Europe Forums

Start a new topic Change Forum
Advanced search

Trip Report Czech Republic, Krakow, and a day in Frankfurt: A Solo, Budget Trip Report

Jump to last reply

Wednesday April 28

This is a report on my three-week trip, mostly in the Czech Republic with a few days in Krakow and one day in Frankfurt to see the city from a different perspective than the airport.

Today I learned that the Frankfurt transportation system is great:

The train from the Frankfurt airport to the main Frankfurt station was simple. Follow the train signs down the escalators. The ticket machine was a bit of a mystery but I found someone to help. You put in the code for Frankfurt (50) and then push the button for the Hauptbahnhof (main station). The price was E3.80. The machine gives change if you put in coin.

First stop – Hotel National in Frankfurt
The hotel is a short walk from the train station. When exiting the station, keep to the right of the station, hugging the station wall, do not go to the street. At the side street, cross over and take the second street on the right. If you see the Hotel Excelsior, the National is right behind it on the next street. Price per night for a single is E62 and comes with a welcome drink in the bar which opens at 7:00. Breakfast is an additional E12 (I did not take breakfast). There is an electric kettle and coffee/tea provisions in the room and a mini bar. Good size room with twin beds. The twin beds were along one wall and had a low, wooden partition between them. The bathroom was long and narrow but plenty of room with a large shower. I did hear some slight noise during the night from people partying but I had the window open.

The hotel has a restaurant but it is not open every night. I asked for a recommendation for dinner and was directed to a good restaurant specializing in German food just a few blocks away. The restaurant is Baseler Eck at Baseler Platz 7. I ordered a small dark beer (excellent) and sauerbraten in a heavy, wine-rich sauce accompanied by 2 sticky dumplings and apple sauce. The beer was so good that I ordered another small one. So ends day 1.

  • Report Abuse

    Thursday April 29

    Today I traveled to Prague for the first time in 15 years:

    The next morning I was off to Prague on the train/bus. The reservations for both train and bus are marked on the internet ticket next to the date and time information. Wg refers to the train car number; Pl to the seat number. When booking an internet ticket, the reservation covers both train and bus. The train goes to Vienna so anyone going to Prague changes to the bus at Nurnberg (the 4th stop). Look for the seat number on the outside train window to find your place without dragging your bags through the train. There is an overhead rack for baggage that will accommodate a 24” suitcase.

    When exiting the train, take the stairs down and follow the signs for city center, bus, etc. The bus for Prague is just outside the station on the right. It’s white and clearly marked Nurnberg to Prague. Give your large bag(s) to the driver to stow in the luggage compartment. There is a small overhead rack above the seats but they only hold very small items. It’s a double decker and was not full. It’s non-stop to Prague (3.75 hours) so if you don’t like your seat you can change just before the bus starts. There’s no stopping at all so buy lunch at the station before leaving Frankfurt. There are lots of shops selling take out sandwiches and pastries. Do not dally in the Nurnberg station as there is little time between the train arriving and the bus leaving. After I handed over my bags there was only 4 minutes before the bus left. The bus ride was not bad and I’m not a bus lover; there was no traffic until we arrived at the outskirts of Prague and the scenery along the highway was nice – lots of trees and greenery. Drinks and light snacks are offered on board. I bought an orange juice for E2.

    I arrive in Prague! Mike from Mike’s Chauffeur Service was waiting for me (holding a sign with my name) when I got off the bus. The pension advised that a taxi would be about $25 from the bus station which seemed high to me but I realized they were probably correct with all the Prague traffic that wasn’t there before. I booked Mike’s service at about $20 (recommended on this board).

    http://www.mike-chauffeur.cz/

    Mike stopped at an ATM machine so I could get some money (he will take a credit card but prefers cash) and then we went to Pension Chaloupka in the 6th district. It’s a small, family run place with 6 rooms. The rate for a single is 950CZK a night (about $50) with a substantial breakfast. There’s an area in the breakfast room with glasses, sink, refrigerator containing water, beer, soda, chips, and candy bars. You help yourself to beverages/snacks and mark what you’ve taken on a piece of paper taped to a board. You pay when you check out. The prices are very reasonable – about $1 for water or soft drinks.

    My room was on the 2nd floor. The pension is divided into 2 sides; 2 rooms on one side and 4 rooms on the other. The owners live on the first floor. The room had twin beds and was a decent size. The bathroom area was a bit odd. There was a toilet cabinet in one small room and next to it in another room was a sink and stall shower. If they had not made 2 separate rooms there would have been a bit more space. There’s no hair dryer.

    I bought 2 tram tickets at the Pension to get into town and back today. The pension sells the tickets as a courtesy to new arrivals so they don’t have a large supply. You can get more tickets from the machine in the subway station (coin only) or from the Tabac window in the subway if you do not have coin for the machines.

    It’s about a 15 minute ride from the pension to the first stop across the river on Tram #18. From there it’s a 2 minute walk to Old Town Square or if you are going further into Prague, the subway entrance is across the street from the tram stop. The second tram stop across the river is Charles Bridge.

    Tram tickets are sold for either 20 minutes (30 minutes if you combine tram and subway) or 45 minutes; the 20 minute tickets are 18 CZK. The 45 minute tickets are 36 CZK. A 24 hour pass is 100CZK; a 72 hour pass is 330CZK. I only bought individual tickets as I didn’t use many of them each day – usually only 2 to go into town and come back to the pension and the 20 minute tickets were more than adequate.

    I came into the square behind the astronomical clock and noticed St. Nicholas church was having a concert in 15 minutes so I bought a ticket for a Vranicky and Mozart program. The church concerts usually last an hour. It was enjoyable. After the concert I wandered around in awe of the changes in Prague since my other visit, 15 years ago. Actually, the word should be aghast rather than awe. Old Town Square is teeming with tourists and tacky souvenir shops. There seem to be more pizzerias than in Naples. 15 years ago you could find a decent restaurant near the square that offered Czech food at very reasonable prices. It doesn’t seem so now. There’s also a lot more traffic than there was before; Mike confirmed this when I remarked on the traffic during our ride to the pension.

    I asked Mike what he thought about all the changes in Prague and he was in favor of them as increased tourism brought more money to the town. This is reflected in the increased traffic and all the building construction you see on the outskirts of Old Town.

    I wandered away from Old Town Square, taking photos and looking for a restaurant serving Czech food at a reasonable price. I did find one with quite a few customers eating dinner. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the food as I peered in an open window so I went in and chose a table near the window. I ordered a dark beer (delicious), a Greek salad (there were only 3 salads to choose from: Caesar, Greek, or cole slaw), and beef stroganoff with wild rice. Everything was good. I’m not much of a beer drinker any more but the beers in Frankfurt and tonight in Prague were delicious. Quite a few people seemed to be eating something large on a bone – perhaps a ham hock? I don’t know what it was but it was popular. One fellow was attacking his ham hock with gusto and I laughed and jumped up to take a photo of him about to plunge his fork and knife into the meat. The salad was 60, the main course 250 so that meant the pint of dark beer was 25 – just a bit over a dollar – a bargain. The total was 335 or $18.

    I was totally beat after the second day of traveling and not a lot of sleep so I made my way back to Old Town Square and the tram which arrived in a couple of minutes. I was back at the pension by 8:30 and had early night.

  • Report Abuse

    Sher - I was disappointed in the changes to the Old Town Square area. These changes are permanent such as increase in cafes around the perimeter of the square with their Plexiglas partitions and expensive food. The Plexiglas has replaced flower boxes. There used to be small shops selling Czech products - these have been replaced by cheap souvenir shops, amber shops and pizzerias. None of this is seasonal.

    The good news is that most people dealing with tourists speak English now. 15 years ago I hardly met anyone in Prague who spoke English, beyond a few words, so it was more difficult to get around and get information. There was no TI 15 years ago - you could pick up a map at the money exchange but that was it. We brought 3 guide books with us for information.

    I did miss the little tourist train with commentary that took you around Prague. It was hop on hop off and was so sweet.

  • Report Abuse

    Friday April 30

    Today I took the wrong tram, saw a different part of Prague, and found my way to the Old Town:

    Pension Chaloupka serves a good breakfast – 3 slices of ham, 2 slices of cheese plus a small wedge of soft cheese similar to brie, pate, vegetable garnish, juice, yogurt, cereal, and bread plus tea, coffee, or hot chocolate.

    I was told that either tram 1 or 18 would get me to the pension but I didn’t realize that only tram 18 would get me to old town. I had missed tram 18 by seconds so I hopped on tram 1 heading into town. All of a sudden nothing looked familiar. When I saw a sign for the zoo I knew I was on the wrong track. I showed the map to the woman sitting next to me and she pointed out where we were – nowhere near Old Town. I hopped off the tram and took the next #1 going back. After studying the map I realized that tram #1 would only take me 3 stops in the right direction. I transferred to #18 and was on my way with just a wasted half hour.

    I did get to see the Prague 7 area which is very busy with shops, offices, and lots of traffic. Prague 6 is more of a residential area, at least the street I was staying on. Later in the trip I took another incorrect tram that ran along a parallel street to the one I stayed on and there were shops and restaurants but still less congested than Prague 7.

    First on the agenda was the Jewish Quarter – the synagogues, ceremonial hall, and cemetery. The combination ticket for 480 CZK lets you in to 5 synagogues (Maisel, Spanish, Pinkas, Klausen, Old-New), the ceremonial hall, and the old cemetery which you enter from Pinkas Synagogue. It’s a good deal as a couple of the synagogues charge 200 CZK (I didn’t notice the prices at all of them). All the sites are within a few blocks of each other and no photography is allowed inside any buildings; there is a 40 CZK surcharge to take photos in the old cemetery but the booth to sell photo tickets was closed.

    The old cemetery is accessed through the Pinkas synagogue where you can pick up a map showing the location of all the places the ticket covers. When you leave the synagogue door, go to your left to find the cemetery. The best time is as soon as the synagogue opens at 9:00 to avoid crowds and to get the best light. The interiors of all but the Spanish Synagogue are whitewashed. The Spanish synagogue is the prettiest with its red, brown, and blue geometric design giving a warm look and feeling. On the second floor are old photos of the area, documents of the history of the ghetto and photos of famous Czech Jews and those deported from Terezin. The Pinkas synagogue walls are emblazoned with the names and birth and death dates of 80,000 Czech Jews who were killed by the Nazis. On the second floor are pictures drawn by children from Terezin. Next to the Spanish Synagogue is a interesting statue of Franz Kafka.

    After a restorative coffee I went to the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn in Old Town Square. The church seemed to be having back to back Masses and no visits were allowed before 3:00; I decided to attend Mass which was a high Mass complete with organ and incense. In Catholic churches in the US, Italy, France, and Portugal, the Communion wafer is put into your open palms; the wine is separate and optional. In this church, the Communion wafer is dipped into the wine and then put directly into your mouth as it was in the pre-Vatican II days (minus the wine). I did take communion in another church in Prague and the priest also put the communion wafer directly into people’s mouths. But this time the wafer was not dipped in wine.

    Visiting hours for Our Lady Before Tyn are Tuesday – Friday 3:00 to 5:00. Other times the church is closed except for Mass but you can view the church through the gate. During Mass there is a porter at the door baring entrance unless you wish to worship. Entrance to the church is from beneath the arcade. It’s a bit difficult to spot as there are cafes blocking the entrance from the square.

    After Mass I looked at the café menus around the square and choose one that offered Greek salad since the Greek salad I had the night before was so yummy. The waitress, whose face had frozen in a perpetual scowl, looked at me disdainfully when I sat down and ordered tap water. I asked for a Greek salad and she explained that the Greek salad portion was very small and I should choose one of the other salads that came in a larger portion. I asked for a larger portion of Greek salad but she still tried to get me to order other salads that came in larger portions. I kept insisting that I only wanted a Greek salad and could she make a larger one (I needed my veggies) and she finally acquiesced. Geez, that was a struggle. She looked murderous when I asked for a second glass of tap water.

    Over to the Municipal House to find out about the tours. The tour times vary widely by date; there is no set pattern to the times. The next tour was at 5:00 but I wanted to go to attend another concert so I’m saving the Municipal House for the weekend. I wandered around looking at the buildings but found my energy fading. I realized I was dehydrated and bought a bottle of water from a kiosk and walked around a bit more, enjoying the city. The day was warm and my purse was hanging heavy around my neck. A cold coke seemed just the thing so I sat down at a café across from the Klementinum (which is closed for renovation) and had an expensive small bottle of coke. It was delicious and I’m not a coke lover.

    The time for the concert was approaching so I headed back to Old Town Square, trying to find the man hanging from the flag pole to photograph. I had seen him the night before but it was too dark for a photo and I saw a poster of him but couldn’t spot him again.

    This evening’s concert was organ and a bass soloist playing and singing selections from Bach, Schubert, and Dvorak. It was good once the young man in front of me settled down and stopped taking videos of the church during the performance. I guess he thought that since the organ and soloist were behind us and could not be seen during the concert it didn’t matter if he annoyed others around him.

    A note about the churches: although it was a warm day the stone churches are freezing cold if you’re inside more than a few minutes. I brought a shawl with me today to try to ward off the chill I felt the night before. If you’re planning a church concert in spring bring a sweater or jacket.

    I only had 1 restaurant recommendation with me and I can’t remember where I found it. It’s Kolkovna Restaurant on Kolkovna street just a few blocks from Old Town Square toward the Jewish quarter. It’s a large place with 2 floors plus outside seating. They serve all day so early dining is possible or you can stop in for a drink before dinner. I got there after the church concert – around 6:30 and by the time I left, near 8:00, there was a line waiting for tables so go a bit early. My dinner was delicious. They offer traditional Czech cuisine and most of it didn’t appeal to me. I ordered pork cutlets with gherkins and potato salad. There were 5 pieces of very thin, very tender pork for 230 CZK. I asked if potatoes were included but everything is a la carte. The potato salad (large serving) was 45 CZK and I had 2 glasses of red Czech wine for 168 CZK. The wine was light and dry and I loved it. There was way too much meat and the bill reflected 300grams. I’m definitely going back but will ask if a smaller portion is possible as I could only finish 3 pieces of meat and that was with difficulty.

  • Report Abuse

    Also appreciate the detail - thank you, Adrienne. We've added just a quick two night German Wings "day" trip to Prague, out of our German holiday, so am eager to hear your experiences. We'll have only an afternoon, one full day, and an early morning, so need to cram a lot in. Is it worth walking around the Jewish Quarter (on our way from Hilton) but not going in, do you think?

  • Report Abuse

    Unless you specifically look for the Jewish Quarter you would not know that you were there as it doesn't look different from other parts of Old Town. You could walk by the synagogues but they don't look like anything special on the outside. I think it is possible to peer into the old cemetery from someplace on the street. You could take 10 minutes sometime during your stay and walk through the area.

    One of the things I like best about Prague is to wander the streets and look at the architecture and the details on the buildings. If you look up as you walk you will see some beautiful architectural details.

    I've added photos of two of the synagogues (the first two photos in the Prague section) so you can see what they look like from the outside. No photos are allowed inside.

  • Comment has been removed by Fodor's moderators

  • Report Abuse

    hi Adrienne. i'm also going to prague in very early Sept., so i'm following your reports. Thanks for the detail. Carrabella, are you at the hilton on pobrezni or the one downtown? We'll be at Pobrezni with the Viking River Cruises group. It sounds like Josefov (Jewish Quarter) is about a 15 minute walk from the pobrezni Hilton. i read that you can peer into the jewish cemetery by standing up on the steps of the "Ceremonial hall" - I think the Rick Steves book mentions that and has a map that includes the hall on it. Sorry about the lack of caps, here - need a new keyboard!

  • Report Abuse

    I'm enjoying this, adrienne. I like your travel style (somewhat similar to mine) so all the details you provide are very helpful for me planning future trips!

    BTW, any chance you will finish your Portugal TR from last year? :)

  • Report Abuse

    Ruth - you're correct - you can see the cemetery from the Ceremonial Hall steps. I think I took a photo from that viewpoint. There used to be a door in the wall where you exited the cemetery and that door had a grill that allowed you to see the inside. I can't now remember how I got out of the cemetery but it wasn't by that door.

    yk - I'm feeling the pressure! :)

    I only have the Lisbon portion to do; do you still want me to finish?

  • Report Abuse

    Saturday May 1

    Today I saw the Castle area, walked a long, steep street, was denied tap water in a restaurant, and then took the wrong tram:

    Today was the castle area. I could take any tram 3 stops and then a short walk to the castle via the street directly opposite the tram stop. I arrived early (around 9:00 or a bit later) and bought the short ticket to the castle (which I did not go into), St George’s Basilica, and Golden Lane. St Vitus Cathedral is free. I can’t believe that you now have to pay to walk down Golden Lane. Although it’s included with both types of tickets.

    There was a short line for St Vitus – about 5 minutes. Much later in the day I ran into 2 Swiss women who told me that the line for the Cathedral was hours long. I’m so glad I went early. The stained glass windows are stunning but I particularly loved the beautiful painting of St Agnes of Bohemia. St Vitus was crowded so I moved on to the Basilica with its lovely frescoes. There were very few people in the Basilica – they were all crowded in the Cathedral.

    I looked in one shop in Golden Lane and fell in love with art nouveau earrings which I bought after much consideration. That will be my one splurge (ha).

    I was particularly interested in the Summer Palace and Renaissance Garden but was told it was closed for renovation.

    After the castle I descended the steps and rested in a small park with flowering lilacs and listened to music playing somewhere in the area. It was a delightful few minutes.

    I slowly made my way toward St Nicholas church (not the one in Old Town Square but the other St Nicholas near the castle). On the way I had lunch – another Greek salad and asked for tap water. The waitress informed me that tap water is not possible. I could have mineral water. It was a warm day and I needed some hydration so I bought the mineral water.

    St Nicholas church is open daily 9:00 – 4:30 (8:30 – 9:00 for prayer) and has a 70 CZK admission price. It’s another stunning high baroque church, completed in 1755 with the addition of the bell tower. The pastel ceiling frescoes are gorgeous and the many architectural curves and embellishments are simply beautiful. There was a painting exhibit on the second floor (just a few paintings), allowing access and giving a great view of the church from above.

    I continued walking up Nerudova street, named after the 19th century Czech journalist and poet Jan Neruda (after whom Chilean poet Pablo Neruda renamed himself). It’s a very steep street full of colorful buildings with interesting plaques which were originally used before house numbering began. I slowly made my way to the top wishing I had been walking down instead of up the street. At the top of the street I looked into the Panny Marie church which is closed except for concerts. There’s a grillwork gate through which you can see the nave – another exquisite church.

    I continued to the Loreto church with an admission fee of 110 CZK. No photos are allowed anywhere within the grounds. There is a shop selling books and postcards but it was closed.

    This church is a prize in a city with exceptionally beautiful churches. It has marble arches, pillars, and chapels. The ceiling is frescoed and gold abounds everywhere as a final decorative touch.

    The loggia’s barrel vaulted ceilings are exquisitely frescoed. Along the walls are carved wooden altars with frescoes of saints behind leaded glass and carved wooden confessionals along two sides. The loggia encircles a courtyard in the middle of which stands a carved marble chapel housing a black Madonna sculpture surrounded by a silver arch with the sun’s rays bursting from it. The interior walls show fresco remnants with the repeating motif of Madonna and Child. Above the small altar two sculpted hands hold a laurel wreath and a spring of laurel. The chapel’s façade is classical with putti, sculptures in niches, and scenes from the Bible in high relief. All this and the carillon chiming the hour.

    The second floor of the church houses a treasury including a monstrance with 6,500 diamonds.

    http://www.loreta.cz/en/index.htm

    I continue walking on the small streets in the castle area, going toward the tram stop, and met two Swiss woman who asked me if I knew about some gardens in the area. I told them there is the Renaissance gardens in the castle grounds but they are closed for restoration. We chatted for a bit and I said that I had walked up Nerudova street and what a steep climb it is. They said they rented an apartment on that street and did the climb 4 times a day. They had my instant admiration and I told them so but they said they are used to the hills in Switzerland so it was an easy climb for them.

    I found my way to what I thought was the tram stop but as I was tired I didn’t pay attention to what tram I was getting on. I knew from the castle I could take any tram to my pension so I didn’t look at the tram number – just jumped on and validated my ticket. After a few minutes I realized that I was on the wrong tram again and couldn’t figure out how this happened. I descended at the next stop, looked at the map and looked at the tram numbers. I took the same tram going in the opposite direction and got off where I got on, trying to figure out how I could have gone so wrong (again). I had forgotten that when I went to the castle I didn’t immediately take the street to the castle but crossed another large street so I needed to walk another block to get the correct tram.

    Back at the pension I showered and went into town thinking I would have another dinner at Medvidku restaurant where I ate the first night. I realized I was too tired to walk around looking for the restaurant so headed to Kolkovna. It was still early for dinner when I arrived but I was told that if I didn’t have a reservation there were no vacant tables. This was a disappointment. I made a reservation for the following evening and I turned around and started walking down the block and saw a place with an appetizing menu. It was called Svejk (across from Prada) and the waitress spoke enough English. I ordered roast pork, red cabbage and dumplings, a tomato salad and of course wine. The food was delicious and the price was 189CZK or about $10. It was a bargain dinner just a couple of blocks from Old Town Square. So it is possible to eat on a budget in Prague.

    FWIW – I have just learned that Golden Lane is closed for the next year for archeological work.

  • Report Abuse

    Sunday May 2

    Today is the day for all things beginning with the letter M – Mucha Museum, Municipal House, and my first Prague Metro navigation:

    Rain again in the night and today was overcast. The Mucha Museum was first on the itinerary. I took the tram into the center and then the subway one stop. Tram and subway tickets are in combination so you can use the same ticket and transfer within 30 minutes if you use both the tram and subway.

    The Mucha Museum was small but great if you like Art Nouveau. In addition to posters, sketches, and photos there’s a film about Mucha’s life that runs 20 or 30 minutes. Normally I don’t like to sit through these museum films but this one was exceptional as you got to see his work that is not in the museum. One of the buildings that Mucha designed is the Fouquet Jewelry Shop on rue Royal in Paris.

    I got lost walking to the Municipal House and stopped a gentleman walking along. The Municipal House was in his direction so he took me almost the entire way there. I bought a ticket for the 2:00 tour and then went to Old Town Square for another Greek salad (at a different café). It took a long time to get the salad, it was loaded with onions when I requested no onions, and I was told they did not serve tap water. I hurriedly ate the salad when it arrived and asked for the bill. Service not included was written boldly on the bottom of the bill and the waiter reminded me that the tip is not included. I thought asking for a tip was in pretty poor taste given the lack of service, indicated that I understood the tip was not included in the price, paid the bill and left minus the tip. I had only a few minutes to get to Municipal House for the tour.

    I loved the Municipal House and thought the tour was good (access is only by guided tour). There is an additional charge of 55 CZK to take photos so I bought the photo ticket but I was so interested in the guided tour and in looking around I completely forgot to take photos until the guide reminded me that I had bought the photo ticket. I did take some photos but I didn’t think it was worth the additional money since there is little time to take photos during the tour.

    After the Municipal House tour I walked around Old Town a bit as it was my last day in Prague and then returned to the pension where I fell asleep and woke up at 6:30. I realized that I had a 7:00 reservation at Kolkovna but with the rain I was reluctant to go back into town. I showered and felt refreshed and then thought about what to do for dinner. I considered not eating and waiting for breakfast but I was hungry and the snacks I had in the room would not amount to much. I remembered seeing a sign (across from my pension) for a pension called Sprint and also saw some business cards with the same name in reception. I looked it up on the internet (I was so happy I bought a Netbook for this trip) and although the web site was only in Czech, I could understand the words “sports bar” in English and the Czech word for restaurant. I got the directions and headed off to the Sprint pension, restaurant and sports bar to check it out.

    It was only three blocks from my pension. When I arrived I was greeted pleasantly and indicated I would like something to eat. There were some people in the sports bar watching TV and the woman showed me into a small dining room where I was the only person eating. She fetched someone who spoke some English and he helped me choose between two dishes. My meal was pork medallions in cream sauce, French fries, and two glasses of delicious Czech wine for less than $12. The pork was very tender and the portion was large. This was a really good choice on a rainy night.

  • Report Abuse

    Monday May 3

    Today I could not find my way beyond the Prague airport:

    I was leaving Prague this morning and the pension owner took me to the airport for 390 CZK where I picked up the rental car. Mike’s Chauffeur service, which I used from the bus station, was substantially more to the airport – 550 CZK.

    My car was a Skoda, rented from Budget (booked through AutoEurope). I asked the rental fellow for directions to Kutna Hora and he handed me a map and told me to follow the signs to Brno. The rental cars are on the upper level of the parking deck and I found my car, opened the door, but could not start it up. What to do? I looked around and there was one man also picking up a car and I indicated some distress and incompetency and he understood (although I don’t think he spoke English) that I needed help starting the car. He hopped in and got it going. I think the steering wheel was locked and fortunately I never had the problem again. I did remember to ask where reverse was located before leaving the rental office.

    There are three roads out of the Prague airport and none of them have clear signs to any place that looked familiar. And there were definitely no signs to Brno. I took each of the three roads in turn, returning to the airport each time to start anew with another road. After the third road which seemed to lead no place I pulled over to rethink my options. I decided to go back to the car rental office and ask which road to take.

    For some reason I then flipped the map over and the reverse side gave a clearer picture of where the airport was in relation to Prague. It’s NW of Prague which means that I had to go back through Prague to get to Kutna Hora. Who knew? You’d think the rental guy would have used the reverse side and told me to go back through Prague and then follow signs to Brno.

    There were no signs for Prague so I followed the signs to “Centrum” and recognized landmarks from my ride to the airport. As I drove into Prague all of a sudden I see Tram 18 which is the tram I took from my pension into town. I looked farther to the right and spotted the castle. I had come from here an hour before and now I was back again! There’s no “highway” or ring road around Prague so I had to inch my way through town and though construction and through Prague 7, where I had taken the wrong tram the other day, and out the other side of Prague before I saw a sign for Brno. I was finally on my way to Kutna Hora.

    I had booked a room for two nights at Penzion U Kata (www.ukata.cz) located at the bottom of town, near where you enter from the main road. It was a bit hard to find but I kept asking people, looped around twice and found it. The restaurant is in the front; the pension in back. You enter reception from the small car park (not signed but it’s behind a tan iron gate (left open). Reception is not always open so ask in the restaurant for help. There are 1 or 2 people who speak English.

    My room was quite large and the bathroom was a good size with stall shower. Plenty of wardrobe space. There’s a desk for my Netbook but half of it is taken over by the TV. There’s not much light to read by. The only light is from a ceiling fixture but only 2 of the 4 sockets have light bulbs. No hair dryer. You’re given a key to the outside reception door as it’s kept locked all the time. The restaurant is open from 11:00 to 10:00. Breakfast is from 7:00 to 10:00. The included breakfast is mostly hot and you order from a menu – bacon, eggs, sausage, etc. You can also have yogurt (plain) and they expect you to add museli to it but I passed on the museli and just ate the delicious yogurt. The rate for a single was about $25 per night.

    After checking in, I walked up into town. The TI is mid-way up the hill on the right side in a building in a small square. There weren’t very many people walking around town which was rather nice since I could get photos without strangers in them. The local shops were on the lower part of the hill and there is a large Albert supermarket on the circle leading into town.

    The Cathedral of St Barbara is one of Kutna Hora’s UNESCO sites. It’s at the top of the town and is open daily with a 50CZK admission charge. There is a combo ticket to the cathedral and the ossuary of 115CZK but the ticket seller at the cathedral did not mention this. I only found out the next day at the ossuary.

    Baroque religious statues guide you along to St Barbara’s, an unusual looking Gothic church with its peaked roof resembling puffs of meringue topped with steeples and its surrounding flying buttresses. St Barbara is the patron saint of miners and there is a statue of her on the altar holding a book with a tower behind her. Between the ribs on the church’s ceiling are painted coats of arms representing the miners’ guilds and one back wall is devoted to mining theme frescoes. In the nave is a sculpture of a miner in a white robe with a lamp, kneeling upon black rock. The Corpus Christi Chapel at the eastern end of the cathedral is unusual because the stained glass windows are painted rather than inlaid with different colors of glass.

    I ate dinner at the pension where pork in a Calvados sauce, salad, and wine cost less than $12 and was delicious.

    Kutna Hora is a lovely small town with typical Czech architecture and architectural embellishments of pastel painted buildings, arches and curlicues, and corner niches with religious sculptures. It’s an hour and a half from Prague and would make a delightful day trip or a stopover enroute to other places in the Czech Republic. There’s enough sightseeing for a day.

    More on Kutna Hora to come.

  • Report Abuse

    Tuesday May 4

    Today I got lost looking for the Ossuary:

    Breakfast was included with the room at U Kata. Coffee, tea, cereal, and juice were self serve. The juice looked odd like it was Tang so I skipped that. There’s a menu to choose from for cooked breakfast – all sorts of eggs, omelets, ham, sausage, bacon in different combinations. At the bottom yogurt was mentioned so that’s what I chose. I expected a small container of yogurt and wondered what flavor the waitress (who didn’t speak English) would bring. All of a sudden she brings a large dish with plain yogurt. It’s a portion in a huge bowl. I love European plain yogurt – no sugar or jam added. It has a wonderful creamy texture and mild flavor with just a tiny hint of an acetic bite. Coffee was not great – it was from a machine and not strong enough.

    It’s another cool and gray day and I’m off to Sedlec to see the bone chapel. I had some silly idea that the bone chapel was out in the country so I checked my map and headed out of town. I drove to another town and saw one of those brown signs with an image of a church so I turned left down a country lane. There seemed to be nothing down here but a couple of farmers and a tractor so I consulted with them – LOL. I was advised to go back to Kutna Hora so I did.

    Somehow, back in KH, I found the right road. It would have been a lot easier if I had known the Czech word for Ossuary is Kostnice. But now I know! It’s actually not too far from my pension. If you find the Albert supermarket at the circle on the main road, the ossuary is very close by. There’s street parking right near the ossuary. You can buy a combination ticket for the chapel, monastery, and St Barbara Cathedral for 115czk. I had already seen the cathedral so I bought the ossuary and monastery combo for 70czk.

    The ossuary is pretty cool – lots of bones, of course. They form the chapel decoration. The most interesting is the bone chandelier, allegedly made up of every human bone. After a walk around the cemetery (lots of potted flowers on the graves) I went to the former Cistercian monastery, now a church and a UNESCO world heritage site. Exit the chapel to the left (you may need to make another left depending on which exit you take from the chapel), walk a short half block, and the church is diagonally across the street.

    The Church of the Assumption of Our Lady is beautiful in its simplicity. The walls are a warm yellow with white trim and high vaulted ceilings. There are a few frescoes on the back wall and ceiling and an ornate altar, the only part of the church that is ornate. On the left side, near the altar is a spiral staircase you can ascend, cross the attic, and enter the choir loft. You need to return the same way, across the attic. There is another spiral staircase but it does not connect to the choir loft. It’s not open to the public.

    Next was the Albert Supermarket to investigate Czech foods and pick up some snacks for the trip. Prices were inexpensive. A large bottle of store brand water was 40 cents, a bag of raisins was just over $1. I did get some junk food too. A Milka bar with hazelnuts was 75 cents and a small bag of potato chips was just less than $1. One innovation that I liked at this store was you picked up your plastic bags at the check out before you put your food on the belt so you have time while standing in line to get the bags open and ready. You have to pay for the bags – 2 plastic bags were 11 cents and they have a bar code that is scanned at checkout. Pretty cool.

    So I’ve seen Kutna Hora and it’s sprinkling off and on and quite cool and I still have half a day here. I never gauge the right amount of time in any place so either I feel like I have to leave too soon and haven’t experienced enough or I have too much time.

  • Report Abuse

    Enjoying your report very much. I have been to Prague several times but never is it quite enough. Going back in September. Also Krakow, so looking forward to that part of your trip.

  • Report Abuse

    I have picked up several super market bags on my trips. I usually ask if they have something larger than the traditional small plastic bags that we usually see.
    Sometimes they have very large decorated bags with woven handles that are as large as some department store paper bags that are given out with those sturdy handles. These handles are very strong. They cost about .75cents usually.
    I love to use them at home to bag my groceries as they are much larger than the reusable bags being offered here in the States. And they last a long time.
    The money you pay for them usually goes to a good cause.

  • Report Abuse

    Wednesday May 5

    Today I could not find my way out of Kutna Hora:

    Onward to Cesky Krumlov. The signs to leave Kutna Hora were not reflected on my map. I knew I had to go in the opposite direction from Prague but circled around for about 45 minutes before I found the right direction. I kept coming back to the same traffic circle, perplexed and starting again.

    I spotted a police officer on foot patrol and flagged him down. I explained where I wanted to go – Cesky Krumlov and he started laughing and said: “here is Kutna Hora.” He’ll have a chuckle about this for a long time – the crazy tourist who wanted Cesky Krumlov but was in Kutna Hora. He directed me toward Caslav – the closest town on my map and I did see one sign for Caslav and followed it but it lead back to that same traffic circle.

    I drove around the circle a couple of times and then finally pulled into a gas station. There were two men standing outside drinking take out coffee and I thought I would have the best chance of getting directions from them. One of them spoke English very well and he gave me exact directions to Caslav. I thanked them and was on my way. Even if I had taken this turn off the circle I don’t think I would have found Caslav without a more detailed map.

    After Caslav everything became much easier. I zipped through town after town on my list of towns to watch out for. It’s difficult driving and navigating in the Czech Republic because the names are so foreign to me and many town names look alike. I stopped once for a health break and coffee – instant and dark. When I asked for another creamer I was told I had to pay 4 CZK additional. As I visited more towns in the Czech Republic I realized that charging for additional creamers was the norm.

    I was moving on toward Tabor when I saw a sign at the last minute pointing left to Ceske Budejovice. What to do – continue on my route or turn around. I was on a limited access road so exited at the next stop and pulled over to consult the map. It seemed to be about the same distance if I went toward Tabor or took the road to Ceske Budejovice. And there didn’t seem to be an easy way to get back to the turn off for CB.

    Outside Tabor, road paving was going on. A large section of road was being paved and there was a long wait. After about 10 minutes a small section of my side was able to move ahead. The road crew were letting many more cars from the other side move along. Finally after another 10 minutes we were let through. This was becoming a very long ride. Between Ceske Budejovice and Cesky Krumlov I stopped at a roadside pension and restaurant. Had a quick bowl of soup and mineral water for 40 CZK. The soup of the day was chicken noodle and it was delicious. I couldn’t believe it was less than $1.50. I finally arrived in Cesky Krumlov, easily found the hotel (quite accidentally), checked in, and parked the car in a parking lot about 10 minutes away. Mappy said the drive from Kutna Hora to Cesky Krumlov was 3 hours. I left at 7:30 and was parking the car at 2:00. What a day!

    Cesky Krumlov is another UNESCO world heritage town. This town is quite beautiful with its many colored buildings, cobbled streets, onion domes, and charming frescoes on the buildings. On the way here there were fields of yellow rape seed used to make canola oil. You see these fields all over Europe in the spring – very beautiful. This hotel is posh by my standards – very large room with comfy chairs to sit in. Unfortunately there is no real table for my computer so I’m staked out in the restaurant. There seem to be lots of Americans in this hotel whereas in the other 2 places I stayed there were Czech people and no other guests speaking English.

    Hotel Konvice is located in the old town on a pedestrian street. I have a large twin room with separate sections for each bed. There’s a small table and two comfy chairs to sit on and plenty of hanging and shelf space. The bathroom is long and has a great counter for putting toiletries. The stall shower is large and there is a hair dryer in the room. My window overlooks the garden restaurant with a nice view over the rooftops. The rate is E96 for 2 nights including a big buffet breakfast. Parking is through the hotel – you’re given a parking ticket to get into Parking 3. You can go in and out any time with this ticket. The rate is 160 CZK per day, payable when you check out.

    Internet access is only available in what they term the salon – a room with tables adjacent to reception.

    On the way back from the car park I explored the town, taking lots of photos. It’s very very pretty here. And there are many beautiful buildings and signs to photograph, even on an overcast day. I spent about an hour walking back to the hotel, exploring some side streets and going into St Vitus church (no photos allowed). I was cold so I went back to the hotel and used the internet for a while then went out again with my umbrella as it had begun to rain. I’m not sure where I bought this totally useless umbrella but it broke after about 5 minutes. The wind turned it inside out and bend the shaft and I pinched my finger trying to get it closed. It’s in the garbage now – more room in my suitcase.

    I spotted a gift shop specializing in Mucha paraphernalia and went in. There are so many shops in town and not enough tourists at this time of year to support them. I’m not sure how they stay in business unless they depend on the high tourist season. The woman in the Mucha shop spotted what she thought was a live customer and tried to sell me lots of stuff. She was very nice but I have limited space in my suitcase and not much money. I did buy 3 Mucha plastic shopping bags for 15CZK each to give to my bridge group when I next host (hopefully the bags will hold up for a while – they’re very thin) and 2 Mucha note pads.

    It had turned cold and drizzly and I didn’t want to venture far so I ate at the hotel. This dinner was my least favorite of the trip so far. Pork cutlet, red cabbage and boiled potatoes (the main course came with dumplings but I had enough of those heavy things) plus a mixed salad and 2 glasses of red wine for 285CZK ($15). The gravy lacked flavor and the red cabbage had too much of something in it (cinnamon? nutmeg?) and not enough vinegar.

    There are a lot of people in town during the day; mostly tour groups and day trippers. It’s quiet at night but it isn’t yet the main tourist season.

  • Report Abuse

    Thursday May 6

    Today I visited a monastery and set off an alarm:

    The day began with asking the woman at the front desk to call the car rental people as yesterday I noticed a light on the dashboard. When I checked the owner’s manual it seemed that the light was for something for the exhaust but I thought I’d better let the Budget people know and ask what they thought about this light. When she called and identified the problem they said not to worry about it. The car does work so I’m not worried since it has nothing to do with the oil or engine heat and I’m on record as reporting it so I feel covered.

    I drove about 10 minutes to the Zlata Koruna Monastery, not far from Kutna Hora (open Tuesday – Sunday 9:00 – 4:00, 5:00 in summer). It’s reputed to be one of the best preserved Cistercian monasteries in Bohemia. It was founded to thank God for blessing Premysl Otakar II in his victory over the Hungarian King Bela IV in the battle of Kressenbrunn.

    The next tour was 15 minutes after I arrived. All visits are by guided tour only and only in Czech although there is a written text in other languages. This place is a bit off the beaten track and there were only about 8 of us on the tour. There is a small brown historical sign on the road toward Ceske Budejovice to mark the turn off. It was a lovely cloister with frescoes, vaulted ceilings, chapel, refectory and a gorgeous church. You can take photos w/o flash in every room except the church (The Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary). The church had a beautiful Baroque altar and Stations of the Cross in painted high relief on a gold background. This was the highlight of the cloister. Tickets are 95 CZK. The tour began at 11:00 and lasted an hour.

    At one point in the tour you have to stop and put on slippers over your shoes. I was dawdling so rushed to grab a pair of slippers. They were either red or blue and since I’m not fond of red I chose a blue pair which turned out to be the men’s slippers. After I realized they were way too large I noticed that the other women were wearing red. I had a hard time keeping mine on and was shuffling along.

    Watch out for red ropes that cordon off displays – they’re alarmed, even when there is no sign about the alarm. In the cloister refectory I accidentally brushed against the red rope and after a few seconds delay there was a shrieking alarm. I jumped back so fast in shock that one of my blue slippers came off! The guide commented that the alarm was quite shocking and it was. I’m never getting near another red rope.

    After the tour I stopped in the small restaurant near the church exit. The menu was only in Czech and German but I managed to decipher much of the German and ordered some sort of salad. It was only 50 CZK so I thought it was probably a mixed salad and it was. Tomatoes, cucumbers, red, green, and yellow peppers, and corn. The salad contained the inevitable onions which were plentiful and pungent.

    There is also a pension with restaurant to the right as you exit the church.

    Back in Cesky Krumlov I walked to the castle and bought a ticket for the 2:00 English tour. The ticket women told me the tour started at the next building (by which she meant the castle).

    The rain had began in full fervor but I only had a few minutes to make the tour so I made a dash for it in the rain. I waited in the first courtyard which is where the tour was to begin but there were no other people waiting for tours (only those waiting for the rain to stop and they were watching the rain). As the rain abated I walked to the next courtyard and didn’t see any tour guide or group of people so I asked in a souvenir shop about the tours and was told the first courtyard. By this time it’s several minutes after 2:00. I couldn’t have missed a tour guide (hopefully holding a sign) or a group of people waiting for a tour. Thinking I could possibly have missed the group I walked up to courtyard five anyway looking for an English speaking guide but there was no guided group. I was now annoyed.

    I went back to the ticket woman and said there was no tour and tried to get my money back but she shrugged her shoulders and said next tour 3:30 which meant an hour and a quarter to wait around and the possibility of the same thing happening again. I don’t think there was a 2:00 tour since no one else was speaking English. I was probably the only person who bought a ticket for this tour and the guide didn’t show. I decided not to wait for the next tour. Most people in the Czech Republic are either speaking Czech, German, or Polish except the Asian tour groups who have their own guide. At least I got to see the bear in the moat!

    After the rain came blue skies, finally, the first since Saturday. I found my way to the Poor Clare Monastery. From the guide book I consulted it seemed as though you could see inside the monastery but there were no open doors selling tickets. There were two signs stating “entrance forbidden” at the garden gate and also on door through which I had seen someone exit. So apparently you can’t go inside.

    I had a cappuccino at a café outside the monastery – how delicious – and enjoyed the blue sky – and then slowly made my way back to the hotel gawking at the beautiful buildings.

    I decided to try a restaurant with the statue of a waiter holding a tray of menus. This afternoon I was looking at the menu and a German man walked out, saw me and said the food was good (in German but I understood what he meant). I usually wouldn’t frequent a restaurant with a cheesy statue outside but decided to try it.

    I walked in and asked for a menu in English and choose beef in a sauce of cranberries and cream and bread dumplings – it sounded delicious. The food arrived about 5 seconds after I ordered – not a very good sign. The dish was just ok. A few slices of pot roast, several slices of bread dumplings – things that looked like sliced white bread but they were dumplings, and a slice of what looked like stuffing. There was some cranberry sauce, a brown gravy (not a lot of flavor) and whipped cream. This is the second time I had a dish with sweetened whipped cream. Before the food arrived I had considered ordering dessert but had second thoughts after tasting the food. That’s 2 for 2 very fair meals in Cesky Krumlov.

    The blue sky with a light cloud layer continued and the light was exceptionally luminous as I walked back to my hotel admiring the buildings.

    At the hotel I packed up a bit, had a shower then went to the salon to check my email. There was a couple from Virginia sitting there and we chatted for a while listening to the entertainment – 2 gentlemen were playing guitar and singing. After the couple left I moved into the restaurant to hear the music better and to have a glass of wine while typing my report. It’s an enjoyable end to my stay in Cesky Krumlov.

  • Report Abuse

    Sorry you had just OK food in Cesky Krumlov. We were there about ten years ago and had some very good and interesting food in a very small place where we also had a room. Especially loved their plum dumplings!

  • Report Abuse

    Friday May 7

    Today I found the most beautiful European square:

    The scenery in the Czech Republic, particularly in Moravia, is lovely. Lots of rolling hills and farms and rape seed fields. And everywhere you see the onion domes atop churches. The skies were blue today and the weather was mild.

    I left Cesky Krumlov early for the two-hour drive to Telc which was probably closer to three hours. I arrived in Telc and parked in lots 2&3 and walked to the left around the corner and through an archway and up a street into the square. What a fabulous sight. This is indeed the most beautiful square I’ve seen. The buildings were mostly pastel colors decorated with white sgraffito, a new architectural term for me. It means a relief of plaster in a contrasting color. The most striking building is the black and white one. I spoke with the woman who owns this building and she told me that they renovated it over the last 20 years. There is a date of 1555 on the building and the portraits are Biblical.

    The TI is on the left side of the square, inside the town hall (look for the flag designating a government building). The people are very helpful with booking rooms and they have a large list of pensions to choose from. Once you’ve made your decision they call the pension to ensure there is a vacancy and to answer any questions you may have.

    I stayed in a pension right on the square with wifi and a lovely breakfast for about $25 per night. The gentleman I met with speaks English but his wife does not. You can park on the square if there is space available; the pension or hotel will give a parking permit that goes on your dashboard. Since this was not high tourist season there were plenty of spots to park.

    I looked in the shops and took lots of photos of the buildings on the square. Lunch was at a restaurant on the square (at the castle end) called Svejk which I would not recommend. My salad and soup were OK but someone who sat at my table ordered a meal that didn’t look like I would want to eat it. Dinner was at Hotel U Cerneho – pork in cream sauce, boiled potatoes and 2 glasses of wine for 238 CZK (less than $13).

    As I left the hotel after dinner the art gallery was putting on a little play in front of their building. I had wondered what the raised platform was for and now it became clear. I watched for a few minutes – there were not many people about in the evening. The play ended shortly after and everyone left the square. Not much doing at night in Telc but it was cool in the evening. I imagine in the summer with milder weather the square would have lots of people walking around and enjoying a meal or drink in one of the cafes.

  • Report Abuse

    hi adrienne,

    thank you so much for taking the time to write all this - after visiting Prague for a few days between christmas and New Year a few years ago, we really want to go back and explore the rest of the country, so your report is very useful as well as entertaining.

    in your hunt for reasonable restaurants, did you consider the one in the cellar of the municipal building? we had a great dinner there one night, after listening to a New year's concert in the concert hall. the other place we ate at which was very traditional but good was somewhere in the centre - it was full of czechs eating traditional lunches of pork, bread dumplings and potatoes so we joined them. perhaps it's the sort of meal that appeals more in the middle of winter!

    looking forward to more,

    regards, ann

  • Report Abuse

    Hi Ann,

    Do you mean the Municipal bldg in Prague? I didn't realize the restaurant there was reasonable. It was cool enough most of the time in Prague, especially in the evening, to eat hardy dinners and I loved the meals I had.

    I only saw the southern part of the Czech Republic but I loved it. Very beautiful, friendly people, good food (mostly).

  • Report Abuse

    hi adrienne,

    sorry - yes i meant the municipal building in Prague. as I recall, on the ground floor there was a posh restaurant on one side of the entrance, and a posh looking cafe on the other. but if you went downstairs, there was a beautifully tiled simpler restaurant which we found quite reasonable. not sure how we found it [perhaps looking for toilets!]

    we have noe taken winter trips to Prague, Budapest and Krakow which have left us with a yen to explore the rest of those countries so I'm really looking forward to more of your report.

  • Report Abuse

    I promise I will finish. Only a few more days to Krakow. It's Tour de France time and I'm watching fireworks over the Hudson River tonight but I will get cracking on the trip report.

  • Report Abuse

    Oh, the Hudson. I once spent 4th of July at West Point. The bridges over the Hudson near there were draped with large flags - very nice! I imagine you're in the NYC area, so a little different, but anyway, enjoy the fireworks!

  • Report Abuse

    Saturday May 8

    Today I took a long ride to a castle, missed a UNESCO site and saw ostriches and old cars and bikes:


    The lovely Czech scenery continued today with lots of red tulips and flowering trees. I have not heard English spoken in several days (other than to me) and all the other tourists seem to be Czech, Polish, German, or Austrian. The driving is tough with the Czech names and then there are road closures for repaving that take you out onto the small country roads. Although the main roads appear to be country roads as there is little traffic other than in the larger towns.

    A friend advised me to see Pernstejn castle. I had thought about finding a pension closer to Pernstejn for tonight but I was enjoying Telc so much that I decided to stay for a second night. This meant a rather long ride to Pernstejn Castle but I also had an opportunity to enjoy the countryside.

    My route from Telc passed through Velke Mezirici, Krzanov, Bobrova, Zvole, and finally to Nedvedice where the castle is located. Many of the roads were through small villages. In the area of Moravec I passed a fenced-in field with some animals. As I was going by, I realized that the animals were not cows or sheep or any other usual farm animal I had seen so far so I turned around to see what they were. They were ostriches eating grass near the fence. At first I thought they were picking up their heads to say “hello” to me but then I realized that with their long necks they had to stretch them out to get the food down. Silly me – looking up was part of their eating process, not socialization. LOL I took a bunch of photos and then was on my way again.

    Not much farther along, near Zvole, were some unusual wood carvings of faces made from tree trunks. They were just a few feet away from the road and it was such a bizarre sight that I started laughing. There was a huge pile of logs (about 30 feet high) which I guess would also become carved faces in the future.

    I don’t remember where I saw all the lovely tulips but it was definitely today. I was passing through a town and so many houses had their gardens filled with blooming tulips. I went up a side street to turn around and saw even more tulips. I spend some time taking photos and particularly liked the red and yellow ones against a stone wall.

    It was a long ride to Pernstejn and there were few restaurants along the way. When I finally saw one I stopped for some lunch. The owner didn’t speak English and he didn’t have a menu in English but I asked for soup (giving the word a “Germanish” accent) and he tried to explain the type of soup he had that day. He finally remembered the English word and called out “chicken.” Oh good. I ordered the soup and some bread. With mineral water lunch cost less than $3. I was once more on my way to Pernstejn.

    I finally arrived at the castle. Parking is 45CZK, a ticket to the exterior is 10CZK, and a ticket to the interior (with guide only) is 90CZK. I took the guided tour. No photos were allowed inside the castle. I can’t say that I remember much about the castle. It certainly was not memorable and not worth the long trip. But I did see some lovely countryside and got some good photos of flowers.

    There’s a café between the car park and the castle that offers full meals, sandwiches, and beverages. I had a Fanta and then was on my way back to Telc. I didn’t find out until several days later that there was a UNESCO site I wanted to visit very near to Pernstejn. But more about this further on in the report.

    Back in Telc it seemed I had missed a wonderful afternoon, There were old cars and bikes parked in the square and people were dressed in 1920s outfits. I don’t know what the celebration was for but again it appeared that the art gallery sponsored this event too. Fortunately I was able to see some of the cars and bikes and to take photos of people wearing old outfits.

    My last day in Telc offered a magnificent sunset over the buildings and another delicious dinner at the hotel – a pork chop with camembert, boiled potatoes, and 2 glasses of wine for under $12. I had tried to eat at the pizzeria but they only have a few tables inside and they were all reserved. They seemed to be doing a good take out trade and it would have been a change from my usual pork dinners but it didn’t work out tonight.

    I would definitely recommend Telc as a place to visit in the southern Czech Republic. The beautiful main square is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I would say Telc is my favorite Czech town both for its beauty and its atmosphere of tranquility.

  • Report Abuse

    Sunday May 9

    Today a 1.5 hour drive took me 3.5 hours (but it was a beautiful drive):

    I left Telc (which I loved!) about 8:30 and headed to Trebic another UNESCO Heritage town. Driving early on Sunday mornings is great since there’s no commuter/shopping traffic. I found the main square (follow the signs to the Centrum) and the TI on a corner of the square in a black and white building) easily but the TI at this location is closed Sundays and Saturday afternoon. There’s a notice on the door directing people to the TI in the Jewish quarter which opens at 10:00. I followed the directions and drove right in and parked next to the TI (which wasn’t a legitimate parking place but I missed the parking lot so kept going). The people in the TI were great. I asked them to call a pension in Kromeriz and book it for me for 3 nights and they were so obliging to do that. I offered to pay for the phone call but they wouldn’t take any money.

    I toured the New Synagogue (also called the Rear Synagogue) (40CZK admission) and learned that the Old Synagogue is not open to tourists; it’s only open for services. The Old Synagogue is open daily 10:00 – 12:00 and 1:00 – 5:00. (www.mkstrebic.cz) Then walked around the quarter a bit. I knew I couldn’t leave my car where it was so I looked for the parking lot in the Jewish quarter but never found it. I think it’s a small lot and not readily identified.

    Since I didn’t find the parking lot I drove to the Jewish cemetery, parked just outside and had a look around. The cemetery is from the 1620s and the oldest part is set on several levels and completely covered by ground plants, similar to pachysandra, giving the tombs an appearance of being in a wooded area. There are more than 3,000 baroque and neoclassical tombstones; the oldest dating from 1631. The ceremonial hall at the cemetery’s entrance is from 1903 (not open to the public).

    The Jewish Quarter and the old cemetery are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

    The other UNESCO site in Trebic is the basilica which doesn’t open on Sundays until 1:00. Since it was only 11:30 I decided to head to Kromeriz rather than wait around because driving times according to mappy were never the same as driving times according to Adrienne.

    I headed in the direction of Brno but part way there the road was closed for paving (like lots of roads in the area). I tried to go through but it was barricaded just shortly down the road so I turned around. Returning from Pernstejn the other day I encountered this same repaving detour but in the opposite direction. There were detour signs from the other way but I didn’t see any detour signs to get around this road closure. I consulted the map and plotted a route. The driving time to Kromeriz should have been 1.5 hours. It took me 3.5 hours winding around very small roads and sometime going off course. The scenery on the back roads was lovely and I finally wound up on the autoroute which speeded up the drive but it was exhausting.

    At Kromeriz I found the main square and parked just outside of it. There were mother’s day celebrations in the square and it looked like the whole town was participating. Kids were having a dancing exhibition to music on a covered stage and there were hundreds of chairs set up for the parents to watch. There were a few children’s rides and it seemed everyone was enjoying an ice cream. The day was beautiful. After the dancing ended the music played for several hours – lots of ABBA featuring Mama Mia sung in Czech – what a hoot. It was a lovely entrance to Kromeriz.

    The pension was easy to spot and I rang the bell. The woman who let me in didn’t speak English except for a few words but that wasn’t a problem. I learned that breakfast was not included but you could have breakfast at the hotel next door for 120CZK which I thought was too expensive so I passed on that.

    Penzion Mensik is a bit weird. It more like an apartment with stove top and sink in one area, a table that can seat 6 people and 2 twin beds in the sleeping area. You get 2 very small towels (hand towels like the pension in Telc). It’s old, which is OK. And it’s up 29 steep stairs which is also OK. When you enter the “apartment,” there’s a toilet and sink room (with a door that locks), then another door to a room that has a bathtub, sink, hot water heater, and a refrigerator next to the sink (this room also has a door that locks) and another door (that locks) to the sleeping/eating area. Each room is locked and there is a door from the stairway that locks also. It seems like there is another room connecting but it’s locked. I wanted to know if I had to share the bathroom with someone else and I think the woman understood and she said no. I lock the door that’s off the stairwell and leave the others open. There are lots of doors here and locks here.

    Again, like many budget pensions, there are no hooks to hang things in the bathroom. There’s only bathtub with hand-held shower nozzle and no curtain. I wash my hair by leaning over the tub so as not to get water everywhere. It’s a good thing I always travel with my own soap as there is none in the room. There are 2 small packets of shower gel and 2 small packets of shampoo but not even one of those tiny bars of soap.

    There’s no wifi but there is a very long Ethernet cable that I stretch across the quite large room to the table so I can use my Netbook.

    I must mention that the web site declared that this pension had “excellent amenities.” Ha! No soap and no breakfast and only 2 small towels. I would not consider that there were any amenities let alone excellent ones.

    The room overlooks the square and the Archbishops Chateau which is nice since I can sit in the window and see the activity. The décor is pretty ugly but it’s spacious and not too much money (700CZK per night which is about $37). I do miss the pension in Telc with the great bathroom.

    Since I was craving something that wasn’t traditional Czech food I went to one of the two pizzerias in the square for a margaritas pizza and a couple of glasses of wine. The pizza had a thin crust but wasn’t anything to rave about. I haven’t seen any very appetizing food in Kromeriz. I’ve been to several cafes for coffee or beer and I’ve been watching what other people were eating and none of it is appealing. Even the hotel menu looked like it served fast food.

  • Report Abuse

    Monday May 10

    Today is my “5 ticket” day; one train ticket and 4 tickets from the police:

    I stopped into the TI to get the location for the train station since I still had not bought my train ticket from Brno to Krakow. The woman gave me a detailed map but I still got lost. As I was heading back toward the center to start over I had a choice of turning around or going down a very short street – probably 100 yards long to turn around and head back out of town. I chose the very short street. As I was waiting for traffic and pedestrians to pass a cop pointed to me and made a motion to pull over next to him. He was very sweet and fortunately spoke some English. I handed him my license and my IDP. He started out with “we have a problem.” I wanted to laugh and add the “Houston” part but thought better of it and remained solemn. He wanted to know where I was going and I explained the train station and then showed him a photo of the place I was driving to after the train station.

    He explained that I had chosen a street that was only for buses and the building on the corner had a camera and he was told to pull me over and I would have to pay. I looked pitiful and asked if I really had to pay. He said yes because my car was on the camera but since I was a tourist it would not be much money and did I have any Czech money on me. The fine was 300CZK ($15) but there were 3 tickets (I guess since each ticket is for 100CZK he had to write me 3 tickets and I had to sign 3 tickets). I was given the tourist rate; if I were Czech my fine would be 2,000CZK! He wrote the tickets and I paid him the money and he gave me directions to the train station and where to park at the station. I asked if I could take his photo and he said only from the back as he didn’t want his face on the internet! That was pretty funny so I laughed then. I told him the tickets are a souvenir.

    I successfully navigated my way to the train station this time and bought my ticket to Krakow. I followed the signs from the station toward Brno, onto the autoroute and exited at Ivanovice for Zelena Hora, a UNESCO site. I drove a bit from the autoroute looking for towns on the route. When I spotted a police car I pulled over and grabbed my UNESCO paper with color photos of the sites and conferred with them with their limited English and my no Czech. They told me which way to go and I set off.

    A few minutes later I was pulled over by a random spot check. I pulled out my license and IDP again and handed them to the cop and told him I only spoke English. He walked to his car and conferred with his partner and was gone a long time. He came back and asked for my passport. I only had a copy of my passport so I handed it to him and he went back to confer again for another long time.

    All of a sudden a police van pulled up behind me. Yikes! They’ve called for reinforcements! What the heck is going on???? It was the 2 cops I had asked directions from a few miles back. They jumped out and walked over to my car and handed me my UNESCO papers which I had forgotten in their van. They told me that the Zelena Hora I was looking for was not in this area and showed me on my map where it is. It’s right near Pernstejn Castle for goodness sake! I passed right near it the other day. Well…it’s really out of my way now. My mistake with mappy was in calling the place Zelena Hora rather than the name of the town it’s near - Ždár nad Sázavou.

    I asked them if there were any other nice towns in the area and they told me Kromeriz is nice. I agreed and said I would spend the day in Kromeriz, especially as I didn’t want to drive any farther without my passport.

    Since these cops were so friendly I asked them if they could do something with the 2 who were holding my license but they told me (mostly in sign language) that the other cops are control cops and they have no relationship with them. I told them thank you very much for my UNESCO documents and said they were very sweet. They must have been surprised when they saw me on the side of the road. I wonder how they knew it was me.

    Back at the ranch, the 2 very serious cops finally stopped conferring and they walked back to my car together like I’m such an outlaw they both need to give me the ticket. One of them told me the passport copy was no good and in the Czech Republic you need to always have your passport with you. Now I know.

    They didn’t have any other reason to give me a ticket so I got a ticket for not having an original passport. It was…you guessed it…100 CZK! One of them wanted the money first but I shook my head, no and I made a writing motion and told him I wanted the ticket before I handed over the money. They went back to their car to write the ticket and returned. They returned my papers, I signed the ticket, they gave me the receipt and I gave them the 100 CZK which I had been holding in my hand.

    So no Zelena Hora. One less UNESCO site for my collection.

    Back to Kromeriz with a stop in Tesco for some snacks for the train on Thursday. I’m not getting back in the car until I drive it to Brno on Wednesday. I luckily found a parking spot in the main square so I could use my parking pass, dumped my excess stuff in the room and walked around the town. Stopped in the one church I saw that was open – Panny Marie – Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary. You can enter the nave part way and there are pews to sit and look at the church or pray. Most of the nave is blocked with a wrought-iron gate. The church is quite pretty; the altar is ornate but not over the top ornate. Sometimes when a church is too ornate it’s difficult to focus on everything and it becomes overwhelming.

    I stopped in a café for lunch – a mixed salad with tons of olives and an over easy egg on top. Pretty good although I’m getting sick of salads for lunch. I read my book for a while over coffee and then decided to brave the post office to buy stamps for a friend. Even though the woman waiting on me didn’t speak English she did understand that I wanted stamps. There was not a lot to choose from so I picked 2 different stamps. When I asked for the first stamp I forgot and used my index finger rather than my thumb to indicate 1 stamp so she tore off 2 stamps which I paid for and 1 stamp of another type.

    The weather which started out as a cool, dry day with lovely blue skies has now turned to rain but it shouldn’t last as all the other rain storms were of short duration.

    When I got back to the pension I had a confirmation for a hotel room in Brno in my email. So everything is now booked and I have a place to stay for 1 night in Brno right near the train station to catch an early train to Krakow. All I have to find out now is if I have to change trains somewhere along the line. It appears as if I do. Hopefully someone at the Brno station will speak English and can advise me.

    I tried a different pizzeria for dinner – Pizza Bohemia – and chose the 4 cheese pizza. There was no English menu but I understand margarita pizza and the waiter mentioned quarto formaggio which I also understood and ordered that. It was delicious. Thin crust and lots of lovely cheese. With all the cheese it was too much to finish and I only ate a bit more than half. It was one of the pricier dinner I had; the pizza was 139CZK and 2 glasses of wine for another 76CZK. After dinner I took a lap around the square and back to the pension.

  • Report Abuse

    Driving in the Czech Republic was the toughest because the names are so unfamiliar. You just take your time and understand from the beginning that it will take longer than mappy or viamichelin say. This was the first time I've had tickets in Europe. I was only stopped by the police one other time for a random check in Portugal. They looked at my license and then waved me on.

  • Report Abuse

    One other think I've learned that is true in Portugal and the Czech Republic (not sure about other European countries so maybe someone can provide the info) is that the police expect you to stop in back of them. In the US you stop in front of the police so they can approach you from behind and have a better chance of protecting themselves. I was reprimanded in Portugal for stopping in front of the police cars. And the police in the Czech Republic expected me to stop behind them.

  • Report Abuse

    Tuesday May 11

    Today I visited another UNESCO site and had the best dinner in Komeritz:

    Today is the Archbishop’s Palace which I can see from my pension window. I stopped for coffee and a croissant in a café on the square and went to the palace shortly after 9:00 when it opened to find out about tickets. No one there speaks English and the tickets are a bit confusing but the woman at the ticket window tried her best to help me. I bought a ticket for the historical rooms which can only be seen on guided tour (Czech only with an English text) for 120CZK. There is a self-guided picture gallery, and another guided tour that has something to do with the gardens but that was not available, probably as it’s too early in the season.

    The ticket woman told me the next tour was at 9:45 and I tried to buy my ticket then but she indicated to wait. So I walked behind the palace for half an hour and them came back to buy the ticket. There were 2 other people (Polish) who were waiting for the tour. No guide showed up but at about 10:00 a bus pulled in. Great…a whole busload of people. The ticket woman was now ready to sell me a ticket. I guess she wanted to be sure the tour bus arrived before she sold tickets. The bus started unloading – it was a bunch of high school students! The Polish couple and I looked at each other and we made faces. We thought we were getting a private tour. We finally started the tour at 10:15.

    The guide didn’t speak English either but I just followed the crowd. We had to put on slippers again to preserve the parquet floors. This time I choose the red ones, as did most of the students. The red ones here are for men and were way too large and kept falling off. Two of the women were smart and took the blue slippers that were smaller but with all those students trying to grab for the slippers it was mayhem.

    The palace is beautiful and deserves to be a UNESCO site. No photos are allowed inside the palace. The ceilings were stucco relief with gilt embellishments, Czech crystal chandeliers, marquetry and marble table tops, and sculptures. Many of the rooms had a display of mannequins wearing bridal and wedding party attire. The enormous Rococo assembly hall, used in the movie Amadeus, is 30 meters long, 14 meters wide, and 16 meters high. The ceiling is covered by three oil paints with mythological themes. The 22 chandeliers are of Venetian glass. The Feudal Hall ceiling frescoes, from 1759, celebrate the Bishopric of Olomouc with four historical scenes.

    There were young men and women walking around the Palace in period costume. I stopped in the TI to ask about this and was told that someone is making a documentary about the palace and the people in costume are part of the film. I had asked to take a photo of a group of them and they were delighted to pose.

    Dinner was at a restaurant on the square with the word “Central” on top of the building. It was the best meal in Kromeriz. Once again I saw chicken with cheese and peaches on the menu and was intrigued but choose my favorite – pork – one more time. I had fried cauliflower and boiled potatoes with the grilled chop which was the most tender pork of the trip. It was much too much food as both the meat and cauliflower included a substantial salad. Dinner was 256 CZK (less than $14).

  • Report Abuse

    Wednesday May 12

    Today I left the car at a deserted airport and realized that I should be in Krakow, not Brno:

    Again overcast but warmer. This is the first day I went out without my jacket but it did get cooler in the afternoon.

    This morning I turned in the rental car and I’m rather happy to be rid of it. The driving and navigating on my own was tough because of the town names. I loaded up the car (too much stuff!) and dropped off the room keys and parking card at the tabac beneath the pension. I wanted a coffee before I left town but none of the cafes were open yet.

    I headed in the wrong direction again. The signs for Brno are not clear so around another circle and toward Brno. The signs coming from this direction are clear! Took the autoroute all the way, stopping to fill up with gas about 20km outside Brno. I’m glad I did since there wasn’t a gas station at the Brno airport.

    The airport is very small and was so easy to find…even I couldn’t go wrong. I pulled in and only saw a rental drop off for Hertz but I was sure I booked a dropoff at the Brno airport with Budget. As I approached the parking lot I saw more rental car signs but none for Budget. I parked and loaded my stuff onto a trolley (how nice that they’re free in Europe) and went inside the terminal.

    I was the only person there. Very spooky. Wait…a café with 2 people in it. Then I saw a cleaning person. I wheeled the trolley from the departure hall to the arrival hall (about a 15 second walk) I saw the rental car desks. All were gated but there was one for Budget so I dropped my papers and key into the slot. Very strange airport. There were no arriving nor departing flights and the information desk was closed. Fortunately there was an ATM since I had no idea how much the taxi to the hotel would cost and I was getting low on cash. The gas really sucked up my money but I didn’t want to charge the gas and have too much cash left over.

    I spotted a taxi outside the building without a driver so I waited outside about 5 minutes thinking he would appear. No driver so I went inside again and saw a policewoman. I pointed to the taxi and asked about it and she said to wait. She went into some room and the driver came out.

    It was about a 15 minute ride to the hotel I booked across the street from the train station. The fare was 360 which I thought was an ok price – about $20. That’s what it cost me in Prague from the bus station to my pension so I wasn’t going to argue.

    I stayed at the Grand Hotel in Brno, immediately across from the train station. I chose it for the location since I wanted to be able to walk to the station for an early train to Krakow. The room and bathroom are very nice and breakfast is included for 1,776CZK.

    After checking in I walked over to the train station to ask if I could reserve a seat and to check to see if I had to change trains. I have to change twice and I could buy a seat reservation but was told there will be plenty of seats.

    Next the famous Brno market. Lots of wonderful looking, fresh fruit and vegetables and flowers. Many people were shopping here for their daily produce. It was all so fresh looking that I had a hard time not buying anything. I did buy a banana to eat immediately. In the middle of the market is a baroque fountain, built between 1690 and 1695. It symbolizes a cave made of natural boulders with allegorical figures representing the three ancient empires of Bablyonia, Persia, and Greece atop the boulders.

    After the market, I walked in the direction of the Cathedral of Sts Peter and Paul which is open from dawn to dusk. There’s a crypt to climb down and a tower to climb up; both were open. I went into the church (no photos allowed), sat down in a pew and began looking around the church. A young man came over and asked if I would like a text to read about the church. I started to get up to get the text and he motioned me to sit and he would bring it to me. How kind of him. He was the sweetest fellow. I read the text and the descriptions of all the chapels. I remembered reading that this church was depicted on the 10CZK coin and showed a coin to the young man and asked if it was this church. He said it was and was impressed that I knew that. It’s a lovely church with lots of architectural details and sculpture. The church sits at the top of Petrov hill and was originally a Romanesque Basilica; it was re-built at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries in Neo-Gothic style.

    I went over to Freedom Square, Brno’s main square. It was originally the home of the town’s burghers and noblemen. It has some lovely buildings but the overall look is ugly. There are too many modern buildings interspersed with the old buildings and the triangular shape ruins any possibility of symmetry.

    As I was sitting in the square drinking a Fanta I took note of what people were wearing and laughed at all those “what to wear” threads where people want to “blend in.” People wear the most basic outfits, slacks and knit tees for both women and men. What I have not seen much of throughout the trip are those awful tee shirts with stupid pictures on them. That’s about the only thing that would make someone stand out. In the Czech Republic I think you might also stand out if you’re not drinking either coffee (until 10:00) or beer (after 10:00).

    There were a couple of other churches in the area but they were locked up. I decided to walk back toward the hotel and have a late lunch at one of the cafes. I don’t know how, but I kept getting lost and wound up back at the market three times. It wasn’t a difficult route from Freedom Square to the hotel but I messed up quite a bit. I sat down at a café for lunch and opened the menu. It was all ice cream and desserts so I jumped up and went to another café across the street where I had a delicious caprese salad with very fresh mozzarella, oozing milk, lovely red tomatoes, and oregano.

    This evening I realized that my itinerary was off and I should have been in Krakow today and in Brno to drop off the car yesterday. I was a bit upset about this but decided that everything else during this trip had worked out fine and I shouldn’t worry.

    Brno is not a place I would return to but it was convenient to drop off the car and stay one day to see the town. The UNESCO site, Tudendhat Villa, the main reason for being here, is closed for restoration.

    It’s time to say good-bye to the Czech Republic. I’ve not heard people speaking English for the last two weeks other than a overhearing a few tourists in Prague, the two Swiss women I spoke with near the Prague castle, and a bunch of Americans staying at my hotel in Cesky Krumlov. I listened for people speaking English all the time but didn’t hear the language. So other than the Swiss women and the couple I chatted with in the Cesky Krumlov hotel I’ve not had a conversation for two weeks. I’m glad I have my Netbook with me since I feel like I’m in touch with people.

    What things cost in the Czech Republic in CZK:

    Gas – 31 to 33 per litre
    Soup or salad lunch – between 50 and 275; the most expensive lunches were in Prague
    Water or soft drinks – 20 to 35
    Glass of wine (,2l) – 35 to 45
    Coffee with milk – 22 to 40
    Dinners with wine (usually 2 glasses) – 140 to 500; the most expensive dinner was in Prague

  • Report Abuse

    I don't think the brave thing was driving and navigating solo (well maybe a little) but I think it was really something that you did not have a real conversation in English for two weeks.
    Looking forward to Krakow.

  • Report Abuse

    Loving your report! We loved the Czech Republic too. We can't imagine driving alone. It took (takes) the two of us (hubby & I) as well as our little Missy (GPS) to navigate from point A to point B on our travel through the Czech Republic. We found ourselves very often in the "middle" of the screen with Missy "recalculating" on some of those smaller roads! No run-ins with the Police though, which we were really happy about. We were stopped once in Munich going the wrong way on a one way trying to locate our Pension which was right across the street from Oktoberfest. The nice young police man gave us a stern talking to and then kindly let us go without a ticket, pointing us in the right direction. Anxiously awaiting your Krakow report. We leave for our trip to Poland in a mere 57 days!!

  • Report Abuse

    Thursday May 13

    Today I had a long train ride from Brno to Krakow with two changes, learned that Polish trains are butt numbing and slow, and begged for my room even though I arrived a day late:

    It’s a long ride from Brno to Krakow with two train changes. I ate a good breakfast at the hotel and bought a sandwich at the Brno train station for less than $2 and also had some water and snacks with me. The first leg of half an hour was pretty good. I got all my stuff on board, with the help of a young man who handed my bags up to me, and found a seat in the first compartment. I wasn’t expecting a compartment train as most other trains I’ve been on in Europe in the last decade have had coach seating. I was with two women who spoke English, one from Brno who married an Italian and now lives near Bologna. I mentioned that I was going to Krakow and she commented that I was taking a circuitous route since the train to Breclav was south of Brno and Krakow was to the north. That was the schedule on the internet and that’s the itinerary I was given when I asked for a ticket from Brno to Krakow.

    I got off the train – again with the help of a kindly man on the platform. I can lift my bags but the train steps are narrow and there’s a big gap between the last step and the platform. No need to announce “mind the gap” since it’s quite apparent.

    I asked an official-looking person on the platform for the next train, or rather showed him my itinerary and he pointed to a platform on the other side of the tracks. Fortunately there were elevators to change platforms. The next part was a bit of a rush and a pain. I should not have listened to the woman at the information desk in the Brno station about seat reservations. There were plenty of seats but who wants to be crammed into a six-person compartment for the next four hours. I picked the first compartment with only 1 person in it and then realized that all the seats were reserved. By this time everyone had boarded and many people stretched out and closed the curtains. I’ve done this many times in the past. There was another compartment with an older couple in it and as soon as the man realized that I wanted to sit in this compartment he moved his seat over to the door and blocked the entry with his legs. Not a gentleman. I walked through several cars and found another non-reserved compartment with two people in it so I went back to where I had stowed my stuff and brought it forward to the new compartment. I’m not really sure where I am but somewhere still in the Czech Republic. I guess the next train change in a little over an hour will bring me into Poland. This trip reminds me of my Eurail days long ago – changing trains and looking for seats that are not reserved.

    The woman sitting across from me has a cell phone ring that sounds like a rooster crowing. Every time her phone rings I want to burst out laughing but I control myself!! She doesn’t bat an eyelash when the phone rings and it rings often. She doesn’t answer it and I wonder why she doesn’t turn it off.

    The next train change, and last leg of the trip, is at Katowice. The train to Krakow didn’t wait for us as we were 15 minutes late. I started speaking to an older woman who had been born in Poland but now lives in Canada. She told me there would be another train in 45 minutes and she was going downstairs and asked if I wanted to go down with her. I looked at the amount of stuff I was carting around and said I would just stay on the platform rather than bump my stuff down and up the stairs.

    Another train pulled up to the platform – an old commuter looking train. I asked some people and they assured me that the train was going to Krakow so I piled my stuff onto the train. The Polish/Canadian woman came back to the platform and I told her that this train was going to Krakow and was leaving 10 minutes sooner than the one we had planned to take. She consulted the schedule board and then also decided to take this one as she said the next train (1 hour later than the one we had booked) was not originating here and could have a lot of people on it. At least this train was fairly empty. This was the butt numbing Polish train. It rattled and clanked and the seats were not very comfy but it brought us to Krakow.

    When I arrived in Krakow the woman who befriended me said that the taxis are one level up from the train platform and showed me the elevator. I really needed to get some Zloty but she was so helpful and wanted me to find the taxis that I got into the elevator and went up to the street level, even though I couldn’t pay the taxi without Zloty. I scoped out the taxi situation and there were tons of them sitting around so I took the elevator back to the -1 level (the level below the train platform) and found an ATM machine which would not accept my ATM card. I also had this problem once in Prague. There didn’t seem to be any other machines in the station so I used my credit card to get cash. The interest rate was 60 cents for the 2 weeks I borrowed the money so I was glad I didn’t go out of my way to try to find another machine that would accept my ATM card.

    I went back up to the taxi level and arrived at my hotel/apartment within 15 minutes. If you’re young and fit and don’t have much luggage you could walk from the station to the main square. The taxi dropped me off at the corner nearest the hotel and explained he was not allowed to drive on Florianska. The taxi fare from the station was 20 PLN which included a 3 PLN tip. This was less than $7. The driver looked thrilled with the 3 PLN tip and later I learned that you do not tip taxi drivers in Krakow. No wonder he was so thrilled.

    I had tried to book a room at Trecius but there were no vacancies. Florianska Apartment House, in the pedestrian area 2 blocks from the Market Square, fit my budget at $66 per night for a single. I walked the short half block to 39 Florianska and begged for my room which had already been given away (although not yet occupied) since I was a day late. I explained that I had been confused about the arrival date and only realized my mistake the night before. I knew it would all work out as they would either give me the room I had booked or find me something else. They gave me the room and said they would find something else for the other people who had booked my room. The woman took me across the street and down a short alley to an apartment house in a small courtyard that also house a restaurant. I was on the second floor. It wasn’t really an apartment as such but in addition to a large sleeping room and bath there was a full-size refrigerator, sink, and stove top in the entry.

    After settling in and having a much needed shower I went in search of a typical Polish restaurant. I had the name of two places and went to Babci Maliny, near the Florian Gate. There were a couple of tables on the main level and what appeared to be a take-out window with lots of people lined up. I asked the woman in front of me if she spoke Polish (she did) and what was the protocol as it appeared that people were ordering and then going upstairs but I wasn’t sure what to do and there were no menus to look at before you got to the ordering window. I’m not good at ordering on the spot, especially since I was unfamiliar with Polish food. This was her first time at this restaurant so she asked a passing waitress who explained that if you order the food at the window it was less expensive than eating in the full service restaurant downstairs. I decided to check out the downstairs restaurant. There were two sections; one with wooden tables and benches and the other much fancier with table cloths and china service. I choose the rustic section and an assortment of three types of pierogies, red cabbage salad, and beer for 41 PLN including tip. The plate of pierogies had about 30 on them; I managed to eat 6 and was stuffed. You need to pay attention to the number of grams listed alongside each item so as to not over order.

    After dinner I went to Rynek Glowny – the main square to sit with a glass of wine. It’s a wonderful square with a great atmosphere and is filled with mimes, music, fiacres, and the center has lots of flower vendors, even in the evening. The fiacres drive by, the drivers in fancy dress with hats, and there are tons of cafes. Each hour, the trumpeter from St Mary’s Basilica beguiles the tourists with his fanfare. After his trumpet call he waves to the crowd and people wave back to him. The only blight on the square is the Cloth Hall which is under renovation and is covered up.

  • Report Abuse

    Friday May 14 - Krakow

    Today I ate a wild rose donut and ham potato chips! I didn’t really like either of them but I love Krakow!

    Breakfast is not included with my room so I went in search of a breakfast place. So far I haven’t really found a café type place except on the main square (quite expensive). I went into a bakery and asked for a typical Polish pastry. The woman whose English was quite good said she didn’t understand the word pastry so I said a typical Polish cake for breakfast. She pointed out a couple of choices and explained them to me and I asked her to choose the most typical which was a donut filled with some sort of jam. I asked what flavors there were and she said only one flavor – wild rose. Hmmm. Rose is probably my least favorite scent but who could pass up a donut filled with wild rose jam at 8:00 in the morning? Not I. When in Krakow, etc., etc., etc. I asked for coffee and she said apologetically that she only had paper cups (fine with me) and she only had white or black coffee. Are there any other kinds?

    I took my coffee (that was nuked as I heard the microwave ding) and wild rose donut to a table. The ding coffee was surprising good and the wild rose donut was aromatic. If you like Earl Gray tea (I do not) then you will probably like these donuts. I quickly ate the jam from the center and enjoyed the donut with a bit of icing on top.

    First the TI on the main square to ask if I could buy Wawel tickets there since the tickets are limited (purchase only at the castle) and to ask about the post office. Then to a mini market on Szpitalna Street and back to the room to drop off the stuff I bought.

    The TI in the main square is open Monday – Saturday 9:00 – 9:00; Sunday 9:00 – 15:00. It’s inside the same building with a café and the Krakow Historical Museum; before you enter the TI there’s a really nice shop selling Polish made handicrafts.

    Next on the agenda was the Czartoryski Museum at 19 ul Sw Jana. The address is important. This is the museum with the Rembrandt and the Leonardo and I was really looking forward to seeing it. Jana is 1 block from my street, Florianska and only about 4 or 5 short blocks long. I found #20 quite easily but couldn’t find #19. I stopped a woman coming out of a building and asked her about the museum. She tried to find it with me but couldn’t so I said I would ask at the TI. She walked away and then immediately came back as she remembered where it was ¬ 3 blocks from #20. The museum is just before the Christo Transfigurato church at the end of the street closest to the Florian Gate (away from the main square). It’s at the corner of Jana and Pijarska streets.

    Unfortunately this museum was closed for restoration - that was a disappointment. It won’t reopen until sometime in 2012. The Leonardo “Lady with an Ermine” will relocate to the Cloth Hall when the Cloth Hall reopens, supposedly June 2010 (I don’t know if the Cloth Hall has re-opened yet).

    Over to the Old Pharmacy Museum. A man working outside tried to explain that it was closed and would open later. I had him write the time on a paper. 19:00 to 1:00. I looked puzzled and he said something about night but in German. I thanked him and went over to the people who I rent from and asked and was told that it’s annual Museum Night (May 14 and 15) and all the museums are free and are open late but closed in during the day. That explains things.

    By the time I wandered back and forth and saw nothing I needed another coffee. Over to the main square in the rain and sheltered under an umbrella, ordered coffee, and watched everyone walking around in the rain until the Basilica altar opened at 11:50. I chatted with another woman who was on her own and then it was time to see the Basilica. I bought a ticket to the Basilica for 6ZL and a photo ticket for 5ZL. I don’t think the photo ticket was worth the money but I took a bunch of photos. It was pretty dark inside.

    Then to the post office where I had to go to three different desks to buy a few stamps for someone.

    By the time I got to Wawel and waited in the ticket line (short line) it was 2:00 and the tickets for the Royal Apartments were sold out.

    I asked if I could buy a ticket for tomorrow and was told I had to go to the reservation desk beyond the cathedral on the right (not far from the ticket office). The reservation office is called BOT. When I got to the reservation building I was then told I had to pay 16ZL for the reservation plus the ticket prices. That's about $5. I was rather annoyed that I wasn't told that at the ticket desk. I thought about it a minute then decided that I would pay the extra money for peace of mind and for not having to stand in a line for tickets.

    The woman told me to arrive at the reservation office at 10:45 (for an 11:00 ticket - they open at 11:00 on Saturday and Sunday). She said (very sternly) that if I was late the reservation would be canceled. Did I suddenly wake up in Germany? I must have had an astounded look on my face when I said OK - I'll be here because then she smiled and we both laughed and I promised not to be late.

    I asked if the cathedral was free and was told it was free. I went in and walked around and then saw a chapel to the right of the front door but the area was roped off and I was told that I needed a ticket for the chapel. The ticket also included the crypt and tower. I knew I needed a ticket for the crypt and tower but since I wasn't interested I didn't buy a ticket. I really wanted to go into the chapel but there was a guard who wouldn’t let me in and didn’t like that I was looking into the chapel from beyond the rope so I left the cathedral and cross over to the ticket office and bought the ticket. I would have bought the stupid ticket before going in to the church if I had known. No one mentioned this chapel and the web site doesn’t mention it. I thought it was the highlight of the cathedral.

    After I bought the ticket a woman stops me from leaving the building and says I have to go to the end window so I did. This is where they try to sell you the audio. I was annoyed about that, said no firmly to the audio guide and asked if I could leave now with my ticket. On the way out I told the woman that I didn't have to go to that window and looked annoyed. Geez…all I want to do is see a chapel.

    Back at the cathedral...I went to the guy who told me I needed a ticket for the chapel and showed him my ticket but now he wanted me to walk all around the cathedral to get to the chapel. I just glared at him; I was really getting annoyed. The chapel was 10 feet away and he was going to make me walk all around instead of letting me bypass the rope?

    He must have sensed that I was really getting upset and he explained there were lots of nice things to see that I would miss and he wanted me to climb the tower. I asked how many steps to the tower and he said 100 and I asked him if he promised that there were only 100 steps and he promised there were only 100 steps. So I said I would see the tower if he would let me into the chapel first so he did. Geez it was an ordeal. He was nice about it but I really only wanted to see the chapel which was absolutely gorgeous. It was worth the 12ZL. The rest of what you see for the 12ZL ticket is nice but the chapel was the best. I went in twice, before and after the tower.

    The tower. It's only 70 steps but they are very high and steep and you have to go around and between timbers. It's a bit claustrophobic. To leave you have to go through this tight spot between 2 support timbers and then you're faced with a daunting flight of steps down in the dim light. It was scary. Fortunately there is a railing on both sides of the steps and I hung on with both hands. The view is nice but the climb is a bit much. The exit way takes you down an exterior metal spiral stair at the end, through a couple of passageways and then back into the cathedral. Quite convoluted.

    After the cathedral I was pretty hungry since it was 3:30 and I had only had the wild rose donut at 8:00 to sustain me. None of the restaurants I passed appealed to me to I headed to Restaurant Farina at ul Marka 16, a recommendation from this board. Their menu is mostly fish dishes. I started with the mushroom soup – creamy, flavorful, and an abundance of mushrooms – very good. With this came a tapenade of mushrooms with truffle oil and the restaurant’s home-made bread. One bread stick, one roll, and one slice of brown bread. I needed more than the soup and the small roll but couldn’t manage a heavy meal so I ordered a caprese salad. It was good but the mozzarella was not as creamy and fresh as the caprese I had in Brno. I followed this with an espresso to keep awake for museum night. Back to the apartment to refresh for the evening.

    Vespers at the Basilica of the Holy Trinity church – this was outstanding and I highly recommend taking some time for Vespers. This is a Dominican church and Vespers are held every evening at 6:25, except in summer. Vespers with Gregorian chant is rare to find and the Dominican Brothers really do it right here. Shortly before Vespers begins one of the Brothers turns out the choir lights and lights the candles on the altar. At 6:25 they process in to the choir, the two lead Brothers carrying large off-white candles on large holders. At least three dozen Brothers fill both sides of the choir and begin their prayers. After about 20 minutes, all the Brothers process out of the choir two by two, still singing, with the two in lead holding the large candles, down the nave to the transept and then down the right aisle. They leave the church proper, and the singing continues for about another 10 minutes. They then all process back into the church via the right aisle, across the transept and up the stairs on the left aisle. When all the Brothers ascend the stairs the prayer ends. It was incredibly moving.

    As I was south of Glowny I went to the Archdiocesan Museum, at ul Kanonicza 19, containing religious sculpture and paintings from the 14th to the 16th centuries.

    I wanted to see two museums on my street. One of them particularly interested me - the old pharmacy museum which I had tried to see this morning. When I went at 8:00 tonight there was a long line to get in. There was also a long line for the Matejko House. I didn’t feel like waiting in a line in the cold so I went back to my room thinking that I would go out again later but once I was in for the night I never went out again.

  • Report Abuse

    Saturday May 15

    Today I fought the crowds at Wawel and was scolded about tardiness for the second time:

    Wawel Castle. The translation for Wawel is hordes of tourists and mass confusion. After another pastry and coffee breakfast (I miss those delicious Czech breakfasts) I slowly walked to Wawel. I had enough time to visit the WC (I thought the only one was by the cafes but there is another one in the central courtyard) before going to the BOT, with those strict women, to pickup my ticket. I reserved the State Rooms and Royal Apartments. My ticket time was 11:05 for the State Rooms and 12:00 for the Royal Apartments and was told once again “don’t be late for the tour.” I didn’t realize there was a tour; I thought it was self guided.

    I had plenty of time so I wandered around and watched the other tourists. At 11:00 I went under the arch to find my tour. From the arch I emerged into a vast courtyard almost completely filled with people. Oh my gosh…how will I find the tour guide??? The BOT woman did show me on the Wawel map where to enter but I completely forgot that she had given me directions once I saw the teeming masses in this courtyard. There should be large signs to direct people. There are guards standing around so I showed one of them my ticket and asked where I should go. The guard looked at me like I was a pile of dog poop and pointed to the diagonal corner. I didn’t even get a grunt out of him - LOL.

    I fought my way over to the other side of the courtyard and saw signs for the Royal Apartments (very small white signs that you have to get right up to to read) but nothing for the State Rooms. I stopped a woman walking into a door and showed my ticket and she said this is the place. I went through security and gave my ticket to a woman at the desk and she looked at it and gave it back and told me to go into the other room. There was no tour. I asked a guard in the first room but she shrugged so I went back to the desk and asked about the tour. The State Rooms are self guided unless you specifically book a guided tour. OK. Now I know. I didn’t think there was a tour but then I was told there is a tour. The story is the Royal Apartments are by guided visit only and that comes with the admission; the State Rooms are self guided unless you book a private tour.

    Wawel really isn’t worth the hassle you have to go through to figure things out. The State Rooms were OK but nothing to rave about if you’ve seen other castles. There were tapestries, oil paintings, furniture, and objets d’art. The only thing that impressed me were the 30 painted heads in relief on the ceiling of the throne room. The expressions on these characters were fabulous. But no photos are allowed in the castle so I couldn’t capture these great heads.

    I decided to skip the last few rooms of the State Rooms since it was getting a bit boring, I backtracked and started down the staircase I came up when I was stopped and told I couldn’t go out that way. Who knows why. I had to continue to the end of the exhibit. I actually thought I had gone through all the rooms as they started to look alike.

    When I got to the last room I had no idea how to get out so I had to ask. The exit is through a closed door that looks like lots of other closed doors. When you get up to it there is a small sign that says “exit.” Geez. Could they make things any more difficult? Well…yes they can. You have to go down 3 flights of stairs with no railing. I know most people can go down stairs without holding on but I start to get dizzy. I touched the wall on the way down and by the last few steps my head was starting to spin!

    Out into the courtyard where I sat down for a few minutes before the 12:00 guided tour of the Royal Apartments. There are some stone benches along one wall. I was reading my Krakow information when I realized it was almost 12:00 and time for the Royal Apartments tour. I quickly crossed the courtyard and up the steps and found the group. There were only 12 of us on the tour. I think the tours are limited to about 10 people.

    The Royal Apartments was a good tour. Lots of tapestries mostly made in Belgium and the only part of the castle furnishing that is original. Oil paintings, including a small one by Martini, furniture, vases, clocks. It’s not completely furnished but much of what was there was interesting.

    My advice for Wawel is to buy a ticket to the cathedral and reserve a ticket for the Royal Apartments the day before. There were lines when I got to Wawel at 10:30 and again, by 2:00, there were no more tickets for the Royal Apartments for that day.

    If you’ve been to other castles and have limited time in Krakow I would skip Wawel or place it at the end of the sightseeing list to get to if there is time. You can walk around the area later in the afternoon when the crowds have dispersed. There was a lovely garden down the hill from the castle, a café to stop for something to drink. Continue behind the café to the walkway around the castle for views of the city.

    I walked back to the main square, stopping in a couple of churches on the way. I had a salad in one of the cafes, then to the tourist office to ask about the Salt Mine and the mini market to pick up some breakfast food. Then back to the apartment for a break as it was about 4:00.

    At 6:00 I went to Vespers again. I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to do this every evening and it was just as good the second night.

    I walked around for a short while but it was getting cold so I stopped for a quick bite and then back to the apartment. About 9:00 it started pouring rain.

  • Report Abuse

    Sunday May 16

    Today I was scolded by a bus driver for tardiness and walked down 800 steps at the Salt Mine:

    It was still pouring rain when I woke up. I had planned to go to the Salt Mine but I wasn’t sure I was up for the trip, not knowing exactly where I was going in the rain.

    I walked over to Cool Tours (they open at 10:00) to ask about the Jewish Quarter tour but when I walked in the door I automatically asked about a Salt Mine tour. The fellow said that there was one at 3:30 and I wondered if that was enough time to do the whole tour. He didn’t know and I couldn’t remember what time the Salt Mine closed. He found a tour leaving in 15 minutes. By the time he booked it and I paid for it, I realized that I had to go back past my apartment and to some square on the other side of the Barbican. I thought I was joining the tour leaving from the Cool Tours location but apparently Cool Tours sub contracts some of their tours.

    I asked him to phone to say I was on my way (only 10 minutes left now) and he did and told me to hurry. I hurried as fast as I could over the wet paving stones, around people congregating with umbrellas outside the Basilica, going to the wrong side of the Florian Gate rather than through it, looking for a statue of a man on a horse, backtracking as I realized that I went wrong at the Gate, and finally arriving at the bus to be greeted with a scolding by the driver as I was late. I explained that I only booked 10 minutes before and had done my best to get to the bus on time. The folks in Krakow are certainly obsessed with time keeping!

    Cool Tours office is a bit hidden. It’s off Grodzka, just south of the Market Square (the side toward Wawel). If walking south on Grodzka, turn left into a alley and they’re at the end. If they are already open you will see the rental bicycles lined up along the building.

    The tour was booked through Cracow City Tours; the bus was packed and the seats were very close together so there was really no leg room. The ride was about 20 to 30 minutes. There was a lot of standing around and waiting to get in to the salt mine and more standing around and waiting at the end of the salt mine tour before the return trip to Krakow.

    The bus will pick up at area hotels but if you are in the pedestrian area, as I was, the buses can’t go down those streets so you need to meet the bus at their location.

    At the Salt Mine we split up into two groups since there were so many of us. I was in the group with the guide from the tour company and the others were with a Salt Mine guide. I loved the guide we had, Sebastian. His great sense of humor combined with his delivery and accent made him quite endearing.

    The Salt Mine was very interesting and I’m glad I did the tour. The web site states there are 380 steps down. That’s just the beginning. There are really 800 steps. The initial descent has 380 steps with very shallow risers. There are 54 platforms with about 8 steps between platforms. You do have to move rather quickly on the stairs to keep up with the group.

    A couple of people on the tour had notified the company that they had trouble with steps so the guide made arrangements to have them take the elevator. I asked about the elevator for someone who will be coming to Krakow later in the year and the guide said that the Salt Mine charges 300ZL to use the elevator to the first level but the tour company does not charge extra for the elevator. Even if you take the elevator to the first level you still have another 400 steps to go down, although not all at once. As I remember there are 150 steps together and then smaller groups of 50 or 75 steps. All steps have low risers, making the descent a bit easier. The tour through the mine coveres 2 or 2.5 km. and you stand for most of the time inside the mine (couple of hours) as there are only a few places to sit. This tour might be a bit difficult for people who have mobility or standing problems.

    The Salt Mine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it was a fascinating experience. It’s a very old mine; the tour covers about 1% of the mine so you can imagine how large it is. Each section is named with the date that section was worked. The carvings are made from salt and in one area the floor is carved salt, although it looks like tile. There are snack shops, restaurants, souvenir shops and an orchestra that plays for visitors. The temperature inside the mine is kept at 57 degrees F. and the air is extremely pure. Outside it was cold and damp and rainy – a miserable day. After half an hour inside the mine I felt so much better. Because the air is so pure there’s a respiratory rehabilitation center inside the mine.

    The Salt Mine was something very different than anything I had done before and I’m glad I had the opportunity to take the tour.

    I think the Salt Mine was particularly crowded as it was a Sunday and pouring rain and it seemed to be a good place to be in the rain. Because there were so many groups visiting the mine we had to wait a few times for groups to leave some of the rooms. We also had to wait about 20 to 30 minutes for the elevator which holds only 36 people at a time. But the ascent is very fast.

    The mine is one of the few things in Krakow open early and late (7:30 to 7:30, April to October) so you can go first or last thing and still do other sightseeing during the day.

    After we arrived back in Krakow at about 3:30 (still pouring rain) I walked from the bus stop to the pedestrian area thinking of a lovely meal at Restaurant Farina. I looked in the window to see people elegantly turned out, enjoying their Sunday lunch. I thought about what I looked like – dripping water all over, my umbrella half broken from the fierce wind; I was hot and sweaty and cold and clammy simultaneously and decided my self esteem would suffer tremendously if I walked into Farina. I walked around the block and found Camelot Café which I had been looking for the other day. It’s on Tomasza street between Jana and Florianska. It’s a charming, intimate café with an old world feel. There are three rooms of marble topped café tables covered with white net tablecloths, and tea arrives in a white ceramic pot. Hooray - An entire pot of tea! Many people were having pots of tea, ice creams, or beers. The atmosphere is warm and friendly.

    For milder weather there’s a lovely terrace. And if breakfast is not included with your hotel room, Camelot offers a cooked breakfast. I ordered pasta with prosciutto and peas in a cream sauce and it was filling and delicious.

  • Report Abuse

    Monday May 17

    Today there was a drunk sleeping outside my apartment door:

    This is my last morning in Krakow. It’s still raining too heavily to enjoy walking around one more time. I went to the gift shop next to the TI, stopping along the way to buy another umbrella. The woman in the shop assured me that everything in the store is made in Poland. They have quite a few cute things. I bought the 2 gifts I needed and then bought 3 things for me, of course.

    Back to the apartment to finish packing before going to Restaurant Farina for another bowl of their delicious mushroom soup before the flight to Frankfurt. I hadn’t quite finished the packing but I was hungry so I decided to go to Farina early for the soup and then finish the packing when I returned.

    The stairway lights are on timers, like in France. The timer button for my floor was next to the stairway, outside the adjacent apartment door. As no one had come in or gone out for a while and there was not much daylight because of the rain, the landing and stair were quite dim.

    I opened the apartment door to leave and saw a man lying on the floor, right in front of the door. I shrieked (a la Agatha Raisin), slammed and bolted the door. What to do???? I have no phone! And the internet is out! Yikes. I was really frightened. I didn’t know if he was dead or alive and I didn’t want to step over him in either condition.

    There was some construction going on in the building across the courtyard so I leaned out the window and try to flag down someone but no one is looking. I start yelling “hello” and “help” as loudly as I can. A couple of minutes later some people come into the courtyard for the restaurant and I start yelling “can you help me please!!!” One of the women asked if I needed help and I said there is a man lying in front of my door. She told me to call the police. If I could have, I would have, obviously.

    A minute later one of the restaurant staff came into the courtyard and I explained the problem. He came over to the apartment and I talked to him through the door and looked through the peep hole (I could now see as he turned on the light but I could not see the prone man as he was against the door). The restaurant fellow said he was phoning the police and said the man was a drunk. I quickly packed up everything and decided I would just step over the drunk with my stuff. Or run over him with my rollerbag!

    I guess the restaurant man chased the drunk away since when I left he was no longer outside my door. I took my bags over to the rental office (across the street) and the woman looked surprised to see me an hour early since I had asked to stay in the apartment until 1:30 when the taxi was coming. I told her the story.

    Over to Restaurant Farina, a bowl of soup and the lovely mushroom tapenade with truffle oil and I was fortified for the plane ride.

    I really enjoyed Krakow and would like to return soon, especially since I didn’t get to see everything I wanted to. I loved the atmosphere in the Market Square and enjoyed the evening sitting there sipping a glass of wine and watching the people and fiacres. This trip was supposed to be centered around Poland but as I began reading about the Czech Republic I focused more time there and less in Poland. I would like to return and spend a couple of weeks in Poland.

    The taxi arrived a bit early and we were off to Krakow airport. The airport is small and easy to navigate. I forgot to take my Netbook out of my bag but no one said anything. I probably could have carried on a bottle of water too. It was a small plane and I was in the first row behind first class since I had checked in early. I really saw no difference between economy and first class in seat size but they had their meal on a tray and had beverage service before takeoff. We were given a wrap sandwich snack which I was grateful for since I was hungry again.

    I had already done the Frankfurt airport to train station trip three weeks ago so I was a bit of a pro at this but I still became confused (along with a lot of other people) on how to exit from the train. The signs are confusing and once again I went up the escalator that goes nowhere and down the escalator on the other side. I still can’t remember which escalator to take.

    This time I stayed at Excelsior Hotel as Hotel National (where I stayed three weeks ago) had a 45 day cancellation policy in May. In April the cancellation policy was 6:00 day of arrival. The Excelsior isn’t as nice as the National but it’s a bit less money and breakfast and mini bar are included in the room rate; breakfast is additional at the National. There’s no internet in the rooms but wifi is available in the lobby and there is a Business Center off the lobby that has computers and two internet connections (although the connections are slow).

    Dinner again was at Baseler Eck at Baseler Platz 7, the place I ate at the first time through Frankfurt. I had the same sauerbraten but with boiled potatoes and red cabbage. The cabbage had a smoky flavor which I don’t care for. I got a bit lost getting there and getting back to the hotel. So what else is new…Lost again!

  • Report Abuse

    adrienne. Do you think the Wawel was more crowded because of the time of year you visited?
    Making a note of restaurant Farina and Camelot for my trip.
    I hope I don't get all that rain. I know October can be iffy.

  • Report Abuse

    Sher - I think Wawel would be more crowded in summer. There seemed to be a lot of groups at the castle and cathedral and I think that's why it was so crowded and chaotic. October would be about the same number of crowds as May, I would think.

    This was an extraordinary amount of rain in a short time - absolutely not normal at all. The rivers flooded and I read in the International Herald Tribune that Auschwitz had to close down to move the exhibits off the ground floor to preserve them. That's how bad the rain was. It was almost useless to use an umbrella as the wind would whip it inside out. Everyone I spoke with from this area said that May is usually a mild and warm month but not this May. I'm sure your trip is going to be great and you'll have to share all that I missed.

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks for all the ideas in Krakow. I look forward to the soups and the vespers, especially! Hope to not have your rain tho!

    Did the apartment manager have any helpful or reassuring thoughts about the drunk at your door? I think we have reserved in the same place for September.

  • Report Abuse

    The woman at the rental agency was surprised when I told her about the drunk. There wasn't much she could do about it as he was no longer there when I left.

    The Dominican church is just off Dominicanska on Stolarska. Here's a photo of the church so you know what to look for.

    http://www.roomwithaviewkrakow.com/sights/dominican-church.html

  • Report Abuse

    Tuesday May 18 (Frankfurt)

    Today I took a 3 hour walking tour that lasted 5.25 hours (my feet hurt):

    I’ve transited through Frankfurt several times on my way to other places so this time I decided to spend a day to see a bit of the city. There was a good breakfast at the Excelsior of the usual buffet variety. There are a lot of Asians staying here so there is Asian food on the breakfast buffet. Breakfast is available from 5:00 so I went down early and took a cup of coffee back to my room and went down later for breakfast.

    As a general introduction to Frankfurt I took take the three hour Frankfurt on Foot walking tour which was great. We met the guide, Dave, at Romer, the picturesque main square. I was there about a half hour early and took lots of photos around the square. We found out later, from Dave, that only one of the buildings in the square is original as the others were bombed during WWII. We learned some ancient history before going into St Bartholomew’s Church (also known as the Dom). We continued to St Leonard’s Church and then saw a fabulous fresco in an arcade behind the archeological museum. We accessed the fresco (free) though a building that offered special exhibits. We had 10 minutes on our own at the indoor market (I took lots of photos of the gorgeous flowers), then on to the Holocaust memorial wall (Ann Frank has a block on this wall since she was born in Frankfurt – the blocks with names, birth and death dates, and place of death are in alphabetical order), peeked into the old Jewish cemetery, saw a giant relief plan of Frankfurt so we could get our bearings, rested a bit in a lovely park, passed the outside of the stock exchange with the large bull and bear sculptures and then walked past the opera house.

    The tour normally lasts for 3 hours and costs E12 but since we were such a small group we kept walking and talking for 5.25 hours! It was a great tour and Dave was a great guide. I took the tram back to my hotel where there was coffee and cake in the lobby (I was starving) and I checked my email, freshened up for dinner, and packed up to be ready for tomorrow’s flight.

    Dinner again at Baseler Eck (why change a good thing) – mixed salad, pork with mushrooms in cream sauce and a ton of French fries.

    The End

  • Report Abuse

    Adrienne, thanks for this very enjoyable report. We were in Prague and Krakow end of May, so I love to relive those two cities.

    It was my first visit to both cities and I loved both - but if I have to return to one, it will be Krakaow.

    Sher - I just want to tell you about my experience of Wawel Castle. We joined a tour operator - they have pick ups at various Bus stops in the old town - and we were so happy with them. We had the most wonderful, enthusiastic tour guide and our English speaking group consists of four people only. The tour took four hours and included a visit to the Jewish quarter, Wawel castle and a part of the old town. We did this on a Sunday and for me, this tour was the highlight of my trip. We did the early morning morning tour - I think we started at 9h00 and our walking encyclopaedia of a tour guide just made every site came to life. I will check my ticket and post the tour company's name if you are interested?

  • Report Abuse

    chiara - glad you enjoyed the TR. I'm sure you had better weather than I did!

    Please post the tour company name and any info you have. At Wawel did you tour inside the castle (if you did, which tour(s)) and did you go inside the cathedral? Wawel seemed so easy to do on my own that I didn't consider a tour company but it looks like they expedite the Wawel part which would save considerable time.

  • Report Abuse

    chiarachiara. I would be very interested in the name of the company also.
    I usually am a do it yourself tour person but I have decided that I want to make the most of my time in Krakow, which is a little short anyway. The three things you mantioned are on the top of my list.
    One of the other is Auschwitz. It really is the main reason for going to Krakow.
    I cannot do the Salt Mines. I have a knee that I am holding on to with a wing and a prayer. I don't want to take a chance that the steps would do me in. Krakow is at the beginning of this trip.

  • Report Abuse

    Yes, please post the name and cost, if you remember. We will also be short of time there so need to maximize the experience. I'm especially interested in what interiors this tour included at Wawel and whether these costs were included in the tour price.

  • Report Abuse

    OK, I found my ticket and checked the information - it was Cracow Tours www.cracowtours.pl and we did the City Tour. Go to the website and you will see all the pick up points etc. They have also a number of other tours, including Auschwitz and the Salt mines. Adrienne, did you visit the Salt mines with them?

    We were really more than pleased with them. The tour was 120 Zlothy and I think worth the money. At Wawel Castle the cost includes the State Rooms, Royal Apartments and the Cathedral. We could not go into the Cathedral because mass was on. But we stayed close to the castle, so we returned to the Cathedral. I see on the website the Royal Apartments (or Chambers, as they call it) are closed for the public on Mondays. So maybe try not to do this tour on a Sunday or Monday. Or do the Sunday one if you can later return to the Cathedral.

    I am also somebody who like to travel independently but I often do a City tour when I visit a City for the first time. Poland was so new and strange to me that I really enjoyed this tour.

    Adrienne, thanks again for your detailled report - we visit many of the places you did and I enjoyed the food! Our weather was not bad - light showers some days but not for long and the sun would be out.

  • Report Abuse

    Thank you very much for the information. We will be in Krakow on a Wed, Thurs, Fri.
    Part of our problem too will be since it is October we won't have the daylight we might have at other times of the year. I noticed that some closing hours are shortened when October comes around.
    I think the city tour is the best for us. I don't feel we will be in Krakow long enough and although I have been reading specific books on Krakow, the street names have been hard for me to remember because they are so different from anything I am used to.

  • Report Abuse

    chiara - I went to the Salt Mine with Cracow City Tours - it's a different company with a similar name. I booked through Cool Tours but the cost would have been the same if I had booked directly with CCT. Here's their site. The Salt Mine was 100 ZL. Entrance to the Salt Mine if you go on your own is 41 ZL so quite a bit cheaper and I can't imagine the city bus would be much money as it's not far away from the center of Krakow. There are so many tour companies in Krakow.

    http://www.cracowcitytours.pl/


    Sher - you'll see lots of vehicles along the streets offering tours but I think it's canned commentary, not a guide you can ask questions of. The major tour companies would be best. Can I go back with you as I've missed so much!! :(

  • Report Abuse

    So you are back safe though likely still tired. We enjoyed Krakow and Prague despite the tourists. Also Nosolov in C.R. and Czestakova and Zakopane and Auschwitz in Poland. I do think everyone visitng in the Krakow area should make the journy to Auschwitz.
    Bill in Boston

  • Report Abuse

    Hi Bill,

    I am indeed well rested. I wanted to go to Czestakova but my trip morphed into more time in the Czech Republic so less time was given to Poland. But I will definitely go back there someday.

    I do disagree about going to Auschwitz and gave it much thought over many years. I thought a trip there would be too emotional and color the remainder of my trip.

    I don't see any trip report from you?????? Will it be forthcoming???? :)

  • Report Abuse

    I think going to Auschwitz (or not) is a very personal decision. I went, because I was with a group that was going. I didn't want to go because even just thinking about the Holocaust is a very emotional experience, let alone walking the very paths and standing in the ovens. I can't say that I am sorry that I went, but it was extremely disturbing and since you were traveling alone, adrienne, I think it was probably a good decision on your part to not go.
    I understand that my being emotional is not even anywhere close to the experiences that people had to endure at Auschwitz, so if you all think I am a big chicken then I suppose I am.

  • Report Abuse

    << if you all think I am a big chicken then I suppose I am >>

    I don't think you are a chicken at all for becoming emotional at Auschwitz. It is possible to empathize with and become emotional by someone else's tragedy even though you haven't had the experience. I would think that many people become emotional upon viewing sights such as Auschwitz.

  • Report Abuse

    adrienne, my abbreviated report is in two parts:
    www.fodors.com/community/europe/back-from-central-europe.cfm
    www.fodors.com/community/europe/back-from-central-europe---2.cfm

    My reflections: travel is a luxury and so often we want everything to be lovely. Oh look at those mountains and lakes! Of course, aren't we on vacation. Yes, we are the lucky ones. Many Americans are just getting by paying the rent. One interesting aspect of Grand Circle Tours is to challenge travelers to think beyond the box. And this is done in various ways, e.g., exposing them to different lecturers and ideas.

    Also to places like Auschwitz that in my opinion everyone should see...and yes be disturbed by as true with so much in history. We had a survivor talk with us who worked there
    ...only reason he did make it was because of abilities to translate. I have Jewish friends who are concerned like myself lest we ever forget. Yes, I heard about the flooding there.

    Back to our trip our travel guide who was encouraged by GCT to give us information about post-Communist Poland, Czech Rep., Hungary. She was raised in a Communist family which had many benefits. The regime provided job security though restricting freedoms and based on false premises (supply regardless of demand). Now there is personal freedom and a better economy but farmers struggle and there is crime and drugs. Her parents who were once well off now suffer on meager pensions.

    We have also gone to 31 Elderhostel programs (now called Exploritas with no age restriction) which also expands one's thinking.

    My apologies for long windedness...but then I am a preacher!
    Bill now in Boston

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks for your insights, Bill! I couldn't find your reports as they did not have a trip report flag on them. I have asked the editors to put the flag on for others who are looking for trip reports for this area. I hope that's OK with you.

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks for this, it will be really helpful for me - I've just read some of this, but will sit down later to read it indepth. I've been to some of these places - such as Telc - and loved it too. This time I am going to Frankfurt, and Berlin at Christmas and going solo (a little scary as I have no clue either on how to use the train ticket machines. I'm flying from NZ to frankfurt, takes absolutely ages, and trying to work out my steps from plane to train to hotel while severley jet lagged) I'm also planning on staying at the Hotel Excelsoir (see my other post) and am also planning on doing the three hour walking tour for 12 euro in Frankfurt!!! So I very much look forward to reading this report. Thanks again. Manda

  • Report Abuse

    Manda - the Frankfurt train system is so good you almost can't do it wrong. Just ask for help when buying your train ticket from the airport to the station. I think the code for Frankfurt is 15 but it's best to ask someone as the ticket dispensers are a bit confusing. I also asked people on the train platform to confirm that I was in the right place for the train to hauptbahnhof (main train station).

    The trams in town are easy too. The hotel will help you get started with the tram number and you can get a map of Frankfurt at the hotel desk. You catch the tram to the main square just in front of the train station and buy your ticket at the tram stop.

    I wish I had had time to go back to some of the places we saw on the walking tour but I only had the one day in Frankfurt. I was so impressed with Frankfurt that I'm hoping to do a trip to Germany sometime in the near future.

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks so much Adrienne. I'm going to print this out for keeping. I do worry about the ticket machines as I am hopeless at that kind of thing.
    I also have just the one full day in Frankfurt (two nights)- Christmas Day, have read that the walking tour goes in all weather, every day of the year, so thats my plan for Christmas morning. Its nice to hear that you were impressed with the city, as I've read not very good reports about Frankfurt. For me, its somewhere new, hence exciting, and also its Europe too, so I'd rather be anywhere in Europe than home :) Can I just ask you one thing more please - if you had a choice with Excelsior or the National, if the price was around the same, which one??
    Thanks, I really appreciate your advice, Manda

  • Report Abuse

    The room at the National was nicer but the price isn't the same because breakfast at the National was E12 additional - it wasn't included with the room. Also check the cancellation policy. I did not book with them on the return trip through Frankfurt as they required 45 days notification and I didn't want to take the risk that my plans might change.

    I would suggest sending an email to ensure that there is a walking tour on Christmas Day. You won't be able to get into the places we went to inside other than the churches and if there are services then the guide won't be able to talk inside nor will you be able to walk around inside the churches during services.

    I would also try to find restaurants that are open on Christmas and make reservations as many may be shut and the ones that are open could be booked up.

  • Report Abuse

    For info about the walking tour, the website is www.frankfurtonfoot.com. It does say they walk 365 days a year, so Christmas Day should be good to go.

    If you are going to be in Germany on the 24th, you will really need a reservation at a hotel restaurant as all the rest will be closed by about 14:00 or so.

  • Report Abuse

    I know what the walking tour web site states but there are only two guides for the Frankfurt tour and they are married to each other so I think it would be wise to check before standing around waiting. Sometimes web sites do not get updated or the site may be updated later and nz101 may not see the updates, if any. Since this is the only activity she has planned for the day it does seem wise to check.

  • Report Abuse

    Good point, adrienne. The website looks like it does get updated on a very regular basis though, as they have various upcoming events listed. I think it is a good idea to always check websites of activities, museums, etc. before going anywhere.

  • Report Abuse

    << I think it is a good idea to always check websites of activities, museums, etc. before going anywhere >>

    Particularly as nz101 is planning on the walking tour on Christmas Day. If there is not a great demand for this tour leading up to Christmas the guides may request to be off duty on Christmas and the site may be updated during that week. Any other time I think it would be fine to assume there will be a guide at the appointed time.

  • Report Abuse

    Thank you both Adrienne and Mainhattengirl. I will definitely contact the people about the walking tour to make sure I'm not standing around waiting in the cold for nothing. I arrive in Frankfurt 7pm xmas eve, think I won't worry about dinner as will just want bed after 35 hours of travelling. I hope there will be some cafes/restaurants open on christmas day, but I'll just have to take it as it comes as apart from the walking tour I have no idea of what I want to do. thanks for the information and Adrienne I've got your trip report reading on my work computer for printing out. Its massive :)

95 Replies |Back to top

| Add a Reply

Sign in to comment.

Recent Activity

  • Announcements:
  • Writers Needed for Georgia Coast
    by Emily_D Fodor's Editor | Posted on Jul 18, 14 at 03:12 PM
  • Writers Needed for Rwanda and Uganda
    by Emily_D Fodor's Editor | Posted on Jul 18, 14 at 03:12 PM
  • Writers Needed for Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania
    by Emily_D Fodor's Editor | Posted on Jul 18, 14 at 03:11 PM
View all Europe activity »
  1. 1 Trip Report TR: Solo in LONDON for ten days on unfinished business ...
  2. 2 Struggling with Ireland itinerary - help finding off the beaten path gems!
  3. 3 Advice for first family trip to Europe
  4. 4 Sigh....Swiss Pass HELP!
  5. 5 A full week in The Netherlands
  6. 6 Itinerey help for a 27 day trip to Europe for April of 2015
  7. 7 Speeding ticket in Germany: how do I handle this?
  8. 8 Advice and suggestions welcome for 2 month trip
  9. 9 Itinerary help Geneva, Lausanne , Montreux or Vevey
  10. 10 Berlin, Paris, London: 2 weeks, 3 people
  11. 11 10 days in England
  12. 12 December in Munich, Salzburg, Graz, and Budapest
  13. 13 Suggested itinerary for Istanbul??
  14. 14 What do you wish you'd known about Iceland before you went?
  15. 15 Dilemma for Switzerland
  16. 16 Drawing courses in Paris
  17. 17 Iceland! Summer 2015 Wanna help with my itinerary??
  18. 18 If you had a week in Switzerland...
  19. 19 Montreux or Vevey- where to stay
  20. 20 Favorite Views of Paris?
  21. 21 Month in Spain in September - Itinerary Feedback please
  22. 22 Cannes >> Corsica
  23. 23 restaurants / pubs near British museum / Bloomsbury
  24. 24 Crete at Christmas-which 3 towns to base ourselves?
  25. 25 Trip Report Trip report/blog - 2 weeks in Amsterdam, Belgium, and South Africa
View next 25 » Back to the top