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Trip Report Poland and Czech Republic, September 2012

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Why Poland and Czech Republic and Deciding What to See There

Poland has long been on my list of countries to visit. I have some family of Polish origin, plus Poland has simply intrigued me for a while. And I’d heard good reports about it from other travelers. It’s a little more exotic than the “typical” tourist destinations in Western Europe and, I hoped, not mobbed with so many American tourists - not everywhere, at least.

I’m a photographer, and a primary focus of this trip (a solo trip) was scenic photography. I love history, but museums tend to bore me quickly; I usually see a few anyway when I visit Europe.

(Pictures from my trip were posted to my website, www.EuropeInPictures.com .)

Krakow is usually at the top of everyone’s Poland list: because it’s a beautiful, historic city, because there was relatively little damage to the city from World War II (and so, well preserved), and because it’s close to Auschwitz. That certainly put it at the top of my list, too.

Warsaw usually makes it on a typical traveler’s agenda when planning to go to Poland, because it’s the capitol city and, perhaps, because many wind up flying into or out of Warsaw. But I decided to skip Warsaw, in part because I was able to fly into Gdansk directly (from Amsterdam) and start my trip there. Gdansk was more interesting to me given its Cold War history. I’d also decided to add the city of Wroclaw (a city of bridges, a subject I enjoy photographing). I figured that was enough big cities for one trip. I added the smaller town of Torun instead.

So I planned my time this way: Gdansk (3 nights), Torun (1 night), Wroclaw (2 nights), and Krakow (3 nights). (And then continue on to the Czech Republic from Krakow: Olomouc, Trebon, Cesky Krumlov, and Prague, with many stops in between.)

For the Poland portion of the trip, I used the Rick Steves “Poland Snapshot” as my primary guidebook (except for Wroclaw, which is not included in the book).

I added Czech Republic on the end of the trip because I had been to Prague years ago and loved it and wanted to return; I’d missed Cesky Krumlov before and decided to see it this time, along with some other Czech towns and castles in Southern Bohemia.

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    Getting to Gdansk

    Delta Airlines has a direct flight from Portland to Amsterdam (sure nice to avoid connecting in the US!). I was able to book a direct flight from Amsterdam to Gdansk on Eurolot Airlines (a subsidiary of Poland’s LOT Airlines). But, the flight left only two hours after my Delta flight’s arrival, and if we were late, there were no other direct Eurolot flights that day! Or the next day! My backup plan for getting to Gdansk in case of a delay was messy (probably a couple of connecting flights, at some considerable extra expense), but I decided to take the chance, and my Delta flight arrived on time and connecting was easy at Amsterdam’s efficient Schiphol airport. The Eurolot flight (on a prop plane, not my first choice) was actually quite a nice flight. They even gave us sandwiches!

    I did not check bags - I brought only a carry-on bag (small suitcase) and a “personal item” - my camera bag. I carried both of them on the Delta flight, but I had to put the suitcase on a cart when I got on the Eurolot prop plane, and after we landed they brought the bags to the steps of the plane in another cart. Once again, avoiding baggage checked worked great for me!

    By the time I exited Gdansk’s Lech Walesa airport terminal and found an ATM and the Tourist Information desk, I’d just missed the next bus to Gdansk. So I had to wait 30 minutes for the next one. I wound up buying a 72 hour “Gdansk Card” to get unlimited transit and museums. I probably didn’t get my money’s worth, even though I saw several museums, but at least I didn’t have to worry about buying tram and bus tickets all the time (the SKM commuter trains to Sopot etc. were covered too). The #210 bus has two stops at the airport (departing and arriving) so you have to get the right stop. Jetlagged and tired, I worried as I rode the 210 that I was going the wrong way as we seemed to to be heading through suburbs not toward town, but I had no sense of direction and all turned out fine. I got off at the train station in Gdansk and then found a tram to get to my hotel.

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    Gdansk, Poland

    (Pictures on my website at www.EuropeInPictures.com/gdansk-poland )

    Gdansk was pretty busy the Friday I arrived - turns out there was some sort of marathon the next day. So hotels booked up for that night pretty early A month before arrival, I booked the Hotel Parnas Old Town for three nights - seemed a bit pricey at $107 USD per night but also seemed my best option. But the location was fantastic, just two blocks from the entrance to the Long Square (Dlugi Targ) and also close to the river for great photo ops. The hotel itself was tiny; the first room I was shown had two non-adjacent twin beds (not easy to push them together). When I mentioned that I had requested a full size bed, I was immediately shown a room about twice the size with a king bed, at the back of the hotel (quieter), for the same price. I’d say with the large room (modestly nice) and the great location it was almost worth the price.

    Most of the action in “tourist Gdansk” is in the Main Town, which is “guarded” by several elaborate gates that today are only for show. Gdansk’s Ulica Dluga (a pedestrian-only street that extends into the Long Square) is the city’s popular main street/square and a primary tourist destination - but it’s really nice. At one end is the Golden Gate (Złota Brama) and at the other is Green Gate (Zielona Brama). The unique buildings almost all deserve a look for their interesting figures, and the Main Town Hall in the middle is magnificent. You can spend hours taking pictures there, and I did. The tall, narrow houses reminded me of the houses along the canals in Amsterdam - and indeed, merchants from Amsterdam seem to have had a big influence on Gdansk centuries ago when they traded here.

    A few streets over from Ulica Dluga are similarly picturesque, and there are a few nice parks. And churches, everywhere, including the enormous St. Mary’s brick church. (I climbed to the top of the Main Town Hall to get a nice view of it and the surrounding area.) There’s also a nice waterfront area from which excursion ships depart - and where a giant wooden crane, once used to build ships, can now be toured as a museum.

    Beyond this very nice core, though, Gdansk is surrounded by ugly urban sprawl which tends to be blamed on the communist years. You see the sprawl even between the train station and the town. It tends to be an abrupt transition; you can walk fairly easily from the Main Town core out into the modern sprawl.

    Beyond the Main Town, I visited the Road to Freedom museum (about the communist era and its end) and the site of the old Solidarity Shipyard, where so much important Cold War history was made. (Important protests and strikes here were one catalyst that led to the fall of the Iron Curtain.) I toured the wooden Crane and checked out a few of the churches and little museums. One evening, I enjoyed some outdoor music and food at some sort of “Polish festival” near the Golden Gate.

    With three nights in Gdansk, I had planned several day trips by train. One afternoon I visited Sopot, a posh seaside resort not far away, via the SKM commuter train. There’s a long pier and a lot of fancy shops, but it wasn’t particularly exciting, and it was too chilly to enjoy more than quick walk on the beach. On the way back I stopped in the suburb of Oliwa Cathedral, mainly to hear the organ, but there was no concert that day (there was a wedding in progress though).

    On another afternoon, I took a much longer day trip out to the town of Malbork, to see the magnificent castle. (Pictures on my website at www.EuropeInPictures.com/malbork-poland .)

    I hiked from the Malbork train station through the town itself out to the castle (about 20 minute walk). The English audio guide (part of the castle entry fee) was fantastic for doing a self-guided tour, which took em a few hours. I had to wait patiently to get decent late afternoon pictures of the Malbork Castle as the sun was in and out, but my patience was rewarded (despite some ugly algae in the water).

    Most of my meals in Gdansk were fast food or quickie pizzas. I usually avoid sit-down dinners when traveling solo if I can avoid them. My last night, I had wanted to eat at the well-regarded Pizzeria Napoli on Ulica Dluga, but I got back so late from Malbork that I was tired and just wanted to go back to the hotel. As a compromise, I grabbed one of their pizzas to go and ate it at the hotel - and it was terrific!

    Gdansk was nice, easy to get around, picturesque, and historically significant. I met few locals but rarely tried to. People knew enough English for me to get by - I didn’t know three words of Polish.

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    Torun, Poland

    (Pictures on my website at www.EuropeInPictures.com/torun-poland .)

    I traveled first class on all Polish trains when I could. It wasn’t that much more expensive than second class, but then again, first class wasn’t really that much nicer. The biggest advantage was that compartments had only three seats across (per side) vs four per side in second class. The bathrooms were anywhere from slightly dirty to disgusting in all the Polish trains I was on, in any class. (I hear the Warsaw - Krakow trains are nicer and newer.)

    When I got to the train platform at Gdansk Glowny (main train station) supposedly headed for Torun, I was at first confused about the list of destinations listed on the card on the side of the train. Wait - is this train going to Torun or not? Torun wasn’t on the list of stops. I kept walking down the train, looking for the car number listed on my ticket. Finally I figured out: this train SPLIT at some stop when headed south, so that part would go toward Torun and another part of the train somewhere else! A first for me. I’m used to feeling like I can just get on the train if I’m rushed, as long as it’s the RIGHT train, and sort out my car/seat later. Not this time! I’m glad I had plenty of time when I got to the train station.I had a bit of confusion on departure as my train, apparently, SPLIT at some point on the journey with half the train continuing to Torun the other half heading elsewhere! That means you HAVE to get on the right part of the train. A first for me. There are signs on each train car showing the destinations; I had a reserved first class seat anyway with car/seat listed on my ticket, but from past train travel, I was used to the idea that as long as I got on the right train I could at least sort out which car/seat later. Not this time!

    The train from Gdansk to Torun was basically on time - a direct train, no changes, which was nice.

    The Torun Glowny (main train station) is across the river from the old town of Torun where I was headed, maybe a 20 minute walk away. But there are several buses that take you directly to town; I took one. (There is actually another train station, Torun Miasto, on the same side of the river as the old town; if your train stops there, it’s a shorter walk to the center of town but there’s no easy bus option to the center like there is from Torun Glowny.) I didn’t need my written directions to find my apartment, the Apartmenty Torun, which was directly in the main square; I simply followed the signs to Rynek once I got off the bus, walked in the front door at the listed address and found someone who could show me the office.

    The apartment I was shown was huge but decorated in an old style that I’m sure many would love but wasn’t really to my tastes or that comfortable. There was also a tiny grandfather clock ticking in the living room that would go off EVERY half hour! I finally had to stop the clock when I went to bed. Who would want that clock going off all night?

    Torun itself is a beautiful little town! It was a warm, sunny day, and the town was even less touristy than Gdansk (which had some tourists but very few Americans, none that I met). There seemed to be college kids everywhere, making it feel like a young town. There isn’t all that much to see in the town; it’s known as “the birthplace of Copernicus” and as “the place where they make the gingerbread. There are a couple of museums (including the home supposedly where Copernicus was born), but they are almost all closed Monday when I was in town. Most of the appeal is simply walking around the old town itself.

    Aside from the big Rynek market square, which is a festive place line with shops and restaurants, there are numerous blocks adjacent that are pedestrian-only. A couple of streets have western chain stores (e.g. McDonalds). As with Gdansk, once you get too far from the core, you can see the ugly sprawl here, too. I climbed to the top of the Town Hall and could see that Torun is a lot bigger than it seems in the center, and there is a lot of sprawl on the outskirts.

    There is a waterfront area in Torun with a slim grassy area but it’s not very inviting; there’s a busy road between the river and the town. Across the river is a “panorama point” to view the town from a wooded beach, but it’s not particularly developed area.

    You do smell gingerbread everywhere in Torun, it’s true! The “Gingerbread Museum” (which isn’t really a museum) was open on a Monday, and I did visit and enjoyed their hokey, interactive demonstration of how to make gingerbread; you actually take aged dough and mix and bake your own piece (which you can’t eat because you haven’t really followed sanitary methods).

    So mostly, I wandered around taking pictures. At dusk I bused back to the train station so I could walk to the river bank and get a shot from the panorama point of the cityscape - a beautiful spot! It was a little dark over there, with some kids out on the beach drinking etc., but I managed to find my way around.

    Back to the apartment. For dinner, I got a take-away pizza from a place on the main square close to my apartment and, like the previous night, ate in my apartment, which had a big dining table. Not nearly as good as the pizza I had the previous night in Gdansk, though!

    I had only a single night in Torun - but that was plenty of time to get a great feel for this adorable town.

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    Train from Torun to Wroclaw

    My train trip from Torun to Wroclaw required tight connection (23 minutes) in Poznan - that was the best I could do. (There was no available direct train.) I was right to worry about it: our 1st class car had some mechanical problem that forced them to REMOVE our car (the only 1st class car on the train) entirely, before we could even leave Torun. All of us in 1st class were forced to find a place in shabby 2nd class! The train really wasn’t that crowded, but people certainly didn’t seem happy to see us crowding into their compartments. We wound up leaving 50 minutes late. So much for my 23 minute connection in Poznan! I’d already noted the next train from Poznan to Wroclaw and expected I’d get in about two hours late.

    Closer to Poznan a conductor came through the train asking (in Polish) if anyone was headed for Wroclaw. I didn’t understand what he was asking at first (I was still learning to pronounce “Wroclaw”,) but just before the train got to Poznan I asked someone who spoke Polish what he meant and she helped me figure out what he was trying to say: STAY ON this train if you’re connecting to Wroclaw, don’t get off in Poznan! Take the train to Leszno, where the connections to Wroclaw are better. That made me a bit nervous (where the hell is Leszno? I knew where Poznan was), but I stayed on. And what happened was: we’d made up 10 or 20 minutes of time from being 50 minutes late. And my original train to Wroclaw was going through Leszno, too. We either caught up to it or it waited for us. In Leszno, all of us headed for Wroclaw scrambled down the steps between tracks and over to the Wroclaw train.

    I was kind of flustered getting on (not even sure I was on the original train I was trying to catch) and stood at first in a crowded 2nd class car, which had lots of others standing, too. I had a 1st class ticket - but did it matter? A conductor (who didn’t speak English) saw my ticket and pointed down toward the back of the train, where I assumed he meant the 1st class car was. So I lugged my bags through several crowded cars of people (excuse me, pardon me) standing in the aisles and couldn’t seem to get to the 1st class car. Finally, I asked someone. Oh, 1st class is at the FRONT of the train (one car in the opposite direction from where I’d started!) The 1st class car had been in various positions on the Polish trains I’d been on, so it wasn’t intuitive that it was up front. Anyway, I now had to lug my bags through the same cars past all these annoyed people - AGAIN! I finally found my original reserved seat and, all sweaty now, relaxed for a while.

    But that was my only real train mishap of the trip and it didn’t turn out bad. I got into Wroclaw only about 15 minutes late instead of two hours late - glad I followed the advice to stay on for Leszno!

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    Wroclaw, Poland

    (Pictures on my website at www.EuropeInPictures.com/wroclaw-poland .)

    Following my written directions for finding the apartment, I took the tram from Wroclaw train station to the Galeria Dominikanska (a modern shopping mall) and walked a few blocks to the alley where my apartment (Apartamenty Przyjazne Lokum) was...and had expected to call the landlord to say I’d arrived. (I’d previously picked up a SIM card for my unlocked GSM phone, to have when needing to call apartment/B&B owners) Instead, the landlord’s representative was there waiting for me; I’d given her this approximate time and was pretty close. I was just about to call her...

    Unlike the “classically decorated” apartment in Torun, this one in Wroclaw was completely modern - cheaply but comfortably decorated with Ikea furnishings. The apartment was part of a generic residential apartment building, only a few blocks from the Rynek/main square of Wroclaw but also on a little shopping street, close to a big tram intersection, very convenient. WiFi was provided by a portable GSM “hotspot” which turned out to work a lot better than it looked. (And you could put it in your pocket and take it out with you, if you wanted Wifi, say, at a restaurant.) The apartment had a washer which I’d hoped to use. Unfortunately, when I loaded it up with clothes, I blew a fuse! Most of the power outlets in the apartment were out til the next morning though, oddly, the lights all worked and I found two power outlets that worked. I still managed to wash some clothes that were dry (enough) by the time I left after two nights.

    Wroclaw is another city that was nearly destroyed during World War II and was subsequently rebuilt. The city was part of Germany (“Breslau”) before the war, too, and it has a different character than the other Polish cities I’d seen. It has the big impressive Rynek (market square) in the center, with a bunch of shops and restaurants. Another notable area is Cathedral Island and the river adjacent, which has a wide variety of bridges - and of course, Wroclaw Cathedral on the island. It’s a picturesque area, but it feels much newer than the other towns.

    It was sunny the afternoon I arrived in Wroclaw, but the forecast was for rain the next day. So I made the most of this last sunny afternoon, taking as many pictures as I could. I explored the Rynek and the river area and a few of the bridges. At dusk I headed to the Grunwaldzki Bridge, a nice suspension bridge, and took some night shots as it got dark. But I was starving, and I was planning to have my first sit down meal of the trip in Wroclaw. I love Italian food, and Wroclaw for some reason is well known for it in Poland. As soon as I got done taking pictures, I headed to one of the Italian restaurants I knew about and had a terrific lasagna. (I need not have rushed - by 9PM the restaurants were still serving on a Tuesday night, whereas in Gdansk and Torun they would have been closing.)

    By the end of that evening, my feet were really sore - as they often are by this point in a trip. I bought a 48 hour tram pass even though I probably didn’t need one - just to give my feet a break whenever I could! I used the trams to get back to the apartment whenever I could quickly figure out which ones to take! But, the trams were kind of a maze, and I wasn’t in Wroclaw long enough to figure them out.

    The next morning: rain, and not just a drizzle but HEAVY rain! This made shooting with my big DSLR camera impossible, so I left it at the apartment all day. At least I got a break from lugging my big camera bag around for a day! Instead, I took pictures with an umbrella and my point-and-shoot camera, which kind of worked even though the light wasn’t so hot.

    The biggest agenda item for this second day was seeing the Racławice Panorama. This is a huge 360 degree painting depicting a famous battle between Poland and Russia in 1794 (Poland won the battle - a source of national pride - but Russia won the war). The Panorama is housed in its own museum. I could take a tram part way there, but I still got drenched walking the rest of the way in the downpour, even with an umbrella. But the Panorama is stunning! You must enter as part of a group (English audio guide) and you have about a half hour to follow the broadcast English description and walk around it. It was well worth getting soaked to see it. I arrived a half hour before a big mob of people (at least one tour group) arrived, so I didn’t have to wait long, fortunately.

    Afterward, I could have gone to the nearby art museum (free with my Panorama ticket) - an ideal way to pass a rainy day, I suppose - but instead I opted to keep exploring. The rain had kind of slowed to a drizzle, at least. For lunch I opted for a meat lasagna at another Italian restaurant (not as good as the one the previous night). Then just walked around and photographed whatever I’d missed on/near Cathedral Island the day before, including several unusual bridges. Point-and-shoot with umbrella worked well enough, but it was sad knowing the pictures I might have gotten in good weather! Then I headed over to the train station to get my train ticket for Krakow - no ticket machines, sadly, as the Wroclaw station was still under renovation, so I had to wait in line. The outside of the station was mostly done and beautiful!

    On the way back from the train station, I visited a unique outdoor sculpture called Passage (by Jerzy Kalina) which shows pedestrians disappearing into the street. The occasion of its unveiling a few years ago was the anniversary of the declaration of martial law in Poland in 1981. The piece is a comment on the way people simply disappeared in Poland during that dark period of their history.

    As evening came, I crossed my fingers for clear weather, and I even packed up my camera gear and tripod and headed back to Cathedral Island - but the rain kept coming, in buckets again. I gave up! At least I could relax this evening.

    I sought out some authentic Polish food for a change: some Pierogi. There was a Polish restaurant on the same block as my apartment with pierogi on the menu, but when I sat down for service, I was completely ignored. The place wasn’t empty but also wasn’t that busy. There were two or three tables of people. After ten minutes, I got up to ask if I needed to order before sitting - but I was told to go back and sit down and wait. Ten minutes later, when no server even came to my table, I got disgusted and left. I found a cheap pizza joint that was mostly for take-out, but the waitress was very nice. I ate most of a whole pizza and drank a huge pitcher of water - I must have been dehydrated after a day of walking in the rain!

    Wroclaw turned out to be a really nice town: not a “fairy tale” town like the rest of the Polish towns I saw but a real, working, vibrant city with beautiful scenery. While in one sense it wasn’t my most memorable stop in Poland, Wroclaw was the one city I could imagine myself living for, say a year. It seems like a fun place to live! I only wish I’d had another sunny day there.

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    Krakow, Poland

    (Pictures on my website at www.EuropeInPictures.com/krakow-poland .)

    The direct 5.5 hour train to Krakow was routine and relaxing, unlike my harried journey from Torun to Wroclaw. 5.5 hours sounds like a long time, but I enjoyed the ride. I could have flown or taken the bus to save an hour or two, but honestly, I usually prefer trains to buses when given the choice. Plus, there was no rush: it was still raining in Wroclaw when I left and it was raining in Krakow when I arrived.

    Once in Krakow, I easily found the Krakow City Apartments - a quick walk from the Krakow train station - where there was an office so no need to pre-arrange arrival with someone. These apartments are in two adjacent buildings, one with an elevator one without. Mine of course was in the building WITHOUT an elevator, but at least it was up only one flight of stairs. The apartment was very dated, like a hold-over from communist times, and didn’t seem to have been updated. The apartments faced inside to a quiet courtyard. There was a disco nearby that I could hear pretty late through the walls, though I slept fine.

    At least the apartment was in a great location close to the main square!

    I had three nights/two full days in Krakow, but I had some time-consuming items on my list: Schindler’s Factory Museum, Auschwitz, Wieliczka Salt Mines, plus of course explore Krakow and take lots of pictures. And have a pierogi meal! On this first rainy afternoon, I decided to take a quick tour of the Rynek (main square), grab some food, and tram out to Schindler’s Factory Museum as it was open late. Even in the rain, the Rynek is stunning! I couldn’t wait to photograph it in better weather.

    Schindler’s Factory Museum is a terrific museum - and I’m not really a “museum person.” The museum is mostly about the Nazi occupation of Krakow during World War II; very little is about Oskar Schindler himself (though you can see a preservation/recreation of his office in the factory). The museum is full of period posters, pictures, and clear explanations of each stage of the occupation. I was still yawning after half an hour, but that’s normal for me.

    Back in Krakow, I couldn’t resist a burger at Hard Rock Cafe. It’s kind of lame to eat at an American chain restaurant in Europe, but I sometimes do it anyway, and it didn’t require any energy to find a place to eat. The burger was great and kind of a splurge for Poland (where the food is cheap), but it was yummy!!

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    Auschwitz

    In preparation for heading to Auschwitz early on my first full day in Krakow, I bought a bus ticket to the town of Oświęcim the evening before, so I could arrive at the Auschwitz museum and camp grounds before 10am (so I could enter/tour the camp on my own without a guided tour). The bus was a cramped 1.5 hour trip, but it drops you very close to the camp parking lot. Even though the train is less convenient (a good long walk from Oświęcim train station to the Auschwitz camp), I half wished I’d taken the train anyway (have I mentioned I dislike long bus rides?). At least the rain had stopped. I spent a few hours at Auschwitz I and toured using my Rick Steves book, which worked out fine as most everything had English text descriptions. Then I took the free shuttle bus to Birkenau/Auschwitz II.

    What can you say about Auschwitz that hasn’t been said before? I had read about the piles of eyeglasses and human hair I’d see in the main museum area, so I was kind of prepared for them, as much as one can be. I knew of the unspeakable horrors that had taken place here. What was surprisingly the most deeply moving were the endless hallways of mugshots of the camp prisoners hanging on the walls, staring hopelessly at you. The Nazis took mug shots of camp prisoners in the first couple of years at Auschwitz before it became too time consuming for them to continue, I guess. I looked into many of the prisoners’ eyes and tried to imagine what they’d endured up until now: by this time, 1942 or so, perhaps years of dehumanizing treatment in ghettos, treated like animals, wondering how the world could let this happen or when someone was going to help them...only to wind up here and, mostly, die here in the worst possible conditions. Guilty of simply being Jewish? Or gay? Or gypsies? It is still hard to imagine how human beings could treat each other this way.

    After seeing as much as I needed to see at Birkenau, I tried to catch a scheduled 12:40 bus back to Krakow. The museum hands out a simple paper schedule listing the bus times back to Krakow. There is a bus stop in the camp parking lot clearly labeled “Krakow,” but a few minutes past 12:40 no bus looked to be coming our way! A British woman and an Aussie woman were also waiting for the same bus, and one of them tracked down the fact that there was a mini-bus headed to Krakow at 12:55 but leaving from the stop back on the main road, across from where we’d been dropped off in the morning. We all hustled out there, maybe 1/3 of a mile, and caught the bus just in time. I think we got the last seats; many people who got on later had to stand for a while. The seats were not that comfortable, but at least I HAD a seat!

    (Rick Steves had warned in his book that you might have better luck catching a bus back to Krakow from the road and not the parking lot - should have listened to him!)

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    Wieliczka Salt Mine (near Krakow)

    (Pictures on my website at www.PortlandBridges.com/00,M25D0IMG07289,368,1,1,0-krakow-poland.html .)

    Because the sky was still overcast when I got back to Krakow, I decided to spend that second afternoon at the Wieliczka Salt Mine, outside of Krakow. I grabbed more fast food for lunch and eventually found the stop for the #304 bus to Wieliczka. I finally got out to the entrance to the mine about 16:00 and had to wait a few minutes for the next English-language tour.

    The Salt Mine is an impressive maze of underground caverns from which, obviously, salt was originally extracted, mostly by manual labor in earlier centuries. Miners spent long hours/months/years underground, and at some point, some of them carved salt statues out of the rock. This became an enduring tradition as more miners over time carved more figures; eventually, underground chapels were built. One of the most recent additions is a statue of Pope John Paul II, in one of the chapels. Considering the years of effort put into creating these figures and underground buildings, it’s quite an impressive display.

    The tour lasted more than 2.5 hours from entry to exit - an hour more than Rick Steves suggested. The salt sculptures and carvings deep underground are quite amazing. But the tour involved a ton of walking, and after Auschwitz, my feet were already wiped out. Honestly, while the salt mine was really cool, it probably wasn’t worth the big time investment to get out there and back and spend 2.5 hours underground. Figure four hours minimum round trip with the tour, if you’re taking the bus. Had I had an extra day and rested feet it would have been much more worthwhile.

    Finding the #304 bus stop back to Krakow wasn’t intuitive; you get out of the mine not where you enter and the return bus stop isn’t directly across the street from where I’d gotten off. I had to ask someone and then finally run to catch an approaching bus instead of waiting for the next one. I was exhausted and just wanted to get back to Krakow, take some night pictures in the Rynek, eat dinner, and relax. (I grabbed some very forgettable take-away pizza slices for a quick dinner.)

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    Final Day in Krakow

    (Pictures on my website at www.EuropeInPictures.com/krakow-poland .)

    After two nights, I had barely even seen Krakow itself, aside from the Rynek. I’d been too busy with excursions while waiting for better weather. The final day, the weather improved a little more with some occasional sun breaks, marginally better weather for photography.

    Krakow deserves its reputation as a wonderful city. Besides the amazing Rynek, it has some great surrounding neighborhoods, multiple churches, etc. The city is surrounded by a “green belt” park. There are trams everywhere, if you can figure out which one to take, but Krakow is a good walking town. It’s also super-touristy, almost on the scale of Prague, for people who have been there. There are tourists in Wroclaw and Gdansk, but there are many more (especially more Americans) in Krakow, and you can notice the difference. All of the people buzzing around in the evening makes the Rynek seem kind of exciting, but you have to wonder what the place would be like without all of the visitors.

    For my final morning/afternoon of exploring, I walked up to the Wawel castle hill and around the water, through Kazimierz (the old Jewish neighborhood), and then out to the river to check out some of Krakow’s bridges. The Krakow river area seems on a much larger scale than Wroclaw’s kind of quaint Cathedral Island and the tiny, unique bridges there. Krakow’s bridges seem more practical than whimsical.

    For lunch, I FINALLY found some authentic pierogi! I ate at a “milk bar” (Bar Mleczny on Ulica Grodzka south of the main square) - a subsidized cafeteria where the food is cheap. Most of the patrons are locals, but anyone can eat there. I got a whole plate of pierogi russkies (potato filled) for about $3! (My 0.5 liter bottle of Diet Coke, not subsidized, I take it, was almost as much.) And the pierogi were fantastic! I came back for dinner and had meat pierogi. Better late than never!

    By that afternoon I felt I had the gist of Krakow. I decided to take one more out-of-town excursion that sounded interesting: to Nowa Hura, a planned communist community of sorts. One of the squares has since been renamed for Ronald Reagan. And there’s an interesting church out there that future Pope John Paul II was instrumental in getting built during communist times - kind of a minor Cold War victory. Otherwise, the community was slightly interesting but not much worth seeing, really.

    At dusk: back to the castle. The sun was out! I got some pictures and then hoped to head back to the bridges at night...but my feet were just BEAT and told me “NO MORE WALKING TODAY!” My knees were sore - I was just done. The bridges would have to wait for another visit, sadly.

    I loved Krakow, despite the lack of nice weather. The Rynek is fantastic, and the old town feels like a fairy tale town with lots to see. I would have loved just to have circled through the Planty (park) on foot around the old town, but of course my feet were just beat...

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    Andrew - your photos are so incredibly beautiful that I have major envy! I want to know how you do it; probably some equation involving a tripod and patience - both of which I lack.

    Krakow has become one of my top favorite cities and I can't wait to go back. Five days are about the right amount of time to see most sights.

    You would have enjoyed the Salt Mine better if you hadn't tried to combine it with Auschwitz. It's just too much with the 800 steps and 2.5km of walking in the mine.

    I'm glad to hear the food at the milk bar was good. I peaked in but was always there at the wrong time - when I wasn't hungry and didn't go back for dinner.

    I thought Krakow was far less touristy then Prague and didn't have the plethora of cheap souvenir shops that you find in Prague. The people are nicer too.

    << Schindler’s Factory Museum...is mostly about the Nazi occupation of Krakow during World War II >>

    That's why it's called the Krakow Under the Occupation Museum.

    It's housed in Schindler's administration building but is not about Schindler. It's like calling the Uprising Museum in Warsaw the power plant museum or the Orsay in Paris the train station museum.

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    Thanks, adrienne!

    I used a popular name for the museum. Rick Steves calls it "Schindler's Factory Museum" and the signs on the streets point to "Oskar Schindler's Factory" so that's what many people will be looking for. Perhaps more tourists who have seen "Schindler's List" will see the museum based on the fact that it's in that building than otherwise.

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    On to Czech Republic: Olomouc

    (Pictures on my website at www.EuropeInPictures.com/olomouc-czech-republic .)

    The second half my trip was nine more nights in Czech Republic, but the character of this part of the trip was quite different from Poland. Instead of long train rides between towns, I would rent a car and drive for several days through Southern Bohemia before ending in Prague, a city I’d visited before. I stopped in Olomouc (2 nights), Trebon (1 night), Cesky Krumlov (3 nights) and finally Prague (3 nights).

    I took an early Sunday morning train from Krakow to Olomouc, Czech Republic with a change in Katowice. There weren’t many train connection options - the one in the morning with only a 25 minute layover was the best. (Connecting to a Czech train in Katowice.) Of course, after my Torun near-mishap, I REALLY worried about this short layover and found an earlier train that gave me a full hour layover in Katowice. Naturally, this train was on time. I had an hour at Katowice to walk around outside the station. There was nothing impressive about the town near the station, and it was very quiet on a Sunday morning. I walked around the square, looking for any sort of lunch option, even a McDonalds, that was open and nearby. The best I could find was some sort of Gyro place - good enough!

    The train from Katowice (Poland) to Czech Republic was by far the nicest train of the trip. First class was probably unnecessary, unlike all the run-down Polish trains I’d been on. When we crossed the border to Czech Republic, the Polish staff got off and a Czech staff got on, and we were even served drinks by a server!

    I had high hopes for Olomouc: a non-touristy but beautiful, picturesque Czech town in stark contrast to over-touristed Prague. Indeed, Olomouc is a “regular town” and a bit harder to navigate, say, the tram system than in Prague. My directions for finding my Pension were poorly noted (I had compiled them myself) and it took me a few back-and-forth tram rides to get off at the correct stop, even though I had looked carefully at Google Street View beforehand! The Pension Křivá was OK, fairly new and comfortable - it seemed empty on this Sunday in September. I had a room on the bottom floor - worried at first about potential street noise, but I needn’t have worried - it was very quiet.

    It was slightly sunny by the time I headed out to the main square in the late afternoon. Olomouc has two main squares; I was immediately disappointed to see that one of them, the lower square (this was in September 2012) was completely torn up for renovation and surrounded by chain fence! So much for photographing that. The other square, the upper square by the Town Hall was open, though - but I was deeply disappointed to miss out on photographing the lower square. I enjoy photographing city squares.

    Olomouc’s squares are decorated with unique fountains. A few of them are modern (e.g. the Arion Fountain aka “Turtle Fountain”) but the older ones are named after characters in Greco-Roman history e.g. the Hercules Fountain, the Caesar Fountain, etc. In the upper square there’s also a huge “plague column,” the Holy Trinity Column, supposedly the largest in Europe. And the elegant Town Hall, with its astronomical clock - a neat communist-era reconstruction of an older clock destroyed during World War II but with socialist touches: the huge clock features good communist workers enjoying life and dutifully marching in a circle whenever the clock strikes the hour.

    Olomouc was DEAD on a Sunday night - what a contrast to Krakow, with wall-to-wall tourists in the main square! I’m not sure what I expected: a vibrant student town, I guess, full of life? Maybe classes weren’t in session? Or maybe it’s just a quiet town? Monday night, it turned out, was just as dead. Perhaps it’s more lively in summer?

    I quickly realized that two nights in Olomouc was one and a half nights too many. What was I thinking??? At this point, I probably should have gone on to Brno or somewhere else the second day and shrugged off the $80 already paid for the 2nd pension night in Olomouc. But - I didn’t want to have to spend a bunch of time researching Brno or where to stay - so I just stayed the full second day in Olomouc. It was nicer weather at least by Monday at noon - but the Tourist Information center at Town Hall wasn’t even offering walking tours - not enough tourists, I was told! I had hoped to climb the Town Hall tower as I had in other towns, in Poland. No such luck here.

    I followed a self-guided walking tour in one of my travel books - it took me down through some of the university buildings and to the huge Olomouc cathedral - but that took little time at all. I walked through the park around the side of the town - but by the afternoon I was bored, hoping for nice weather and perhaps some nice pictures at dusk. I got a few nice shots of the town hall at dusk and even some of the cathedral - but they were barely worth the effort and time invested in this town!

    Oh, well - lesson learned. Sometimes even travel veterans make travel mistakes!

    I did have a nice Italian meal in one of the Italian restaurants (Cafe Restaurant Caesar) on the upper square - both nights. Despite the square being almost dead, there were people in the restaurant, and the food was good!

    Fun tidbit: I ran into two American Mormon missionaries during my second day in Olomouc. I let them give me their recruitment spiel in broken Czech before revealing I was American (one was from Boston, one from Denver). They were the only Americans I met in Olomouc. I chatted with them only long enough to break way before they tried giving me their pitch again, in English.

    I guess if there is an event going on in Olomouc and it’s busy, it might be more fun, plus when both squares are no longer under construction, the town might seem more appealing! But I was a bit disappointed with my Olomouc experience.

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    Driving from Brno to Trebon, Czech Republic

    (Pictures at www.EuropeInPictures.com/telc-czech-republic and www.EuropeInPictures.com/southern-bohemia-czech-republic .)

    After my second night in Olomouc, I got up very early to catch a bus to Brno to rent a car (could not rent one in Olomouc with an American company and get a good one-way rate). The Student Agency Bus to Brno was efficient and clean, plus it had free WiFi! But, still a bus; no matter how nice they are, and wish I’d taken the train, somehow, even if it had taken longer. The hilly terrain of Moravia was quite pretty, a nice contrast to flat, boring Polish countryside I’d recently left behind.

    The bus dropped me in front of Brno’s main bus station; I then caught a local bus out to the tiny Brno airport (which is not much bigger than the Brno bus station). It was all very easy, but I had researched it well, even knowing how much it cost and that I needed coins to buy my ticket, etc. Only about a 20 minute ride to the airport.

    The car from Budget was as expected - I arrived just before the rental counter opened at 9:00. Driving was easy, the car was small but fine (a 5 speed, I was used to one). I had brought my GPS (and bought a Garmin map for Czech Republic) out and it helped me navigate but there were a lot of roads under construction with detours. I didn’t quite know how to use the GPS’s “detour” feature so I kind of winged it a few times but managed to find my way.

    I had four nights planned in Southern Bohemia: one night in Trebon and three in Cesky Krumlov; I’d stop in Telc and a few other towns on the way, then spend a few days driving around Southern Bohemia to see the castles and towns plus, of course, the well-regarded Cesky Krumlov.

    Starting from Brno airport, I stopped for pictures along the road here and there on way to Telc - small towns! Very pretty.

    I had a sunny day, thankfully, for photographing Telc and the other towns I stopped in. Telc has an amazing town square, something it’s well known for. It seems like a pleasant place. I spent a few hours just strolling around, taking pictures, and then moving on. I was dying to stop for a sit-down lunch somewhere, but I had very limited light left in the day. So I drove on.

    Next stop of the day: Jindrichuv Hradec, a beautiful town which, like many other towns in the area, has a nice castle and big ponds (back in the days when wealthy nobles stocked them with fish). I considered staying a night here and kind of wish I had. I spent about an hour walking around taking pictures. Unfortunately, the one picture I’d hoped to get - a reflection of the castle in the water - must have been a morning shot, because by mid-afternoon the sun was too far west in the sky and kind of washed out the picture. I’ll bet it was great early in the morning.

    My first night was to be in the town of Trebon, another town with big lakes. Anxious to see as much as possible on this sunny day (with rain predicted for the next day), I made the impulsive decision to detour back to the town of Slavonice, considered one of the nicest old towns in the region. The GPS sure helped navigate without wasting a lot of time. Too bad I was so rushed - I would love to have gotten out and explored the town, but I wound up merely snapping a few photos in the late afternoon sun, then hustling back to Trebon before dusk. Slavonice seems like a nice town, too. At least I didn’t see it in the rain!

    My little pension in Trebon was supposed to be hard to find and it really was! The owner had given me some instructions on where to park, but I didn’t quite understand them. I drove around and round - finally got out of my car and walked to the place and found the owner, who eventually showed me where to park (in someone’s driveway with a locked gate!). It worked, but it was confusing.

    The Pension Siesta was kind of funky and also pretty empty (not much going in in September in this town, either, I guess). The owner was going to show me to a room upstairs - but when I gestured to a room with the door open on the first floor, he shrugged and said it would be fine. I may have been the only guest. But it was decent enough and fairly cheap.

    I managed to walk around the center of Trebon in the late late afternoon and still get a few decent photos with the sun going down. Sunset over the lake was beautiful. At night, the town was dead, though. I had to make sure I could find a restaurant before it closed. I’ll bet in the summer Trebon is super nice, though. Cyclists seem to love it.

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    On to Cesky Krumlov

    (Pictures on my website at www.EuropeInPictures.com/cesky-krumlov-czech-republic .)

    The next morning in Trebon, I had hoped to walk around the lake a little, but as expected it was drizzling. I did a quick walk with an umbrella but decided to bag it and head for Cesky Krumlov.

    I followed the GPS route but it took me into České Budějovice and a huge traffic jam getting on the freeway. I stopped for a few minutes, consulted the crude maps I had, and then headed in what I hoped was the right direction off the freeway toward Krumov; eventually I followed signs and my GPS caught on and I eventually made it to Cesky Krumlov just fine.

    I checked into my pension, the Pension Amadeus, parked the car, and walked into Cesky Krumlov. I had known the Pension was slightly out of the center of town but that it was a pleasant 10 minute walk. For one night, it would have been quite pleasant, but I wound up walking it several times over a couple of days, until it became quite tedious. The plan was for Cesky Krumlov to be my base for driving around and seeing Southern Bohemia, so in the evenings I’d come back to what I had hoped would be a lively town (even with a lot of tourists).

    But this was my second mistake in planning the trip. I subcumbed to the “don’t change hotels too many times” laziness. It turned out that Cesky Krumlov is too far south for all of the things I wanted to see up north. In fact, I didn’t like Cesky Krumlov itself all that much - I know, some people love it and consider it one of their very favorite towns, but I guess my expectations were too high. I also didn’t realize, I guess, that September isn’t a big tourist season anywhere in Southern Bohemia, and Cesky Krumlov wasn’t really very exciting at night, either. There are a few restaurants open late for sure - more than the other towns I visited, probably - but still I wouldn’t have wanted to wait til 21:00 to eat for fear of too many places closing. One night in Cesky Krumlov, I was the ONLY person in a large bar/pizza place eating at 8:30 at night. I was surprised hostess even stayed open for me!

    I do think most tourists would enjoy Cesky Krumlov - with its beautiful castle and curvy streets - but don’t set your expectations over the moon, like I did!

    In any event: my first day in Cesky Krumlov, it was drizzling so I stayed in town (why drive around?) and booked a tour of Krumlov Castle. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get one until mid-afternoon. So I had a lunch and slowly explored the town in a slight drizzle (not pouring, only occasional umbrella). The town was indeed very touristy - in that, you see a lot of tour groups, and most of the shops seem to cater to tourists. I found food somewhere, wandered back to the pension, and took it easy - a lazy day - then headed back for my castle tour. The Krumlov castle is very cool, the tour was nice. I had hoped for a tour of the baroque theatre too and put it off til my final day - a mistake; no tour was available that day, for no apparent reason. Oh, well.

    For dinner that evening I found Hospoda 99, a pub adjacent to the Hostel 99 (recommended by Rick Steves). The place had great burgers and free WiFi; even though it was probably a 20 minute hike from the Pension, I went back the second night, too. (Didn’t want to deal with parking near the pub in Cesky Krumlov; it seemed easier to walk, despite my always-sore feet.)

    After dinner, I hoped to do the scheduled walking tour meeting in front of the Tourist Information center in the main square in the early evening. There were only three of us for the tour - me and an American couple. The guide was an American expat living there with his Czech wife. He was quite knowledgeable, and the tour was fun. He explained that the town was completely dead in the winter, when the tourists went home, but he still seemed to enjoy living there.

    Then, back the Pension Amadeus. My room was very, very small but renovated and modern. With a car, it was conveniently located because they offered free parking; otherwise, it was a pain being so far from the center of Cesky Krumlov.

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    Driving around Southern Bohemia and Three Bridges

    (Pictures on my website at www.EuropeInPictures.com/southern-bohemia-czech-republic .)

    My second morning in Cesky Krumlov it was sunny again! I spent the morning walking around taking pictures - with better light this time. Then as quickly as I could I got the car out and headed south to start photographing castles.

    My main guidebook for Southern Bohemia was the National Geographic guide to Czech Republic. The book is kind of short on information but big on pictures and maps. I used it to seek out interesting castles and towns. The first one was Rožmberk nad Vltavou. I wandered around the town, took some pictures when the light was good, and moved on.

    It may surprise some readers to know that I rarely went INSIDE most of the castles! To be honest, I’ve been inside a few, and once you’ve seen one...well, that’s not quite fair, but as a scenic photographer, I’m much more interested in photographing the OUTSIDE of the castles!

    Next I headed north. As a lover of bridges, one of my primary attractions in Southern Bohemia was the old stone bridge in the town of Pisek. This is a town maybe an hour north of Cesky Krumlov. I took a scenic drive route west of Krumlov and České Budějovice, stopping in a few towns here and there. The GPS was reliable, but it still seemed to take a while to get up there. I was quite hungry but didn’t have time to stop for lunch until I got to Pisek - and then, I wound up just buying a hotdog from a vendor.

    The Pisek stone bridge was really something. The town of Pisek was about what I’d expected: pleasant but nothing special. Still, sort of regretted later not spending a night there instead of three in Cesky Krumlov. It would have saved me a lot of driving!

    My day continued as I sort of tried to drive as far as I could to see as much as I could while I still had good weather. It was kind of tiring. I decided to drive east up to the town of Tabor. On the way, I stumbled onto two significant bridges I had never even heard of.

    The Podolsky Bridge crosses the Vltava River in an area that, near the end of World War II, was occupied by the US Army 4th Armored Division. The Americans had orders to wait at this bridge for the Soviet Army, coming from the east. Meanwhile, thousands of Germans headed west, hoping to surrender to the Americans instead of to the Russians - but the Americans halted their progress at this bridge and another one (see below). Veterans of the American Army of this time put up a plaque at this bridge that says, “Here we got to stop and wait a long two weeks for the Russians to show up.” (May 6, 1945).

    I stopped before crossing this bridge almost by accident - I had no idea what it was. I just wanted to get out of the car before driving too far and make sure I was headed in the right direction. I felt lucky to find the bridge and its little footnote in US military history in World War II!

    The other bridge that had been here in 1945 was called the “chain” bridge - for some reason, it was later moved and preserved (because it was old and historic). That bridge is now known as the Stadlecky Chain Bridge and was moved off the Vltava to cross a much smaller river, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. I also stumbled upon this bridge as I was driving; it wasn’t on the main road to Tabor, but I saw signs for it so I followed them. What the hell, why not? Later I learned that had been near the Podolsky Bridge in 1945, too. Go figure.

    I finally got to Tabor and found a few places to shoot reflections of the town in the river. I could stop and try to explore Tabor...or I could try for one more item in the National Geographic book, the magnificent Cervena Lhota (a beautiful chateau). My GPS found it, but I had no idea what it even looked like - there was no picture of it in the book. But it was beautiful, and the light of the late afternoon sun hit it perfectly. I felt lucky. I wasn’t sure if the site was closing (about 18:00 by now) so I kind of rushed to get some pictures of it and then get out of there - and head all the way back to Cesky Krumlov.

    The second day driving in Southern Bohemia was much less rewarding: a lot of driving (sometimes near the same places as the previous day), not many nice pictures to show for it. I simply tried to see the places I’d missed (from the National Geographic book) the first day, but it was frustrating trying to find some of them; road construction messed up my GPS. I didn’t want a hot dog for lunch again, so I stopped for a REAL lunch - at KFC, ha ha! I never did find one of the castles. A couple of them were not easy to photograph without being out on a boat in the lake, something that wasn’t possible when I was there.

    I wound up seeing Blatna Castle, Zvíkov Castle, and Orlik Castle - or parts of them. The weather was clear enough, but I didn’t feel very enthused, and I was quite tired of all the driving.

    I got back to Cesky Krumlov earlier this last night and took the opportunity to hike up one of the hills behind the town (a hike recommended by Rick Steves), to a nice viewpoint down on the town, at the site of an abandoned chapel. There were a few others up there at dusk, but it wasn’t much of a sunset - still pretty though. Still, I couldn’t quite fall in love with Cesky Krumlov the way so many others had.

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    Back to Prague, via Kutna Hora

    (Pictures on my website at www.PortlandBridges.com/00,0,374,1,0,0-czech-republic.html .)

    After three nights in Cesky Krumlov, I was ready to drive back to Prague and get rid of the rental car. I was tired of driving.

    But first - I decided to detour to Kutna Hora. I had always regretted not day tripping out there, to see the “bone church,” on my first visit to Prague in 2005. So I decided to stop on my drive back to Prague. In retrospect, I would have been better off driving directly back to Prague and taking the train to Kutna Hora; I got very lost on the drive up. Part of one of the freeways was under massive reconstruction, and my GPS stopped cooperating completely. Even when I got back on main roads, it seemed completely lost, until I just turned it off, got out the maps I had, and figured out a way forward. I eventually followed road signs to Kutna Hora.

    Driving out of one of the many small towns I passed through I saw two policemen stopped by the side of the road, standing next to their car. One of held up a “stop” sign as I approached, so I stopped. One of them asked for my license and registration, basically. I don’t think they spoke any English, but all I needed to show them was my passport and International Driving Permit. They didn’t even ask me any questions; after about 30 seconds they handed them back to me and I was on my way - but it was somehow a bit scary! Just a random stop I guess.

    I finally made it to Kutna Hora and the Sedlec Bone Church. It was a lot smaller than I’d imagined but still very interesting. Still, it seemed like a lot of effort just to see that, mostly. I also did a quick walking tour of the town of Kutna Hora itself, had a nice pizza lunch, and headed for Prague.

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    Prague

    (Pictures on my website at www.EuropeInPictures.com/prague-czech-republic .)

    I dropped my rental car at the Prague railway station and took the subway over to Mala Strana, the neighborhood where I’d be staying. I’d stayed there in 2005 and looked forward to it. The apartment I had booked looked TINY in the pictures and according to the reviews, and it was about as expected - but CHEAP! I think it was about $58 per night in a great location in Mala Strana, but it did have a slight view of the Charles Bridge. I could barely move around in this “apartment” but it was quiet enough and the location was superb.

    Once I got settled in the apartment, as the late afternoon light started to fade, I grabbed my camera stuff and headed out to the Charles Bridge. INSTANTLY I was thrilled to be back in Prague - I was euphoric. The weather was nice, it was still late afternoon, and I had time to get some decent pictures. Quite frankly, my Prague pictures from 2005 seemed pretty disappointing now. I had always wanted to come back and try again. It turns out the Charles Bridge wasn’t lit at night in 2005 on my last visit - one reason my 2012 pictures of it are so much better. I also would like to believe I’ve improved as a photographer since then, too, of course.

    I visited the Old Town Square at different times of the day - the light changes as the sun moves through the sky, and the square is amazing and full of delights for a photographer. I was quite taken with the Jan Hus Monument in the square and tried to photograph it in the best light. The Astronomical Clock was shuttered for renovation in 2005 so I hadn’t even seen it before! This time it was working perfectly. I also climbed the Old Town Hall (amazing views of the square).

    And of course, I walked across the Charles Bridge many times on the way to and from the Old Town; during the days it is mobbed with tourists. But the bridge, lined with statues, is very impressive. One morning I got up at first light to a brilliant orange sky and got to photograph the end of it - with very few people on the bridge but a surprising number of photographers with tripods!

    The second afternoon, the weather was slightly overcast with an occasional drizzle til the afternoon when the sky cleared a bit. I climbed up the castle hill above Mala Strana to take pictures down on Prague - great views from up there. I didn’t tour the castle again.

    There wasn’t much on my agenda for Prague this visit besides “walk around and take pictures.” Prague is a wonderful city for strolling. I had done walking tours and visited museums in 2005 and felt no need to see any more. I had planned a day trip to Karlovy Vary the last full day, but that would have required long bus rides, and rain was predicted for Karlovy Vary anyway - so why bother? Plus I was just...tired.

    If you hadn’t noticed by now, I’m not big on sit-down means or local cuisine when I travel. Prague was no exception. I looked up a place I’d liked in 2005 called Bohemia Bagel - an American-style casual place that’s like a coffee shop. In fact, there are a couple of these; some have table service, I guess, but I went to the one near Old Town Square that didn’t - but had great burgers!

    My last morning, I took a leisurely walk around the river before heading to the airport. There are swans in the Vltava River, and one of them must have gotten hurt - I stumbled onto a bizarre scene of a policeman gently subduing one of them on one of the bridges, presumably until animal rescue could arrive. I’m not sure he liked me taking his picture, straddling a swan to keep it from getting away, but I couldn’t resist!

    I took the Metro A to Dejvická and bus 119 to the airport - very easy. My Delta flight back to New York was decent enough, but JFK airport was miserable and hot, and my six hour flight back to Portland, on a smaller 737 jet, was cramped and awful!

    I have a great return visit to Prague, but my time in the rest of Czech Republic was mixed, partly due to poor planning. Cesky Krumlov was nice but slightly disappointing; Olomouc was too, partly due to the construction. One night in Cesky Krumlov would have been plenty; I should have stayed at least a night or two somewhere else to the north like Pisek or Tabor instead. My driving routes were not very efficient. One night or even a day trip to Olomouc would have been plenty. Poland was much more satisfying, perhaps because it was better planned and a much simpler itinerary (four cities, by train).

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    Andrew, what a fabulous report complete with beautiful pictures! Thanks for capturing all of the wonderful details.

    Did you doing any reading prior to your trip, not travel related but any history? I'm trying to get up to speed for my upcoming trip.

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    Thank you! I'm sorry this report is so long. I'm sure people looking for restaurant recommendations or museum tips within will be disappointed, LOL!

    No, I didn't do much research beyond reading lots of prior posts here and on Trip Advisor. I'm familiar with the history of World War II and the Cold War, but I probably didn't know some of this detailed history of the places I visited. Rick Steves's Poland Snapshot book brief but helpful historical summaries of all of the places he covers.

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    Louisa - please do read Prague Winter - I loved it.

    Andrew - I'm so sorry I missed Olomouc, it looks enchanting. I did get to Telc which you should try to visit on your next trip. I have to read your entire report when I have time to savor it. You did a somewhat reverse trip to mine where I started in Prague and ended in Krakow. I thought Krakow was so wonderful I went back again a year and a half ago and loved it even more.

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    adrienne: Andrew - I'm so sorry I missed Olomouc, it looks enchanting.

    I didn't find it enchanting! Then again, as I said in my report, Olomouc might be different in the summer or perhaps when the town is busier. (Plus when both main squares are free of chain-link fences!) Sometimes our experiences in a place are colored by the timing and by our own biases.

    I did get to Telc which you should try to visit on your next trip.

    I did stop in Telc for a few hours. The main square is quite amazing. Beyond that, though, I didn't stick around to be able to distinguish it that much from the other towns I visited (other than the superior square). Trebon and Jindrichuv Hradec, for example, both have castles with big ponds that the nobles stocked with fish back when they built the towns.

    You did a somewhat reverse trip to mine where I started in Prague and ended in Krakow. I thought Krakow was so wonderful I went back again a year and a half ago and loved it even more.

    Krakow did not disappoint me at all - except for the weather! I'd go back and try to see more of it next time (having gotten the "big attractions" out of the way). In fact, I'd go back to any of the Polish cities I visited.

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    The photos of Olomouc looked wonderful but then all your photos make me want to visit places!

    I loved Telc. I stopped there for an overnight and stayed two nights since I loved the ambiance. I was there off season and there wasn't a lot going on and it was dead in the evening.

    I had bad weather my first time in Krakow - rainy, cold, rivers flooding and did the Salt Mine and Wawel my first time. The second time I concentrated on other areas and loved it even more, especially since the weather was perfect. I didn't mean to imply that you didn't enjoy Krakow.

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    Don't apologize. Your report was NOT too long. I enjoyed all the details as I too like to take pictures and am not fussy about food. Your pictures are terrific!

    Just curious about your tripod. I am really lazy about carrying one and I think your pictures show the difference that one makes. Is it collabsible? How did you do it with carry on only?

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    Thanks, adrienne! I had thought of stopping in Telc for a night - I wound up in Trebon instead (also a nice town). Given that I stopped Telc at about noon, it made sense for me to keep going and stop later.

    Irishface, yes, my tripod is slightly collapsible. It does fit in my larger carry-on bag. You can buy even smaller/lighter carbon-based tripods but they cost hundreds of dollars. Mine cost only about $150 I think. To be honest, I hate this tripod. It takes too long to set up and it's awkward to adjust. (I could tell you the make/model if you wish but I'm not sure I could recommend it.) I much prefer the larger Bogen I use at home, but I guess it's worth trade-off. My Bogen would never fit in my carry-on bag.

    I do consider a tripod essential for shots at dusk and at night. I like pictures that are sharp and also not noisy (I could shoot at very high ISO but the picture quality suffers greatly). I expect to be able to make large prints out of these images. I wind up carrying the tripod often during the day, too, but I'm often too lazy to use it unless I have to.

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    Andrew, I agree with Adrienne that combining both Auschwitz & the Salt Mines in one day is too much. We were in Poland in 2003, and went to Auschwitz & the Salt mines on two separate days. The Salt Mines was one of the highlights of our trip. I would say that each excurision took up about 3/4 of a day. We did take a guided tour from Krakow (something we don't usually do) to Auschwitz & felt it was worth it. It was nice not to have to look for buses, etc. & our guide was very knowledgeable.

    I am enjoying your trip report very much. YOu are a very good writer.

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    We returned to Czech Republic in 2009 & in addition to visiting Prague for a 2nd time, we stayed in Cesky Krumlov for 2 nights, Telc 1 night (what a beautiful surprise, as Adrienne & you have said, the town square is AMAZING.). And we like that Telc is quiet. We also spent 2 nights in Karlovy Vary, which we enjoyed very much, & it's very different, architecturally & sightseeing, from Prague & CK.

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    Kwoo, thank you for your comments. I originally intended to visit Karlovy Vary based partly on your recommendation. Given how I spent my time in Southern Bohemia, I probably would have been better off taking a day from there and/or from Olomouc and spending a night in Karlovy Vary. I wound up planning for a day trip on the last day in Prague. But as I said, the weather was rainy that last day, and I was tired. As a scenic photographer, I had already fought the rain too many days in Poland!

    I'm also learning that I shouldn't plan day trips for very late on a trip. They take more energy and planning than simply staying overnight somewhere, and by the end of a long trip I sometimes lack the energy.

    I opted to do the Salt Mines and Auschwitz in the same day also based partly on the weather: after I got back to Krakow from Auschwitz that afternoon, it was still overcast, and I had one last day in Krakow where better weather was forecast, so I wanted to use that time, if possible, to take pictures. (Probably a good choice: I had better weather the final day for sure.) If I had had great weather every day, I probably would have split the two between days. Most visitors to Krakow aren't as worried about getting great outdoor pictures as I am, so for them, splitting the two up makes more sense!

    I still say the Salt Mines, while very worthy and awe-inspiring, require a significant time investment - and not everyone will find this a worthwhile trip with limited time in Krakow.

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    Andrew, I just finished looking at your photos. You are an amazing photographer. I love all of your night time shots. And I can see why you enjoy photographing bridges. They are so interesting & unique. Just curious. . . where is your next trip?

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    Thank you so much for posting this, Andrew. I've really enjoyed reading it, and your photos are wonderful!

    You have been travelling in places that are high on my to-go list, and now they are nudging towards the top. You can be assured that I will be following in your footsteps at some time in the next few years. I think Ljubljana may be first on the list (yes, I read your TR too!).

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    Kwoo, thank you for the compliment! I work very hard on these pictures, so I'm glad people appreciate them. My next trip is actually next month: a short trip to Belgium, Luxembourg, and (back to) Paris. Compared to Poland and the Balkans it seems a little less...adventurous? But I've always wanted to see Bruges and other towns in Belgium, plus I love Paris and like to get back when I can.

    Hi Julia! I feel the same way reading your trip reports; Sarajevo is high on my list, too, having read your descriptions of it. (I wouldn't mind going back the Balkans someday in general - when I do I'll have to get some input from you!) I think you will enjoy Ljubljana - just a darling place with great architecture - but it is small. I enjoyed Slovenia overall and highly recommend it. I enjoyed the places I saw in Poland, too, but I saw so little of that huge country that I feel like I barely scratched the surface.

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    I enjoyed your report very much Andrew. Your photos are wonderful, especially your night shots.
    We are going to Krakow and Prague in September so very informative for me, thank you.

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    I really liked the town of Jindrichuv Hradec, where I stopped between Telc and Trebon (where I spent the night before Cesky Krumlov). Rožmberk nad Vltavou, south of Cesky Krumov, was also a nice stop but very small. (I didn't visit the castle.)

    I loved the old stone bridge in Pisek, but the town itself is a bit bland.

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    Thanks, Andrew. Unfortunately I didn't think enough about the itinerary and one of our days in CK is a Monday. No open castles! And unlike you, I prefer to go inside. Might have a sleep-late-and-poke-around day.

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    Jindrichuv Hradec as a town itself is worth a visit just to explore the town in my opinion. Then again, it might make more sense to do what I did and stop for a few hours on the way from Telc to Cesky Krumlov, not backtrack to see it.

    Will you want to go rafting in Cesky Krumlov? (Will you be there in warm weather?) Maybe Monday is a good day for that.

    There is a big park an hour or so drive from Cesky Krumlov as well if that interests you, if you need something else to do on that Monday (I didn't see the park, can't speak of it).

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