Czech Republic Trip Report

Old Oct 4th, 2008, 04:42 AM
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Czech Republic Trip Report

My daughter and I have just returned from an unforgettable trip to the Czech Republic and loved every minute of it. Let me preface this report with some background on us. We are from Florida and my grandparents immigrated from CR in the early 1900's so I wanted to see their homeland and hopefully see the villages where they were born.

We are budget travelers and planned everything with an eye on the dollar. I must thank "The Turnip" and "MaiTaiTom" for their terrific reports as it gave us some great suggestions and tips that I would not have thought of before.

Our itinerary was 3 days in Prague (I should have planned 4 since we cut our last day in Karlovy Vary short so we could return to Prague and finish what we missed), 3 days in Cesky Krumlov and 3 days in Karlovy Vary.

We rented a car through economycarrentals.com based in Greece and I was a little apprehensive about renting from them since it didn't seem that anyone on the forum had ever rented from them. It turned out fine and the rental car actually came from Sixt in Prague. It was a very nice new Mercedes A Class. I thought we would wind up with a broken down Skoda or something since the price for 8 days with everything included was 160 euros ($221 USD) and the best part was that they delivered the car directly to my Pension and all I had to do was find my way out of Prague. We drove the entire time on 2 tanks of gas.

DAY 1: ARRIVE IN PRAGUEó
We flew into Prague and arrived around 7 pm. Based on ďTurnipsĒ advice I booked the Residence Belehradska (www.b35.cz). They arranged to have a driver pick us up at the airport and take us directly to the Pension. Our driver, George was great and was waiting with a sign in the arrivals hall and took us directly to our Pension. Since was evening when we arrived we were stunned by our first view if Prague Castle as he drove into town. It was all lit up at night and was a great first impression. Our host, Vladimir, was very gracious and showed us to our room. It was a very large Pension room with a Kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom. Very clean. They also offer free internet and have washer/dryer facility free of charge (just bring your own laundry soap).

We settled in and went to bed early as we had booked a tour guide for 9:00 am the next morning. As promised, our guide which was booked through Personal Prague Guide as recommended by Rick Steves. We asked for an English speaking woman guide and were not disappointed with Barbora Liskova. She was a very personable lady who showed us exactly what we were expecting. We wanted her to take us places in the hidden Prague, places where you may not think to go. I figured we could do the major stuff on our own. I booked 3 hours with her just to get a flavor of Prague and so she could help us to get familiarized with the city, trams, etc. 5 hours would probaly been better as the time flew by. Barbora left us at Kampa Island and we found a place to eat. Since my family roots are Czech and my parents (and I) still cook many of the traditional dishes, we were familiar with the menu and kind of knew what to expect. I wish I had written down the name of the place but it was on the main drag on Kampa across from the park. I had Svickova (marinated beef in a sour cream gravy) with loads of dumplings and cabbage. My daughter had her favorite Roast Duck. The food was excellent and the Beer.....well the motto, There is no beer like beer, was true. The rest of the day we just wandered around and soaked up the surroundings (meaning we got lost ALOT). Even with a street map, you still get turned around by all of the winding streets. For those of you who remember Johnny Carson, we were like his famed indian tribe he would mention, the Fugowis. BTW it is true that even if you can speak a little Czech to the waiter, you get better service. They understand that you are a tourist and are trying your best.

Coming up: Day 2 Prague.
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Old Oct 4th, 2008, 07:28 AM
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Looking forward to more...I am going to Prague for the first time in Dec.
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Old Oct 5th, 2008, 05:04 PM
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Day 2 Prague:
After stopping the night before at the local grocery store (just up the hill from the Pension), we made breakfast and headed out. Of course the weather turned cold and rainy. We spent most of the day wandering around and taking pictures of all the really cool buildings. We got caught up in the mele of people wanting to see the astronomical clock. It does itís thing on the hour and only lasts about 20 seconds so look at it quickly. My advice is to go before noon or in the early evening as the crowds are not as bad. The Old Town Square if like a fairy tale; just beautiful.

We headed to Charles Bridge and took the river cruise that takes you to the waterway around Kampa Island. You just go to the bridge and look for the guys in the sailor suits. They direct you to the river boats. When you get there, they give you a free beer and ice cream and cookies. We waited a short while until the boat was full. We had a very funny riverboat captain who spoke several languages and spoke to everyone in their own languate. It was a very nice trip, lasting about 45 minutes. It was relaxing after walking all day. After the River Boat Ride we explored Old Town and the Jewish Quarter and also walked on Embassy Row. The buildings there are quite something and really reflect the country they service. We did some shopping for crystal at Suvenyry KMSV at Zelezna 6, just off Old Town Square. The people were very nice and spoke good English. By that time it was time for dinner, so we set out to find a reasonable place to eat. Of course we got lost yet again, but did find a really good place to eat that was very reasonable by Prague standards. I had roast rabbit with dumplings and cabbage and my daughter had roast duck. Of course we washed it all down with a Kozel Dark Beer. This is probably the best beer we had on the entire trip. I just wish I knew the name of the restaurant, but it was definitely a local hangout as we were about the only ones there speaking English.

Day 3 Prague:
We devoted this day to Kampa Island and the Little Quarter with Petrin Hill. Kampa was very nice and the day we were there was a Saturday and they had a street fair going on with people selling all types of handmade crafts and pottery. It had a medevil fair atmosphere about it. We took the Funicular up to the top of Petrin. You can use the Funicular if you have a tram pass. There is no extra charge. We bought the 100Kc pass each day with allowed you to use all public transportation for a 24 hour period. It was very good. Since it was raining again, we only went up to the first observation deck on Petrin Tower. The view from there was absolutely breathtaking and you could see Charles Castle in the distance. Petrin is also a fairly large park and there is a garden maze and mirror fun house at the top. If you have children, that would be a fun place to let them blow off some steam. We decided to walk down from Petrin and the path winds you down through the woods, down the never ending stairways and down a steep hill, past the monestary and finally back into the Little Quarter. Since it was getting on to dinner time, we started to head back to Old town to catch our tram to the Pension. However, as it seemed we could get lost just about anywhere, we took the 22 tram in the wrong direction and wound up way the heck out in Praha 8. I thought the tram would make a loop and take us back into town, but at the end of the line the tram power cuts off and a nice Czeck guy motioned that we would have to get off. That was a little scary. We had to walk back to the last tram stop and take one going in the right direction. So when we finally got back to our pension it was late and we asked Vladimir at the Pension if there was anyplace around to eat. It seems the Czechs eat early and then everything closes (expect in downtown Prague). He said there was a new place a couple of doors down that was still open. It was a new place called the Babylon. It was mediterranian food which was very good. I had Gnocchi with salmon in a cream sauce with a glass of Beer. My daughter had grilled steak with fresh veggies. The next day we would depart Prague bound for Cesky Krumlov. We really needed one more day since we hadnít seen the Castle or St. Vitus Cathedral yet so we planned to cut our stay short in Karlovy Vary and come back to Prague early to see those.

Coming up-Driving in CZ and Cesky Krumlov
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Old Oct 5th, 2008, 05:05 PM
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Hi Elcon, You will love it. Thanks for the encouragement.
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Old Oct 5th, 2008, 05:12 PM
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Hi Galeforce sounds wonderful! We too are doing Prague in December and your words are encouraging after some of the doubts I've been having with Transport and going there in Winter.
Thank you
Rosie
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Old Oct 5th, 2008, 05:26 PM
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Hey Rosie, when will you be in Prague?
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Old Oct 5th, 2008, 09:52 PM
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Great report so far! Please continue. We will be in Cesky Krumlov and Prague in December and are eager to hear more about your trip - especially the driving bit as we'll be doing that too!
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Old Oct 6th, 2008, 01:18 AM
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We will be arriving in Prague by train from Berlin on 5th December and leaving for Munich by train on the 7th (if we manage a booking!)
We had a third night planned so we could take a day trip to Cesky Krumlov but really it doesn't sound like the ideal place in December.
Rosie
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Old Oct 6th, 2008, 05:02 AM
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Hi again Rosie, looks like we may bump into each other. I will be in Prague Dec.5-8.
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Old Oct 9th, 2008, 02:57 AM
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Hi RosieinOz,

Driving was pretty simple once out of Prague. We had the car delivered to our Pension so I didn't have to try to find the rental car location and get back to our pension to get luggage, etc.

Being a newbie to international travel, and car rentals in general I did't realize that Sixt would put a $1200 USD hold on my credit card to cover any damages that might incur. I only realized it when I checked the balance on my bank card. Since this was the card with the best deal on conversion charges, I was a little miffed to have so much of my funds tied up in this hold. Sixt would not release it until I returned the car. It all worked out but I had to use one of my other cards for most of the trip. You may want to find out those small details before you rent.

Anyway, driving there is fine except for the REALLY narrow roads. I drove to the Pension Na Ostrove in Cesky Krumlov and the streets are really nothing more than a cobblestone alley; except in an alley there wouldn't also be tourists milling about! Some were so narrow I didn't think the car would fit without scraping the side of the car. But alas, we did get to the Pension, dropped of our luggage, then moved the car to the parking area where I left it for the entire time we were there. The Czechs do drive really fast, but that's not to say they are dangerous. Speed limits are 130 kph on the highway and 50 kph in towns.
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Old Oct 9th, 2008, 03:04 AM
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Further to RosieinOz,

Driving in winter...if you are not used to driving in snow and ice, I would think twice since most of the roads are mountain type roads with many twists and turns and either going up or down steep hills. I only drove during the day because I did not want to chance it.
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Old Oct 9th, 2008, 09:23 AM
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Thanks so much for posting - I just love the Czech Republic.

Driving in that country in my opinion is the easiest (other than Croatia) I've driven in (and easy to navigate). There was one place where we actually did scrape the car as the road was so narrow (on both sides at once!) so if you think you can fit you'd better make good and sure before you attempt it... ;(
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Old Oct 9th, 2008, 04:58 PM
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Galeforce, this is all so interesting. Please continue!

Regarding the narrow roads, we are thinking of hiring a 7-seater mini-van type car. We will be driving from Munich to Salzburg to Cesky Krumlov to Prague to Dresden. Do you think this would be too wide for the roads you encountered, especially those in Cesky Krumlov?

Also, what was your experience with the pickpockets in Prague? Did you see many and if so, where abouts, and how did you protect yourselves?

Looking forward to hearing more - please!
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Old Oct 10th, 2008, 05:37 PM
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Bright and early the next morning, Sixt Car Rentals turned up at the Pension with our rental car. We got a new Mercedes A class with diesel fuel. I was advised to ask what kind of gas the car used so as not to make a mistake and fill with wrong type. On the way out of the pension I asked our host Vladimir the best way out of town and he gave me some great directions to get on the Motorway with a minimum of confusion. From reading our travel books, I knew the speed limit on motorways is 130 kph but the Czechs drive like itís only a suggestion. They seem to be safe drivers, just fast.

Since I wanted to visit the town where my grandmother was from, we took the motorway almost to Brno and then got off and took some goat tracks (almost a 2 lane road) and navigated to the town of Krucemburk. I had a postcard of the town from 1890 and when we drove into town, I noted that it had not changed that much. We took photos of the church so we would have a then and now picture of the town. It was a very nice but very small town however it did have a small grocery store. My daughter who is in the habit of trying every restroom in the country told me she needed a restroom. So in my best Czech I asked at the counter whether we could use the restroom. They just stared at me so I then had to resort to a game of charades to get the point across. They were most happy to oblige once they understood what we wanted. Iím sure they donít see tourists very much in that part of the country. I tried to find evidence of my ancestors however the town was occupied during the war and the people there were not very fond of the Nazis. When the Germans left, they burned most of the town just for spite so most of the public records were destroyed.

From there we were on our way to Mikulov, the wine region of the Czech Republic, Itís just about 2 miles from the Austrian border. Itís very pretty country and mostly large rolling hills and lots of farmland and of course, vineyards. Mikulov has a large chateau that was very beautiful. We stayed at the Hotel Eliska in the heart of town and while the staff was very friendly and helpful, the hotel was very noisy. The room was clean but a little small. The next day I had booked a horse riding adventure with Tomas Hlavenka www.jkmilulov.cz. His email is [email protected]. Tomas came for us with his car and drove down the 2 ruts of a road (at high speed) and we arrived at the stable for our ride. My daughter and I are both experienced riders and love to ride where ever we go. Tomas was very nice and and obliging and a true gentleman. We rode to the top of the hill in Mikulov where the old church stands and it had a spectacular view of the town and countryside. As we were riding back to the stable, I kept hearing what I thought were gunshots. I asked Tomas about this and he told me that the vineyards have machines in the vineyards that shoot compressed air to scare the birds away. When that doesnít work they fly over in an airplane at about 200 ft. and throw firecrackers out of the plane! Crazy Czechs!

With our ride over, it was time for lunch so we opted for the Irish Bar (serving Czech food) which was attached to our hotel. The food was good. I had a type of Svicova which was beef chunks in a cream sauce with the ever present dumplings. My daughter had rost pork and the trimmings. After lunch we decided to venture out and explore the neighboring towns. We drove to Pavlov and down to the large lake close to town. Pavlov is a very pretty town and we drove down several alleys and most everyone had harvested grapes and were pressing them for wine. Quite a site. We were also tipped off about a local brew called Burcak (pronounced Burchak). Itís made from grapes and it must be just pressed wine that is just starting to ferment. Thanks to the `Turnip` we were warned about the potency and explosive properties of this delicious drink. We found a woman with a sign out by the road advertising the drink so we stopped. They sell both red and white and IMHO the red is far better. They siphon the drink into what amounts to about a 2 liter bottle for about 50 Czk. It tastes kind of like a mild grape soda; its carbonated and goes down VERY easy but is has a kick to it. Iím told about 12% alcohol.

After our excursion, we headed back to Mikulov. We wanted to see the town and the Chateau. Itís a very nice small town with a town square and they were setting up for a festival which would only run until dark. It seems that after dark the vampires must come out because everyone in town disappears once it gets dark. The streets roll up and not even restaurants are open after 7pm, well except for the casinos and our Irish bar. We walked around town for a bit and decided to head back to the hotel to relax for a bit and when we went out at 7 and headed back to the town square, it was as quiet as a church. So we headed back to the Irish bar for dinner.

The next day we explored the chateau and walked about the town, and visited the local wine shops for some tasting. It was a very nice low key day and we just took a slow pace. We went to bed early since we would be up early for our drive to Cesky Krumlov.

We departed Mikulov and headed for Cesky Krumlov. Most of the drive was on 2 lane roads through small towns and I noticed the landscape getting more hilly. Some of the roads were downright scary, and this was in daylight on dry roads. Iím not sure I would want to drive on them in slippery or snowy weather. As you climb in elevation, the roads twist and turn up and down the hills and you find yourself driving only about 50 mph. Of course the Czechs just pass you. The rule seems to be that if someone wants to pass, you move over to the right and if a car is coming at you, the oncoming car also moves over to his right and the passer goes up the middle. Thatís just a little scarey to me. We made it to Cesky Krumlov by mid day and then tried to find our Pension. We were booked at the Pension Na Ostrove which is right in the historical district. We started to drive into the Centrum and the roads kept getting more narrow my the foot. That combined with the tourists milling about and itís a recipe for disaster. Since we had no GPS, I had to call the pension for directions on how to get there. After several attempts and going down the most narrow street I have ever seen (I thought my little car might not even make it down some of the roads). Well the Pension is on a small island in the Valtava and in order to reach it to drop our luggage you had to go all the way into the Centrum and cross the foot bridge with the car. Just a little nerve racking. Since you canít leave your car parked at the pension, they have an arrangement with the local city lot so you can park you car there and it was included in the price of the Pension. So we unloaded the luggage and carefully drove out of town to park our car. It turned out that the lot is actually just on the other side of the castle from the pension and itís a very short walk, but a long car ride.

I booked Pension Na Ostrove through krumlovhotels.cz/naostrove. The room was small, but very clean and comfortable. The shower was nicely done with towel warmers and plenty of hot water. I would recommend this pension. It was a good location right in the Centrum and it was quiet.

Cesky Krumlov is probably one of the most beautiful towns I have ever seen. Itís a UNESCO World Heritage site and while itís geared for tourists, you donít feel overwhelmed by it. The people in town are very friendly and there are many shops to but almost anything you would want. We got situated in the Pension and set out on foot to explore this medevil town. The streets are all cobblestone and most shops are open after dark. The weather was still cold and it had started to rain so we ducked into a cafe for a snack and a latte. I could never understand why my grandfather always insisted on having fresh brewed coffee until I visit CR. It seems that the love instant coffee and we found it hard to find a brewed cup. The coffee was so bad in most places that we resorted to either latte or tea. We spent the rest of the first day just getting familiar with the town.

The next day we arose to more rain and cold, but we were undaunted. We set out to explore the town and do some shopping as I wanted to bring home some special gifts for family members. We found a lady selling handmade lace. She was so happy that we could speak a little Czech and we were glad that she could speak a little English. I bought some lace which was very nice and inexpensive and we were also looking for garnats. We roamed around town, taking in the sites and the beauty. On the further advice of Turnip and MaiTaiTom, we located the restaurant they spoke of. Itís probably the best place to eat in the town. Itís on the square to the left of the chinese restaurant and set back in the building youíll find a door that leads to a medevil spiral staircase down to the catacombs below the town. Info for MaiTaiTom, they moved the candles away from the staircase a little ways so you wonít keep bumping into it. They make most of their food on a grill and I had an exceptional grilled salmon on a bed of fresh vegetables and rubbed with a roasted lime. My daughter had the ribeye steak which was also superb. I tried the local white wine which actually came from Mikulov and it was an excellent choice with the salmon. One thing I found funny was that everywhere we went, beer was cheaper than Coca Cola. If beer was 22 Kc, Coke would be 28Kc. That just lives up to the saying in CR that `There is no beer like beer`.

They also make a pastry that you can buy from a couple of shops. Itís kind of like a sweet pretzel dough. The put this dough on what looks like a metal rolling pin and they cook the dough over an open heat source. When it gets brown, they take it off the rolling pin so what you get is a cylinder. They roll this cylinder in your choice of coatings, either cinnamon sugar or ground almonds and sugar. When you get it, itís still hot and very delicious.

The next day we wanted to take the castle tour. We awoke to more rain and cold, but since most of the tour is inside, we ventured forth. We really enjoyed the tour, but I think our English speaking guide only memorized enough English to give the tour. Once our group was gathered in the chapel for the start of the tour, she took a visible sigh and launched into her discertaion. She had a sense of humor though...she spoke about King Ferdinand who was killed in a hunting accident. She said he was mistaken for an animal and she said it with some wit so we understood that it was his son who wanted the throne and had his father killed.

We also took the tower self guided tour up to the top of the tower and view from there was really great. Lastly there was a lame tour of the catacombs. Iím not sure why, but everywhere we went there was such a mix of old and new. In the ancient catacombs, there was a modern art exhibit. The catacombs were cool, but the modern art sculptures, Iím not too sure about.

I also wanted to see the Royal Gardens. Of course the castle and chateau are at the top of the hill and the Royal Garden is up another hill from there so we climbed the steep street to the garden and the walk was well worth the walk. At the end of the street the garden open in front of you. Itís a formal English type rose garden with one of those really long hedge rows which led about Ĺ mile down to the royal ponds. Iím sure Iíve seen this shot in a movie or two. The park was beautiful and we had the entire part to ourselves. I think most people were smart and did not want to walk up the hill!

We were bushed from our hill climb so decided to head back to the pension to relax a bit before dinner. When we walked back to the town square, they had a folk festival in full swing. There were vendors selling traditional handcrafts, gingerbreads, foods and yes, more Burcak. They had a stage set up with folk singers. We had traditional folk fair food of sausages and ham washed down with beer and burcak. We sat outside that evening and listened to the folk music. It was truly magical. The rain had stopped for the evening, but it was clear and cold. Made for a great fall experience. The next day they had school children on stage doing traditional folk dances and story telling.

Next up: Karlovy Vary
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Old Oct 10th, 2008, 05:52 PM
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Ozziez, If you plan to drive a 7 passenger van, just stay out of the Centrums and park on the outskirts and you should be OK. The roads in CR are narrow and there are many hairpin type turns so just be careful.

As far as pickpockets, we did not encounter any, but I bought a purse with a zipper on top that I kept closed with an extra clasp and I always kept the zipper closer next to my body. My daughter has a small travel combination lock that she kept on her backpack at all times.

The only thing we did see was one day at Old Town Square in Prague, there was a gypsy lady to marshalled her 2 small children to go around the square and beg for money.

I think if you are aware of your surroundings at all times and keep your purse right with you at all times, you should be fine.
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Old Oct 10th, 2008, 09:08 PM
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Thanks for continuing Galeforce, and for answering my questions.

What were the prices like at the restaurant in the catacombs that you went to in Cesky Krumlov?

I'm looking forward to the next installment!
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Old Oct 12th, 2008, 04:06 PM
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Ozziez, The restaurant was a little pricey, but only because my daughter had that ribeye steak. I noticed that all steak is rather expensive there. I think they import most of their beef from Argentina. The steak was 420 Kc and the Salmon was 250Kc

At most places we ate dinner for between 150 Kc and 180 Kc each. They serve small Coca Cola and they charge for each one you order and if bread is brought to the table and you eat any of it, they will charge you for it. Some places were cheaper like for lunch we would normally pay between 80 or 90 Kc.
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Old Oct 12th, 2008, 07:07 PM
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Thanks for all the info Galeforce. Great trip report!
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Old Oct 13th, 2008, 01:40 AM
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hi galeforce,

great report. somehow, DH and I WILL get to central europe.

regards, ann
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Old Oct 13th, 2008, 03:51 AM
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Yes, great report! Thanks! (Sigh.) I have visited Prague but never made it out into the country. But did you really mean you could drive only 50 mph? After driving in Scotland, it's hard for me to imagine a scary road where I could do 50. ; )
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