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

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Jul 5th, 2010, 02:55 PM
  #41
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The fireworks were fabulous! I hope they are shot off from the Hudson River next year too.
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Jul 5th, 2010, 02:56 PM
  #42
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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.
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Jul 5th, 2010, 03:09 PM
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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.
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Jul 8th, 2010, 05:56 PM
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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.
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Jul 8th, 2010, 06:04 PM
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So sorry you had so many tickets! That would scare the pants off of me. One reason why we never drive in Europe. I think you are very brave.
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Jul 8th, 2010, 07:15 PM
  #46
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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.
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Jul 8th, 2010, 07:19 PM
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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.
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Jul 8th, 2010, 07:24 PM
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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).
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Jul 8th, 2010, 08:01 PM
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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
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Jul 8th, 2010, 08:27 PM
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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.
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Jul 12th, 2010, 06:03 AM
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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!!
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Jul 12th, 2010, 06:46 AM
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Also eager for you to continue!!
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Jul 12th, 2010, 03:31 PM
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LuvtoRoam - you can understand why I kept getting lost and had trouble finding my way out of some of the towns!
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Jul 12th, 2010, 03:33 PM
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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.
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Jul 12th, 2010, 05:23 PM
  #55
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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.
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Jul 12th, 2010, 08:01 PM
  #56
 
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I am really taking this all in for my trip.
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Jul 13th, 2010, 07:10 AM
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Sher - I hope you get to see the things I missed and report back.
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Jul 13th, 2010, 07:11 AM
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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.
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Jul 13th, 2010, 07:28 AM
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Still enjoying every bit of your adventures. Please don't quit!
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Jul 14th, 2010, 06:12 AM
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Loving this report! Enjoyed the Czech report as we were there last year. We leave for Krakow on September 1. Keep it coming! I do hope we get to see Lady while there!
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