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Published: June 23rd 2018
Our "secret" parking spot
We could never be this fortunate ever again. Karlovy Vary simply has no parking available downtown. Finding this place in a construction zone was sheer luck.
Departure from the hotel was a simple affair. Today there was an English speaking person manning the desk in the travel agency next door. We simply handed back our keys and used our Visa to pay the bill. I still can't believe the rate was only $155.00 for two nights right in the center of town. Best deal of the entire trip.
Against all odds our car was still parked in the same spot with no tickets on the windshield. After getting a nice long rest she would get a good workout today. She would also get a bath at the first opportunity.
Getting out of Karlovy Vary was a rather interesting ordeal. Thankfully the X1's GPS was up to the task taking us through a series of twisting roads along the upper course of the the Tepla River. I set the GPS to avoid the tolls of the Autobahn. Looking at a map the shortest route to Passau, Germany was due South, but Google maps wanted me to first head West back into Germany on the toll highway then drive South on an Autobahn eventually turning East for more Autobahn driving. It sounded kind
Only five days worth of dirt
We had picked-up our new car less than a week before yet it was absolutely filthy already. I've never seen pollen or dirt like this before. Even when I was a kid living near steel mills and cement factories we never had this much crap falling on our cars.
of boring. Nope, that's not the way we do things. We would take the direct route even if it meant secondary roads all the way.
I learned nothing from my experience two days earlier. In the Czech Republic they seem to use paved cowpaths as regular roads. As we followed the river out of town we passed a good number of upscale hotels and resorts. Perhaps they too had their own thermal springs but they were a fair distance from the main spa scene. Maybe this was where the massage therapy and mud baths were part of the wellness program. To me it's all just a bunch of nonsense anyway. I doubt the efficacy of any of those supposed cures. I really enjoyed our time exploring the spas in town, but it seemed as over-hyped as organic foods or the ten million benefits of medical marijuana. I guess if you're truly sick and if regular medical procedures aren't effective you grasp at any and all straws.
Out on the backroads we once again passed through miles upon miles of pastureland and fields of budding crops. There wasn't much reason to stop and take pictures.
Off into the Czech heartland
Our leisurely route once again brought us through vast stretches of farmland most of which was dedicated to fields of rapeseed. In America we seem to grow corn everywhere. In Europe it's canola. Both are used as fuel additives. I wonder which is more economical?
Nothing was particularly fascinating but it was beautifully bucolic all the same. Once again we passed through some drab little towns of little interest. Farmhouses were generally in a state of disrepair. Horses were still used for farm chores like plowing and hauling wood. We drove through a couple of thickly wooded areas with tall straight pine trees. The perfect rows they grew in was evidence enough that these were tree farms. There were usually huge piles of large harvested timber being used for lumber and/or firewood. Every village we passed through had one thing in common: a tall pole in the center of the town with a pine tree affixed to the very top. Today was Mayday and the celebration of that was evident everywhere we went.
It took almost an hour until we emerged onto a main thoroughfare. Just outside the city of Plzen (Pilsen) we saw a modern gas station with an automatic car wash. Unfortunately the directions were in Czech and there was no credit card swiper. It looked like you needed to buy a token inside the gas station. I decided I didn't need to try to communicate my request to the
I got wood
And when we weren't driving through farmland we were traipsing through the woods. Most of the trees were these types of pine which were aligned in perfect rows stretching for hundreds of yards.
old woman working the counter. A wash could wait.
Plzen was a thriving town and famous for its Pilsener beer. Being still early in the morning we decided not to stop. Traffic was pretty heavy in town and I just wanted to keep moving. Plzen could've passed for a German town as it had more commercial signs and modern buildings than any other Czech towns we had passed through. There were shopping centers and fast food establishments. We were shocked to see the streetlamps decorated with Czech and American flags.
Here in Southern Bohemia the landscape was stunning. There were lush open fields all around us cloaked in every shade of green and speckled with the occasional cute little farmhouse, church, or hay barn nestled in among rolling hills and meandering brooks. Again the weather was perfect with barely a cloud in the sky. Nothing but blue above us.
Before long the road became even more interesting and challenging. We were on a nicely paved two lane highway that gradually took us up through the Sumava Mountains. At one point the road took us through a series of ascending switchbacks and
Either someone's got one big fireplace...
...or these crooked pine trees are heading for the paper mill.
hairpin turns. Oddly enough this is where we ran into scores of bicyclists – riding UP the mountain! Once in the mountains the territory became part of the Bohemian Forest National Park. There were hardly any other cars on the road. When we started seeing signs announcing that the German border was not far away we decided to stop in Touzam and use the last of our Czech cash to fill up the car. The gas mileage we were getting was fabulous. Even going up through the mountains and being on slow back roads we were getting 30 mpg.
As we approached the border with Germany more and more businesses appeared alongside the road. Many were small hotels and restaurants but there were also quite a few establishments selling kitschy souvenir junk to visiting Germans. We also started seeing more traffic, much of it campers and RVs. At the border there is of course no guardhouses anymore, but a big casino stood on the Czech side.
Once we were in Germany the huge Bohemian Forest National Park now became the Bavarian Forest National Park. There was a fair amount of traffic coming from the
Plzen streetcar named Desire
After driving through nothing but pretty open spaces we eventually reached the bustling city of Plzen. It wasn't exactly a beautiful town but it seemed to be a thriving one. Lots of cars and people on the streets.
opposite direction heading up into the nature preserve. At the time I was unaware that the magnificently preserved old town of Cesky Krumlov was just a short distance away. If we decide to do this itinerary again we will add a day or two to the trip to visit that beautiful city.
Shortly after leaving the confines of the Bavarian Forest National Park in Germany we came upon a more commercialized area. When I spotted a do-it-yourself car wash we pulled off the road. Basing my calculations on my experiences with spray car washes back home, I deposited 5 Euro in coins in the machine. I assumed that would cover a decent wash. Not only was I able to rinse off the car, spray it with soap, use a brush to take off the stubborn pollen, power wash the wheels and then rinse off the car, but I still had time left to spray on carnauba wax. And there was still time remaining on the machine when I returned the spray wand to its holder.
It took us a little over a half hour after that to get to our hotel for the night,
A tragic history
Plzen's Twentieth Century history is nothing but tragedy and just plain bad luck. After WWII this town of primarily German speaking citizens was included in the newly formed Czechoslovakia despite the wishes of the locals to be annexed to Austria. When Hitler convinced Chamberlain to allow the Nazis to enter the Sudetenland, Plzen was the borderline. Eventually the Nazis invaded and treated the locals miserably. All 2000 of the city's Jews were shipped off to concentration camps. The Skoda industrial works were converted into armored tanks manufacturing plants. Despite being liberated by American George Patton's 16th Division in the final days of WWII, the Soviets were given control of the area. When the war ended all the ethnic Germans were expelled to Austria and Germany while all their possessions were seized.
Zum Kirchenwirt in Kellburg, Germany. Along the way we passsed many more Maypoles towering above each town we drove through. We had never been to Passau before. When looking for accommodations on Booking.com the room rates in town were way over my self-imposed $100/night limit. Broadening the search to outlying municipalities I had found a good deal on a country inn just outside Passau. Using Google Earth to get an idea of the territory convinced me. When we arrived in the tiny village of Kellburg it looked nothing at all like the rendition on Google Earth. It was a much smaller town than I was expecting with a white onion-domed church next door.
Even though it was earlier than our 3 pm check-in time we went inside to see if we could get our room early and use the facilities. The only person inside was a waitress in the kitchen. I addressed her in German and said we had a room reserved for two nights. She started yakking away in German that I didn't understand so I just smiled and nodded my head. In my dreadful German I somehow got us our room key. After a quick
Why the American flags?
Because they love us. During the years of communist rule Czechoslovakia was constantly a thorn in the side of the Soviet Union. Many times Russian troops and tanks were called in to quell what the Russians believed were "uprisings". Mostly these were just protests against the miserable conditions. Not necessarily a call for revolution. Plzen was often at the heart of these moments of civil unrest.
pit stop we went back to our car and headed toward Passau.
It felt like a long drive on this initial trip from Kellburg. It wasn't. It just seemed far away because I was totally dependent on the car's GPS to direct us there. On subsequent trips back and forth it was no more than a 15 minute drive.
After some initial difficulties trying to obey both the GPS and the strange traffic patterns of Passau we finally made it to the tip of the peninsula that old Passau is situated upon. Traffic was a bit heavy along the Danube river side where the cruise line longboats dock. There was a lot of action the further we drove. When I saw a sign for paid parking I decided to avoid any run ins with pedestrians roaming around or having to worry about being illegally parked. Right in the middle of the Altstadt was a big underground parking lot that worked out perfectly for us both days we visited Passau.
By now it was almost 3:00 pm. I was a bit hungry and thirsty. Driving past the cruise line docks we had
The home of Skoda
This is not to be confused with the Volkswagen subsidiary that sells millions of cars throughout Europe. Plzen's Skoda works produces trains, trams, subway cars and turbines. But the town's greatest contribution is in the form of Pilsener beer, Of course it was one of the town's original ethnic Germans, Joseph Groll, the first brewed it using the local hops and the town's remarkably soft water. Today Plzen is the home of Pilsner Urquell.
seen a big outdoor beer restaurant. It was part of Passau's Rathaus. Most town's in Germany and Austria have a Rathaus or city hall. Usually there is a very nice reasonably priced restaurant inside. Passau's Rathaus spilled outside. I can't call it a “beer garden” because there were no trees, but there were probably 100 people sitting near the river drinking beer and listening to a Lederhosen-clad band playing. We grabbed a table just a few feet away from the musicians. A very nice English speaking waitress soon came by and set us up with the local Löwenbräu beer. This was totally unlike the Löwenbräu we get back home. It was fresh from the tap and had no bitter aftertaste. Gail stuck with the wheat beer but I began with a Helles (lager) then tried the Kellerbier. The latter is an unfiltered lager that literally means “Cellar beer”. In Medieval times it was brewed in dark cold basements where it fermented in oak barrels. It doesn't sit in the keg long before being tapped. It was a winner in my book.
We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the May Day festivities at the Rathaus. We
A Czech Maypole
We saw a lot of these on our ride. The Czech version was usually much more impressive than the German and Austrian ones. In CZ the pole was a long tall pine stripped of all of its limbs except for the very top which was kept intact. It looked like a Christmas tree with a gigantic tail,
got the impression it ws day off for many German workers gathered in the plaza. Gail was thoroughly entertained by the band and the groupies sitting near us. I enjoyed the free WiFi. Across the river a huge fortress looked down on the confluence of the Danube and Inn rivers. From time to time riverboats came by. There was a constant stream of interesting characters passing by. We decided to have a snack with our beers. Gail chose the Emmentaler cheese plate while I ordered the Leberkäse. Even though Leberkäse translates as “liver cheese” the menu described it as being similar to fried bogona. To me it tasted like high quality Spam which is a good thing.
After three beers it was time to move on. We worked our way down the quay toward the very tip of the peninsula. I wondered how many hundreds of times this part of town has been flooded over the centuries. The fact that there were no buildings and just a green park here testified to the fact that this was part of the flood plain. While the Danube is the bigger of the two rivers in normal circumstances, the spring
Does it get much prettier than this?
Continuing on past Plzen we journeyed South through even more wide open expanses. I never imagined Europe could have so much uninhabited space. Because of all these open fields it's little wonder so many battles have been fought in this area over the centuries.
thaw in the Alps can turn the Inn River into a roaring torrent cascading its way from Austria to this corner of Bavaria. But Passau is known as the Dreiflüssestadt ("City of Three Rivers"). Just a few hundred meters across from us the Ilz River pours into the Danube after beginning back up in the Bavarian National Forest. When we stood at the very end of the peninsula you could easily discern the differences of color between the rivers. The Danube was a very dark army green while the Inn approached as a lighter green; similar to the color of an artichoke. Where the waters mixed you could see the swirls of mud as both streams collided before flowing East as a dirty brown major river.
We continued walking up the Inn side of the pedestrian path past big stone walls and old towers. Behind the protection of these embankments we could see the roofs of the old churches, homes and warehouses in the old town. We finally found a stairway that climbed over the wall and led back to the city. Of course we soon bumped into another church which we had to investigate. St. Michael's
It's pretty but I think we'll skip this one
It is amazing how many churches there are in Europe. This despite the fact that hardly anyone attends any more. It's nice to see that the Europeans are preserving them and not turning them into bars or apartments.
Church is a Jesuit building and part of a seminary for the University of Passau. Like the rest of the Altstadt it escaped damage in World War II. The newer parts of Passau farther North were bombed 3 times at the end of the war, mostly in and around the rail station.
We had this part of town to ourselves. There was no one around. Not even inside the huge church nave. We stumbled over cobblestoned streets as we tried to find our way out of the Medieval maze of crooked streets and dead end alleys. When we spotted a beautifully refurbished old warehouse building
replete with half timber walls, window flower boxes and wrought iron doors we stopped to peak inside the open courtyard. It turned-out to be a restaurant called the “Scharfrichterhaus” (The Executioner's House). We were developing a theme on this trip: saunter along beside a river, visit a church then stumble into the town's executioner's house.
The restaurant was in a dimly lit stone-walled basement and featured a beautifully illuminated bar. For some stupid reason neither of us bothered to take a picture inside this charming, quaint little place.
I don't remember what beers we drank or what Gail had for dinner, but I do remember that my Wiener Schnitzel was quite good but not exactly served in generous portions. Service was extremely slow. When it was time to pay our bill we waited a good twenty minutes with no sign of our waitress. We found her sitting with friends at a table on the other side of the basement.
We were a bit surprised when we walked out the front door and took maybe twenty steps before emerging on to the Rathaus square. After taking a few night photos we returned to the garage for our car. Another great thing about Germany is that most of these municipal parking lots give you a ticket as you drive in. When you're about to leave you go to one of many automated ticket machines where you insert your ticket, pay the price demanded and then take the validated ticket with you to open the turnstile as you exit. No heavy to deal with knucklehead cashiers too busy listening to their jams to pay attention to you at the exit.
The drive back to our
More fields of green and yellow
My research taught me that rapeseed production is second only to soybeans for feeding livestock worldwide. An especially peppery tasting honey is produced by honeybees pollinating rapeseed.
hotel seemed much shorter. Since we were staying two nights we brought almost everything in from the car and up to our room. We discovered that one of the beds wasn't fully made up and that there was only one towel in the bathroom. We went back downstairs and found a young girl closing things up in the kitchen. She spoke excellent English and dropped everything to take care of us. She made up the second bed in seconds and gave us extra towels. Typical German service. We spent a few minutes utilizing the fast free internet before going to bed.
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