Czech Republic Travel Journal
> How it all began...
In the summer of 2001 we knew each other just a couple of months and decided to go for a holiday in our own country, not very far, not too long. But we enjoyed it a lot, that week on the island of Terschelling. In the autumn of that year, we thought it was time for a trip abroad and went a week to Germany. Once we were back in the Netherlands we slowly got the feeling that we would love another holiday to see more of Europe. It had to be a tour to several European countries, but not too far away from each other.
> Our Plan
Yvonne decided that Italy should be part of our tour, because she'd wanted to go there for a long time. In all of the brochures, the Garda Lake had the best pictures, so we booked a mobile home on camping Toscolano. We deliberately chose the quiet side of the lake, with hikingroutes into the mountains. Peter always had wanted to visit the Porsche museum and take a guided tour through the Porsche Factory in Stuttgart, so we decided to include a week in Germany in our trip as well. Finding a home near Stuttgart isn't quite easy, but eventually it worked out. Next we went looking for an interesting country that was close to Germany and we chose the Czech Republic. A country we both never visited before and both were very curious about. We surely wanted to visit Prague, so the accomodation had to be close to the capital. In a brochure we saw a beautiful free-standing house, with a view over the village in the valley, a river and a railroad track. The distance from Prague was only 100 kilometres. This would be our home!
> The trip to the Czech Republic
Our week in the Czech Rebuplic was, as written before, preceded by a week in Italy and a week in Germany. In Italy we had a great time. Our mobile home was located on a campsite in Toscolano at the Garda Lake. We really enjoyed the surroundings and made lots of trips to the villages, like Riva del Garda, Varone, Saló and Arco. The most beautiful trip was around the south-end of the lake. Early that morning we went towards the beautiful peninsula of Sirmione. Too bad, more people just had the same idea so it took a while to get there. We didn't let the traffic spoil our mood and enjoyed the great, sunny view over the lake. The castle in Sirmione (Scaligeri) is preserved very well. Also, the Grotti di Catullo, Roman bathhouses, were worth to visit. We continued our way to Garda and sat down at a little café for a delicious Italian lunch. After visiting some little Italian (and very touristic) shops we went further to Torri di Benaco. There we went across the lake with the ferry back to our mobile-home. We came ashore just next to our camp-site. Our holiday here only lasted a week, but due to this excursion on the southside of the Garda lake and the walk into the mountains just behind Toscolano (a beautiful landscape with a river, old watermills and a waterfall) we decided to return here soon. Unlike most people we weren't very impressed by Verona, a city we also visited this week. The arena and the viewpont at the forum Romanum were nice, but we are to cool to be swept away by the Romeo and Julliet story, haha.
About our week in Germany I can be short: the house was more like a very dark cave, the weather was dramatic (7 days of rain) and the location wasn't very special. The factory tour at Porsche was the only bright spot in the week. We were very happy to continue our tour to the Czech Republic. The journey on the Autobahn doesnn't take long, and getting hold of a toll-vignet turns out to be very easy. In about 5 hours we arrive at our new accomodation: the free-standing house, with garage and a fireplace.
> Horka Nád Sázavou
The friendly owner gives us a very complete explanation of the working of the gascooker, the sun-shade(!), the fire place and the shower, but after this he finally leaves and we have the house to ourselves. Unlike the weather in Germany it's fantastic here. But not for a very long time. Some time later large thunderclouds appear at the horizon and the wind is getting stronger. The downpour passes our house while we wait with all the shutters closed. When everything is a bit calmer again we find out that there is no longer electricity in the house. This means no running water as well, as the pump also needs electricity to work. Apparently the restaurants in the area have the same problem , as we find most of them closed when we drive around to find something to eat. But we see smoke signals of campfires everywhere. It's obvious that the Czech are more prepared for a situation like this than we are. So diner on the first night is very simple for us. We go to bed early.
Luckily there are gas, light and water the next morning and we go to a shop down the hill for fresh bread costing almost nothing at all and we make ourselves a breakfast with a cup of tea. After that it's time for an inspection of the house and the environments. The trainstation down in Horka Nád Sázavou looks abandoned, but later we read in our travelguide that this is only how it looks. When you want to buy a ticket you only need to knock on one of the windows is what the guide says. That's what we do the next morning after we decided that we want to try and get somewhere by train. According to the handwritten list of the owner of our house there must be a wonderfull castle in a nearby village, which we are planning to visit. But it turns out to be very difficult to think of what direction the train will head to Cesky Sternberk, as there seems to be no time schedule at the train station. And knocking on all(!) of the windows has no effect at all. We decide to try our luck and just follow the rails in one direction to the next village, which is slightly bigger than our own. After 30 minutes of walking we find out that the train station is bigger too and we even see a train ready to leave on one of the rails. We use our language guide and a map to make clear where we want to go to and two tickets are printed for us. The train just wanting to leave is said to wait for us: "stop, there are 2 more passengers who want to come as well!" (but this in Czech... I assume...) Once we are in the train we are the happening of the day for a Czech family who wants to visit the same castle, but this we find out a little later. On our turn we find the train, riding through tunnels without any light, quite an extraordinary ride. At the station of Cesky Sternberk there suddenly is a lot of activity when the family asks the conductor for information on where to get out, as the castle is visible on top of the hill for some moments now. At the next stop they get off the train. And so do we. I try to make any contact, but this doesn't seem to work. The mum smiles at me very friendly but we realize we have to find the way to the castle ourselves. Unfortunately the explanation about the beautiful birds of prey at the entrance of the castle is only in Czech, so we don't understand a single word of it. The tours in the castle are in Czech or in German and as we are the only non-Czech visitors at that moment we get a private tour in German.
The diner in the restaurant in the village after the tour is a very special one. The waiter hardly speaks English and he only wants to serve us the things that he can say to us. There is no menucard in this 60's sportscanteen. So the choice for us is "chicken" or "schnitzel". After we both ordered the schnitzel the waiter shows at our table again to tell us that he also knows the word for salad, so that we could order that as well. Fine, thanks! The meal is not exactly haute-cuisine, but at least we've had something as we have to wait another hour and a half for the next train.
The food in Kutna Hora is way better. After our citytour, including a visit at the most bizarre church we've ever been to: the Bone House, we have diner in a small restaurant with all kind of delicious meals. That's why we come back here a few more times later this week. But we also use the fireplace at the house a few times, to cook saucages, but of course also "just for the fire". By the way: Kutna Hora is a great town with wonderful historical buildings. For anyone who wants to visit the Santa Barbara: when the church is closed you can ask for the key just across the street.
We also go to Prague twice this week. We gladly notice that there are many places in the city where you can park your carwithout paying huge tourist fees for one day. We find a great spot, next to a large railway station on walking distance from the city centre. The Castle of Prague of course is the first thing to visit. This part of the city is the most characteristic, with it's enormous cathedral of St. Vitus that offers a beautiful view over the city from its bell-tower. We are a little dissapointed by the Golden Street, temporary residence of Franz Kafka. We feel like it is a bit petty. On our way back to the other part of the centre, we cross the Charles Bridge for the second time and notice that the bridge is in need of a good cleaning. They have already started with one of the statues. Taking pictures of the charles bridge is not an easy task during the tourist season, so we'll have to return once to take some photos.
The Jewesh area in Prague impresses us more. There's quite a lot to see on a relatively small area. The whole thing about the entrance tickets isn't very clear in the beginning, but we soon find out that the best value will be the ticket to see all the sights. The Jewesh cemetary welcomes a lot of pilgrims and is very special with the grave-stones stacked upon eachother in every way you can think of. The synagogues houses a large collection of artefacts and relics that commemorate the second world war, one synagogue has it's walls covered with many names of people who died during the war in german camps and displays photograps and children's drawings.
The old town is very nice with its small streets and souvenir shops. We are kind of surprised by the great number of people that are waiting at the astronomical clock on the market square at noon. We have been told that almost every tourist in the city would be on the central square looking up for the 12 apostles, but we didn't expect that it would be this crowded. After some tense moments of waiting we see them: the 12 dwarfs who rock around the clock for us to disappear again. Very funny, but certainly not worth all this chaos.
We think Prague is a wonderful, but in some way a grey and old-fashioned city with lots of culture and great spots. But somehow it's not one of our favourites. The rest of the country of Czech Republic was like a real adventure to us and worth to discover. We certainly will go back once.
> Meer Info
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