Euro East 2011: The Grand Summary

 

Date: Thursday, May 5, 2011
Begin/end
the day in:
Phoenix, AZ, USA / In flight
Lodging: In flight
Transport
Notes:
Found the World Traveller Plus seats to be less than comfortable. I love my Bose noise cancelling headset.
Calabash: Leaving at 7:30 pm is great. Not much last minute crashing and dashing.

 

Date: Friday, May 6, 2011
Begin/end
the day in:
In flight / London, UK
Lodging: Premier Inn, London. A ground floor room with a view of an airshaft is just not acceptable, but we’re too tired to complain straight away.
Main
events:
Lunch with a pint, a walk across the Tower Bridge, another pint and a good night’s sleep.
Culinary
highlights:
Our very first go at pub food!
Transport
Notes:
Express train from Heathrow to the tube, tube to the hotel. Not bad.

 

Date: Saturday, May 7, 2011
Begin/end
the day in:
London, UK
Lodging: Premier Inn. Complained about our semi-subterranean room and the hotel accommodated us with a move to much larger, more comfortable environ.
Main
events:
Tower of London Beefeater tour, a trip on the Hop-on-off double-decker tour bus and a visit to incredible St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Culinary
highlights:
Following cocktail hour in our new comfy room, we had a marvelous alfresco dinner on Ludgate Hill Street, just down the road from St. Paul’s. For lunch, we took a recommendation from one of the Tower’s warders. The
place looked wonderful, wish I could say the same about the food.
Transport
Notes:
Go for the tour busses with live commentary, not the recorded stuff.
Calabash: Our dinner waitress was from Poland. When I told her it was our next stop she asked “why are you going to Poland?” I’ll admit  that that was not the response I had
expected.

 

Date: Sunday, May 8, 2011
Begin/end the day in: London, UK
Lodging: Premier Inn
Main events: Boat on the Thames to Greenwich with a visit
to a great market, a walk past Westminster Cathedral and on to Buckingham Palace with an impromptu encounter with a parade and ceremony for former
palace guards and a ride on the famous London Eye.
Culinary highlights: Full English breakfast with beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, bacon and sausage (hold the black pudding) at Wetherspoon diner across from the hotel. Dinner at our favorite neighborhood pub, but this time the food was not quite as good. On the other hand, the cask ales were still great.
Calabash: I do believe we have a picture of the Tower Bridge from damn near every angle. Sadly, in Greenwich the good ship Cutty Sark was undergoing major refurbishing and unavailable for viewing.

 

Date: Monday, May 9, 2011
Begin/end
the day in:
London
Lodging: Premier Inn
Main
events:
Visited the Churchill War Rooms and the Tate Modern gallery of contemporary art. I found the Tate to be less than totally impressive.
Culinary
highlights:
Nothing I can think of. Remember, we’re in London.

 

Date: Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Begin/end
the day in:
London/Gdansk, PL
Lodging: Hotel Bonum, located in a quiet section of the Old Town area, was a lovely find.
Main
events:
Visited St. Bartholomew-the-Great church, the Smithfield market, the Anchor Inn pub where William Shakespeare supposedly hung out, our WizzAir flight to London to Gdansk and then our crazy late-night cocktail session at Restaurant Scampi with the ship workers
and strippers. Great fun.
Culinary
highlights:
The Anchor Inn pub was expectedly touristy and the food pretty much what one would expect from same.
Transport
Notes:
WizzAir’s reservation, booking and check-in processes are awful, but the in-flight operations are actually quite nice. Finding the London to Luton airport bus was not easy and the bus trip was VERY long.
Calabash: Border control in Gdansk had two lines for Poles and one line for everyone else. We managed to get behind a lady with whom the Polish border cops had issues. We were finally accommodated in the Polish Citizen line after everyone else had left. Toughest time getting into a country since my last hassle with Canada.

 

Date: Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Begin/end the day in: Gdansk, PL
Lodging: Hotel Bonum
Main events: Toured the reconstructed Old Tow, the Gdansk History Museum and St. Mary’s Church, purported to be the largest brick church in the world. It is BIG.
Culinary highlights: Breakfast in the cozy basement dining area at Hotel Bonum was fabulous and my hotdog from the little shop just off of the old town square was a fabulous combination of crusty bun, skin-on wiener with
just the right snap, peppers, onions, slaw and chili sauce. A steal for 5 just Zloty. Had a wonderful dinner  and
house-brewed beer at a restaurant across the Vistula  from our hotel.
Transport Notes: All on the hoof.
Calabash: The Poles love their ice cream. It’s wonderful
and inexpensive.

 

Date: Thursday, May 12, 2011
Begin/end the day in: Gdansk, PL / Warsaw, PL
Lodging: Hotel Metropol
Main events: Began the day with an early morning photo shoot walk around town followed by our last Bonum breakfast and then time to drag the bags to the train station for our trip to Warsaw.
Culinary highlights: Dined at the restaurant in the Polonia Palace
hotel in Warsaw. Elegant joint, wonderful service, but food you’d expect in a place that caters to tourists.
Transport Notes: Nice to be back to Euro train travel and the trip from Gdansk to Warsaw was nice. It was interesting that the first class cabins on the Gdansk to Warsaw train didn’t have electrical power (outlets), but the second class cars did.
Calabash: At least at its center, Warsaw is not a terribly pedestrian –friendly city. There was an advertisement in the form of a bubble machineoutside of our window at the Metropol.

 

Date: Friday, May 13, 2011
Begin/end the day in: Warsaw, Pl / Krakow, PL
Lodging: Hotel Benefis. Our room was really more of a suite with a foyer , bedroom, sitting room and bath.
Main events: Warsaw old town, Warsaw Uprising Monument,
Presidential Palace and Centrum shopping district.
Culinary highlights: Nice breakfast at the Metropol.
Transport Notes: We didn’t make reservations; wound up not being able to get on the train we wanted. Once we did leave, the train was so crowded we ended up standing outside the WC door in the last car on the train for the entire 3+ hour journey. Cab driver in Gdansk was very nice.
Calabash: Even though we had to stand for our train trip, I did manage to snag a glass of ice from the McD’s and a bottle of gas water prior to our departure. Ever mix two Scotch whiskeys while standing on a moving train?

 

Date: Saturday, May 14, 2011
Begin/end the day in: Krakow, PL
Lodging: Hotel Benefis
Main events: A morning freshening our wardrobe in a great
Laundromat/Internet Café/Bar, afternoon in the Krakow old town (tourist trap) and then the Jewish Quarter.
Culinary highlights: Followed the guidebook to a highly recommended
place near the Jewish Quarter. We have to stop taking guidebook restaurant picks.
Transport Notes:
Calabash: Hunted for the Czartoryskich Museum in old town which was supposed to be one of six places in the world with a Da Vinci painting on display. Unfortunately, the museum was “closed for repairs” an Da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine was in Warsaw.

 

Date: Sunday, May 15, 2011
Begin/end the day in: Krakow, PL
Lodging: Hotel Benefis
Main events: Wawel Castle, Schindler’s Factory/Wartime Krakow museum.
Culinary highlights: Happened upon a little Italian place on our way back to the hotel. I think we were the only ones in the place.

 

Date: Monday, May 16, 2011
Begin/end the day in: Krakow, PL
Lodging: Hotel Benefis
Main events: Wieliczka salt mine followed by Nowe Miasto, the communist-designed “new town.”
Culinary highlights: Decent polish dinner at a place in Nowe Miasto
(no cards, Zlotys or Rubles only).
Transport Notes: Finding the bus stop for the salt mine was a bit of challenge, but glad we didn’t go on an organized tour.
Calabash: Watched the launch of STS-134 on my iPad about 100 meters underground in the Wieliczka salt mine. Pivo goes well with Shuttle launches.

 

Date: Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Begin/end the day in: Krakow, PL / Ostrava, CZ via Oswiecim.
Lodging: Mercure. Hadn’t stayed in Mercure in years. This one was wonderful.
Main events: The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and State Museum in Oswiecim.
Culinary highlights: Great pasta dinner is a neighborhood Italian place, just down the street from the hotel. Grabbed some wonderful train snacks at a small shop in Oswiecim.
Transport Notes: On the ride to the train station in Krakow, Laurel tried her Polish out on the cab driver. He was amused. Ostrava, a former mining town, is not at the top of most tour lists.

 

Date: Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Begin/end the day in: Ostrava, CZ / Prague (Praha), CZ
Lodging: Hotel Mövenpick: Very large hotel with a “Passionately Swiss” moto. The hotel claimed 4 stars, but I’d give it barely 3. The €7 bottle of Evian on the dresser was a bit of a turnoff.
Main events: Wenceslas Square.
Culinary highlights: The Mercure in Ostrava had a beautiful breakfast room.
Transport Notes: Train to Praha; metro to our hotel.
Calabash: There’s just no way to get around it, Praha is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

 

Date: Thursday, May 19, 2011
Begin/end the day in: Prague (Praha)
Lodging: Hotel Mövenpick
Main events: Strahov Monastery, Prague Castle (Day 1), the famed astronomical clock and the Dancing Building.
Culinary highlights: Breakfast at the Mövenpick is good, but crowded with tour groups. The omelet lady is most adorable. Had dinner at a neighborhood restaurant and brewery next to the dancing building.
Calabash: As opposed to the Queen’s guards in the UK who pack real heat (M-16s), the guards at Prague Castle appear to be packing squirrel rifles.

 

Date: Friday, May 20, 2011
Begin/end the day in: Prague (Praha)
Lodging: Hotel Mövenpick
Main events: Prague Castle (Day 2), Prague Beer Festival
Culinary highlights: What else? Beer Festival food!
Transport Notes: By far, the shortest and most expensive cab ride ever. From the exit of the Beer Festival to the Metro station was barely 100 meters, but it was lightening and raining like crazy.

 

Date: Saturday, May 21, 2011
Begin/end the day in: Prague (Praha)
Lodging: Hotel Mövenpick
Main events: Kutna Hora for the Sedlec Ossuary, Church of the Assumption of Our Lady and the Cathedral of St. Barbara.  Big event of the evening was beers with a few German table-mates at the famed U zlatého tygra (At the Golden Tiger), a favorite of Václav Havel and where he brought President Clinton during a visit to Praha.
Culinary highlights: A late dinner at a café in Praha with a bunch of Brit ladies on a hen party trip.
Transport Notes: On the return trip to Praha, Laurel tried helping a few fellow travelers out by pointing out that an express train
leaving Kutna Hora 10 minutes later than the one that was in the station, actually arrived in Praha sooner. The later train then failed to leave Kutna Hora on time. No good deed goes unpunished.
Calabash: We really got in today’s exercise with the hike up the hill to St. Barb’s.

 

Date: Sunday, May 22, 2011
Begin/end the day in: Prague (Praha)
Lodging: Hotel Mövenpick
Main events: Catching up on administrative tasks—basically a day off. Late in the day, a trip up Mövenpick’s funicular and then
it was back to Wenceslas Square for another look at Praha’s nightlife.
Culinary highlights: A pivo and fatty lunch at a local eatery.

 

Date: Monday, May 23, 2011
Begin/end the day in: Prague (Praha)/Cesky  Kremlov, CZ
Lodging: Hotel Konovice. Squeaky floors and lots of charm.
Main events: The trip to Cesky Kremlov. The town is most beautiful, but I don’t know that I’d make the trip again.
Culinary highlights: An almost vegetarian dinner of garlic soup, radishes, carrots and vegetable salad. Wonderful!
Transport Notes: A long train trip, including a diversion to a bus caused by “technical difficulties” and subsequent missed onnection.
Calabash: Cesky Kremlov, as Rick Steves has noted, is a day-trip town. Late in the day, the crowds disappear.

 

Date: Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Begin/end the day in: Cesky Kremlov, CZ / Vienna (Wien), AT
Lodging: Delta Hotel. Another self-annointed 4-star that I’d give a grudging 3.
Main events: Tour the castle and the gardens in Cesky Kremlov.
Culinary highlights: Alfresco dinner near the hotel.
Transport Notes: The cab ride to the hotel seemed to go on forever.

 

Date: Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Begin/end the day in: Vienna (Wien), AT
Lodging: Delta Hotel
Main events: St. Stephen’s Cathedral, St. Peter’s Church, Royal Apartments, Augarten Park with its German-built WWII FLAK bunkers.
Transport Notes: On the bus to Augarten, we met a teacher and a few of his students to whom he taught English.

 

Date: Thursday, May 26, 2011
Begin/end the day in: Vienna (Wien), AT
Lodging: Delta Hotel
Main events: Lipizzaner Stallions, Sacher Torte, MOMAK
Culinary highlights: For dinner we inadvertently wound up crashing a private party. Oops.

 

Date: Friday, May 27, 2011
Begin/end the day in: Vienna (Wien), AT
Lodging: Delta Hotel
Main events: Laundry,  Casino Film Theatre
Culinary highlights: Alfresco lunch across from our Laundromat.
Transport Notes: We shared the tram with another couple heading for the laundry.
Calabash: We wore swimsuits to the Laundromat so we could strip off our jeans and get EVERYTHING in the wash.

 

Date: Saturday, May 28, 2011
Begin/end the day in: Vienna (Wien), AT / Bratislava, SK
Lodging: The très chic Boutique Hotel Marrol’s. What a lovely hotel. We were greeted with offers of beverages, chocolate, etc. Comp Mini bar, free porn on the tele, what more could you want?
Main events: Leopold Museum in Vienna. Fantastic collection.
Culinary highlights: Dinner, watching footie, in a very local Slovakian restaurant.
Transport Notes: A boat trip down the Danube from Wien to Bratilava.

 

Date: Sunday, May 29, 2011
Begin/end the day in: Bratislava, SK
Lodging: Boutique Hotel Marrol’s
Main events: A walk through town, the Bratislava castle and the old city gate.
Culinary highlights: Champagne on the hotel breakfast bar and a very fancy dinner in the hotel restaurant.
Transport Notes: One more hike up a hill.

 

Date: Monday, May 30, 2011
Begin/end the day in: Bratislava, SK / Budapest, HU
Lodging: K&K Hotel Opera
Culinary highlights: The K&K desk clerk and a guide book recommended a restaurant for “authentic Hungarian food. “ What we found was a lot of tourists, marginal food and service and less than friendly prices.
Transport Notes: Our last relaxing train journey for this trip. At the Gustav Eiffel-designed train station we were greeted by taxi Hustlers.
Calabash: Small scheduling FUBAR. We showed up a day early. K&K was able to accommodate us, but we’d really rather spent another night at Hotel Marrol.

 

Date: Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Begin/end the day in: Budapest, HU
Lodging: K&K Hotel Opera
Main events: Fisherman’s Bastion, Budapest History Museum,
funicular ride back down to “river” level.
Culinary highlights: Delightful alfresco meal and the rain didn’t even touch us.
Transport Notes: We should have bought a 1-week transport pass.

 

Date: Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Begin/end the day in: Budapest, HU
Lodging: K&K Hotel Opera
Main events: A hike to the Citadel and a long bus trip to Memento park.
Culinary highlights: We’re on a first-name basis with Trainee, the coffee lady at the hotel breakfast.

 

Date: Thursday, June 2, 2011
Begin/end the day in: Budapest, HU
Lodging: K&K Hotel Opera
Main events: City Park, the Agriculture museum, Opera tour and a beautiful late-night boat ride on the Danube.
Culinary highlights: Another one of those guidebook snags, this one for Tex-Mex. I knew it didn’t sound right and it was awful. Laurel’s enchilada was layered with what must have been Ketchup.

 

Date: Friday, June 3, 2011
Begin/end the day in: Budapest, HU
Lodging: K&K Hotel Opera
Main events: The Turkish Baths and the Food Fair.
Culinary highlights: Real goulash from a stand at the fair

 

Date: Saturday, June 4, 2011
Begin/end the day in: Budapest, HU/Windsor, UK
Lodging: Mercure Windsor Castle. Another lovely Mercure room and this one had a carafe of whiskey waiting (although we didn’t partake).
Main events: Goodbye to Budapest, paprika shopping at a
local market.
Culinary highlights: A farewell wine, pivo and snack at the ritzy Café Gerbeaud in Budapest. Very spicy chicken in Windsor.
Transport Notes: Opted for the tram/bus rather than the train for the trip to Terminal 2 at BUD. Got frisked by security in BUD. Second time through British Entry control this trip. Getting used to right-hand drive cars takes a bit of practice.
Calabash: The evening crowd in Windsor is very young and rowdy. The gal on crutches in full saucy attire with a cast on one foot and a lofty spike high heel on the other took the cake.

 

Date: Sunday, June 5, 2011
Begin/end the day in: Windsor, UK/ Amesbury-Salisbury, Wiltshire, UK
Lodging: Fairlawn Hotel
Main events: Windsor Castle. The queen was in residence.
Culinary highlights: Pub food in Windsor, Indian food next to the Fairlawn.
Transport Notes: Driving in the rain on the ‘wrong’ side of the road is not my best.

 

Date: Monday, June 6, 2011
Begin/end the day in: Amesbury-Salisbury, Wiltshire, UK/Newbury, UK
Lodging: The Crab at Chieveley. This was our least favorite accommodation of the trip
Main events: Stonehenge at 5:00 a.m. with about 20 Druids, the Roman Baths in Bath.
Culinary highlights: A lovely full English breakfast in the cellar restaurant at the Fairlawn. Thai pub food in Newbury with a few of the
regulars.
Transport Notes: Leaving Bath, the GPS guided us to a very narrow road (even by Brit standards). We came to a bridge with a bloke directing alternate flows of traffic across a bridge. When we go to the other side, another orange-vested guide hit us up for a toll. Go figure.

 

Date: Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Begin/end the day in: Newbury, UK/Phoenix, AZ, USA
Lodging: Hale Nani. Hey! Now let’s see, where’s the pisser in this room?
Main events: Travel. Row 50.
Culinary highlights: A very lovely breakfast at the Crab. Airplane food after that.
Transport Notes: So long right-hand drive car and narrow roads.
Calabash: Passed directly over the Grand Canyon which was great for the foreign visitors. Going through customs, I’d guess about 80% of the folks on our flight had non-US assports. When do we leave next?

 

Where did the month go?

Tuesday, June 7th.

It seems impossible that our trip is about to end. We’re off to Phoenix at 2:30 this afternoon.

Our journey has been simply fantastic. Driving on left side of narrow 2-lane roads with cars parked on them for the last 3 days has been a challenge, but I haven’t hit anything yet and have only been honked at twice.

Keep the blog journal up to date has not worked out as well as I’d hoped. The problem is that we’ve just been too busy. Days have typically started no later than 7:00 and frequently didn’t end until just after 11:00. Hopefully we can get a few thoughts and impressions recorded before too long.

Time to mind the stairs and head for Heathrow straight away.

Hungary

Tuesday, May 31

Budapest train stationWe arrived in Budapest late yesterday afternoon. When you’ve been on the road for a month, you tend to lose track of days, dates, etc. and we somehow wound up here a day early for our hotel reservation. That wasn’t a problem, but it would have been nice to spend an extra day in lovely Bratislava.

  • We weren’t even off the train when a gypsy cab driver tried to put the hard sell on us.
  • The train station we arrived at was designed by Gustav Eifel. It is most impressive and quite obviously a work of the Frenchman. The main hall has been recently restored and it is stunning. We turned left down one of the several side-rooms and I found the first of many of what I consider to be the “Budapest dichotomies.” The amazing hall joined with a filthy, dank side-room. This seems quite the norm.
  • Had dinner at a place recommended by The Lonely Planet guide and the hotel. Food was a 5 on a scale of 10—just sort of blah. Cliental was about 30% indigenous folks, 50% Americans and 20% visitors from other locals, ergo tourist trap. Good piano player, though.
  • Walked from Pest to Buda via the Margarit Bridge. This would normally be a marvelous stroll with incredible views of the castle and other buildings to the south. The bridge however is being renovated. The south walkway was completely closed and the north walkway, normally some ten to twelve meters wide had been reduced to a narrow, fenced-in shoot. With two-way traffic of pedestrians, bike and skate-boarders it was a little cramped and exciting. River sights were nontheless spectacular.

Let’s hear it for Mr. Clean Jeans

Aloha Friday Morning, May 27

Wash dayDragging a suitcase full of dirty clothing, we’re off via metro and tram to the laundry center. At this moment, just about all the clothing we brought along is tumbling in the dryer and it’s a sartorially splendid sight. I have on a pair of jams and an STS-132 t-shirt while Laurel’s sporting the swimsuit and cover-up she brought for the hot baths in Budapest.

More to follow (I’m running out of battery)

Will they have any of those plump little sausages in a can?

Tuesday, May 24th

Judging by the station signs, I’d say we’ve just crossed into Austria on our way to Vienna (Wien). Gone are the Ceskys and in are the haufs and burgs.

Hotel Konvice, our home for Monday evening, was set in a beautiful 16th century building and with but six rooms it was wonderfully cozy. Most of the floors in our room showed a bit of slant and creaked with each step. By contrast, the bath was done in a contemporary marble tile with the latest fixtures.

As for Cesky Krumlov, it was indeed beautiful, but we spent a lot of time getting to and from it and it was a very tourist-intense location. The big draw was its castle built on the side of a hill and overlooking the town and the encircling Vltava River.

First choice for dinner was roast pork and roast duck each served with cabbage, but as healthful luck would have it, they were out. We settled for two very healthy bowls of garlic soup, a serving of carrots with horseradish a vegetable salad with beets, sauerkraut, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes and carrots topped with a bit of Roquefort cheese. Decidedly low fat, low protein and just what we needed.

Go early, avoid the crowds.

One of the reasons this trip was planned to begin in early May was because we’d hoped to avoid some of the crowds associated with summer tourist season. The success of that logic has been less than stellar.  It’s is true that we’ve run into very few U.S. travelers, but every place we’ve been has been packed with visitors from the EU and the Far East. I believe the one small error in my logic was that your average Euro working bee gets at least four weeks of vacation a year AND they use it. This whole idea of busting your hump 80 hours a week so your mega-wealthy CEO can get another 2 mil bonus and forgoing time off because you need to cover all that work those two other people who got  laid off used to do has just not caught on here. Judging by the breakfast assembly at the Hotel Möveinpick, our Praha home, I doubt there can be anyone left in China.

On the subject of the Möveinpick, the hotel’s motto is “Seriously Dedicated. Passionately Swiss.” I’m not too sure the statements travel quite as well as they’d hoped. First of all, when I hear ‘Swiss’ I tend to think of “highly regimented for no particular reason,” but maybe it’s just me. In addition, the joint’s rated four stars and I’ll buy that if you’re using an eight star scale. The bottle of Evian in the room with a €7.00 price tag on it kind of sealed the non-giddy deal for me.

Technical difficulty

Monday, May 23

Today we’re on the way from Praha to Cesky Krumlov with a change of trains in Ceske Budejovice. About a half hour before reaching our connection point we were told the train was stopping for ‘technical reasons’ and we’d be boarding a bus to continue to the connecting train.  Board the bus we did, but there were three motor coaches for about five bus loads of travelers. Needless to say, the trip to Ceske Budejovice was a bit cramped and with the extra time it took to get everyone onboard, we missed our connection by a few minutes. Ergo, it’s cool the jets time for a couple of hours while we wait for the next train. The shortened train ride meant we didn’t have  time to finish our bottle of lunch wine, but that issue has been resolved with due dispatch in the station. The sausages coming out of the little snack bar here look most tempting, but I suspect my LDL count is nearing 300 so I will try to resist.

Ceske Krumlov is listed as one of the most beautiful cities in central Europe. We’re there but one night, so we’ll have to make the most of our time.

Later—

We finally made it to this, as advertised, very picturesque town. Beautiful yes, but so is Strasbourg, Brugge, Arle, etc, etc.  Actually, the town reminds me a bit of Brugge only with about as many Japanese tourists as Waikiki. I’m not sure how this little Ville got on the must see list in China and Japan, but it’s obviously a big hit.

Also found out there was a bus that left from near our Praha hotel that would have dropped us in the center of Cesky Krumlov, saving two cab rides and a couple of hours. C’est la vie.

‘dem bones, ‘dem bones, ‘dem dry bones

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Keeping on top of this blogging stuff is hard. Other than for sleeping, we just haven’t spent a lot of time in the hotel rooms Laurel so painstakingly researched. Today, however, has been a departure. Up after 7:30 and then down to breakfast we then spent a few hours doing admin/booking/computer stuff in the room. I did acquire a bottle of Czech sparkling wine from hotel restaurant—we’re not total savages.

On Saturday we hopped on the train to Kutná Hora, about an hour from Praha (Prague to the Yanks). The big tourist draws in Kutná Hora are the silver mines and the ossuary. We skipped the mines, but did take in the ossuary. To me, this collection of artwork built from skeletal remains, while quite fantastic, is more of an oddity than anything else. On the other hand, the town of Kutná Hora is a sort of mini-Prague and probably rivals it for inherent beauty and number and magnificence of its cathedrals.

For the evening, we returned to Praha and went in search of U zlatého tygra (Golden Tiger). This pub was once the favorite watering hole of Václav Havel and one of his mentors, writer Bohumil Hrabal. Particularly smoky, this is a one-stop education in Czech pub culture. Pilsner Urquell is the house brew. Havel and former U.S. president Bill Clinton joined Hrabal for a traditional Czech pub evening here during Clinton’s visit in 1994. We joined four German gents at a table directly below a photo of the aforementioned dignitaries and quickly noticed ‘tab’, a small slip of paper used by the waiters in these pubs to keep track of your purchase had somewhere over fifty dashes on it. The Germans explained their numbers had been larger earlier in the evening, but that’s still a lot of pivo. We bailed out at 4 marks, they were approaching sixty.

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International incidences

On our foreign travels we seem to create some sort of international incident on an almost daily basis. This is generally quite inadvertent and as a rule, we have no idea what we’ve done to create the situation. In Warsaw the other day we’d no sooner boarded a bus than a lady began speaking and gesturing to me in a quite emphatic manner and since my Polish is pretty much limited to pivo (beer) and Dziekuje (thank you) I was unsure of what she was trying to point out. I wasn’t sitting in a handicap seat; I wasn’t even sitting and I don’t think I’d bumped or stepped on anyone. As the doors were closing, she quickly exited the bus leaving me to wonder about my assumed transgression.

In Krakow on Monday as we approached a bus stop a lady barked at Laurel for a few seconds and then stomped off. Laurel interpreted the lady’s words as “that sure is a handsome guy you’re with.” I thought perhaps her meaning might be “not much of a bulge for a tall guy.”

By far the best incident thus far on this trip happened yesterday while changing trains in the tiny Polish town of Golkowice. While I waited on the platform with our bags, Laurel went to use the WC in the station.  She was gone longer than I’d expected and when she returned I soon found out what had transpired. We’d forgotten that in Poland it’s common for toilets to be attended and non-gratis. I was carrying all the Zlotys and upon her exiting the stall she was greeted by a man who grabbed her arm and was obviously requesting compensation for the use of his reportedly shabby, soiled facility. She displayed the insides of her empty pockets which set off a litany of words probably aren’t found in Polish text books.

There does seem to be a transportation theme in many, but certainly not all of our mishaps. One of my favorites from several years back was getting yelled at by a Paris Metro ticket vendor for buying a 5 franc billet with a 100 franc note. The bill was all I had and had if I’d had coins I would have used the damn machine!

As far as I know, we haven’t made any real jackass moves today, but the day is young. As I write this we,re on the Czech SuperCity Pendolino Express train gliding from Ostrava to Prague. The steward just brought us another Gambrinus Czech beer and the terrain is becoming more mountainous and dotted with cabins and chalets. Travel on!

Bye to Poland

Tuesday, May 17

It’s hard to write anything about Auschwitz that hasn’t already been written. The two things that probably got to me the most were the piles of children’s shoes in the first camp and the unimaginable vastness of the second camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

We traveled today by “Regular” or non-express train from Krakow to Ostrava in the Czech Republic. Regular trains stop in almost every village and I believe on a couple of occasions we paused briefly in someone’s backyard. Our first stop was in Oswiecim, the site of Auschwitz and then on to Ostrava, just across the border from Poland.

Ostrava, the third largest city in the republic, is probably not on anyone’s top ten travel destinations, but logistically it worked well for getting us to Prague on Wednesday. I haven’t stayed in a Mercure hotel in years, but this one is very new and quite lovely. 

Getting used to Czech money will be interesting. A US greenback will get you a bit over two and a half Polish Zloty; that same buck yields some 17 Czech Koruna so were carrying around some pretty big bills.  About a block from the hotel at a very local pizza place, 350 Koruna got us a couple bowls of tasty pasta and a ration of beer.