scheduled for us several days earlier. There is no regular bus service to Vienna (or really anywhere) from Cesky Krumlov.
We’ve noticed that the vast majority, maybe 80-95%, of the tourists here are from Asia. It’s quite striking! In Prague we also saw a disproportionate number of Asian tourists, though not as many as we see here. I strongly urge anyone coming around this area to check out Cesky Krumlov. It’s a romantic, quaint, and affordable place to visit. One can only imagine how beautiful it is in the summer months.