Holidays and Other Excursions

Category: Czech Republic

Euro Tour 6 – Prague to Vienna

Friday 28 July 2017

An earlier start today as our train leaves before 9, so we packed up the night before almost ready to go.  Once again the train not only has our booked party but also a large number of back packers.  My journey is occupied with listening to podcasts and catching up with The Archers.  Not sure if our fellow travellers have managed to catch up with getting podcasts but it seems unlikely.  We are in a “quiet” coach so I can merely sing along to Barwick Green so only Jackie can hear me.

At points we are also rolling along at a decent speed as this on board display makes clear (with apologies for the quality):

In Vienna we arrive at the brand new Hauptbahnhof.  After 15 years of planning and building the railway lines have been connected across Vienna (no doubt at some cost to older buildings) and there are now through services and not just a ring of stations on the various sides of the city.  Our local guide is waiting and leads us down the escalator to the waiting coach as we are straight into a city tour.

Jackie does not get a window seat on the coach and so we decide to return in the morning for some better photographs of the magnificent buildings on Ringstrasse.  The coach then drops us, not far I note from Sacher hotel, and we are taken by foot to the central Cathedral.  At the suggestion of our guide we choose to visit the inside St Peter’s church which is very elegantly and wonderfully decorated.

After a break we walk through the City passing through by Hofburg Palace; we also pass the home of the Spanish Riding School (there are no scheduled training sessions we can attend in our short time here unfortunately); and some hugely impressive architecture.  A mixture of photos can be found here.

Our coach journey also provides some orientation of the entire city as we are also taken over to the newer part of the City on the other side of the Danube.  Our hotel is a little way out of town and we are given some guidance on the local buses and trams as well as how to buy tickets to permit travel as it is only just walking distance.

The dinner tonight for all tour participants is in our hotel and can be best described as a little plain.  The main course of wiener schnitzel is of course typical Viennese fare; however compared with a similar item seen on a plate when passing through central Vienna earlier it seems a little small!  This does not inspire us as far as breakfast is concerned!





Euro Tour 5 – Prague

Thursday 27 July 2017

Today is a free day according to the official itinerary and we can therefore start a lot later, not only taking breakfast late but also setting out from the hotel much later in the morning.  As last night we take the metro but this time only as far as Staromestske and we then walk past the edge of the Jewish cemetery (given the buzz around much of the town this is very quiet) to the Cech bridge as our booked river cruise departs from the closely adjacent jetty (stage 5).

We are booked on the 2 hour lunchtime cruise which takes us along the Vltava and up the lock in the centre of the city and then we go further upstream to just beyond the railway bridge (Železniční most).  The boat then turns around returning via a complicated manoeuvre to allow a good look at the Charles Bridge.  The waterway is busy at this point and I have a feeling some of the waiting was also to allow proper pathing of various boats on shorter cruises.  We then go downstream as far as we can without going through the next lock down turning around just short of Hlávkův most before returning to our starting point at stage 5.

Lunch is generously catered with, amongst much else, a huge ham having slices carved off, lots of salad and a decent selection of cheeses.  Jackie has some very good ginger cake.  Our photos of the river trip are here.

One fascinating building we did see in the distance was the Dancing House, which is better explained and illustrated in the linked post than my pictures – a very different piece of architecture.

As we wander around the City we saw a lot of these cars showing tourists the sites (with thanks to Jackie for the photo):

After the cruise we take a tram along the riverside and then walk across the Vltava to catch the funicular to Petrin.  The queue seems lengthy but moves fairly rapidly.  It is helped by Jackie heading off to the ticket office for the funicular whilst I remain in the queue (we are following the example of people ahead of us in the queue).  It is a pity that the fare is simply for the funicular and not also combined with the tower as we have another queue there!  It is not Disney though!

At the top of the hill the observation tower (which previously we have been able to see from all over Prague) is now invisible!  The posted map is useless as all the other visitors have stabbed the “You are here” point as well as the location of the observation tower, so the descriptions are obliterated and I cannot work out which is which!  The map however gives the Czech translation of “Observation Tower” and nearby a finger sign showing the same Czech translation points the way (behind a bank of trees).  We follow this indicator and soon find ourselves in a queue for the ticket office, which to our consternation only takes cash.

There is an ATM is in the same office so after some kerfuffle getting the right language (for us) Jackie is able to draw some cash; the ticket office then wants a smaller note than the one dispensed by the ATM.  Sometimes despair sets in!  We do not fancy taking the staircase to the top and the tiny lift can take 5 or 6 people, so we have to await the second departure.

Photos of the funicular and of Prague from the tower are here.

Once up at the top of the observation tower the movement of people and the slight breeze means that the swaying of the tower is discernible so we soon return to the ground floor and a refreshing brew ere retracing our steps to the funicular and then waiting a tram to return us to the hotel.  There are a lot of trams here and they provide an excellent service, at least as far as our limited usage is concerned.

In the early evening we head down the hill from the hotel in search of a local restaurant which we find after marginally taking a wrong turning.  It is packed, noisy and obviously extremely popular.

We decide on a traditional main course of duck and potato dumplings which does include a decent piece of duck so it is a good solid meal.  We see various other fellow travellers and our tour guide partaking of meals in the restaurant!


Euro Tour 4 – Prague

Wednesday 26 July 2017

This morning we have a guided tour (with that 08:15 start) of Prague, capital of the Czech Republic.

We are only aboard the coach for a few minutes – it is taking us to Prague Castle and thereafter we are on foot for the rest of the tour, luckily it is nearly all downhill!

The castle is a huge complex and is recorded as  the largest ancient castle in the world, occupying an area of almost 750,000 square feet; hidden away deep inside are the Bohemian Crown Jewels.  The complex also remains the official residence of the Czech President, although not in the main palace areas.

We see the changing of the Guard (not very numerous to be honest) before moving on to the dominant building of the complex which is St Vitus Cathedral.  A brief word on St Vitus and his dance before we move on.  He lived in Sicily and died as a Christian martyr under Roman rule in 303AD aged 12 or 13.  He was tortured and as this did not shake his faith was placed among lions who would not touch him.  He was therefore placed in boiling oil and danced as he died (according to legend).  He was adopted as the patron saint of dancers and it became an established belief that to dance in front of his statue would give a year of good health to the dancer; this became a common belief in Germany in the sixteenth century.

We visit other parts of the castle including the Vladislav Hall leaving it by the Horse Staircase, which was of sufficient size to allow for ridden horses to enter and leave, presumably very carefully.

Outside of the main complex we visit the houses originally created as accommodation for archers, later becoming the residences of artists and writers, including Franz Kafka, the author.  The houses had easy access to the ramparts from where the original occupants could send arrows down on those attacking the castle.  The ramparts have a museum of military weapons.  The interiors of the houses have been refitted to show the typical usage by potters and seamstresses etc during the period of occupation by creative people.

Our party then commence the descent to the city itself.  You can enter the castle this way but you would be exhausted before you started a tour of the Castle (particularly if the arrows were raining down from above)!

The group reach the west side of Charles Bridge and we take a coffee break before we progress across the bridge itself, a very crowded place with many visitors.  As we progress the architecture is simply magnificent and the photos mentioned below try to capture the wonderful style which exists.

The guide then leads us into Staromestske Square which is the old town centre square and where traders would come from all directions to trade.  It is now encircled by cafes and restaurants for tourists, so the use may have changed but the visitors still come here in huge numbers, probably larger than the original use.  The astronomical clock is not working properly as it is undergoing further restoration but it is still chiming the hours in front of large crowds.  It dates back to 1410.

My photographs are here.

The guided tour ends and we thread through the Staromestske Square and then head down a quiet side street where we find a small place for lunch.  We order a platter of Italian meats and cheeses which turns out to be more than we can eat.  We also have some alcohol which seems to addle brains slightly as we are unable to follow the given instructions to find the trams!  However we do eventually find the tram stop for a route which stops upside our hotel.  Once back at the hotel it is time to have a rest and upload some photos.

In the evening we take the Metro (underground) back into town going as far as Mustek which allows for direct access into Wenceslas Square, which in contrast to the name is actually very oblong in shape and this is now the main modern shopping area.  We then head back towards Staromestske Square via a market and some more picturesque alleys for our booking at Café Mozart.  This destination had been identified and booked prior to our departure as having a jazz evening on the spare night we have in Prague and we enjoy a reasonable four course meal.  The singer/pianist was supported by an excellent saxophone player.  It was less jazz standards than popular music given a jazzy edge.  Slightly disappointing was the overall customer care before and particularly at the end of the meal – the lights go up and it is exceptionally clear that the guests should go and go now!



Euro Tour 3 – Berlin to Prague

Tuesday 25 July 2017

It is still raining this morning so we remain in the hotel until our lunchtime departure.  The time is used firstly to get an internet connection.  Euro roaming is now within my monthly data cap which means I can use my phone as a hot spot.  Then using the Flickr app I can upload photos and progress is made!  It is not as elegant as the old app on the old phone which could do it direct from the photo gallery app without involving the Flickr app.  I probably should investigate another app for the photo gallery; it would be particularly good if the app could load an entire sub directory of photos on the phone straight into an album as I move photos from the two cameras to the phone before uploading.

Our train is electrically hauled (the station in Berlin is dark and the photos cannot be used) and feels similar in some respects to BR mark 2 stock but obviously benefiting from the larger loading gauge.  2+2 seating or three aside in second class compartments (and yes they do still have compartments).  I did not go forward to identify the arrangements in first class.  Some airline seating is used for half of the coach.  The trains are loaded with a lot of rucksack carrying “students” – presumably on interrail or similar.

The area of Germany through which we are passing is fairly flat and agricultural as we head south.  Throughout Germany there is none of the advertised wifi on the train; magically once we enter the Czech Republic everyone’s phones connect (much pinging everywhere) and we are all catching up with the rest of the world.   The occupants of neighbouring seats (who are also on our tour) appear not to be able to get The Archers as they complain about not being up to date.  It seems odd as I believe BBC Radio iPlayer should allow downloads – and certainly my podcast downloads work; I do not admit to having the episodes concerned!  One of our fellow tour travellers is listening to operatic music (on headphones) and humming along (slightly tunelessly) to the sounds which emanate to the wider world.  It is a pity really as if the opera had not been imposed on us I could have been making copies of The Archers available.  I am mean!

Catering on board  appeared limited; I think I had the only two sandwiches on the train (which reminds of the situation on the train to Portland last year).   As we progress through the first part of the Czech Republic we are following the river Elbe and the scenery is rather more attractive.  Then the sun comes out which is more cheering before we are once again passing through wide open farming countryside.  It darkens again before we arrive, although it does not rain.

When we arrive I have a brief moment to take photos of some colourful local trains.

The Hotel Diplomat is functional although some of the decoration upstairs might need slight refurbishment.  We are a little way out of the main city.  However we do have a great view of Prague Cathedral from our window which looks like this:


The hotel does not register a credit card – so it is all pay as you go.  At least there will be little delay settling the bill.

Dinner on the first floor is a buffet, for me tomato soup, beef stew, not spicy.  Finished off by some local cheeses.  It is a decent improvement on the buffet in Berlin as the selection is far more varied.  Then early to bed as we have to be away from the hotel at 08:15 apparently.