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quick trip report: Prague, Cesky Krumlov, Krakow & Zakopane

quick trip report: Prague, Cesky Krumlov, Krakow & Zakopane

Old Sep 24th, 2006, 09:11 AM
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quick trip report: Prague, Cesky Krumlov, Krakow & Zakopane

For several years now, my husband and I depend a lot on the great information folks post on this site but always neglect to post our own findings or validations post-trip. That said, here's a *very* quick & dirty of what might be useful takeaways from our recent trip (Sept. 6-20) to Czech Republic & Poland - specifically, Prague, Cesky Krumlov, Krakow/surrounds & Zakopane. I'm leaving the must-see sights to other postings (they're obvious in these lovely spots) - I'm providing a few general tidbits here with specifics on accomodation, food & drink:

Days 1-4: Prague
What a gorgeous place! As everyone says. Architecture is to die for; unending crowds of tourists wedging every square inch of the Mala Strana and Stare Mesto in particular were a bummer... the seriously cheesy chotcky-filled stores catering to them in Stare Mesto were even more a downer! But altogether a fantastic place.
Our accomodation: Hotel Kampa Garden on Kampa Island). Around the corner from the Charles Bridge next to a park and all those great embassy buildings. Location to die for. Rooms very large, clean, simple and good prices for the area and season (3490 CZK/nt for a double with a small view of Stare Mesto) and friendly English-speaking staff.
Best bar: U Maleh Fleku
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Old Sep 24th, 2006, 09:26 AM
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Old Sep 24th, 2006, 09:30 AM
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Thanks AandED - we went to Prague at Christmas 2004 and though there were crowds, nothing like the ones you seem to have experienced. I love travelling in winter to places that are used to snow - there are far fewer tourists, even at Christmas, and there is time and space to enjoy teh sights, without getting too hot. also, the public buildings are usually very well heated, so you just drop off your top layer at the "garerobe" and walk round.
Looking forward to the rest of the trip!
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Old Sep 24th, 2006, 09:42 AM
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whoops! hit a wrong button before I was done on that one: the bar is U Maleho Glena in Mala Strana (Karmelitska 23)/. http://www.malyglen.cz/ Jazz club downstairs, cool laid back bar upstairs with fun staff. Great mojitos! Plus beers (including locals & Guinness), etc. Lots of locals on the weekends, too.

The restaurant inside the castle area behind & to the left of St. Vitus' Cathedral had great outdoor seating and fantastic beer, plus great views of historic buildings and people during the day.

Best coffee: Square on the way from the Charles Bridge to the Castle area http://www.squarerestaurant.cz/ - great eggs benedict, too - and Ebel Coffee House, behind Tyn Church (cute shops in this area too) as well as other bar and restaurant finds in the 'nooks' of the Tyn area.

Totally overrated:
U Fleku. Costly tourist trap you'll find in all the guidebooks.
Pivovary Staropramen (Staropramen brewery). Also a tourist trap; beer isn't great and if you walk there (like we did) it is FAR away and in a not great part of town. Additionaly we were treated poorly by stuff. Certaily does not deserve the star Fodor's gave it in their Prague book. What a disappointment.
U Cerneo vola: okay, this was in the Fodor's book but the place at this address does not have the same name. Atmosphere did feel 'old school' Czech (autographed photos of former country leaders going back into the Communist area & beyond cover the walls, it's dark with dark tables, decent mix of locals and tourists, although they tend to hang out in different rooms from one another) but beer was spendy by local standards and not good. Oh well.
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Old Sep 24th, 2006, 09:56 AM
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We felt that 4 days was perfect to see the sights in Prague and get a feel for the culture et al. On to Cesky Krumlov!

CK: we made a last minute decision to drive from Prague to CK. The guy at Budget (in the Hotel Intercontinental) was really helpful in pointing us in the right direction and we had no problems with the drive. It may have taken 2 hours with traffic and a few road trip food/potty stops.

Can I just say we LOVED CK! Much more compact than Prague, cuter boutiques, etc - just less 'infected' by tourists (so far) and much more relaxing. Charm around every corner, really. I highly recommend staying the night here as it really is magical then (and after the day-trippers clear out!).
Accomodation: Hotel Leonardo (Soukenická 33). http://www.a-cesky-krumlov.com/hotel-leonardo?kurzy=USD
Right in the center of the old town. Easily our favorite accomodations of the trip - such a lovely building, charming warm rooms, et al, and staff was extremely nice and helpful. Bonus was that it was a lot cheaper than Prague! We had one of the nicer rooms and it was 2200 CZK plus they arranged free parking for us.

Our favorite bar (sorry, we do a lot of hanging out when we travel to absorb the local scene - coffee until mid day then drinks the second half of the day... of course sight seeing is interspersed throughout!) was next door to our hotel! It had a french name which of course can't recall now (maybe brasserie?). But literally if you're looking at the front door of the Leonardo, its the next door or two to the right. Kind of dark, lots of comfy seating, great drinks and a good mix of mostly locals with a few tourists (I cracked up when I saw a family of Czechs sharing the 'mojito for 8' with huge straws coming out of a bowl of booze).

Alas, the next morning we were off to Krakow (I wouldn't have minded more time in CK - maybe another night? - but we had reservations to keep and a long drive ahead of us)...
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Old Sep 24th, 2006, 10:29 AM
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Driving to Krakow: if you do this, do take the main highways/dual carriageways! We didn't for the first half of the trip and about went insane with the slow, twisty roads, construction, etc. And how much Czech farmland does one really need to take in? Lots of EU funding for roads in both countries so it was easy speed-demon time (like everyone else on the road) once we hit the dual carriageway. In all, it took 9.5 hours to drive from CK to Krakow, including the border. Border was interesting - when the Polish guards saw our American passports they raised their eyebrows and had us pull over for a while, but in the end it was no big deal. DO CARRY 3-6 PZN if you do this drive! This is the toll fee to drive on the Polish dual carriageway and English is not commonly spoken by toll staff, so to avoid complications...
Driving into Krakow was pretty stressful but we did manage to get to our hotel in the middle of the old town. Note that parking overnight in this area is not common nor is it recommended (lots of theft and that kind of thing, we were told) and it is QUITE a haul to a secured lot. Seriously. We got lucky with our fantastic Krakow hotel staff, who gave us a permit to park in the hotel's parking spot for the night.

So Krakow! We collectively loved this city. Spread out in a good way (but still easy walking), and not overpopulated by tourists. So refreshing. We did see all the sights in the city but also found time each day or night to have drinks in one of the many restaurants around the main square (Rynek Glowny) that had outdoor seating and take in the foot traffic (much of which was local - again, refreshing!). Did I mention we had gorgeous warm weather our entire trip? We spent 5 or 6 nights here and were sad to leave.

Accomodation: Pensjonat Trecius. On the corner of Florianska and Tomasza. Another fantastic location! Rooms were clean, good sized (I must be too used to Northern and Western European hotels with tiny rooms?) and finally a soft(er) bed! The highlight of this place was the superfantastic staff! Monika and Anneta were just lovely and went above and beyond consistently (when we left for one night in Zakopane, they even kept our huge luggage for us so we wouldn't have to lug it around on the buses). I must write a letter to whoever manages that place commending them...

Food (yes, we did eat but much of the trip was unmemorable - at least now that we're home): GREAT chow at Da Pietro. It's on the Rynek Glowny on the side by Deutshe bank (behind the littlest church on the square). We ate there repeatedly.
For a night of real Polish food (which I admit we shudder at in afterthought now, but we had it give it a try), we went to Chlopski Jadlo (there are a few locations around the old town and in Kazimierz). Oh my god. We should have known what we were in for when we were served the jar of lard for our bread. An interesting culinary experience for all - and I'll be spending many more hours in the gym trying to repair the damage I did there! Nice 'old country' atmosphere, though.
Metropolitan: great breakfasts (not small, though) and coffee. Dinner was okay... nice place though with very nice staff. It's at Slawkowska 3.

A quick note on sights: of course, Auschwitz and Birkenau (you MUST do both in a day) are not to be missed. We did the salt mines as everyone says it's necessary, and it was okay but a decent cheese factor is there (our one tour of the entire trip!). Wish the tour was about an hour shorter... but it was an interesting experience and we met some other fun travelers when we were there.

Krakow shopping: amber at Cloth Hall is fantastic and what a great price! Also wood items (boxes, chess sets, children's toys). I loved clothes shopping at Fama on Florianska - very modern well made styles at great prices by American standards (e.g., I bought a *really unique* wool coat for under $90). There were other clothing shops with cute styles & even better prices on this street as well (I bought really cute tops at Aggi for $12!).

Almost done with this not-as-short-as-intended posting...!
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Old Sep 24th, 2006, 10:38 AM
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Terrific trip report. It sounds like you had a great time. We have been planning the same trip for a few years, and I think we are really going to do it in 2007!
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Old Sep 24th, 2006, 10:40 AM
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Zakopane: as recommended by other travelers, we booked a 'nature break' in Zakopane for one night before heading home. Little did we know when we showed up at noon on Sunday that we were heading for a total mob - could have been the fact that it was a weekend day, but the fact was the tiny town was just crammed with people. It is a popular place for Poles so maybe this combined with tourists made it just burst at the seems. We were a bit overwelmed coming from the laid back pace we'd enjoyed for the last several days in Krakow.
Accomodation: Hotel Sabala. This is a cool hotel - lots of wood, very lodgy - in a good location in the middle of the main street, but I found it overpriced. (Did I mention Trecius was about $60/night?! Sabala was $120 for a smaller room with a view of the parking lot.) Further, service in the restaurant (both indoors & out) was the most dismal of the trip. We don't expect American service except in America, but we had gotten used to standards we'd seen in Czech and Krakow, and this was just unbelievable by comparison (esp. as the hotel desk staff was extraordinarily helpful and kind!). Providing further detail will just make me steam, so I'll leave it at that.
It was great people watching sitting outside on the hotel's deck, though.

We were so enamored with Krakow and so NOT with Zakopane, that we got on the 9am bus the following day to spend our remaining time back in Krakow. (We had hoped to spend a little time in Zakopane hiking around and at least having a coffee in the a.m., but it was such a scene... and the coffee shop didn't open until 11am!) Oh well, no worries.

Overall, a great trip and we were all pleased with the time we allocated to each place (yes! 5-6 days in Krakow was great!) I won't go into it but leaving via Krakow airport was the worst, but I'm trying to forget that memory and focus on all the other good stuff!

Thanks to all who helped us plan this trip (and all our others before and new ones to come)!
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Old Sep 24th, 2006, 12:08 PM
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AaandEd...We will be staying the Hotel Kampa Garden next May. I am curious if the guestrooms are at all attractive, or are they very bland. What did you think of their breakfasts? The reports have been a bit mixed. Glad you found the location to be so convenient.

Loved your posting...sounds like you had a wonderful trip.
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Old Sep 24th, 2006, 02:20 PM
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Rooms at Kampa Garden were fine, but I guess bland could be an appropriate word. Really nicely sized, though, newer Ikea type furniture, and many had views of something (our friend we traveled with had a HUGE corner room with a nice verdant view).
We actually loved breakfast there - simple but good and kept us going for hours and hours: choice of breads, Laughing Cow cheese (have regressed to my childhood addiction now!), little sausages (popular with some, not with others - these ones taste like American hot dogs), choice of yogurts, dry cereals and a Tang-like 'juice'. Oh, and maybe the worst coffee I've ever had (thus the two references to great coffee in the Prague section! ...but we're from Seattle, so!) Oh yeah, also more Continental and Northern Europe stuff like sliced meats and tinned pig liver pate. Enjoy!
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Old Sep 24th, 2006, 02:22 PM
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Flagal2, sorry, to be clear, we would completely stay at HKG again if we went back to Prague. Rooms are not unattractive, you just won't be taking photos of them for your memory book. I did take photos FROM them of our view, though!
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Old Sep 24th, 2006, 02:37 PM
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AandEd...Thanks for your reply. Just seeing Laughing Cow cheese in print gave me a chuckle. I think we made a good choice with the Kampa Garden. From all that I have read (yours included) it seems very nice, inexpensive, and is in a lovely location. I'd rather spend our money on things other than a hotel room, but still like a nice, clean place to come back to after a day of touring. We can always get coffee elsewhere. Have you been to Vienna or Budapest? We are going there as well (celebrating our 40th anniversary). We always like to find a nice place in a good location without breaking the budget. We will be there in May.
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Old Sep 24th, 2006, 02:44 PM
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AandEd -a wonderful trip report from another Kampa Garden/Kampa Island fan. Ikea is a perfect description of the room decor. I am glad you found the Ebel coffee house. It has a local, simple,laid back atmosphere in a tourist city and excellent coffee and pastries.
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Old Sep 24th, 2006, 03:39 PM
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Vienna is great but I can't speak to cheap accomodations - I was able to swing that one on the company dime. Not a cheap city but gorgeous - do try to go when the Christmas market is happening (mid-Nov on). Can't beat walking around such a lovely city with a gluwein (sp?) in hand to keep you warm while you take everything in! Budapest is another place high on the list of places to see (but I am really pining for Turkey - both east and west - next)... happy traveling!
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Old Sep 24th, 2006, 03:55 PM
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(p.s. I apologize for my atrocious spelling in my trip report - I really do know how to spell "accommodation", etc.!)
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Old Sep 24th, 2006, 07:39 PM
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Great report. Very informative. If you had to do this trip in a shorter timeframe (say 9 days not including travel days), what would you cut/trim, where and why? I'm mid-30s urban woman, love museums, history, churches--plus restaurants and bars. I've been thinking about Krakow for quite a while...
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Old Sep 24th, 2006, 07:56 PM
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Interesting report. Sorry you had a bad experience at the Sabala in Zakopane. I was there in June and had a room overlooking the street, which was fun ($70/night for a single, above my usual price range). Agree that the town center was a madhouse during the day (but I was also sad to find Krakow much busier than the first time I was there) but you could lose the crowds up in the mountains, which I thought were gorgeous. I went on to Slovakia from Zakopane, which was much, much quieter.
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Old Sep 24th, 2006, 08:09 PM
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Hi AandEd,

I was in Prague, Krumlov and Vienna around Feb 06. Really loved all 3s but if I have to pick one Krumlov shall be the champion.

Lovely town, I have to say.

Will be in London this year Dec. Was tinking of going to Krakow. Have not started planning the detailed itineneary yet.

How much is the room rate for Trecius? and how many days do you think is enough for Krakow? Worth while to go to Warsaw from Krakow?
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Old Sep 25th, 2006, 10:28 AM
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Hi AandED,

I stayed in the Pension Trecius in July and loved it. The staff were wonderful and it was so close to both the train station and the main square(Rynek Glowny). All this for about £30 per night (including breakfast, I opted for the breakfast which was fantastic). I have written an excellent report on tripadvisor.

Like you I went to Chlopski Jadlo for a real polish meal. It was awful and I spent the rest of my time in central europe checking out Italian restaurants (sorry but Central European food is not to my taste).

Loved Krakow (A bit less touristy than Prague)
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Old Sep 29th, 2006, 10:35 AM
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AandEd- I'm glad you enjoyed the hotel and Kampa Island. Prague is like going to a great party that never ends. Did you have a chance to eat at any of the Island's restaurants?
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