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Czech Republic, Krakow & Budapest Trip Report

Czech Republic, Krakow & Budapest Trip Report

Old Sep 5th, 2015, 11:43 AM
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Czech Republic, Krakow & Budapest Trip Report

DH and I (both in our early 50's) began planning our trip to Central Europe in January of 2015. We flew to Prague on Lufthansa - maybe the most uncomfortable 9+ hr flight I have ever been on. My, they really outdid themselves with making Economy class uncomfortable.

Our flight left 1 hour late, then our plane parked on the tarmac at Frankfurt. We were bussed to a terminal, then we had to go through passport control and security again. By the time we ran the gauntlet in the Frankfurt airport we had missed our connecting flight to Prague. Lufthansa was able to book us on the next flight to Prague, so I emailed our hotel to let them know we wouldn't be arriving until later.

In Prague we stayed at the Hotel Pod Vezi http://www.podvezi.com/
We stayed in Room #24, a suite, which was just lovely and had terrific views of the Old Town area. Breakfast is included in the price of the room and is excellent.

They graciously sent a car to pick us up at Vaclav Havel Airport when we arrived on the later flight. My husband's suitcase arrived, but mine did not. Lufthansa did find my bag and deliver it to our hotel later in the evening.

Our trip itinerary is:
Prague - 5 nights
Cesky Krumlov, CR - 2 nights
Olomouc, CR - 2 nights
Krakow, Poland - 7 nights (the last night is technically a night train to Budapest)
Budapest, Hungary - 5 nights

This is our first time traveling to these cities and towns, so we are doing all the usual "tourist" things.
In Prague we did visit St. Vitus Cathedral - pro tip - go when it first opens in the morning as the crowds huge and the line to get into the cathedral is insanely long.

One interesting experience was a visit to the KGB Museum. It was overpriced, 350 Kr pp, but the curator (host) was entertaining - when we could understand him. Also, he tried telling us that the writings by Sozynitsen et al, about the Soviet Gulags was all a bunch of lies for the west. We didn't want to get into an argument with him since he had a bunch of weapons and he seemed to know how to use them.

We had some delicious dinners in Prague. We ate at the Pod Vezi's restaurant twice. Their food is excellent and there is something on the menu for everybody.

Other dinners were:
Casserol http://casserol.cz/ is located in an old cellar in Old Town. But the décor and menu are modern. The food was delicious. DH had roasted Swede puree which was a revelation. I need to learn how to make that.

For our final night in Prague I made reservations at Terasa u Zlate Studne at 7:30 so we could watch the sunset from the terrace while we ate. The food and service was outstanding. What a magical dinner. http://www.terasauzlatestudne.cz/en/

Our hotel arranged a car to take us back to the airport where we picked up our rental car, an Audi A5. Which then proceeded to stall out every time I came to a stop. DH and I figured out that it's best if I drive and he navigates. That way he doesn't have to do both (I am hopeless with maps & directions).

After visiting Hluboka Castle http://www.zamek-hluboka.eu/en/ we found a place for a little lunch and I called Europcar and told them we were having a problem with the car stalling when we came to a stop. They told me it had an "Eco" button that I needed to push to turn off this gas-saving behavior.

We figured out where the button was and now we make sure the light is on indicating that the Eco Mode is turned off.

Europcar was the only rental agency we could find that would allow us to pick up a car in the Czech Republic and drop it off in Poland: http://www.europcar.com/

Then we made our way to Cesky Krumlov - which we loved.
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Old Sep 5th, 2015, 11:49 AM
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Great! More, please.
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Old Sep 5th, 2015, 11:58 AM
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I called Europcar and told them we were having a problem with the car stalling when we came to a stop. They told me it had an "Eco" button that I needed to push to turn off this gas-saving behaviour.>>

lol, halfapair, we had a VW in Germany last year which had this same feature along with an automatic break, and it drove us mad. it took us the whole time we were there to learn how to drive it, including the one night we spent in our hotel room painstakingly translating large tracts of the car handbook from german into english with the use of DH's i-pad and my german -english dictionary. one hilarious morning, we couldn't even get it to start! it turned out that in order to start, 3 prerequisites had to be in place - the driver's door had to be closed, the seat-belt on, and "Die Kuplung muss gedruckt worden". of course, the only word I didn't understand was the most vital one - Kuplung. [it means clutch if you're interested. Why didn't they teach hime that in my A level german rather than Iphigenia auf Tauris?]

anyway, i feel your pain.

looking forward to reading about the rest of your adventures.
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Old Sep 5th, 2015, 09:54 PM
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I have enjoyed dinner at Casserol, as well. Though I am a fan of Czech food I found myself liking the lighter, contemporary approach to the cuisine. I also liked how the restaurant has not become touristy (yet) given its location, though I am sure that it but a matter of time.
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Old Sep 6th, 2015, 09:15 AM
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@annhig - Oh, my. What a story! That is one for the books.

So we were off to Cesky Krumlov for two nights. We stayed at the Hotel Dvorak which I easily booked through Booking.com. Here is the hotel website: http://www.hoteldvorak.com/en/index.php

We had room 201 which had fantastic views of the castle. Warning, this hotel does not have a/c.
The first 4 days we were in Prague the temps were in the 90's. Then it cooled down to the low 70's. Thank goodness we didn't have those high temps in Cesky Krumlov. We were able to open the windows and turn on a fan and we were ok.

The breakfast was fine, but not as nice as the Pod Vezi in Prague.

We toured the castle and strolled around town. If you would like to tour the castle with a guide who speaks English, it's a good idea to book your tour ahead of time. I booked our tour through their website:
http://www.castle.ckrumlov.cz/docs/e...inf_sthrza.xml

The first night we ate dinner at Papa's Living:
http://www.papas.cz/#_=_

The food is good (portions are huge! DH and I could have easily shared his dinner of ribs). There was a couple sitting behind us that we started talking to. It turned out they were from the same part of Washington State as we are from. We live about an hour away. So we spent the evening chatting with them and then we saw them a few times the next day in town.

The second night we had dinner at Krcma v Satlavske Ulici
http://www.satlava.cz/page.php?secti...ode=normal#_=_
This is a fun place where they serve roasted meat. Lots of roasted meat. And it's smoky inside from the fire. But fun. And delicious.

After dinner we found a chocolate shop and bought a nice box of chocs to eat while packing and getting ready for the next day's drive.

And then we drove, and drove, and drove.
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Old Sep 8th, 2015, 06:40 AM
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A couple of notes about CR & Prague. In Prague we attended a couple of concerts: an organ concert in a church and a Dvorak concert in the Dvorak Museum. Given that there are so many tourists in Prague, it was a little dismaying to see the concerts so poorly attended. Prague is a city of music and it's a great way to spend the early evening after a day of busy sightseeing. Anyway, I booked our tickets through this website: https://www.pragueexperience.com/
They have a lot more than just concerts - there is information on all sorts of activities in Prague.

Driving in the Czech Republic: the roads are in good condition - much better than what DH & I were expecting. To get too some of the castles you do need to get off the main freeway and drive on some back roads. And the back roads are in good condition, as well. Although some of them are a bit narrow and don't have any lines down the center. Be cautious. Czech drivers are like their German neighbors - they like to drive fast, and tailgate. Try to stay out of their way. (at least that was my overall strategy!)

We left Cesky Krumlov and drove to Olomouc. The drive wasn't supposed to take all day, but there was roadwork going on and at one point we got off the freeway and took some back roads to avoid a complete halt in the traffic.

In Olomouc we stayed at the NH Collection Olomouc Congress:
http://www.nh-hotels.com/hotel/nh-co...166.1441722656

This hotel is about a 10 minute walk from the town square and is very new & modern. It's right next to a soccer stadium, so if there is a big game going on, then I imagine it will be quite noisy. But the 2 nights were there it was very quiet. The breakfast they serve (comes with the room price) is INCREDIBLE. I kid you not. They have fresh fruit, eggs several different ways including made-to-order omelets; assorted sausages; breads & pastries; cereals; juices; yogurt; 3 different smoked fish; etc. There is something for everybody.

Olomouc was a peaceful town after the hubbub of Prague & Cesky Krumlov. We took the Olomouc in a Nutshell tour through the TI Office and visited Bouzov Castle.
http://www.czechtourism.com/c/bouzov-castle/

There is an Airplane Museum about 30 miles outside Olomouc with some post WWII Soviet Aircraft on display. Unfortunately we misread what days/times it would be open and didn't get to go. We thought it would be a nice departure from all the castles to see some of these machines up close. I wish we could have taken some pictures of those planes. Oh, well.... another time. It was kind of a make-shift museum, but it still would have been kinda cool to see.

Next: Drive to Krakow!!
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Old Sep 8th, 2015, 12:01 PM
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Given that there are so many tourists in Prague, it was a little dismaying to see the concerts so poorly attended. >>

perhaps it was the season [we were there between Christmas and New Year] but the concert that we went to in the Municipal Hall [Dvorzak and Smetana from memory] and the opera were very well attended. ditto the Black Theatre of Prague marionette performance.

Perhaps you were just unlucky.
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Old Sep 8th, 2015, 02:29 PM
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halfapair: <i>Olomouc was a peaceful town after the hubbub of Prague & Cesky Krumlov. We took the Olomouc in a Nutshell tour through the TI Office and visited Bouzov Castle.</i>

Olomouc was even more "peaceful" when I was there in September a few years ago - more like a ghost town. It was quite a contrast from the mob scene in Prague. There were so few tourists in Olomouc while I was there that the TI did not even offer a walking tour. I probably would have enjoyed it a little more had one of the two squares in Olomouc not been completely torn up for renovation - but I'm sure all of that work is long done by now.
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Old Sep 13th, 2015, 05:12 AM
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Today is our last day in Krakow, Poland. Our stay here was unusual in that we stayed for 7 nights. The front desk personnel told me that nobody stays that long. I'm glad we did, although we could have stayed only 6 nights and probably have been fine. The reason we did 7 nights is that I am of Polish heritage and my relatives came from the Galicia region of Poland which is near Krakow.

Our drive from Olomouc, CR was fairly uneventful. We stopped at a gas station right before turning in our rental car to top off the gas tank and throw away our trash. We missed the exit for the airport, but were able to backtrack without the assistance of our TomTom GPS. It didn't want to take us to the airport. We don't know why. The highway leading to Krakow was brand new and in excellent condition.

The rental agency arranged for a taxi to take us to our hotel in downtown Krakow and we were able to check in right away. We rested a bit, then walked into Old Town and caught a free walking tour. The tour was 2.5 hours and offered a great overview of the city.

Our hotel in Krakow is the Hotel Amber Design: http://www.hotel-amber.pl/en/

We had room 312 which is quite nice. We have a sitting room with a desk and what looks to be a futon or pull out bed, but it's folded into a little couch right now.

We took two day trips while here: The Wieliczka Salt Mine & an all-day trip to Czestochowa.

http://www.polandtraveltours.com/en/...ity-breaks#_=_

We spent one whole day in the Jewish neighborhood, the Kazimierz. We visited an old cemetery that had been destroyed by the Nazis, but then somewhat reconstructed after the war; the Ethnographic Museum; the Pharmacy under the Eagle Museum; and Schindler's Factory. Lunch was at Starka Restaurant that day. The food was excellent and they gave us a complimentary shot of hazelnut vodka at the end.

Other notable restaurants were:
Cyrano de Bergerac - French, but sometimes you need a break from the pierogis & sausage. Also, it's underground, so an interesting setting, especially after visiting the Rynek Underground Museum.
http://www.cyranodebergerac.pl/en/index.html
There is a B&B upstairs:
http://orlowskatownhouse.com/en/index.htm


Wentzl - on the square. We ate dinner inside after our tour to Czestachowa. And then one afternoon we enjoyed some coffee & sweets at an outside table. This is also a hotel and I considered it when we were planning our trip.

Kuchinia on the corner of Garbarska & Karmelicka (I don't know the name) - this is a little place (nearly a dive) that's like visiting your Polish Grandma's kitchen. We ate dinner here the first night and we are going back on our last night. The pierogis are better than my grandmother's (sad to say, but true). The potato pancakes are delish. And I love the zurek soup (a traditional sour rye soup). And I need to figure out how to make braised cabbage like this place makes it. It's always filled with locals, not tourists. And it always seems to be open.

On to Budapest via PolRail night train. This should be exciting.
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Old Sep 13th, 2015, 07:32 AM
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thanks for sharing your stay in Krakow with us. We only had 3 days on our long weekend break a few years ago but we really enjoyed it and felt that we could easily have filled another couple of days or so.

did you get to Nowa Huta? DH had a yen to see it, not sure why, but it turned out to be very interesting especially the Church of the Ark and the market which was not touristy at all but was fun to walk through and try to buy things!

Do you speak polish? I quickly came to the conclusion that it would be a real asset to be able to do more than ask for two beers which was about my limit.

Looking forward to your take on Budapest, especially as things are at the moment.
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Old Sep 20th, 2015, 05:58 PM
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Budapest, Night Trains, and Refugee Status.

We did take the night train from Krakow to Budapest. DH & I had booked our room ahead of time and paid to have the tickets mailed to us, so we had them before we left for our trip.

We had a little room to ourselves on the sleeper car. There were several other American couples in our car with us. While this saved us travel time (there just didn't seem to be any good way to get from Krakow to Budapest without losing a significant amount of sightseeing time), we probably won't do this again.

We didn't get much sleep. The bunks were uncomfortable - very hard! And we had to keep our window open because the room was so stuffy. Every time the train stopped there was a voice on the loudspeaker announcing the train departure information, etc. Which woke us up. So while the train was moving we got jostled around on our hard bunks, and while the train was stopped a voice was blaring over a loud speaker.

However, we made it to Budapest Keleti Station. We ignored the taxi driving trying to "assist" us. DH went to an ATM outside the station while I watched our bags and took pictures of the refugees encamped at the station. They are camped outside the station and downstairs. We saw many police officers at the station. Everything was calm an orderly and we had no problems.

Once we had some Forints we walked across the street to a hotel and had a young man at the desk call us a cab.

We had read that especially in Budapest, if you need a taxi, have someone at a hotel or restaurant call you a reputable one. And when we needed currency, we made sure to use a regular bank machine and not a machine linked to a currency kiosk (these are orange colored in Budapest).

Our hotel was the Corinthia Royal: http://www.corinthia.com/hotels/budapest/
We had an Executive King Room which allowed us access to the Mezzanine level, the pool and spa facilities, and private check-in. I'm glad we chose the Executive level. On the mezzanine level they serviced a light breakfast, afternoon snacks & tea; and evening nibbles & desserts. If we hadn't chosen the Exec level, then we would have had to pay for breakfast. There was always staff available on the Mezz to make a cappuccino or espresso, pour a glass of wine or champagne, and even poach an egg for breakfast! So this was very nice.

The hotel concierge is very helpful in making restaurant reservations and arrangements for taxis to the airport, etc.

So, we arrived at Keleti Station at about 8:45am and we were checked into our room by 10am. Breakfast was still being served, so we had a quick bite and then we were picked up at 11am by Orsolya from Travel Guide Hungary:
http://travelguidehungary.com/#_=_
I had already arranged this tour several weeks before our arrival date. We were to take her 8 hour Grand Budapest Tour, but we would be doing it over 2 days - 4hrs each day.

DH & I cannot say enough good things about Orsolya and her tour. I wish we had had more time to take her other tours. She is very knowledgeable, engaging and funny. With her we saw all the major "must see sights." She helped us taste several different sausages in the Great Market Hall, and we had Langos - a deep fried bread topped with sour cream and cheese (there are other toppings, but we had it the traditional way). The 8 hour tour was $400, not including the tip for her & the driver. And it was well worth every penny.

After we finished the second 4 hour guided tour, we asked to be dropped off at the House of Terror instead of our hotel. It's not pleasant, but I think the House of Terror should be seen. There were groups of Jr High, or maybe Freshmen HS students there going through the exhibits. We had the audioguide in English.

On Day 3 we got out of the city and took a tour to the Puszta Horse tour with EUrama: http://www.eurama.hu/en/index.html#_=_
They bused us out to the countryside where we saw a demonstration of Hungarian horsemanship and took a ride in a wagon. Some of the horses were Lipizzaners. And we had a wonderful traditional Hungarian lunch of goulash, pork & potatoes, and dessert.

Day 4: We started with breakfast at the New York Cafe (a must-visit place, even if only for coffee), visited the Grand Synagogue & Holocaust Memorial Garden, the Hungarian National Museum, and then went back to the Great Market Hall for souvenir shopping, paprika (Orsolya had given us tips for getting paprika for the best price. Don't shop in the middle aisle of the market, shop on the sides where prices are a little lower).

Then we had lunch. I had a roasted goose leg & DH had a sausage. Both were excellent.

One thing I really liked about the cuisine of Central Europe was the variety of meat. Americans seem stuck on beef, pork & chicken. On this trip we had rabbit, venison, guinea hen, goose, duck, and wild boar. And then there was liver, sweetbreads, and tongue. I loved the variety.

In the evening we went to a folk dancing program on the Buda side of the river. DH had figured out the public transportation system, so we took the subway over.

On our final day I went to the Szechenyi Baths, DH went to take pictures at a local fair getting underway (the Hungarian Grand National Horse Race was going to be held at Hero's Square on Saturday).

Later we took a river cruise and had our final meal at Bock Bistro: http://bockbisztropest.hu/en/

Two tips about Bock Bistro: book your reservation well in advance. You cannot get in w/o a reservation, and they are always booked several days out. And DO have the goose liver starter. Oh, my. There are no words to describe how good it it.

DH & I spent 9 months planning out this trip, researching what to do, where to stay, which tours to see and what concerts to attend. In retrospect, the only change I would have made would have been to spend only 6 nights in Krakow and added a night to Budapest. We loved Budapest and can't wait to return.
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Old Sep 20th, 2015, 06:52 PM
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@annhig - I forgot to answer your questions!

No, neither of us speaks any Polish. We did learn the polite phrases, but really the only trouble we had was in a pastry shop asking for items "to-go." We tried using the British term, "take away," but the lady still didn't understand us. We learned the Polish phrase, "na wynos," and then we were golden. Although someone told us that everyone understands "take away" so likely the lady was just perturbed that we hadn't taken the time to learn a simple Polish phrase.

No, we didn't get to Nowa Hutna. Maybe if we go back someday. Although, ironically, of the three main cities we visited, Krakow is the one I am least inclined to visit again. This is ironic because my family heritage on both sides is Polish. Both my parents spoke Polish before they spoke English.

Maybe I'll change my mind in a few years, but for now I would really rather visit Budapest. I loved that city. Some people fall in love with Paris or Rome. I fell for Budapest.
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Old Sep 21st, 2015, 12:35 AM
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Interesting point about the car, it must be odd to have a car that keeps running when you are stationary, but hey you say tomato I say tomato..

Looks like a good visit and I agree about the sleeper, not the best idea unless you sleep very deeply.

Budapest is my favorite central European city too, even cycled round the ring road.
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Old Sep 21st, 2015, 02:35 AM
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Sounds like a great trip (except for the car misadventures)
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Old Sep 21st, 2015, 04:10 AM
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Most of Polish peaople in bigger cities understand english quite well I was on business trip in Warsaw, and i had no problems to make small coversations in hotels, pubs, clubs(If u ever visit Warsaw i highly recommend to visit New Orleans club near city center, great pole dance, whisky and restaurant ) I glad you enjoyed your trip. Thanks for sharing with us
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Old Sep 21st, 2015, 04:51 AM
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Ah but the Lapp dancing in Helsinki....
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Old Sep 22nd, 2015, 10:40 AM
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@annhig - I forgot to answer your questions!>>

no probs, halfapair, I was on an enforced sabbatical from fodors for a while due to a little local difficulty with the spam filters.

<< We tried using the British term, "take away," but the lady still didn't understand us. We learned the Polish phrase, "na wynos," and then we were golden. Although someone told us that everyone understands "take away" so likely the lady was just perturbed that we hadn't taken the time to learn a simple Polish phrase.>>

I doubt that very much. as has happened to me quite a few times, in different places and in different languages, some people don't actually believe that foreigners CAN speak their language so when you do, they just don't hear it.
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Old Sep 22nd, 2015, 04:47 PM
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Halfapair, we're really enjoying your TR. We just returned from Central Europe, though it will probably take us a while to begin our TR. We're eager to follow more of yours. Thanks!
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Old Aug 29th, 2016, 05:33 AM
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<<Some people fall in love with Paris or Rome. I fell for Budapest.>>

Me too! Thanks so much for the really enjoyable trip report.
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