Czeching out the next country over


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Published: June 11th 2018
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You won't be so happy in a minute or two Mr. EggYou won't be so happy in a minute or two Mr. EggYou won't be so happy in a minute or two Mr. Egg

The Smile Hotel does everything with a smile including my daily soft-boiled egg. Gail's was dressed in an American flag.
Sundays in Europe can be a tad depressing. Even though the Europeans are even less religiously devoted than Americans they do still believe in observing the Sabbath. Especially in Germany. Most stores and businesses are closed. Restaurants, hotels and souvenir shops remain open because all the rest of the Germans are out and about enjoying life.. They absolutely love gathering the family to take a ride, or preferably to take a walk in the countryside. Nothing much gets done on Sundays except relaxing. With this in mind I set up our itinerary to use Sunday for my longest drive of our vacation. Not that the distance from Nürnberg to Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic is especially far, but I planned to take a scenic drive through northern Bavaria to get there. Research recommended either going by way of Amberg, an unspoilt walled medieval fortress town or Bayreuth, famous for native son Richard Wagner and opera. After enjoying another great breakfast and chatting with an older German couple who were bike-riding hither and yon this Sunday, we paid our hosts for the room and thanked them for yet another wonderful stay in this historic marvel of a city. I'll take Nürnberg over Munich
Egg cozys for every situationEgg cozys for every situationEgg cozys for every situation

We saw that the German couple across from us in the breakfast room got German flag egg sweaters while the Polish family got smilie faces and kitties.
every day of the week.



As we negotiated our way around the old city walls to head East I still had not decided which of the two towns we would visit along the way. Amberg was directly East of us and Bayreuth ENE. I decided to let the road take us “Whereever”. The Ring Road around the city eventually became the B2. We followed its course and soon began to see yellow signs counting down the distance to Bayreuth. I guess Amberg would just have to wait until the next trip.



As this was a Sunday morning, naturally there were a few little old ladies ahead of us on their way to church. This gave me a number of opportunities to enjoy just how much more power this current X1 had over my 2015 version. I easily got around the slower traffic impeding our way. It might not quite be an M model's pickup but impressive nonetheless. And from what I could see on the onboard computer, it wasn't effecting gas mileage drastically. Along the way we enjoyed the lush green of the farm fields all around us and started to wonder why the
Modern NürnbergModern NürnbergModern Nürnberg

Counting the nearby villages and towns metropolitan Nürnberg has a population of 3.5 million people. As we drove around the old city walls and began to head north we passed through the more modern and less interesting parts of the city. I can see why some might think Nürnberg is just another big city if you never get to see the Altstadt.
distant hills seemed to have so many yellow dandelions. Spring seemed in full bloom in southern Germany with the blue skies the same hue as the flag of Bavaria. In about an hour and a half we reached Bayreuth.



I'm no opera fan but I do enjoy the many excerpts from Wagner's works that are liberally used in movies and TV shows. I thought seeing where Mad King Ludwig's and Hitler's favorite composer lived and hung out might be interesting. Perhaps a visit to his museum and the opera house might be in order. When we rolled into Bayreuth I immediately looked for directional signs for the "Altstadt" (old city) or "Stadtmitte" (downtown). Meanwhile we kept passing cookie-cutter boring, modern buildings and vacant lots. When we finally spied a sign for the downtown area we went that way. Here the buildings became even more modern. We passed through a big university campus that had cobble-stoned streets. But the farther we drove along the ancient looking road the less interesting the surroundings appeared. Consulting both the road signs and my onboard Nav we vainly searched for something of interest.



There were a few outdoor cafes
Just another town and another castle on the hillJust another town and another castle on the hillJust another town and another castle on the hill

Once we left the environs of Nürnberg traffic eased. The few old ladies blocking our way were all in church by the time we passed through this little hamlet of Hilpoltstein.
open and a handful of folks hiking through town brandishing their walking sticks, but 15 minutes of circling the area revealed no reason to stop. I probably should've done more research regarding what to see and do in Bayreuth but the fact is the place simply looked dull. "Blah". In checking Wikipedia later I learned that more than a third of the town was destroyed in WWII. I immediately assumed that the East Germans must've rebuilt it in their typical pragmatic unaesthetic style but in fact, it was occupied by the Americans at war's end. I was not impressed.



With that waste of time I decided maybe we should simply head East and get to the Czech Republic ASAP. Maybe there would be some interesting towns along the way and possibly even some remnants of the Soviet occupation along the border. The Nav said this would take an hour and a half. The B303 we took was a fairly direct, mildly interesting two lane road to the border. We passed a couple of unexpected castles, quite a few BMW dealerships and acres upon acres of fields with those yellow plants. These turned-out to not be dandelions but
Incorporating the modern with the oldIncorporating the modern with the oldIncorporating the modern with the old

I'd love to see this guy'd electric bill. Probably a check is issued to him.
something closer to golden rod. It's called "rapeseed" and it's a crop grown for the cooking oil it produces. I guess we call it "canola". It grows everywhere.



Now we come to the dumbest mistake I made during the entire trip. A rookie error. I knew full well that upon entering the Czech Republic I would need to buy a vignette to cover the tolls on the Czech super highways if we used them. In planning the trip I had only taken a cursory look at the route we'd be taking into CZ. Karlovy Vary looked like it was right on the border with Germany. The roads leading there did not appear to be anything more than two lane thoroughfares like the one we were using coming in from Germany. We blithely crossed the border and came into the Czech Republic without incident. My biggest concern at that point was being stopped by the Czech Policie wanting to check my registration and having to explain the transit license plates. This seems to be a common problem for other Americans doing BMW's European Delivery.



Up ahead I saw a sign indicating that the road became
You almost don't need GPS in GermanyYou almost don't need GPS in GermanyYou almost don't need GPS in Germany

Drivers aren't continually distracted by meaningless advertisements in Europe. In Germany informational road signs are well-placed and easy to read. With the slightest knowledge of geography you can usually find the right direction to head on Autobahns and secondary roads. Warning signs use pictographs rather than multi-syllabic German terms.
an Autobahn. Just before that a solitary gas station sold vignettes. Guess who didn't have any Czech korunas? I had completely forgotten that they weren't full EU members yet. I had assumed we'd still be using Euros. Not that we had many of them left at this point. I was also in need of gas. The pumps did not accept credit cards. This gas station didn't have a cash machine and I wasn't comfortable trying to ask about their accepting Euros. Plus, did I really want to pay $15 to take the Autobahn less than 10 miles? My Nav system was showing plenty of other roads leading the way to Karlovy Vary just a little further North. If worse came to worst, we could just hit an ATM in Germany and get a few Euro for the vignette.



We reversed course back into Germany then headed North. My GPS was showing me the names of plenty of towns but as we approached them they were nothing more than a scattering of houses with no banks, gas stations or commercial buildings of any sort. We opted to continue North toward the town of "Selb". This was more like
No need to hurry FidoNo need to hurry FidoNo need to hurry Fido

There's nothing to see here in Bayreuth.
it. Selb wasn't an especially quaint little town but there were three gas stations. After putting in 38 liters or around 10 gallons (I knew gas would be cheaper in CZ once we straightened out our currency situation) we tried to find a car wash where I might wash off 5 days of heavy green pollen from my once black car.



We pulled up to the bay of the car wash only to find others were waiting ahead of us. A guy zoomed right into the wash ahead of me. By now I was getting a little irked and pissy. Rather than wait my turn I fumed and left in a hissy fit. We hoped to find another place to spray off the dirt but instead found a big porcelain factory named “Rosenthal”. Even I had heard about them. They were a big deal and they had an outlet store. Gail was definitely interested. But this being Sunday it was of course closed. I probably saved a couple hundred dollars and quite a few extra pounds in my luggage by avoiding that temptation.



On this Day of Nonsense and Naïveté we committed the greatest
Hey, don't I know you from Wunsiedel am Fichtelgebirge, Bavaria?Hey, don't I know you from Wunsiedel am Fichtelgebirge, Bavaria?Hey, don't I know you from Wunsiedel am Fichtelgebirge, Bavaria?

There are all kinds of things I do to entertain myself while driving in Germany. One is to try to figure out where the other cars on the road come from? The first few letters of German license plates indicates the city or region: "M" for Munich, "B" for Berlin, "OAL" for Oberammergauer Land, "DD" means Dresden, "GAP" for Garmisch-Partenkirchen, etc. I never saw this one before.
crime yet: we stopped for lunch at McDonald's. We never eat at McDonald's. Not even at home. But I was irritable, thirsty and a tad bit hungry so we stopped for a few minutes. At least they still carried McRib. And I kind of enjoyed eating my fries with mayo. No free refills though. I found it interesting that the high school kids working there in this isolated little town all spoke and understood English. Sitting here now I wonder how I could dare pass up even one genuine German Imbiss and stop at a chain restaurant instead.



Since Selb was right on the Czech border we decided to enter CZ North of Karlovy Vary.. I then followed the road signs toward our spa destination for about 25 minutes. Eventually we returned to that same Autobahn we wanted to avoid. Finally getting smart I set the Nav to avoid toll roads. We were directed back the way we had just come to a road we had passed 15 minutes earlier. When we tried to go down it we saw it was closed with no detour offered. Zooming out on my Nav I located a road that looked
Mean green racing machineMean green racing machineMean green racing machine

When I stopped for gas in Selb I noticed just how much pollen had settled on my brand new automobile. It was as if someone had misted it with green paint.
like it headed in the direction we needed to go. Once on it I would reset the Nav to take us the rest of the way. This road I took could be better described as a "bike path". Barely wide enough for my X1 it took us through some of the prettiest farmland and ugliest villages I had ever seen. This looked like the Appalachia of Eastern Europe: run down homes with junk in the front yard, kids running around half naked, cars up on cinder blocks, cows and goats in the driveway and no stores that we could see. It looked like what I imagined life would have been like under the Commies. Nobody in Europe seemed to be providing any aid to these poor farm folk. But the countryside was really gorgeous. Miles and miles of that yellow rapeseed everywhere you looked. Wherever there was a stand of trees, nearby would be a huge pile of cut timber. Rarely did a car come toward us and when they did they deferred to us and pulled over. Often as we passed through these pathetic little hamlets we would be routed onto a new road number. Each time I hoped
Not much different than back homeNot much different than back homeNot much different than back home

Even with the exchange rate at 1 Euro= $1.22 this McDonald's in Selb had better prices than the U.S. They still have a 1 Euro menu!
that this meant we would now enter a more primary road but we continued for at least an hour on narrow one lane paths.



Near the town of Sokolov we passed an immense quarry. Here the road widened, probably for the trucks heading to and from the quarry. At first I thought it might be where the material for making porcelain was mined, but apparently this part of the Czech Republic, Sudetenland , once mined iron ore and was the home of many ethnic Germans. It was the region Hitler forced Neville Chamberlain to concede to the Nazis just before the outbreak of World War Two. Hitler needed its resources to build his war machine.



Finally we reached the outskirts of Karlovy Vary. It was here that the BMW Nav system truly shines. It directed us on a looping up and down, back and forth, over and under path through the hilly streets of Karlovy Vary keeping us out of bus and trolley-only lanes enroute to our resort area hotel. When we finally reached the banks of the creek running through the town the Nav system was unable to direct us any further. All
McRib ist daMcRib ist daMcRib ist da

The best sandwich McDonald offers, the McRib, is on the menu everyday in Germany. They also offer quite a few varieties of chicken as well.
around us loomed grand old buildings from the Victorian Age. The opposite side of the waterway dividing the town was a pedestrian-only sidewalk with no access to our little hotel. There were no parking lots or available curbside spots on the traffic side of the “river”. We searched in vain on some of the side streets then finally settled on parking in a private parking spot reserved for someone who wasn't around right then. We decided to leave the car there until we checked-in at the hotel and found out where their advertised parking area might be.



It was a short walk to our little hotel tucked away behind the shopping zone and near the funicular that climbed up the side of the mountain. When we walked inside there was no reception area. A guest told us to check in at the travel agency next door. That proved interesting as the woman working there knew no English. We conversed in Pigeon Deutsch. We pretended we understood everything she was saying and accepted our key. When we asked about parking she acted like she had never heard such a question before. I told her where we had parked
Selb = pottery outletsSelb = pottery outletsSelb = pottery outlets

It was also home to Siegfried Hausner, a martyr of the Red Army Faction terrorist group.
and she said “OK” and didn't offer any more information. Since it was late afternoon on a Sunday I assumed we would be safe leaving the car there until the morning.



Then we walked next door and took the elevator up to the fifth floor. Our room was on the sixth. We decided then that when we went back to the car we would only bring two days worth of clothes and our toiletries back to the room. The Zlatý Sloup (Golden Column) hotel had kind of a Fawlty Towers feel to it as we climbed the stairs to the top floor. Why did the elevator not go to the top? Why were scaffolds and dropcloths on the landing? Why no reception desk? I thought “This is what I get for booking the cheapest in-town hotel”. Once we opened the door I congratulated myself for being a booking genius. We had our own apartment all to ourselves. There was a huge bathroom with a bigger than normal telephone booth shower, a kitchen, a dining/living room with a pull-out bed, a separate bedroom and a balcony. We had a full size fridge, a decent flat screen TV and
We try once moreWe try once moreWe try once more

After a quick ride through Selb we drove east and crossed into the Czech Republic. There was no trace that a border ever existed. Driving from Pennsylvania into New Jersey is more obvious: Less potholes and more traffic circles.
probably the fastest WiFi we experienced during the whole trip. All this for less than $80/per night. The furnishings were rather old but it reminded me of staying at my grandmother's house circa 1965. It would definitely be comfortable.



But we had no time to relax. We were on vacation and sightseeing had to be done. We were soon down along the Tepla riverbank strolling past store after store of designer brands. We took a slight detour to check out the 5 star Grand Hotel Pupp which had its own parking lot. Most of the cars in it were your top end BMWs, Mercedes and Audis with a sprinkling of Jags as well. I almost laughed out loud when we saw a couple of guys dressed in yachting gear (white shoes and ascots) sitting at an outside table. It reminded me of the Two Wild and Crazy Guys from Saturday Night Live. The place reeked of snobbery and money. And I was jealous.

We returned to walk along the gauntlet of over-priced shops lining the pedestrian zone. None of this appealed to either of us but watching all the other tourists walking with arms loaded with
Beautiful Czech farmlandBeautiful Czech farmlandBeautiful Czech farmland

Our backroad approach to Karlovy Vary took us through some pretty countryside with acres and acres of open fields. The weather couldn't be more welcoming.
merchandise intrigued us. First was the fact that all these stores were actually open on a late Sunday afternoon and secondly because all these shoppers seemed to be Russian. They had invaded Karlovy Vary not in the name of communism, but as capitalist pigs buying up all the over-priced Western garbage they could carry home. And the favorite item purchased by the invading hordes? The Karlovy Vary sugar wafer called “Oplatky”. As we settled down for dinner at yet another outdoor restaurant we saw scores of tourists with a bag of cookies in one hand and a half eaten wafer in the other walking by.



Once again the dinner wasn't so much about the food choices on the menu but the beer featured at the particular venue. When I saw Budvar (Budweiser) on the menu I was all in. Unlike the American beer with the same name Czech Budweiser is recognized by Zythophiles as one of the world's greatest beers. It was indeed quite delicious after our long day of driving followed by the stress of getting to our hotel. Not my favorite beer ever but it's right up there. Not overly hoppy and without the bitter
Acres and acres of rapeseedAcres and acres of rapeseedAcres and acres of rapeseed

This must be an easy crop to grow because it was everywhere. Both in Bavaria and the Czech Republic.
aftertaste prevalent in today's most popular styles. I had three of them along with my Peasant's Platter of sausage, ham, pork, sauerkraut and boiled potatoes.



After dinner we slowly headed back toward our car via the riverside promenade where we chanced upon a scene out of the movie “Cassanova”. Gathered in front of the Tržní kolonáda (Market Colonnade) was an assortment of characters all dressed in 18th Century costumes. Apparently the theme was Baroque Venice because most of the crew donned those cheesy masks one finds for sale in every Venetian souvenir shop. There were quite a few of these posers standing around sucking up all the attention given to them by the enraptured Russian tourists as they busily snapped photos. Many of the visitors stood alongside the re-enactors taking selfie shots. Those in costume were handed flutes of Champagne by uniformed waiters on the scene. We stood and watched for a few minutes but then started-off to get our things from my car. Just as we got to the other side of the river, Renaissance Faire music started-up. We looked back to the Colonade and saw that a parade was beginning. We hurried back to observe
It's not just for canola oilIt's not just for canola oilIt's not just for canola oil

Rapeseed is also grown for feeding livestock and as an alternative fuel. It may be a wonder crop for the rest of the world but I was highly allergic to it. My eyes were itching every time we drove by.
the actors prancing down the street accompanied by three jesters on stilts and a small band of fife and drummers. They proceeded to walk perhaps two hundred yards along the pedestrian path then just as quickly disappeared somewhere. Maybe they headed inside the Grand Hotel Pupp at the end of the Colonade. Instead of watching them we checked to make sure our car wasn't ticketed and then moved it about a block down the street where a building stood under restoration. Safety cones appeared to indicate that this was a no parking area but three other cars were parked there and one big old empty space beckoned me. I eased the car into that space, moved the cones closer to the other cars then grabbed a bag full of clothes and toiletries to take back to our room. I wasn't comfortable leaving the car there but it felt safer than leaving it in someone else's assigned parking space.



Our night ended in our grand suite with time to do some catching up with friends and family via the excellent internet. This was followed by a few minutes of watching a ridiculous game show where we had no
Arriving at our hotelArriving at our hotelArriving at our hotel

Zlaty Sloup was apparently a restaurant as well as a hotel, but we didn't see any evidence of a place to eat dinner unless the small breakfast room was used for such.
idea who was the celebrity and who was the contestant off the street. They were supposed to come up with the rest of the words from old Czech pop tunes. It was pathetic. The music they played made ABBA sound progressive.


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This was gonna be funThis was gonna be fun
This was gonna be fun

All those accent marks, tildes, umlauts and goofy letters confused the heck out of me at time. Fortunately, other than our hotel clerk, most people in Karlovy Vary at least spoke some English. It was a very easy town to find your way around.
Our huge bathroomOur huge bathroom
Our huge bathroom

Our accommodations were more apartment than hotel room. The bathroom was bigger than ours at home. For a change the shower allowed me to turn around under the shower head without banging int the glass doors.
A nice litte kitchenA nice litte kitchen
A nice litte kitchen

We weren't about to do any cooking while on vacation but I suppose if you were in Karlovy Vary to take the cure for a few weeks this would be a nice little place to prepare your meals. It was kind of weird that the fridge was in the bathroom.
The bedroomThe bedroom
The bedroom

Queen or King beds are rare in Europe but these singles were very comfortable and firm. The only minor drawback was that just outside these windows was a path leading to a big cross that can be seen from down below in the town. At night I could hear people climbing up to the cross and carrying on out there. In the summer it could be really annoying if you had to leave your windows open at night.


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