118 nights : 4,358 miles travelled : Countries visited: 8
“Time doesn’t take away from friendship, nor does separation” Tennessee Williams
We were very excited about going to the Czech Republic. It was our first drive into ‘Eastern Europe’ and we were meeting up with one of Graham’s best friends who has lived there for many years.
We left Austria and entered Czech Republic through the Sumava hills which spread across the border of both countries. Having grown up during the Cold War, the ‘Iron Curtain’ had seemed almost physical and yet here was a beautiful forest that gave nothing away of the desperate escape attempts past fences, watchtowers, and guard dogs in the years before 1989. The area is now a national park and looks perfect for hiking.
However we kept driving to Lipno nad Vlatavou, a resort on Lake Lipno which is actually a 30km long reservoir. With the temperatures still high there was a real buzz even though it was late Summer. Our campsite was in front of an elderly hotel, right next to the water’s edge. It appeared that Hotel Panorama was stuck in the 1970’s and with a lot of new redevelopment springing up all around, it looked rather out of place. However there was a really warm welcome, the showering facilities were spotlessly clean and amazingly…use of the washing machine was free! I admit you had to move the programme on to rinse and spin manually but after paying between 3 and 6 euros a load elsewhere, I was more than happy to to that.
With the laundry drying in the gorgeous sunshine, we were happy to swim in the lake, sit on the grassy ‘beach’ and soak up the holiday atmosphere. Despite being a centre for active recreation on land, water and snow in winter, we enjoyed doing not very much at all!
Silly selfies…the best time waster
The castle, with it’s series of courtyards, still feels like an ancient town although the bears under the entrance bridge are a throwback we wish they would move on from.
The Most na Plasti or ‘Cloak Bridge’ crosses the moat and leads on to the castle gardens. It has fantastic views and stands as Graham’s favourite structure on the trip so far.
The traditional way to cool down is on the river but this was one time we held Kipper back!
The beauty of the town is a bit marred by the inevitable need to pander to all us tourists and we left it to the crowds after a few hours, promising ourselves a return visit out of season!
Graham and David were still at school when they met and they shared much of their teens and twenties travelling around together on motorbikes. It’s a cliche to say life that gets in the way but it seems remarkable that they went twenty five years without more than the odd email (from David!) So Prague was high on our list of must visits on the trip as David has lived there for many years. It was fun watching them piece together fragmented memories. Do you remember…..? No but I remember …..don’t you? No but…..!! It was great to catch up and surprisingly emotional to say goodbye again. They definitely can’t leave it another quarter of a century!
We camped on an island on the Vlatava River that runs through Prague and in the searing heat ( sorry to go on about it but it was too hot) we spent a lot of time listening to river life, from coaches instructing rowers on megaphones, participants in dragon boat races, jazz brunches on pleasure cruises and dance beats sailing past on party boats until the wee small hours.
David’s wife Lucie advised us that we would need a muzzle to take Kipper on the trams into town. This is our first big hole in pre-trip research and whilst we have now bought him one and are taking the softly softly rewards based approach to introducing him to it, Kipper is taking the assertive “get lost” approach to rejecting it. We will have to keep trying as it would seem this is a requirement on a lot of public transport throughout Europe.
The temperatures were too high to take a dog into the city centre anyway, so we took it in turns to go in very early to beat the heat and the crowds! Prague lives up to it’s reputation as a must see European city and we will return to see more at a later cooler date.
Brian has a way of keeping us on our toes and when we arrived at our next site he buzzed worryingly when he was connected to mains electric. After a tense hour which involved the wardrobe being disemboweled, multiple cables being uncoiled and a necessary amount of under-breath swearing, a diagnosis was arrived at. Graham is fantastic at working out how things work and (mostly) how to fix them when they don’t. This time, Brian’s buzz was cured by a new relay switch which cost £1.44 from an excellent motorists shop in Kutna Hora.
Kutna Hora had a lot else going for it, having once rivaled Prague in importance, but the good times ran out when the silver mines did in the 18th century. The most bizarre attraction is the Sedlec Ossary where the crypt of the monastery has been decorated with the bones of about 40,000 people. The work was commissioned in 1870 by the Schwarzenberg family after they bought the monastery, although there seems to be evidence it was started before that. The bones have been used to create a chandelier and the Schwarzenburg coat of arms among other decorations. The idea is to remind us that we all end up the same way but I couldn’t help thinking Morticia Adams would be swooning.
We walked past a circus on our way to the old town. Kipper had never seen elephants before and we don’t know what his thinking was…charm them with doggy yoga or try to be as small as possible?
We enjoyed strolling around the streets of Kutna Hora. There are plenty of historic sights to see, the highlight being the Cathedral of St Barbara. But it is also fascinating to observe everyday life, noting similarities and differences to our own.
Our guide book in this part of the world is a ten year old Lonely Planet for Eastern Europe, a remnant of our son Rob’s travels during his gap year. It is still surprisingly relevant but it is always a pleasure to come across something ourselves and so it was with Kuks hospital. Travelling north, we were looking for somewhere to stop and have coffee when we caught a glimpse of a grand building from the road and then spotted a brown sign. Kuks is a complex of buildings built for Count Frantisek Sporck, reflecting his contradictory personality. There was a grand church and monastery hospital right next door to a grand chateau and luxury spa residence on the bank across the River Elbe. Sandstone sculptures representing virtues and vices decorate the terrace. The Count tried to turn the river valley into a centre for aristocratic society while all the time being ashamed about his humble beginnings. Much of the complex has now gone but European Union money has been used to beautifully restore what is left and to make it appealing to a new set of visitors. Well spent we felt!
Our final days in the Czech Republic were in the protected landscape of Ardspach and Teplice, clusters of rock formations formed by water and frost erosion. Loop walks of about 6km have been formed in each ‘rock town’ and many formations have been named to reflect what they resemble. The area has attracted visitors and climbers for many years and became a national park in 1933. We loved walking around the trails which felt quite different but equally fascinating.
We walked the 3km to Ardspach from our campsite in Teplice along a path that followed the route of the train line. We had spent the whole weekend listening to cheery peeps from the little trains as they approached nearby request stops and we were more than happy to pay £1.13 for the return journey to escape the rain, but more importantly to say dobry den.
Note: This post has two weeks for the price of one (as will the next) as we play catch up after poor access to WIFI in Germany. Interestingly it is much more available in Czech Republic and Poland.
M & G
Treat of the week: Necessity is the mother of invention. No girls, not a home made shewee but a carefully handcrafted funnel to add water to Brian’s water tank without moving him to the tap. I was only allowed to buy beer in bottles for several weeks. Finally one that works! The pride on Graham’s face says it all.