Czech Republic July 2014
This is an extract from a multi-country report to read the full report use the following link:
The trip was in two parts, the first bit being solid trains and the second bit being a relaxing week, with a bit of trains, drifting from Zurich to Budapest via Prague & Bratislava with my girlfriend and a cracking week it was too; with weather that couldn’t have been better but was verging on too hot.
Booked direct through Norwegian Airlines
DY2497 1535 Budapest 2B – Gatwick – £78.80 each
Prague – Hotel Esplanade, Washingtonova 19, Prague 1, Prague, 11000 – 9185Kc for a double room for 3 nights – a 2 minute walk from Praha HN station; in fact it’s probably closer to the front doors of the station than the platforms are! It’s a four star hotel which was very nice indeed, the staff were all friendly and gave us city maps and relevant directions to places of interest on asking. The room was a fair size with AC, separate bathroom and toilet, widescreen TV, free WiFi and excellent blackout curtains. Breakfast was included in the room rate and there was plenty to choose from; including hot food.
Eurostar 9022 1131 St Pancras – Paris £73 booked online at Eurostar
Thello Train 221 1959 Paris – Milan (4 berth couchette) €77 booked online at Thello
Inter Rail Global Pass 15 Days – £369 booked through EU Rail
Reservations booked through Deutsche Bahn UK (all reservation only with Inter Rail Pass)
CNL40478 Basel – Koln €42.50 (4 berth couchette)
CNL40478 Basel – Arnhem €65 (3 berth sleeper)
CNL40419 Amsterdam – Basel €65 (3 berth sleeper)
CNL459 Zurich – Prague €180 (for two) (2 berth sleeper)
Switzerland BLS Car Train
0919 Iselle di Trasquera – Kandersteg CHF91 – booked through BLS online
We travelled into the Czech Republic from Zurich overnight, via Germany:
Friday 25th July 2014 (Praha – the home of un-sensible dress!)
As it happened I was awake as we arrived into Erfurt so I decided to investigate the loco change there and do away with my 0615 alarm call. It was a good job I check did as well as no sooner had I got out onto the platform was I advised by one of the sleeper attendants that the stock was going to be split, which I already knew, but when DB shunter 362551 dropped onto the rear the attendants arm waving and pointing gestures then made a little more sense.
While the shunting that then took place did seem a little bit of a faff it did seem to be the most efficient way of doing what was required to get our stock into a different platform and with a forward engine on the east end. As DB 101033 was sat in a west facing bay all 362551 did was drag us clear of the station to then allow 101033 to drop onto the east end and drag the train back into the adjacent platform to await its departure time; leaving 362551 outside the station as it did.
We were up and about at Dresden, where we’d obviously originally been expecting the train to terminate, and breakfast was served by the coach attendant, it wasn’t anything other than the usual croissant, bread, spreads and coffee/juice but it was better than nothing at all.
I was a bit sceptical that our hotel would let us check in so early so when I was offered a move at Usti nad Labem we got off at Praha Holesovice to await a late running train arriving behind us; which should have been in front of us but was just being prepared to depart Usti nad Labem as we departed from the adjacent platform. As it was literally right up our arse at Praha Holesovice it only put an extra 5 minutes into our arrival at Praha HN so a quick out and back to Holesovice again took a bit of time out of our morning; yet we still walked through the doors of the Hotel Esplanade just after 11am but were allowed to check into our room early by the friendly staff at the front desk.
The Hotel Esplanade is a 2 minute walk from Praha HN station; in fact it’s probably closer to the front doors of the station than the platforms are! It’s a four star hotel which was very nice indeed, the staff were all friendly and gave us city maps and relevant directions to places of interest on asking. The room was a fair size with AC, separate bathroom and toilet, widescreen TV, free WiFi and excellent blackout curtains. Breakfast was included in the room rate and it was a very good deal for a hotel of this class and so close to the station as well.
Having taken a while to sort ourselves out and figure out what we wanted to do, handy Prague map in hand, we set sail on what turned out to be a marathon walk to Prague Castle. It was a nice day and we were determined to make the most of it while the weather was as good as it was but as it was almost lunch time, having only had a brief look round the outside of the National Museum, we found ourselves looking for somewhere to eat while walking down Wencelass Square; which has a lot of places to eat but we settled on Pizza & Pasta Factory, which is on the pedestrian area that leads left at the bottom of Wenceslass Square, towards the river. We found the food very good, the service polite and it offered an excellent vantage point to people watch while you wait. For us it was such a good spot that we used this place for all our meals during the whole time we stayed in Prague; why disappoint yourself in going somewhere else when what you’ve found is good?
Food done we walked down by the National Theatre to the river at Most Legii Bridge; from here the views of Prague Castle, Charles Bridge and up/down the river are excellent and the sun in the afternoon is about as perfect as it’s going to get as it gleams down on Prague.
Once over Most Legii Bridge we opted not to bother taking the funicular railway up the hill and walked down the river bank to Charles Bridge to admire the afternoon tourist trade plying the waters; there were boats of all shapes and sizes passing under the arches of the bridge and scattered around all over the wider area were small boats of all shapes and sizes bobbing around at a very leisurely pace as their occupants basked in the sunshine.
The next part of our afternoon walk was to tackle the steps that led up from near St Nicolas Church to Prague Castle; they’re steep but wide and seem a lot longer walk than they actually area but the perseverance is well worth it as the views alone, over the whole City of Prague and beyond, from the top are worth the walk; then of course there’s the castle to contend with.
We were in much need of a break however and chose to sit it out a while in the shade to gather our breath and let the heart rate calm to a more sensible level before continuing onwards with our quest. During our break it appeared to be a wedding photographers ball near the castle; there were at least two sets of photographers photographing a couple dressing in their wedding outfits, whether they were actually models or indeed happy couples I couldn’t tell but I could tell when the models had bitten off a little more than they could chew when clambering back down from elevated places was made to look a lot harder than it had when they were getting up. They should have remembered just what they were wearing when they’d clambered up and getting back down in heels and a skirt or polished shoes and tight trousers wouldn’t have been the endurance they made it look!
While still recovering I chose to do it the wall that overlooked the whole city and wait for the sun to re-emerge from behind the clouds it had briefly disappeared behind. Meanwhile a large water truck, used to spray the dusty roads in the city, decided that giving the public, well most of them, what they wanted would kill a few minutes; all it ended up doing for me was getting my camera wet so I got myself out of the firing line sharpish while the younger generation, and some older folk who should have known better, used the spay to cool off. It was carnage by the time the sparing truck went on its way and I’m pretty sure a lot of folk hadn’t even realised they’d got cameras in their hands and phones in their pockets and some were looking a bit bedraggled now the water had soaked into their hair; still a bit of light hearted fun is always good to liven up the afternoon.
We didn’t go into the castle and only walked round its outside areas; the place is very photogenic with bright whites blinding you as the sun reflects off it and the duller sandstone being a welcome change afterwards. There’s intricate detail almost everywhere you look making it impossible not to point your camera at almost everything around. The walk round the castle grounds didn’t take too long though and we were retracing our steps back downhill towards the river and this time onto Charles Bridge to see what all the fuss is about.
There was plenty of fuss alright, we could barely move on the bridge itself; it appeared to be one of the busiest places in Prague! Naughtily I ended up standing on one of the bridge walls to get the photographs I wanted as it was impossible from the walkway; especially with being a short-arse like I am!
Having been on the go for almost 4 hours straight, on what was a very warm afternoon, our route back from Charles Bridge to the hotel was simply via the Old Town Hall, which allowed us to attempt to tell the time on the very strange Astronomical Clock before McDonalds came to the rescue with a McFlurry to cool us down; albeit without accepting the voucher attached to the very map I’d been carrying all afternoon!
I just couldn’t resist a quick evening spin out and left my girlfriend to it while I went over to the station.
Food beckoned after the quick spin out and the Pizza & Pasta Factory produced a couple of good pizzas to top off a cracking day as we watched the masses either returning from a long day or going out to start a long night; either way some of the outfits passing by us were ridiculous and you’d think that the sight of a girl’s ass cheeks popping out of her shorts as she walked by would be quite appealing to a guy wouldn’t you? Well all I have to say to girls that have a bit more to hang out than they would like to admit is pick another outfit and do us all a favour; including sparing yourself the embarrassment!
After dinner we wondered down to the Most Legii Bridge as the sun went down. Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos that night due to a random hair appearing on my camera’s sensor while we’d been at the castle earlier, which I couldn’t seem to shift. No worry though there were camera shops in town and I would mostly be taking a trip to one the following morning to get my issues sorted.
Saturday 26th July 2014 (Four days to get a hair out of my camera; I don’t think so!)
Being close to the station is good for nipping out and having a spin about while your other half does what she needs to and this morning was one of those mornings but I was back in time for breakfast; which didn’t finish at the hotel until 1000. There was plenty to choose from, including hot food, and we collected enough bits together so as we could make some sort of lunch out of what we’d gathered together later in the day.
As the fact that I had a hair on my camera sensor was really starting to annoy me I decided to try and get it sorted before we went out anywhere that day. Armed with the hotel’s map and an “X” marking the spot where Foto Skoda lay I went to try and get said hair removed by the professionals. Misreading the map and walking twice as far as I needed to in the morning heat didn’t start my quest off well. When I found the place I was directed to a pair of doors towards the back, of what was quite a large and specialist place by the looks of it; and told to knock. Knock I did, and I walked in when told to do so, or heard what I assumed was a voice telling me to do so; in Czech.
I can only describe the room as like walking into a tech geeks cave, something like you’d find in the IT Crowd; for those that know what I’m talking about. There was a guy sat behind a desk in his swivel chair with a few small tools on the table yet there wasn’t much in the way of camera fixing going on; but I was about to find out why.
I explained my issues and even set the camera on a high F stop and took a picture on a light background to show him; it wasn’t really necessary though as you could actually see the hair with your naked eye through the viewfinder. The guy’s response to my issue was “you need service” and his response to how long was “4 days”! I explained that in 4 days I would be back in the UK and that I only had a very limited time frame, still he was adamant the service that I required would take 4 days.
The language barrier beat me in the end but even my hand gestures regarding an air blower resulted in the same answer of “4 days”. Bored of trying to get them to let me use their tools I ended up back at the front desk but my attempts to even buy an air blower proved completely fruitless; even with someone who spoke good English. I mean what kind of camera shop doesn’t sell air blowers? They’re the easiest thing to scam any unsuspecting photographer with. What I ended up with was a wet & dry cleaning kit for the sum of £4 and 45 minutes later I was back at the hotel; £4 worse off, still with a hair on my sensor and in freshly soiled clothing thanks to the glorious morning sunshine, and partly to my rushing around to get things sorted.
I was determined not to let this hair spoil my day, photos and general karma so I took the camera lens off, undid the clip that hold the mirror in place and showed that dammed hair who was boss. Baring in mind the last time I tried to show something on my sensor who was boss it ended up with more mess on it, scratched and had to be turned upside down after it had been cleaned while a new one was ordered by the camera shop; this all costing me nearly £150! This hair was shown who was boss for free, well actually a wasted £4 really, as I gently blew into the camera and the hair drifted away; problem fucking solved! So that’s two lessons I’ve now leant about things on your sensor, number one don’t try and clean it when drunk with a towel from the bathroom of the hotel you’re staying in and two try the simple things first, when sober, without letting previous incidents put you off.
Problem solved and freshly showered, we were on our way to Karlstejn Castle before midday. I’d decided that doing EMU’s to Karlstejn and back wasn’t the done thing but doing loco-hauled trains to Beroun for EMU’s the short distance from there to Karlstejn was. It wasn’t a long wait at Beroun but of course we’d have been at Karlstejn earlier had we done the EMU’s throughout from Praha; which we waited patiently at Beroun for on their return journey instead.
You could be forgiven for thinking you’ve been led on a wild goose chase when you get off the train at the small shack that is Karlstejn; which appears to be in the middle of nowhere. And unless you’d caught a glimpse of the castle, nesting in the valley, from the right hand side of the train just before you arrived you’d also be forgiven for wondering where it was too.
There are a few places to get snacks near the station and the first sight you get of the castle is after a 15 minute walk to Karlstejn village; out of the station, turn right, left over the river, right at the other side and then left into Karlstejn village. The castle is nestled high up in the valley and it looks like something you’d see in a fairytale; the glorious sunshine we had making it look even more impressive, the sun being perfect on the castle as we walked through the village in the early afternoon.
Karlstejn village is lined with shops to ply the passing tourists with virtually anything they want from water to ice-cream and the obvious tat. The walk up to the castle is not for the feint hearted, it being a gradual climb from the moment you turn left into the village. We didn’t bother going up to it and were very pleased with the photos we got from down below. Thankfully we’d either missed the rush or had picked a day when there wasn’t much foot traffic through the village; although there always seemed to be people walking to/from the station for trains, just not that many. Some of whom were very stupid people indeed; one such woman was completely oblivious to the fact that the station master was trying to protect her as she walked over the tracks at the station, instead of using the subway, seconds later a freight came bowling through. God only knows what the driver was thinking but if I was that woman I’d most definitely be rethinking my platform crossing strategy next time I had to do so; what was more distressing was the fact she never even looked either before, during or after she crossed!
While passing the time waiting for our train towards Beroun to arrive we spotted some birds nesting, pretty much all over the station. They were like House martins but a browner colour and their nests had way more nesting birds than House martins have, some having as many as six heads popping out over the edge of the nest, waiting to be fed. Having House martins nesting at home I was naturally interested and quite surprised at just how disinterested in the passing public the birds were, which included a parent that just sat on the edge of the nest staring at me as I snapped away.
Our short stay in Karlstejn meant we were back into Praha Hlavni Nadrazi, having returned via Beroun as well, in time for the main cranking event of the day and which unfortunately offered up very hot coaching stock in the afternoon sunshine, and there were no proper pull-down windows on the set but at least they had inward pulling windows so fresh air could circulate.
It was only a short trip out to Praha Branik and having spent most of the day without any real food we headed straight back into Praha before heading straight to the hotel, dropping our stuff and making a bee-line for the Pizza & Pasta Factory to get some food down us. We were delayed a little en-route as the sun is perfect on the National Museum in the late afternoon.
Food done and with a hair free camera sensor we headed down to Most Legii Bridge afterwards and this time stayed for the impressive sunset. There were still rafts of people on the river after dark and everything around gradually lit up as the sun sank behind the hillside to the left of the castle. It seemed busier in the evening than it had done the previous day; everyone wanting a glimpse of the very well lit sights that Prague has to offer; unfortunately there appeared to be a storm looming and not wanting to get drenched we returned to the hotel before the heavens opened; and only just made it back before they did! The night shots would have to wait until the following day……
Sunday 27th July 2014 (Seats reserved for everyone except normal people)
I opted for a bit of early morning cranking before breakfast again and having done the same move the previous day and been 6 minutes early into Praha HN on R892 0425 Stare Mesto u Uh Hradiste – Praha HN I was well aware of the potential to miss the train. What I didn’t quite expect was it to be already at the platform end as we rolled in on R863; thankfully the correct platform end and just arriving, not departing. 151210 was the engine, the same as the previous day, the only thing different about the train from the previous day was the fact it was earlier; and so early it was into Praha HN before it should have even departed Liben! Dangerous move that little move turns out to be; thankfully it was the last time I would do it.
After breakfast the very point of being in the Czech Republic on a weekend would take up the rest of the day and having done 362167 out to Praha Liben on R865 0952 Praha HN – Brno we settled in for the journey to Svetla nad Sazavou on board R977 0942 Praha Smichov – Brno; which was almost a bum move as the train was wedged but luckily there were a couple of seats free in a compo towards the front of the train.
All soon went downhill when the guard moved us out of the compartment half way to Svetla; we were apparently sitting in a compartment reserved for those with children. I didn’t see any of the locals in a rush to get out though! As we’d already seen the train was wedged it was completely fruitless walking back through it so we just sat in the front coach; a completely empty 1st class coach with just us in it. That didn’t last the whole journey unfortunately as the guard eventually moved us on, thankfully with only about 20 minutes left of the journey; bless him though he did take us to some unoccupied seats and sat us down. These were actually reserved for people with bikes though! Plenty of seats but not that many for people who are just travelling as people, it seems there’s more chance of getting a seat on some trains if you have a kid or bike, or are old or disabled. Still it wasn’t quite as bad as what was sat waiting for us as we made our plus 3 at Svetla into the 1146 Svetla – Cercany DMU.
Just when we thought we’d got a bit of space around us in the power car, not the trailer; we were invaded by a group of school kids, all wearing nice bright yellow t-shirts for their special day out. It was probably into the high twenties outside, we were sat in a tin box, thankfully with opening windows, surrounded by kids and without much room to breathe; it was a wonderful journey, I was just grateful it was a short journey and very relieved to watch the red tin box disappear and leave us behind to the tranquility that Vilemovice oozed. The only noise there was the buzzing from something inside the waiting shelter, which we kept well away from, and the joyful voices that came from the passing rafters on the nearby river.
Our wait in the wilderness wasn’t long and we could hear 749121 snaking its way towards us long before we could see it. My girlfriend was left as the person to signal to the driver to stop while I got myself a decent shot of 749121 arriving in the glorious sunshine. We headed through to Svetla where 749121 ran round and sat ready to depart with 9206 1346 Svetla – Praha HN. There was a shop to buy everything from sweets to ice cream and even beer on the station, right by the shade of the tree, so we didn’t starve during our time there and feasted on stuff we’d stashed from breakfast at the hotel while we waited.
I’d toyed with the idea of doing the 1153 from Praha HN to Svetla which was only a plus 3 onto 749121’s train. As our plus 3 had made to get us down the line for it I was expecting the plus 3 onto the 1346 departure towards Cercany to make. I wasn’t that aware that it hadn’t when we departed 5 late and was actually thinking we were just drawing down the platform as we set off; when the engine was opened up fully though I was reminded of just why I hadn’t risked the plus 3 in the first place and was so glad we hadn’t done it; the train was nowhere to be seen as we left the main line and headed off towards Cercany.
Our 6 coach train ran pretty empty to Zruc nad Sazavou where all but one crank got off to do 749006 behind it to Cercany; where 749121 would then re-engine the same train for the run into Praha via the electrified main line. 749121 made a spirited exit from Zruc but I couldn’t help but think that it just needed that bit more at the top end. It had been driven well, which must have made a big difference to the 749 experience anyway but there was just that bit missing.
Keen to sample another to be able to compare the locos I was pleased that Sp1832 1600 Zruc nad Sazavou – Praha HN was as empty when it left Zruc as 749121’s train had been when it had departed. Thankfully the driver was also into punishing his loco, just as the one on 749121 had been and it was immediately evident that 749006 had that bit more than 749121, it was a crisper noise and sounded meatier; it too though did seem to lack that something extra at the top end, especially after it had been wide open for a period of time. This better illustrated by 749121 when it dropped onto the other end of Sp1832 at Cercany and was hammered up the main line towards Praha.
When 749121 dropped us at Praha HN I was pretty pleased with the day’s bash but was also glad to be heading off to a nice air conditioned hotel room. It had been a very hot day, we’d been practically melting on board the stock and I was in desperate need of a shower.
Thankfully the sun disappearing behind the horizon cooled the evening down nicely and we sat and watched the world go by at the Pizza & Pasta Factory one last time; thankfully there we no un-tasteful arse cheeks hanging out to put us off our food but there were still plenty of fashion casualties to base our conversation on while we ate.
It was a clear night and we were able to watch from Most Legii Bridge as Prague Castle began to light up as darkness fell, soon followed by Charles Bridge and the rest of the city skyline. The evening was an excellent end to what had been a very pleasant visit to Prague; a place I’d certainly return to in the future, there was so much more of the Czech Republic to see and Prague makes an excellent base. Unfortunately it was back to the hotel to pack for us and we’d be Slovakia bound the following morning.