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Trip Report A heat wave, rain and some nice weather in between = a wonderful trip!

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We recently got back from a wonderful 2-weeks trip to Czech Republic, Austria and Slovenia – I got some great advice (as always) from this board, so here is a summary of our trip:
Flights: we had United miles, so we flew business to Prague (changed planes in Munich), and coach from Ljubljana (changed planes in Frankfurt). Business class with flat beds was wonderful, even though I could not sleep; wish we could fly like this every time. This was our second bad experience at Frankfurt airport – I swear I will try to avoid them as much as I can, even for a short layover.

Food: in 2 weeks, we did not have a bad meal. They were not all memorable, but food was always good – and really, not that expensive. The beer was the best in Czech Republic; beer and wine are cheap everywhere, but order the house wine (always good), not any bottled wine – that is expensive. We drank the local water everywhere and had no problem. However, some restaurants do not serve tap water, forcing you to buy bottled water, and then they only sell bottles of 250 or 330 ml. That is not enough during a heat wave…so you need several, at 2-3-4 euros a bottle, depending on the restaurant. Oh well…

Pictures here: http://ioana-mark.smugmug.com/Travel/2012-Czech-Republic-Austria/25154352_xp37gR#!i=2062675900&k=gpSHqrq

We had Starwood points, so we stayed at the Sheraton in Prague – the hotel is not very well located, but it is not bad; only about 15-20 minutes’ walk from the Old Center. Normally, this would not be a problem, but they had their record heat wave while we were there, with 104 degrees temperatures. It felt like the inside of an oven…

We used Prague Airport Shuttle http://www.prague-airport-shuttle.com/ for the transfer to the hotel, and they were great. On time, clean car, perfect English speaking driver who offered us lots of good info, and they accept the payment in US dollars, meaning we did not have to exchange any money at the airport (we all know how bad that exchange rate is).
Prague is beautiful, and even though we did not walk as much as we would’ve liked (because of the heat), we got to see almost everything we had on the list. 3 days was just right. The best memory: stroll on the Charles bridge after dinner, when crowds are gone and there is a nice breeze. So romantic :)

We picked up a car after Prague – the best deal we found was from Budget, who allowed us to drop it off in Slovenia. The one-way fee was high, but our time was more valuable. We had a Fiat Punto, automatic, and had no problem with it. The Budget office at Prague’s train station was a little tricky to find, but we managed. We also had our GPS (rentals where you return in a different country do not come with a GPS) and the local GPS maps. While not absolutely necessary because roads are well marked, it gave us peace of mind when we decided to try small, not marked words and was priceless at 5 am in Ljubljana when we needed a gas station before dropping off the car.

On the way to Cesky Krumlov, we stopped at Konopiste Castle. The tour was interesting, and the amount of hunting trophies in the castle absolutely amazing.

Cesky Krlumov is a small jewel. On top of that, the weather was nice and cool, so we could really enjoy it. We spent 2 nights/2 days there, visited the castle, watched the kayaks and other boats on the river, and just enjoyed it leisurely. The town’s center is pedestrian only, but we could bring the car to the hotel, load and unload the bags, then we took it (10 min walk) to a parking lot outside of the pedestrian area. We stayed at Hotel Konvice – and loved everything about it: the location, the room with a terrace and view of the castle, the breakfast, the staff.

Next stop: Hallstatt, Austria for 3 nights – another beautiful place. We stayed at Gruner Baum, where you pay for the view, but what a view!!! We had a studio on the 1st floor, and were glad we did. It rained most of the time we were in Hallstatt, and it offered us some extra room and a huge terrace. One night we just bought pizza and a bottle of wine from across the street and had a wonderful dinner (of course, it was raining). Dinner at Gasthof Simony next door was very good, and dinner downstairs in the hotel good, but not really worth the price (but again, it was raining and we did not want to go too far…)

We took a day trip to St.Gilgen and St.Wolfgang – of course, it was pouring…see a pattern here? St.Gilgen did not impress us at all (maybe we missed its charm due to the weather?), but St.Wolfgang was nice. Too bad we could not do the St.Wofgang mountain train…
From there to Slovenia, which is amazing – we fell in love with it. Small, clean, beautiful, nice people, good food, what’s not to like? We spent a few days in Bled (visited Vintgar Gorge, the castle, strolled around the lake and drove to Bohinj Lake, with a cable car trip up to Munt Vogel – great view from there). We did all these without rushing in 2 ½ days, but the area is beautiful and one can spend longer there. We stayed at Penzion Meyer – wonderful place, great location, breakfast, staff and one of the best dinners we ever had. You have to have their deer goulash!

We drove the Vrsic Pass over the Julian Alps to Piran, where we spent another 3 nights/2 days. Piran is not as nice as Rovinj, but still a very pretty little town. The view from the terrace of our room at Piran Hotel and the view from top of the city walls are both fantastic; the grilled fish excellent; the sunset beautiful…and I am at a loss of words and superlatives when I try to describe Slovenia. You just need to go there.

From Piran, quick drive to Ljubljana with a stop at Postojna cave – really worth it. There is a little train that takes you through about 2 km of cave, then you walk for another km or so. The only problem – you cannot go in by yourself, but only with a tour which is fairly fast paced; you cannot linger to admire the cave interior. You can get the audio tour (we didn’t), but because the tour is so rushed, I’m not sure you would actually have time to listen to all of it.

And so our trip was over – we loved it all, but Slovenia was definitely the highlight. Ljubljana looked like a beautiful city where one could spend a few days, but again, it was pouring and it was cold. We will definitely go back.

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