Cesky Krumlov

We got up early for our daytrip to Cesky Krumlov. We showered and finished packing (since we were leaving for Krakow tonight). We went down for breakfast and to drop off our bags, but Jiri (George) wasn’t there yet. We gave his phone a call, and he was on his way. He arrived, but no time for breakfast, we gave him our bags and rushed off to the bus station.

We took the subway, and quickly arrived at the station. We grabbed some tea and a pastry and headed for the bus. We had reserved seats. The bus wasn’t comfortable, but at least it was cheap.

The 3 hour journey was relatively uneventful. It was good to see the true suburbs of Prague and then the farmlands as we headed to Cesky Krumlov. We finally arrived at the bus station. It’s at the top of a large hill and after a short walk, we had a lovely panorama view of the town and the castle. There is a lovely river running through the town.

We descended the hill from the train station and it was like walking back in time (with a lot of touristy information around). The cobblestone streets and old buildings were amazing to see. The Baroque homes and the main square were a view into the past of this little town on the river.

We trekked up to the castle and looked around. There is a mote where they now house three bears. Of course, they were all hidden away in their dens. We then payed the fee to climb the Round Tower. These were wide staircases (nothing like Prague’s Powder Tower), and we made it to the top. The beautiful blue sky above the antique city looked like something from a fairy tale. We fought off the hordes of German tourists and went back down the stairs to the castles main square. We purchased tickets to a tour, and then headed back into town for lunch.

We had lunch at Na Louzi Restaurant (suggest by Rick Steve’s). Sheri had pork, cabbage and dumplings, and I had pork, ham, sausage, cabbage and 2 kinds of dumplings. Of course, we had beer again; ounce for ounce beer much cheaper than water (and better too, since there is so much Mineral Water and seltzer water in Europe–you never know what you’re getting). We relaxed at our table in front of the restaurant watching the horse drawn carriages go by, and we decided to skip our tour [so we were out $9].

We then toured the small town–visiting their many antique, handcraft and jewelry shops. Sheri ended up finding a garnet butterfly pin, and I bought a 180 year old garnet necklace for her–it was very delicate and lovely. We saw this kitschy bear cutout that you put your face and hands through–a German tourist was cackling continously, thinking how amusing it was (yeah… REALLY amusing). We also had hot chocolate–well… it was more like melted chocolate in a cup–very tasty.

We then headed back to the castle. The bears were out now. There was a male that paced a lot (a little disturbing to see). There were also two females sleeping and eating–the tourists ate it up. We went farther into the castle and watched the tours go by as we relaxed on the ramparts watching the city life below.

We went back down to the city, and soaked our feet in the Vlatva River (we didn’t have time for the raft ride from one part of town to another). It was very refreshing to our tired feet (still aching from the previous day’s run and touring). We strolled back to the terminal for our bus ride back to Prague. We stopped in a little park along the way and relaxed on the benches. A German Tour came through and invaded our corner of the park. A lady almost sat on Sheri, as she was listening to the guide and not really paying attention to Sheri’s “perosnal space” :)

The bus ride back to Prague was uneventful. We napped and read and watched the countryside. The bus headed back a different way, and we saw the same river that we ran along the day before. All of a sudden tthe tourbus stopped and some people got off. The driver then has to say “Fini” to get the tourists off the bus. The trip back ended up in a different train station. We figured out where we were, and then took the underground back to Guesthouse Lida.

George had waited late for our return, but still he offered us tea and cookies. We graciously accepted the offer for warm tea as the weather had definitely cooled. We finally took our leave, and thanked him and his brother for being such good hosts (we would definitely suggest the place to our friends).

We took the subway back to the bus station. Sheri remembered we needed some special stamp for our passport. But after waiting through the line, the person merely stamped our ticket and said proceed to the platform.

We hadn’t eaten, so Sheri grabbed a sausage and an Orange Fanta (which I had), and I bought a cheese sandwich for the train. We found our platform and the attendant ushered us to our private first class sleeping car. It was nice: bunk beds, and all wood. There was a sink, cabinet, folding seat… definitely the way to travel. We got settled in, and the train rumbled off to Poland.

Prague, Day Two

We started the day off by dragging ourselves out of bed at 5:45 am for our long run that we were supposed to do over the weekend. All that beer and meat and dumplings wasn’t going to work itself off!

It was drizzling and overcast, but we had hats on and we like to pretend that we’re hard-core, so as we walked down the hill from the inn we decided on our run route – hit the path along the river (at the bottom of our hill), and go for 45 minutes (me) to an hour (Larry and then turn around). We decided to head away from town, since closer to town the path becomes cobblestone.

So we ran. It was absolutely beautiful. Not quite – the din of the freeway was constant. But still. The path eventually wound around a golf and country club and the landscape became a bit more suburban. The weather was perfect, and by the time we finished, it was blue skies.

We had breakfast at the inn, then left (later than we wanted, but oh well) for Prague Castle. We took the tram up to the castle – it’s up a big hill and we just did a long run, no way we wanted to walk up.

We just did a self-guided sort of tour using one of our guidebooks. We purchased a ticket to go inside the cathedral. We braved the 267 steps (on tired legs) and went up into the tower for an amazing view of Prague. We spent most of the morning there wandering around the castle. St. Vitus Cathedral was amazing. The tomb of St. Wenceslas is also here. The stained glass was breathtaking. We saw the Basilica of St. George and went down to the crypt where King George is buried, along with all his wives. There was a Medieval crane on the grounds with people on a giant hamster wheel lowering and raising the crane.

We ended our time at the castle with a stroll along the Golden Lane, a street of old buildings that originally housed goldsmiths. Now it’s full of shops, but they’re kind of interesting. Franz Kafka lived at #22 here. We skipped the Toy and Barbie Museum (big surpise, huh?).

We headed down the castle steps, and were glad that we didn’t decide to walk up that way. We went to the Lesser Side for lunch at U Maltezskych Rytiru (at Prokopska 10), but they were only serving salads and dessert. Instead, we went a few doors down to an authentic looking Spanish restaurant (El Centro, at Maltezske nam. 9) for an excellent meal of shrimp in garlic, garlic soup, chicken kebab and pan con tomate. I had a cocktail with Liqor 43 and orange juice – a sure sign of an authentic Spanish resaturant is if they serve Liqor 43. Upon leaving, we made reservations to go back to U Maltezskych Rytiru later that night.

After lunch, we went back to the inn for a nap. A long nap, as usual. After our nap, we took the tram back into town for dinner, which was in the cellar of the restaurant (which was a bit smelly). I had roasted duck breast – decent, but not as good as at Hostinec U Sadlu. Larry had wild boar – also good, with excellent homemade gnocchi. There were too many English-speaking (Brits and Americans) people in the restaurant, though. The meal was good – a bit upscale.

We walked back over the Charles Bridge to go back to the hotel. The bridge and castle were illuminated – very pretty. And that was the end of our second day in Prague.

Prague, Day One

Wow, Prague is a beautiful city. We had a long day exploring many parts of New Town, Old Town, the Lesser Town and the Jewish Quarter.

We got up around 8:30 and had a nice breakfast here at the guest house. Very European. Thinly sliced cheeses and meats (salami, ham), cucumbers, tomatoes, bread (good German brot), pastries. They also had mueslix and yogurt. We got up too late to be at the castle when it opens, so we sent Lenka an e-mail asking if she wanted to meet us for lunch or coffee later – she replied almost immediately and we set up a meet time and place.

We started off walking along the river, then eventually got on the metro for a short ride into the center of town. We’re close to the tram, but we didn’t have coins for tickets. We decided to look for the Havel Market. We did a lot of wandering around before we finally found it, but that was perfectly fine. We dropped by the Charles Bridge (ornately carved with multiple statues and TONS of tourists). We didn’t go across because there were so many people there. The view of the castle from the foot of the Charles was really nice, though. We want to go back in the evening and see everything all lit up. We saw a lot of film crews working in town (Lenka’s son, Dan, said later they’re filming the next James Bond–we didn’t see any stars though). Cobblestone walks, interesting shops, people out for walks, beautiful old buildings.

We eventually found our way to the Old Town Square, where we saw the astronomical clock do its thing (it’s 500 years old!) and then from there ended up in the main tourist zone. What a change from what we had seen of the city so far. We’re staying in a quiet residential neighborhood, and our city wanderings to this point were mostly tourist-free. There were hoardes of people all over, and big tour groups galore.

We finally found the market. It’s a relatively small open-air market with fruits and vegetables, homey food items and handicrafts. Then we decided to continue on to the Powder Tower so we wouldn’t be late meeting Lenka and her son, Dan. We found the spot and were early so we went up into the tower. Great views from the top, but I had to endure a very narrow curved stairwell to get there. I kept the claustrophobia at bay. :)

We came down off the tower and wandered over to the cafe next door and immediately found Lenka and Dan. Dan is 15 years old and lived in the U.K. for much of his life, so his English is excellent. He has a British accent. Lenka told us we would go to a favorite restaurant of hers, one that serves good traditional Czech food. Along the way, she filled us in on the history of some of the buildings and areas we passed.

Lunch was in a restaurant that was underground (a lot of cellar restaurants and bars in Prague). The restaurant is decorated to look like a dungeon so it has a lot of atmosphere. The extensive menu was all in Czech, so Lenka offered to order for us (Hostinec U Sadlu at Klimentska 2). We had dark beers (yum!), and then we shared huge platters of food – roasted duck and pork, spinach, 2 kinds of cabbage, and three different types of dumplings – bread, potato, and one other I’m not sure of. It definitely had bread in it. The dumplings are sliced and are great for sopping up the gravy that comes with the food. Everything was excellent, even the duck, which I usually don’t like. The cabbage is well-cooked and kind of sweet. I liked the potato dumplings best.

After lunch we said goodbye to Dan, who is a typical teenager that doesn’t want to spend the weekend hanging out with his mom. He was really nice and we were glad he joined us for lunch.

We then headed to the tourist area, and ended up in Old Town Square, where there was some sort of Medieval performance going on. There were a ton of people dressed in costume, handicrafts and street food for sale, and a lot of Czechs hanging around. Lenka bought us a sort of fried dough pancake with caraway seeds in it. Good, but kind of greasy.

We then made our way to the Jewish Quarter, which is where the Jews were forced to live (in Ghettos) up until the late 1800s. Now this area is very affluent and is a really beautiful part of the city. We saw synagogues and the Jewish cemetery. The cemetery is pretty small but there are over 20,000 bodies buried there, because the Jews weren’t permitted to bury their dead anywhere else. The result is that up to 12 bodies are buried vertically in each plot, and the headstones are shoved in wherever there’s room.

We were really impressed by Lenka’s knowledge of the city. I had been thinking about how, if a tourist came to the Bay Area, I wouldn’t know a fraction of the history of the area that Lenka knows about Prague. Well, no wonder! It turns out she spent some time as a tour guide, years ago. How fortunate that she ended up sitting next to us on the plane!

We then headed to the Lesser Side. Lesser Side (of the river) is really nice. Right on the other side of the Charles Bridge is an area with canals, islands, and there are nice shops and not too many tourists. There was a park with an exhibit of photographs depicting world-wide environmental-related subjects. We stopped for drinks (a reallly tasty Mojito for me, Irish Coffee for Lenka and yet another beer for Larry). The place we stopped is an upscale eclectic place, with comfy couches and a great ambiance. Really Bohemian with a sandy area, a Turkish Tent, and Mediterranean Lounge. It’s right around the corner from where Lenka works as an acupuncturist. We sat and chatted some more and then finally parted ways. Larry and I stayed a while longer, and as we were leaving, it started to rain.

It wasn’t really cold, just wet and kind of windy. We just kept walking – we wanted to go to the train station to get reservations for our train to Krakow on Tuesday night. We found the station, and luckily the agent spoke excellent English, so we now have a reservation in our own sleeper car and we know where to goTuesday night.

The bus station is one stop up on the Metro, so we went there next, to inquire about busses to Cesky Krumlov for Tuesday. We got schedule information but didn’t make a reservation. Turns out we need a reservation, so we’ll need to go back.

We took the Metro back to the hotel. I was falling asleep on the train, so as soon as we got back I laid down for a nap – it was 6:30pm. I fell asleep immediately, and we didn’t wake up until 9:30. Whoops, guess we still have jet lag.

We walked down the street to Restaurant Josefina (at Na Dlinach 5), recommended by Jan. The waiter didn’t speak very much English, but they had a menu in English. Larry had chicken breast fried in a potato pancake crust. And a beer (surprise!). I had pork tenderloin in a pepper crust and a creamy sauce, and we shared potato croquettes. Everything was good, and inexpensive. The waiter brought out white vermouth from the chef (chilled), as an apertif. Also surprisingly good.

Then back to the hotel and now here we are, finishing up our blog entries for the day at midnight. We’re going to try to do our long run in the morning…. we’ll see how that goes.

Virgin Airlines, Easyjet and London

Katie dropped us off at the International Terminal in SFO, and we went searching for food. The food selection didn’t seem as good as previously at the International Termianl.

They brought in extra airport screeners before we left, however, luckily we weren’t searched. Life is much easier now that people don’t cart their entire trip baggage onto the online gaming plane, but have to check it early. We might not be able to have bottles of water, but part of the travel has become convenient–empty overhead compartments :)

Virgin Atlantic has great personalized video screens, with special controls for choosing TV shows, movies, games; however, the software was misconfigured, so NONE of the movies were what would be displayed (probably because it was September 1st, so they still had the programming from August, even though they had updated their playlist). So… we played video gaming roulette choosing movies at random hoping to find something interesting to watch.

The food was okay, but neither of us slept well. We landed in Heathrow at 10AM. We had to walk a LOT before getting our bags and going through customs (without incident).

We grabbed the Tube and went into downtown London. Our flight left from Gatwick Airport later in the afternoon (and we had booked a reservation on the Gatwick Express train leaving from gamer Victoria Station). We exited the Tube at South Kensington and decided to walk the rest of the way to Victoria Station.

We walked east away from the touristy area. We ended up at a small pub, The Beauchamp (43-44 Beauchamp Place, Knightsbridge), where we had WONDERFUL Fish and Chips and great beer (Stella and an IPA). We walked the rest of the way to Victoria Station as the wind started to pick up. We took the firstclass train to Gatwick (only 30 minutes); Sheri was asleep immediately (I fell asleep soon after).

We arrived in Gatwick, and went searching for EasyJet (the Southwest of Europe). Finally we found the airline, and the 150+ people waiting to check-in. The line moved relatively quickly and we moved to the front. We waited in the airport for our Gate to show up on the screen (they don’t assign a gate until 30 minutes before take-off). 30 minutes after we should have taken off, the flight finally went from “Waiting” to a gate number, and there was a mad dash as everyone from the plane headed to the gate. It was definitely a madhouse. London proved true to form, and it was raining as we got to the plane.

We finally boarded. Sheri sat in the aisle; I on the window seat. A lady sat between us. I fell asleep soon after take-off. When I woke up, Sheri was talking to the lady, Lenka. She lives in Prague (and travels to London a lot) as an acupuncturist. Her english was very good, and she told us multiple places that we should eat at.

We kept talking to her, through the landing and baggage claim. The Guesthouse Lida was supposed to send a driver to pick us up, however, since our plane was late, we were worried that he might have left. After searching for someone holding a sign with our names, we gave up and started looking for a cab. That’s when Jan showed up to take us to our hotel; he was friendly and said that he and his brother owned the hotel. Since the owner was picking us up at the airport and Lenka lived nearby, we asked if she could come along and be dropped off at her home. He agreed and off we went.

Jan gave a great tour of the city (“by night”) as we headed into Prague from the airport. Lenka and Jan found out that they had went to the same school (although several years apart) and both of their English was VERY good. We got our first view of the castle, lit up at night–very beautiful. We also saw also saw Getty’s Dancing Building with interesting curves and arches on one corner. We dropped off Lenka at her home with two quick kisses on the cheek :), and then went on to Guesthouse Lida in the residential area of Prague.

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We headed to the room and finally got a shower after more than 24 hours of travel. We went out to find food (at midnight), but both of the bars that Jan had suggested weren’t serving food anymore. We decided to just have beer–wonderful beer for LoL dinner. We then headed back to the hotel and crashed for the night. We were FINALLY settled in Europe!