WHO said that

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

We travelled by private minibus to the Polish city of Krakow. We were dropped off in front of the Globtroter Guest House where we would stay for 3 nights. The guest house boasted a fantastic location, only minutes away from the Main Market Square.

This is a classy and cosmopolitan city; it has wonderful history (such as the historic cloth market pictured to the right), and architecture but maintains a small town feel. Jazz clubs and excellent restaurants also line the streets (we enjoyed a huge portion of pierogies here). It also does not share the same crowds as Prague, although that is likely to change as more and more people discover Krakow's charm.

We were also fortunate to experience some warmer weather allowing us to enjoy an excellent bike tour of the city that took us from the Old Town and main square, to Wawel Castle, once the home of a fearsome fire-breathing dragon, to Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter of Krakow (where we saw Oscar Schindler's factory).

A day trip to Auschwitz (a 2h bus ride) was a sobering experience and an important reminder of the horror and evil we are able to inflict on one another. This is a piece of history we should not forget in the hopes that we and future generations do not repeat these horrible acts.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Teplice nad Metuji
We were up fairly early to catch a 6:10am tram to the train station. En route, we helped a couple of rather intoxicated British travellers find their way. We caught the 7:33am train for a 2+ hour trip north and then transferred to a smaller train for the final leg of the day's journey. We seemed to attract drunken companions during the trip and enjoyed the company of a rather pleasant, and thoroughly drunk young Czech who had the knack of dropping his unlit cigarette every 2-5 seconds. After practicing his English and sharing his drink with us, we arrived at our destination.

Teplice nad Metuji is a small town near the Polish border and quite the contrast to bustling Prague. The town has less than 2000 inhabitants and it's claim to fame is a nearby national park with unusual rock formations.

We dropped off our bags at the pension and had lunch at a local restaurant. Our server was an unpleasant fellow who chose not to hide his dislike of tourists (at least us) nor his interest in pornographic magazines filled with rather large Czech women. At least the food was good...

We then took the opportunity to hike one of the main trails in the park stopping at signs that pointed to the rock formations along the way. Fairy tale characters, dogs, swans, hunters, alligators were some the many forms the signs pointed out. I suppose some of the rocks may have looked like the objects the signed proclaimed them to look like... but most of the time one needed perceptual skills I certainly did not possess.

We returned to our pension as the snow began to fall. It was a good hike: the landscape was quite beautiful, and taking the opportunity to enjoy a bit of nature was a welcome change of pace from the busy city experiences of the trip thus far.

At the pension, we warmed up had some beers and moved to the outdoor BBQ over a wood fire for dinner. We stuffed ourselves with chicken, sausage, and potatoes keeping ourselves warm with the wine and the fire as the snow fell around us.


Friday, November 10, 2006

An apartment by the quarter
After grabbing the 8:33 am train back to Ceske Budejovic, we made our way to the glorious city of Prague. Felicity, our tour leader escorted us to our accomodations just outside the Prague Jewish Quarter (Josefov) and just blocks away from the beautiful Spanish Synagogue and the Old Town Square.

Staying at a centrally located apartment allowed us to see Prague by foot. We spent three days exploring Prague learning about the Jewish heritage (120,000 Jews lived in the area before WWII and now only a couple of thousand Jews live in Prague), watching the Astronomical clock do its thing on the hour, crossing the Charles Bridge to the beautiful Castle Quarter, enjoying Art Nouveau at the Mucha Museum and at the fantastic Municipal House.

But what I really enjoyed about Prague was simply walking and absorbing the beautiful architecture, and imagining a little about the history of the city from its rich musical heritage, to the communist rule, to the excitement and optimism after the Velvet Revolution.

And of course, one cannot forget the Czech beer and the hearty food. Beer flows from the taps readily (and cheaply). It's often hard to find less touristy restaurants but if you wander just a block or two from the touristy area you can often be treated with a more authentic meal and experience. One such place was Restaurace u Provaznice near Wenceslas Square where I enjoyed a massive pork knuckle, some excellent beer in a crowded pub with Czech's cheering on their national hockey team.

One advantage of visiting Prague in November is the somewhat reduced tourist population. Mind you, it was still incredibly busy and tourists were everywhere. From what I understand the crowds can be overwhelming during the peak tourist season.


Monday, November 06, 2006

A little bend in the river

?eský Krumlov
Originally uploaded by who_ca.
After catching a 6:24am train, grabbing a local bus from Cesky Budejovice we found ourselves in the lovely town of Cesky Krumlov. Krumlov is a fantastic town for just walking around and exploring.

Highlights included:
  • Dining and enjoying tea at Laibon, a wonderful little vegetarian restaurant with superb service.
  • Walking through the castle grounds both during the day and at night.
  • Enjoying a beer after the Eggenberg brewery tour.


Sunday, November 05, 2006

Intrepid explorers

In Vienna, we met up with our Intrepid tour at the Hotel Mozart (an appropriate place to stay for the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth) where we met our guide Felicity and our one additional traveller, Evelyn. We were quite pleased with our 3:1 traveller to leader ratio.

Our "Road to Budapest" tour takes us from Vienna into the Czech Republic (Cesky Krumlov, Prague, and Teplice nad Metuji), Poland (Krakov and a day trip to Auschwitz), Slovakia (Bratislava), and finally into Hungary to see Budapest over 15 days.


Saturday, November 04, 2006

A little sandwich
The Hofburg & Schonbrunn Palaces, St. Stephen's Catherdral, and the Kunsthistorisches Museum are amongst the fantastic sites in Vienna we took in. Perhaps a lesser known Vienna institution is the Buffet Trzesniewski. This is a perfect place for brunch in between sites; we filled up on wonderful little sandwiches filled with cream cheese, herring, peppers, mushrooms... simply delicious. Not to mention the inexpensive shots of beer. Apparantly Franz Kafka liked this place too.


Friday, November 03, 2006

Vienna for some opera
We arrived in Vienna and were greeted by a foggy, cold, and snowy city. But we were excited, this was the first stop in our quick tour around Eastern Europe including the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary. Although it was cold, we were able to easily warm ourselves in Vienna's many wonderful cafes. They have excellent coffee if you can stand all of the cigarette smoke around you.

Vienna is historic city with music in its veins. In particular, opera is one of its great loves. The last time I visited Vienna, I arrived on the final day of the opera season and sadly missed the performance (I consoled myself with a fantastic Dave Brubek concert).

This time around, we took advantage of the extremely cheap (3 euro) standing room tickets to take in Staatsoper's version of Carmen. We were cramped, tired, but we were exposed to the beautiful opera building and a wonderful performance.

Originally uploaded by who_ca.