Our trip back to the Czech Republic started in a van with 6 Asian kids (Sharon says I should call them young adults), all apparently malnourished. From Vienna Westbahnhoff to the outskirts they ate about three sausages each, some rolls, hepas of lollies and one guy finished off with a boiled egg with soy sauce. Then, as all Asians seem to do in any moving vehicle, they promptly fell asleep for the rest of the trip.
Cesky Krumlov was our first destination, a fairy tale type of village with the requisite old town, pretty river curving around it and of course the castle overseeing it all. Into this framework has to be fitted thousands of restaurants, souvenir shops and museums.
Actually we had a great time, climbing up to the Castle Tower, having a really good dinner at a tiny place down by the river and, the next morning, walking through the Castle Gardens on a beautiful fresh day listening to the sound of an orchestra playing nearby.
Cesky Krumlov, with its tourist emphasis – guides and tour groups wandering everywhere, overpriced restaurants on the main square – was only a very slight preparation for Prague, into which
we were deposited at a bus station somewhere a few kilometres of cobblestones from our accommodation.
Prague is everything people say it is – teeming with visitors, full of overpriced tourist tack and with a far disproportionate sense of its own importance in the world.
Now that I got that off my chest, though, Prague. Yes, crowded, with rampant, raging, ravaging tourism. But when we arrived we quickly joined the late afternoon throng and walked across the Charles Bridge and into the old town square, happy to be a part of the fantastic atmosphere.
We happily paid more than we should have to sit outside and have some drinks and a meal (it’s not all that expensive anyway). We happily moved inside the restaurant when the thunderstorm arrived.
The following day we wandered through the town and up Wenceslas Square before catching a tram up to the Castle. Actually, we caught a tram up to somewhere near where the trams to the Castle go, but we managed to find it anyway.
The Castle is an interesting collection of buildings in a perfect setting overlooking the town and the river with its bridges. We visited some
The Castle from Charles Bridge
of the Castle rooms, which were of varying interest, and St Vitus’ Cathedral, which was pretty impressive (and we’ve seen a lot of churches on this trip). I do love a good flying buttress.
Our Prague accommodation was the Charles Bridge Residence, all of 7 houses from, funnily enough, the Charles Bridge. It was pretty good, too. Apart from the location (and double glazing kept out the noise from the street), the room faced the front, was big and well-appointed. If they could only do something about the noise of the drunks staggering up the stairs at 3 am.
We walked across the bridge at night just as the sun set, the portrait painters packed up their easels and the souvenir sellers were replaced by swarms of insects. The only thing that didn’t change was the number of people (and the number of beggars). It was simply brilliant.
Our time in Prague finished with a day trip to Kutna Hora, a generally ugly town containing a couple of sites making up a UNESCO listing.
First stop was the All Saints ossuary church. Apparently some dirt from the Holy Land was brought to the church so in
All Saints ossuary church
the 13th and 14th centuries it was a very popular place to be buried. With over 30,000 skeletons and not much space they did the most obvious thing – they decorated the church with bits of human bone. Apart from the chandelier containing every bone in the human body there are skulls and leg bones and arm bones and ribs everywhere, some just stacked up, others as wall hangings or other tasteful decorations. I looked for a stall selling genuine human bone souvenirs but couldn’t find one.
Kutna Hora’s other claim to fame is that it was formerly a centre of silver mining, and housed a mint that produced coins for a lot of Europe. We toured the mint, called the Italian Court because Italian coin makers were instrumental in its establishment, then wandered through another church (St Barbara’s - great flying buttresses on this one too) and up to an attractive old town square for a rest before heading back to Prague.
Our last stop in continental Europe was Cologne, mainly to break the journey from Prague to England, but also to have a quick look around. The trip from Prague was quite long – bus to
View (seriously) from the hotel
Nuremburg then a train. The number of trains going to all points is incredible.
We were lucky our accommodation was quite close to the station. Well, actually not entirely lucky. The scene in “The Blues Brothers” where Jake and Elwood sleep in the boarding house near the elevated railway could almost have been filmed here. And all those people travelling on all those trains meant there was a train passing about every ten minutes until well into the night.
At about that time the party goers would congregate in the park opposite, not doing any harm but just making general noise until the early hours of the morning. No, the Hotel Madison did not prove to be the best selection of our trip.
We did have a look at the Cathedral – The High Cathedral of St Peter and St Mary – the most visited site in Germany and one of the world’s largest cathedrals. It is spectacular, and in a setting right next to a very railway-era-looking station, just past a very railway-era-looking steel bridge across the Rhine. The juxtaposition of the church, the railway buildings, the modern buildings and the river with its traffic made
it something special.
Passing up on the chance to visit any number of museums nearby we walked around a bit, including down to the river and through the rather inappropriately-named old town (narrow streets, but actually not many old buildings). Actually it seems a bit poor to complain about the lack of old buildings when it was our side that bombed them all to pieces in the war.
Our Cologne visit finished with a walk across the Hohenzollern railway bridge and a steak and chips dinner. The bridge is popular for walkers and cyclists (and a bit chaotic as a result) and also for lock-makers. Every couple who goes near this bridge seems to have a need to put an engraved padlock on it to signify their undying love.
Naturally we wanted to leave something to signify the permanence of our relationship, but when we returned the next day the post-it note was gone. You have to wonder who will be the couple who put on the last padlock, the weight causing the bridge to subside quietly into the Rhine. Sort of a padlock too far I guess.
So our Central European trip has come to
an end. We had a great time, learned a lot and seen some fantastic sights – enough to make us want to explore in more depth some time. Next stop England for a few days then the Emerald Isle, or, if the “beautiful blue Danube” is anything to go by, the “drab brown Isle”.
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