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Czech Republic

Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech republic

Kutna Hora

October 23, 2004
Skeleton Church

We got off the train from Krakow to Prague in Kolín and quickly got a train to Kutná Hora, arriving to that town at about 7:30am or perhaps a touch sooner, just in time to see the sun rise as the horizon brightened with pinks, purples, and blues as the ground was covered in a fog.

Waiting for our destination to open, we walked around town for awhile, grabbed some food, struggled to stay awake. We stopped at Sedec Ossuary when it opened; this church was the motivation for our stop, to see the church decorated with the bones of 40,000 people. It was as macabre as it sounds, but quite surreal and impressive, particularly the chandelier and coat of arms.

Prague

October 23, 2004
Beautiful Architecture in a Tourist Trap

After our stop yesterday at Kutna Hora, we got a train to Prague, arriving at about noon. On the way we decided what hostels we wanted to stay in, but soon discovered all of our top choices were filled up. One showed up a nearby hostel, which was more expensive, but set in a great location and a quiet hostel with few party-goers. We dropped our stuff off at our hostel then began our day of sight-seeing.

Our first stop was in Josefov to see the synagogues and the Jewish cemetery. Next, we headed down to the river where we meandered down a small street/back ally where we found affordable food for an early dinner.

Following dinner, we walked through old town and Josefov to the east side and Nové Mésto, then flanked the entire old town until we reached Václavské nám (Wenceslas square) and people watched for the rest of the evening.

We heard just about every language on earth here, but mostly German, American English, and British English. While people watching, a girl with a very heavy accent asked me to take a picture of her and her boyfriend in English so I did. What gets me is that they approached me in English, not her native language whatever that is and not in Czech.

Soon after getting our fill of people watching, we went south and found an area completely covered in graffiti; our guide books didn't recommend anything in this area, but I enjoyed it. Our next stop, the area south of Malá Strana (quarter) was, thus far my favorite part of the city; much of the city has thousands of tourists as, it seems to me, the local Czech culture is being replaced by something new entirely, placed within a frame of incredible architecture. The area of Malá Strana is overpriced, since it's the embassy district, but just a few blocks further south you'll find nothing more than locals and quickly declining prices. The streets here were peaceful, narrow, and cobblestoned; the buildings were great and beautiful; it was peaceful and quite. No sooner did I start to like it when we hit Malostranské nám, again half touristy, but much less so... much more fun and less crowded.

By this point yesterday evening we were very tired so headed back to our hostel where we ate and very quickly crashed. We have two roommates, a Pole from Gdansk and a Japanese. The Pole was very friendly and the Japanese didn't speak enough English to talk to, but earlier in the day we made an eating sign and invited him out to dinner anyway, an offer he declined.

Today we got up and saw Charles Bridge early, a great idea since there were no tourists and the people selling souvenirs were only starting to come out when we were leaving. We then headed down to Vyšehrad, a great place, sort of a park with walls and a history. It was peaceful and had few tourists. We ate here and got great views of the river and city.

In the afternoon we needed to see Carolinum, the oldest building of Charles University; Collegium Maius (my university building in Krakow) is more impressive in my opinion, but perhaps that's only because Carolinum was revamped and now has an electric gate in front of it and shiny gold letters nailed on the side saying "Charles University".

We walked around old town square for a couple hours and watched the astronomical clock, I bought a watercolor, then we headed back to the hostel to relax for about an hour. At the end of the night we went out and walked up the big hill near the tower and castle. It was a great walk and there were incredible views, but the top was closed, we got there at 6:05, five minutes late. It was beautiful none-the-less with all the leaves changing to reds and yellows. Derek joked about how this was the most romantic place he had ever been, but next time he'd bring a girl.

On our way back to our hostel, we stopped to eat at a restaurant we learned about the day before, but today the menu didn't seem as appetizing so we found a little Chinese restaurant instead, where Derek tried to communicate in Mandarin with the Cantonese-speaking staff.

October 24, 2004

This morning we grabbed a bite to eat on the way to the castle; the cathedral from the outside is incredible and so is the view from the tower, but the inside of the church and the crypt weren't anything to write home about. The palace was nice, as was Gold Street, but the latter felt re-created and more "cute" than authentic.

On the way to the train station we grabbed lunch from a street vendor and caught a train to Cesky Krumlov.

Impressions of Prague, well, it's a beautiful city, but the local culture and life seems to have been pushed out of the city by the tourists, whose culture of spending and partying has seemed to replace it. Many of the locals seemed fed up with tourists and by the end so was I; it was mostly big tour groups following a fan, a flower, or an umbrella like mindless cattle. I think the best way of putting it is that Praha, Czechoslovakia was probably a great city, perhaps one of the best in the world, but Prague, Czech Republic has died at the hands of tourists.

Cesky Krumlov

October 25, 2004
Authentic Czech Village

Yesterday, our train ride from Prague to České Budějovice had a stop that was way too long (we were waiting for another train to arrive for transfer passengers). We were entertained though by a train from Austria that had stopped across the platform from us. It was only about 1:00 in the afternoon, but they were already extremely drunk and didn't seem to have any motivation to slow down. Everyone was on the platform with the music blasting and the alcohol flowing, I saw three or four people put down two and a half bottles of some sort of purple liquor in a matter of 15 minutes; I was completely fixated on the scene... much better than TV.

We got to České Budějovice and caught a bus to Český Krumlov within minutes, but we had to stand on the bus since there was no more room. I was surprised on the way to Český Krumlov to see as many automobile manufacturers as we saw. We saw Ford, Chrysler, and a number of others. On the bus to Český Krumlov we had a number of young people wearing BMW hats and in the town itself we saw a lot of kids in a school group that were also wearing BMW hats. I can only guess that there was a BMW factory that we simply didn't see and that many people in Český Krumlov work there and commute daily, which would explain the number of buses between the two cities running constantly.

After arriving in Český Krumlov we immediately found a hostel, Hostel Merlin, which was cozy, but we soon took off to see the city. The town has a feel like no other place I've been, like a medieval city with few street lights and no cars; only the river could be heard. In town we got dinner and a local Budweiser beer, then headed back late and crashed for the night.

Today we got up and checked out the town in daylight. There was a fog over the city and everything seemed hazy, as if we had truly entered a different world; the fog kept us away from the reality that exists outside of Český Krumlov. The city reminded me of Iasi, Romania in the sense that it has a true feel that has been almost untouched for years and it still holds its culture, identity, and atmosphere that is so often lost in today's cities.

Unfortunately on the way out of town we missed our bus by seconds, we actually watched it drive away, so had to wait an hour to catch the next one. It was at this point that we had left this heaven and entered reality; we met two backpackers, one an older man from Alabama, who said he travels a lot in Eastern Europe and the other a Kiwi (New Zealander). We all separated in České Budějovice, from where Derek and I headed off to Telč.

Telc

October 26, 2004
Quiet Town in the Middle of the Country

On the way to Telč I noticed that the roads here are quite different than in the United States, but at the same time are very different from roads farther east. Roads here are typically marked and have curbs (in cities), a huge step up from Russia or Ukraine, but there seems to be only a few divided highways and the ones that do exist are usually only around the large cities, or between the large cities. This makes sense, but I'm used to divided highways being more common as an American. I think here divided highways only exist when the amount of traffic requires it, whereas in the U.S. they exist anywhere where the speed demands them.

Telč is surrounded by a man-made moat and the city seems separated from tourists. There was little to see and our bus was to leave only about an hour and a half after we arrived so we hulled through the city. We saw nearly everything, although skipping all of the details. It is a nice glimpse of the Czech countryside and glimpse is a good description given the amount of time we dedicated to the town.

We got to the train station in time to meet a Japanese traveler who spoke no English, but Derek knows a few Japanese phrases so tried to communicate. He smiled at us then took pictures of us, but that was the extent of our encounter.

Brno

October 26, 2004
All Travel is Based on Experiences, not Sights

The transportation to Brno yesterday went smoothly and once we arrived, we found information on a bus to Vienna today. At the bus timetable we met a guy from Singapore, who's English was pretty good and he had no fear to talk to anyone, unfortunately with this came an irrational fear of everything as he needed to know every detail.

The three of us wanted to find a hostel, but Derek and I wanted to see the city first since our time was limited and we were already downtown. The man from Singapore wanted to make sure he had accommodations so we parted ways, with the agreement that we'd meet up at an agreed upon hostel. It didn't take long before Derek and I were too tired to see the city so decided to go straight to the hostel though.

We took a tram to the hostel and as soon as we got off, we found our Singapore friend, who said that there was no room at the hostel. We decided to head inside anyway to ask if they knew of any other hostels where there might be room. As we entered the hostel the woman immediately began yelling at us, but we asked in a calm and controlled manner if she knew of a place that might have room. It was no later than 10 seconds after entering the building that she was frantically swearing at us and began throwing her hands down in a violent rage; in short this was the rudest woman I've ever met in my life.

We then went next door to a hotel to ask if they knew of other places to stay, but the woman from the hostel came in and began swearing at us again. The woman in the hotel was nice enough and tried to help, but the hostel woman jumped in and refused to let us be helped. I still don't know if she thought we were someone else, if our new friend from Singapore had offended her, or what her problem was.

The three of us headed back into town and I started calling every hostel and hotel we could find until we got a place on the opposite side of town. The three of us went there and found the place without much problem. Our host told us of a couple restaurants to eat at, but both were closed so we just called it a day.

This morning, just before getting on our bus to Vienna, I bought some food for the trip, but the driver said (in English) that "this is coach and so brunch is not allowed." I put the food in my backpack, but he wouldn't allow it, so I threw out my freshly bought and packaged food and stepped on the bus.

I was irate at this entire town, but as things settled down on that long bus ride to Vienna, all I could think about was a friend that lived in Brno for a number of months and who loved it. There is nothing wrong with Brno, but this was one of my worst travel experiences ever. I suppose this is what makes travel interesting, yet difficult. Travel consists of short stops and stays and in those short amounts of time, a place or a person will give you a lasting impression that is not easily overcome. If I met a generous person here I may love Brno, but I didn't, in fact I met some of the rudest people I've ever encountered. If I stayed here for months I would be able to weigh the good and bad and have a better feel for the city, but I didn't have that opportunity. At the end of the day I can only judge Brno on the experience I had, but I soon realized that I'm in no position to judge a place at all, especially one that I spent only a day in.

Experience is what dictates the impression a person has of a particular place or city and for each traveler and in each particular time period, that experience is different. Each person has a different expectation, a different perspective, and different interaction, a different bias and a different encounter. This is why one person may love a certain destination, and another person may avoid it.

Continue the above trip to: Austria

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Cesky Tesin

November 6, 2004
Run Across the Border

I decided to take a day trip to Český Těšin from my temporary home in Krakow, Poland. The bus ride was on a slow bus that stops in every town, but we made it the divided city, half Polish, half Czech, in a couple hours.

We followed the signs to what appeared to be the center of the town and asked a couple where Český Těšin was and they said to come with them, well, we think, they spoke Czech and a little Polish. Either way we followed them and got to the "border shack" at which point our delays began, since I was traveling with Elizabeth, a Bolivian citizen. They looked rather confused at first then took our passports and I believe looked Bolivia up on the computer to see how to proceed. They then went into the back room and dug through a drawer to find the passport stamp. The border guards then looked at the date and changed the stamp to match the date, I have no idea when the last time they used the stamp was. Either way they stamped the passport, then took both passports to the front and stamped them again.

We realized afterwards that they stamped my Bolivian friend out of Poland then into the Czech Republic, while they only stamped me into the Czech Republic. I thought that was odd and in addition that they had both stamps in the same room. Either way, we passed the border and our border guards seems intrigued by us.

We continued on to the Czech Republic and grabbed a bite to eat as soon as we crossed the border, 30 crowns for a kebab, much cheaper than in Krakow. As we continued to walk there were a lot of bag stores open, and nearly all of them run by Asians; it was rather odd. We soon found a map of the city and got our bearings as we continued on our leisurely day.

There were very few people out in the street at this time, 3:00pm and it felt almost like a ghost town seeing as how everything in the city was closed except the bag shops. We walked around the town square and saw a few people, but nothing too eventful.

The border crossing back to Poland was much quicker because they didn't even take my passport; they remembered us so simply waved me on as Elizabeth, the Bolivian got expedited service and got us through in nearly no time at all. The border guard also spoke some English and we some Polish so we worked together well; he just wanted to know what we were doing in Poland, out of curiosity, not on official business based on this tone.

We walked through the Polish side for a bit and took some pictures, but soon headed back to the bus/train station to get back to Krakow.

Learn more about Czech Republic Return to Justin's Travel Blog