Czech Republic 2011 +

This trip turned out to be so enjoyable,  thought it worthwhile to use a fresh page

Another rail trip: Bath to Portsmouth, while here taking lunch at Wetherspoons. Then on to Brighton, changing for yet another train to Ashford. Here catching our final train that day for Dover, where we'd booked a room in a "Premier Inn". Early the next morning for the ferry across to Calais. Luck was with us here, as the rail timings worked out rather better than we'd anticipated. First to Lille, where another train carried us on to Brussels which was reached in the early afternoon, time enough to find a room, also enabling a tour of the best parts in daylight.

Early start the next morning; first we caught a train to Cologne, here just enough time to walk outside the station and take look at the Cathedral. We'd viewed this with more time, almost two years previously when we stayed in this city. Then back in to catch another train which sped us on to Berlin - 'sped' being a good word, because later, after passing Hannover, it reached speeds as fast as 251 kilometres per hour (over 155 MPH) Our destination was reached past five in the evening. We had taken the precaution of looking up, then booking a room in a hotel not far from this station, now we had to find it. Large international station, and it was very dark. As is not unusual in such a large place at night, we could have found a better route to find the hotel. Still, perhaps with a bit of luck, we did manage to locate it.

Below: Grand Place in Brussels has some very impressive buildings round it.

Above: Brandenburg Gate in Berlin always atracts hordes of tourists, right Berlin HBF Station has two levels of rail tracks

I was aware that Berlin was spread out over a large geographical area, certainly as compared with many other cities. Even so, I was pleasantly surprised at how really well we both coped with "booting" round the interesting sights. Our hotel was pretty central, and not far to our first halt, this to view exhibits relating to the former Berlin Wall. Next along the famous "Unter-den-Linden" street to the Brandenburg Gate. Lot of tourists here, and all very interesting. Then a view of the Reichstag. On again roughly following the line of the "wall" to try and find the once famous "Checkpoint Charlie". On doing so, it was along walk back up "Friedrichstrasse" to our hotel. A tiring but thoroughly satisfying day.

Mostly a restful day Sunday (6th November) but we did do a trip on a tourist river boat, worth doing, being that the commentary was interesting, one bit of information being about station pictured above in that it is reckoned that the number of passengers passing through each day is  around half a million. Strikes me as a lot, but as the 'photo clearly shows, it is on two levels. Lines running from the north pass under the River Spree into the station, while the east/west lines runs on  the upper levels of tracks.

Next morning, down to the station again, here we caught a train that had started from Hamburg, at around 7.30 AM, and was timed to reach its final destination at past ten in the evening. This the literature on board informed us was a place called 'Villach. I'd not heard of this, but the train staff said it was in Austria. However on its way it was to pass through Prague - or as the Europeans call it "Praha". This was to be our destination. One good reason for our trip was to get value from the scenery were would pass through. Below are views as we passed beside the River Elbe. As usual, certainly if not arriving after dusk (not uncommon then either!) our first job would be to find some accommodation. Eventually we came upon Wenceslas Square, a name known to the majority of us. Actually it is not a 'square', just a very wide street or boulevard. Attractive even so.

As I mentioned on my '2007 Blog' during a car journey, we cut through a corner of the Czech Republic, and were quite amazed at the outstanding buildings of a town we came across. We'd heard about another interesting town not far away, so decided to have a look at that. So walk back up to the station, and catch a train to Karlovy Vary.  Rather  off-putting  on arrival, as the station was away from the town, and up a hill. Actually walking down, we had rather a problem in discerning where the actual centre of the town was. Once located, we quickly found a room for the night. Seems this town has several  parts, when we came  upon  the  "Lazne" area we really where  staggered by the  place.  "Lazne" is the word  meaning  "spa" in these  parts, ans a quite  outstanding spa it is too.  Bath absolutely  in no way  compares. Virtually every building is a show place in itself, as I think some of these 'photo's well illustrate. Karlovy Vary may be better known as "Carlsbad", not sure when the name changed, but I see that is how it is named on Google maps.

Note the steam in the picture above right! Obviously good hot springs here, and the 'photo below indicates the value. Bath has competition!

Another comparison with Bath is shopping, which to my mind no way compares with Karlovy Vary. Judging by the amount of Cyrillic script around, it seems the Russians may have quite an influence here, perhaps not only as customers, but may well be as owners also. Certainly to my admittedly untrained eye, the range and quality of goods displayed was amazing, beating even St Moritz, and that is notable for the display of wealth it exhibits.
Next morning a walk back up to the station, climb being not as bad as I thought it might be. I find these stations interesting. Unlike Britain, transport of goods by rail is important, and Karlovy Vary had plenty of activity in this regard, must admit I took a lot of 'photo's just a couple placed here. The coaching stock is pretty old fashioned by modern standards. Not many rail systems I think still use coaches with compartments and corridors. Once on our journey I was surprised at how industrial parts of the country we were passing through was. I suppose I had not expected this to be so.

We were heading into Germany, interesting to me how readily these trains cross through borders, it is if Europe is just one single state. Actually to my mind this as it should be, and really nice in this instance it works like that. But then of course I'm a great fan of a United Europe. The first station we came to was Marktredwitz (yes this is the spelling!) Here catching another train to carry us south to Schwandorf. Then a short hop into Regensburg. This a city I do admit we'd visited other times when motoring. Quickly we found a hotel, then walked up the town to take a glimpse of the Danube. Looked as if the Locks were not in active use, possible this could have been due to low water levels, as we subsequently found out many waterways in Europe were suffering their lowest levels for a hundred years.

Now rarely here do I mention food. Though I may not have mentioned it then, but one outstanding meal I have never forgot, was at a place called Mittersill, this being in west central Austria, when we halted there about three years ago. Forgot the exact menu. However Regensburg is not much distance north of that village, so interesting to say the least, that I had a just as memorable meal here. In this case I will remember, as I now relate: Starter being a minestrone type beef soup, in the middle of which was placed a dumpling, this flavoured with such as bacon. Excellent. But it was the main course I shall not forget, so simple; just two slices of pork, only that and potatoes. But the pork was coated with breadcrumbs flavoured with a mix of horseradish and mustard. That in itself was outstanding. The potatoes the menu indicated was 'roast', but not roast in the way I know. Fact, I would not have the foggiest as to how they were cooked, just that they made an excellent compliment. The desert was likewise perfect, even though  it was termed a 'drunken pancake'! Menu in English of this restaurant I've placed here:  The main course I chose is at top.

Very long rail ride the next morning. Stating at 08.30 by catching a train which carried us up to Cologne. The final hour or so of this ride passed by the side of the River Rhine, very enjoyable. Just two of the 'photo's I took are placed below. I've long been fascinated by the commercial traffic these waterways carry.

We had an hour or so before the train to carry us onto Brussels, so we exited the station on the opposite entrance to that of the Cathedral, and found ourselves a comfortable place to have a snack. On the train again, we began to realise it might be best to carry on to the destination that we had had in mind to spend the weekend. This was Brugges. No hotel booked, but we decided to risk it, and go on. So, we ended up coming out of the station, into an unknown town, following a twelve hour rail journey - it being by that time after eight in the evening. And not a room booked!

Walking along, we came across some people, who were themselves out for a walk, and inquired of them as to accomodation. They turned out to be very helpful. The first hotel they pointed us too when we looked at it, had a "complete" notice on the door, so we knew it was full. But our helpers had indicated the direction to look for others. So we trotted on. First on we came upon was also full up. So on again. Bit luckier then as the reception lady immediately indicated there was room, so bit of comfort! Then she had to deal with 'phone calls while we waited. Then a bit of bad news. She only had what was termed 'Superior' rooms, and these would cost more than we usually pay. What to do? We pondered. But it was obvious, we should take it. Fact, as I've since found out, the price we did pay, was fair in comparism to other hotel charges in Brugges. It has in fact a large range of hotel, and tourism is its main and perhaps only industry.

We had taken a tour into this town just two years previously. We consider it a pretty outstanding place. But then so do vast numbers of others, even at this time of year,  it being packed with tourists. The first morning of our stay, the square in front, also streets were packed with stalls for the weekly market, this in itself was entertaining. Though as mentioned  we had viewed previously, we do prefer making our own explorations. This partly the reason for a returnto this town. Another being  we felt ought to be quite close to Calais for our crossing to Dover on Monday. We do not consider it wise to travel at weekends if avoidable.

Just again to comment on meals out: Obviously necessary when travelling. Fact, all in all likely to be at least a thousand in the years since I became "leisured". Intrigues me that in this whole period only three memorable ones stand out. Incredible likewise that these should be in a compact area of central Europe. One just a dish taken in a town called Samobar just west of Zagreb in Croatia. The next perhaps less than a three hours drive north into Austria. Finally, Regensburg, this just a short distance north again. The general conception that France is the place for culinary perfection, being very certainly not a view I would hold.

Recently though becoming happier with English meals, instances at the years end; We took a trip into Herefordshire, staying at a 'Premier' in Hereford. One day driving out to Weobley, a favourite village of ours. The meal we had at the Salutation Inn, being really good. Following day's meal at Blue Boar in Hay-on-Wye, likewise.

I've not counted, but have wondered if we have broken 'records' for 'nights away' in 2011! To add to numbers, should record a couple of nights spent at a 'Premier' in Weymouth, this in mid December, and taken partly for convenience of visits.