Czech Republic 2007

When I first met Scott I was shocked to hear that he had never once

been out of the country. But then again, there are billions of people

who have never been outside of their own countries and for many, not

even their own towns. Or sometimes, a political line has suddenly been

drawn through their town and just visiting old friends on the other

side becomes next to impossible.

Scott

and I passed around many ideas of where to go. Flights to Munich,

Germany were cheap at the time, so we figured at that point we could go

almost anywhere in Europe. Somehow or another, we settled on spending a

month in the Czech Republic. We made only one hotel reservation for the

first 4 days in Prague and with our Czech train pass we'd travel the

rest of the country sporadically and on a whim.

Well, such means

of travel are a certain quick way of breaking someone in to

international traveling. Making no plans, not speaking any Czech, and

flying by the seats of our pants. However, it was the first 30 minutes

after clearing customs Germany that proved the biggest test to

traveling with a new-b.

In Germany the trains run ON TIME. To

the second. Our plan was to land in Munich and then take the train from

the airport to the main train station and then catch a train to Prague.

Well, when we went to catch that 8:27 train from the airport, the door

open, Scott get's on, I bend down to grab my bags, and when I look up,

the doors are closed and Scott is moving away from me with a shocked

look on his face while I remain standing on the platform. As I'm

scrambling to find when the next train will come (20 minutes later I

find out), I keep wonderin how Scott is going to react. Is he going to

get off at the first stop then catch the train back? Is he going to get

to the main train station and catch the next train to Prague? Well, it

turns out it was fine. He got to the main train station and waited at

the platform. I got there 20 minutes later and we went off to find the

platform for our train to Prauge. Breath...

After a 7 hour train

ride we get to Prague in the mid afternoon and start to look around for

our apartment. When we finally stumble across it, it's not yet ready so

we stash our bags and start the search for an ATM and something to eat.

About an hour later we finally sit down to a little pizzaria and Scott

has his first pint of real Pilzen. Ahh...

Our

apartment had a cute little kitchen, so Scott and I made sure to grab

some eggs, orange juice, and toast as breakfast staples.

Now if

you ever decide to come to Czech, I recommend coming in April as spring

time here is beautiful. There are tulips and daffodils blooming

everywhere and the air is crisp and clean.

Prague

is such a wonderful city. On the verge of being Western but with so

much unique Eastern European-ness that its exciting and still a bit

unpolished. Prague only has three subway lines and for the most part

are fairly easy to navigate. We could never figure out the ticket

procedure so we rode the subway "illegally" for 5 days. Sorry Czech

government. But walking the city is fairly easy too and strolling

through the city's many parks is a real treat.

The national

museum is a pleasure to explore and bring your student ID as you'll be

sure to get a discounted ticket. The museum has a whole museum size

floor dedicated to rocks and minerals so if you're a geology buff like

Scott is you can easily spend a whole day on that floor alone, which we

did.

No trip to Prague is complete without a trip over the

Charles Bridge and to the Castle. The Charles Bridge was commissioned

by King Charles IV in the 1350s as a way to connect the Old Town to the

New Town and also because unemployment was rampant in the city, so this

project was his way of creating jobs for his people. The Charles Bridge

is now a gathering of local musicians, street performers, and

caricature painting.

Walking around the old Castle is a great

experience for Americans where the idea of castles and palaces has

always been a foreign concept. But the grounds around the Castle also

call for a nice walk and stroll. It is from these paths that a great

overlook of the whole city can be captured.

Prague has a huge Jewish community, so often many of the steeples are for Jewish synagogues.

Just

an hour's train ride north of Prague is the small town of Kutna Hora.

Most known for its cathedral, Kutna Hora is also home to a much more

inspiring church. In the 11th Century, a local abbot traveled to

Jerusalem and brought back holy dirt to the Sedlec Ossuary. People from

around the country flocked to have their family buried by such a holy

relic. Well, the Black Death of the 14th century had quickly filled the

ground and yet people still wished to have their bodies kept there

after death. Thus, the chapel started using the human bones as church

decorations.

As you walk down the steps, the temperature cools

and an eerie feeling takes over you. There are four giant pyramids

(about 10 at the base and just as high) constructed entirely of skulls.

Hanging in the middle is a chandelier that contains every bone in the

human body at least once. Also hanging is a crest of the ruling family

of the area.

Once

you leave the cool air of the chapel, a 15 minute walk will bring you

into town where you can buy 50 cent ice cream with all the local kids

and tour the giant cathedral. While you lick your ice cream cone you

can stroll down near the stream underneath all of the blooming trees.

If

you're in need of some night things to do in Prague, I recommend the

opera. The Prague opera is great. Scott and I saw Carmen, but as you're

going to the opera house, do not confuse it with the Federal building

next door where mysterious men with guns shoo you out if you get too

close.

After Prague we were a bit torn on where to go next. But

because Scott is Mr. Geology/Geography we hitched a train up to Jicin

(pronounced Jichin). Because we couldn't pronounce the name of the city

it took us a little while to find the proper train.

Jicin is to

the north east of Prague and boarders Czesky Raj otherwise known as the

Bohemian Paradise. The Bohemian Paradise is a rolling forest with

towering limestone cliffs which is why many call it the Rock City.

There

are many trails here to hike and ride bikes. Scott and I opted for the

later, since the trail head to Czesky Raj was 9km from Jicin. However,

the amount of sign language needed for renting a bike in Czeck prompted

us to immediately buy a phrase book.

Czesky Raj would prove to

be the beginning of our Czech bike troubles because on the ride back to

town my bike got a flat and after labourously finding where and when

the bus comes, we found that we couldn't take bikes on it. So Scott,

being the gentleman he is let me use his bike as he ran along side with

my bike for the 9 km back to Jicin.

Jicin is a beautiful old

town with a giant center square where they hold weekly markets and is

outlined by great eateries and again, ice cream. But a good day trip

out of the town is a train ride north west to the Trosky Castle Ruins.

Of course we came on the random day that the grounds were closed, but

just the site alone is something to marvel at.

After

playing in the forests of Czesky Raj, we hoped a long train south to

Olomouc, the second largest city in Czech Republic. A note to those

traveling in Czech... a car is faster. Because the country only has

local train lines that make lots of stop a two hour car ride can easily

become an 8 hour train ride.

Scott and I arrived in Olomouc at

the same time as an international flower festival so we spent far too

much time trying to find accommodations. But as always is the case when

traveling like this, we found the most beautiful apartment tucked away

down some random side street.

The main square of Olomouc has a

13 Century clock tower that is the most elaborate time piece I have

ever seen. And just down the road is a wonderful botanical garden to

wonder around and find a tree to read under. But a hidden gem of

Olomouc, besides the most wicked put-put golf course ever, is their

modern art museum, who at the time was showing a collection of

photographer Jan Saudek. AMAZING.

The final stop on our tour

would be a week in Cesky Krumlov, a medieval town near the border of

Germany and Austria. Cesky Krumlov focuses on the oxbow bend of a river

and the large castle and it's acres and acres of gardens.

In

stead of a moat, the castle has a trench with bears. While not there

for protection anymore, the bears act as a tourist attraction as they

play with their empty kegs and vegetables. And the gardens of the

castle are extensive. They range from wild pond areas, to manicured

shrubs and outdoor amphitheaters. Since the town functions around the

castle and the river it is no surprise to be greeted by a Roman

Aqueduct that helps support the castle's theater.

There are some

beautiful forests in the region, so Scott and I ventured to rent bikes

again and go for a trek. Scott decided that it would be fun to try and

speak to the local livestock and his bike decided it didn't need a rear

derailleur anymore. At least before the Soviet-aged bike decided to

die, we managed to stumble across some 11 Century castle ruins.

And

of course our trip wouldn't be complete without yet a little more train

drama. Now I'm sure that many of you who ride trains are familiar with

the fact that sometimes only some cars can continue to a given

destination or that there can be unexpected mid-way transfers. We'll

there aren't many trains in Colorado, so Scott and I were a little

unfamiliar with this. Add to it that we don't speak any Czech means

that when on our way to Nova Pec we got "kicked" off one train because,

as we found out later, the conductors thought we wanted to be going to

Czecky Krumlov, and told us that train is on another track. Well we get

off, train leaves, and then we find out that no, that was the train we

wanted to be on, just only a couple of cars up. Since the next train

didn't come for another two hours Scott and I decided to spend some

time walking around a small agricultural village and eating some lunch

with the railway workers.

Cesky

Krumlov is home to some great restaurants, boutiques, and most of all,

chocolate shops. I haven't yet had chocolate like I had in this small

town and Scott was nice enough to load me up with some while we were

there, since it was my 21st birthday and all.

At

the end of April, it was time to leave Europe so we hitched a train

back to Germany. But before we left I made sure Scott got to experience

some good Bavarian sausage and mustard at my friend Richard's house in

Munich. Needless to say, I think he got a good first out of country

experience and I had a wonderful birthday.


Opinions