Multi Trip (France – Switzerland – Luxembourg – Holland – Czech Republic – Slovakia – Hungary) July 2014
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
Chur – Hotel Chur, Am Obertor, Chur, 7000 – CHF174 for single room for 2 nights – a 10 minute walk from Chur station following the Chur – Arosa railway line through the street. Strangely the Hotel Chur was closed at 2100 when I arrived; it seemed for renovations as the restaurant wasn’t open. Access was granted via a phone call and an entry code to a safety key store, which then got me inside and my room key was on the reception desk. Quite why the details of this couldn’t have been forwarded before I got there I don’t know. The Chur doesn’t have AC and it was a bit warm in the room initially. Of my stays here this room was the smallest and probably worst arranged of them all. Continental style breakfast was included in my room rate.
Luzern – Erlebnis Jailhotel, Lowengraben 18, Luzern, 6004 – CHF76 for single room for 1 night – My hotel for the night had been booked in walking distance from the station as I was arriving late and departing early. I’d chosen the Erlebnis Jailhotel, through Booking.com, for both its proximity to Luzern station and the cost for a single night. By the time I arrived at the place, I’d actually been moved about to different hotels no less than 4 times! Firstly I’d had an e-mail the previous week from the hotel telling me they’d moved me to their sister hotel, which was about 3km out of town, due to an incident at the hotel resulting in not all rooms being available. My response to them told them exactly why I’d chosen their hotel and that their alternative wasn’t acceptable at all; sure enough I was moved back to the Elebnis Jailhotel and all was well. Then while in Amsterdam, two days prior to arriving, I had a call from the hotel telling me that they had to move me to their sister hotel due to there being a broken bed in one of the single rooms they had; of course I was soon explaining to the guy at the end of the phone that they’d already tried to do this to me and it wasn’t acceptable then; and still wasn’t. He then told me we had a problem, to which I told him that I didn’t have one at all, he did and he needed to sort me out a bed near to Luzern station. 20 minutes later I had an e-mail from the Erlebnis Jailhotel confirming that they’d booked me a room at the Falken Hotel, which I found on Google Maps and it actually looked better than the Jailhotel itself, and was nearer to Luzern station. Imagine the mouthful the person ringing got when they rang while I was at Molsheim on the day of my arrival into Luzern, to tell me that I wasn’t staying at the Falken anymore and was actually back at the Jailhotel; my reservation having been cancelled at the Falken!
Despite all the messing about the room was ok and the place was just like a real jail, with proper jailhouse doors and the rooms were cell sized. There was no AC but the opening window sufficed, thanks to the rain cooling the temperature outside quite considerably. The main issue I had was the fact that the plug sockets were all the diamond shape ones, which sunk into the wall so I had to use my portable charger to charge everything that night.
Chur – Zunfthaus ruz Rebleuten, Pfisterplatz 1, Chur, 7000 – CFH148 for a double room for 1 night – situated on the pedestrian area which leads through Chur town, about 5 minutes from Chur station. The staff at the reception were waiting for us and no sooner had we arrived did the woman at reception disappear home. The room was clean and spacious, there wasn’t any air-con but it wasn’t needed, and if anything the rooms didn’t seem as drab as those at the Hotel Chur. Breakfast was included in the room rate and served just across the hall from reception in a rather small room.
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.
Bratislava – Mecrure Bratislava Centrum, Zabotova Street 2, Stare Mesto, Bratislava 81104 – €74.50 for a double room for 1 night – just at the bottom of the main station’s approach road on the left; only a few minutes from the front door and about 15 minutes away from Bratislava Old Town. The room was massive and very quiet as well as clean. All the mod-cons were provided and overall it was a great room. Breakfast at the Mercure is extra on top of the room rate and we didn’t bother as we were departing early.
Budapest – Mamara Hotel, Nagy Ignac 21, 1055 Budapest – €136.18 for a double room for 2 nights – a 5 minute walk from Budapest Nyugati station, best reached by using the underpass; out of the station and on the right. It saves a lot of traffic dodging. While not a very big room it was well presented and had everything we needed for our two night stay. The hotel staff allowed us to check-in early and were very helpful throughout our stay. The room I’d booked included the comfort package which had airport pick-up as standard; as we’d arrived by train though we were allowed to use this option to get us back to the airport. The maps handed out at the hotel were probably the best I’ve used when in European cities, very easy to follow and they even gave the distance each walk covered. Breakfast was included and certainly sufficed.
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
Having travelled through France two days earlier and via Milan to Switzerland I had a pleasant day in Chur:
Thursday 17th July 2014 (Any 100 year old engines out today?)
With most of the day pretty much mapped out, thankful of the fact I could leave my big bag behind in the hotel, I headed down for breakfast at 0700 and was on the station by 0740 confirming in the SBB office that the RhB run special train would depart from platform 14 at 0903. That would be my day, and what better way to spend the day than pottering around the RhB network behind a pair of Crocodile locomotives?
What actually arrived with the 0825 Landquart – Scuol-Tarasp round trip excursion was Ge6/6 I “Crocodile” #415 and Ge4/6 #353. This was actually the booked combination for the same trip the following Thursday; which I was planning to do for that reason. It turned out that crocodile #414 was out of service and wouldn’t be fit for traffic until September so all the Thursday run specials in July would be the same combination and the Friday ones would be guaranteed to be crocodile #415; September would be a different story of course.
The train was formed of load 4 Pullman coaches, which were pristine inside and had very nice furnishings indeed. The cost for the whole day’s tour was only CHF12.50 on top of normal ticket prices and while the train had a few on board it was by no means full and very comfortable indeed in the armchair seating provided. Hayfever tablets taken, Beckonase sprayed up the nose and sunglasses on we set off with all the windows open in the coach as it was already warming up; thankfully my preventative measures halted constant bombardment of pollen resulting in me spending the day scratching my eyes out and sneezing!
The on-train manager was a pleasant chap and took the time to explain to me in English what he was telling the rest in German. It was he who told me, when asked, about the fact that #414 was out of service. The CHF12.50 supplement was paid to him when asked and a ticket was issued; I don’t know if you can actually pay this supplement before boarding.
The train runs out via Filisur to Samedan, where the locos run round before heading across to Sagliains and into Scuol-Tarasp. On the return the train heads directly back to Landquart via Klosters. I was furnished with all the require train number gen by the train manager just after we set off from Chur and from that point on spent the day taking in the scenery and mostly spotting every loco-hauled train I saw to add the loco number to the diagram sheet that I’d printed from the RhB Lokdienste; which was invaluable when it came to working a move out later that afternoon, on arrival back into Landquart.
The 1929 (#415) & 1914 (#353) built locos performed faultlessly the whole day. The crew were out at every opportunity to check the axles and oil them when necessary and as the weather was so perfect the train was followed the whole day by a good number of photographers. The only proper photo-stop of the day was at Ardez on the return, where the train was posed with the monument on the hill in the background. Even though there were trains running we were allowed to wonder freely on the tracks with the train manager alerting people when trains were coming. All in all a thoroughly enjoyable day out, for a bargain price, and where else in the world, other than on the Mariazellerbahn in Austria, can you turn up and get on a train with a 100 year old engine at its helm on a main line railway these days!?
Having then spent a couple more days in Switzerland I popped into Luxembourg for the morning:
Sunday 20th July 2014
While my time in Luxembourg was very limited, having arrived from Switzerland, via Germany and Belgium, I was suitably impressed with the cracking scenery I was greeted with every time I arrived/departed Luxembourg station.
Having done my mad dash round Luxembourg I was into Holland, where I nearly got fined by the police for ducking underneath a level crossing barrier; while it was going up. The law in Holland apparently not allowing anyone to cross before the red lights are out and the barriers are vertical. From there I headed back into Switzerland to meet my girlfriend and relax for a while; maybe:
Wednesday 23rd July 2014 (The Zurich Frenzy)
Having had a decent night’s sleep I was up at 0630 for a complete derance before heading back out for the day. When I got downstairs in the Erlebnis Jailhotel I noticed straight away that breakfast was laid out ready for start-up at 0700. It was the same guy on reception that had checked me in the previous night and it took no persuading at all to get myself a free breakfast. The guy was even willing to open up the breakfast room and let me sit down but all I was interested in was packing some sarnies for the day and having a quick bite and drink before I set sail; I certainly got my monies worth after the messing about the hotel had caused me.
The walk to Luzern station was a lot nicer than it had been in the opposite direction the previous night, no rain, hardly any people and a very atmospheric morning over the lake, affording some nice early morning shots of the Kapelbrucke in the process, with more being taken later in the morning in my downtime.
Having spent the day, without any real plans I ended up in Zurich with enough time to meet my girlfriend at Zurich Aiport. I only ended up waiting 8 minutes at the arrivals gate, her plane having already landed when I got there!
Things then became simple for the evening; get to Chur as quickly as possible and we did so via IC738 1811 St Gallen – Geneva to Zurich HB for the small plus onto IC587 1833 Basel – Chur. We were in Chur for 2052 and at the Hotel Zunfthaus zur Rebleuthen 10 minutes later.
All our other stays in Chur had been at the Hotel Chur but for some reason it seemed a better idea to stay at the Zunfthaus zur Rebleuthen, it being cheaper being a good enough reason. It’s situated on the pedestrian area which leads through Chur town and the staff at the reception were waiting for us. No sooner had we arrived did the woman at reception disappear home; we actually saw her walk past just after we’d sat down for food nearby. The room was clean and spacious, there wasn’t any air-con but it wasn’t needed, and if anything the rooms didn’t seem as drab as those at the Hotel Chur. Breakfast was included in the room rate and served just across the hall from reception in a rather small room.
Food that night was at the pizza place just across the road from the Hotel Chur, the karma unfortunately spoilt by a large group of Swiss Army guys that were thankfully just finishing up when we started; although they did put at least two other couples off eating there due to the noise they were making. It didn’t stop the food being as good as always though.
Having had a busy few days and an early start that morning, bed was a welcome sight that night and I was looking forward to a leisurely start the following morning.
Thursday 24th July 2014 (The promise of Pullman stock to Samedan……)
The whole idea of being in Chur on this particular day had been to do a second trip on the RhB run special; which was being run every Thursday & Friday with a combination of Ge6/6 Crocodiles #’s 414/415 and Ge4/6 #353. This particular date was advertised to be #353 plus a crocodile but as I’d found out the previous week, when the train arrived with #353 & #415, crocodile #414 was out of service at the current time so every date advertised as 2 x crocodile would in fact be 353/415. As I’d already had both locos, vice 2 x crocodile the previous week, I’d decided against doing the trip the whole way round anyway and once breakfast was over the day started rather well.
Unfortunately there was a mild turn for the worse when we came across the RhB Pullman stock sat round the back of Chur shed; while waiting for what I thought was it to arrive from Landquart! I’d promised my girlfriend a nice trip out on pristine Pullman stock in nice comfortable surroundings with clean toilets and a buffet car; what she actually got when #353 led the train into Chur was “nostalgia” coaches with wooden bench seats. Still, the toilets were clean, the train wasn’t wedged and there was still a buffet coach and the bonus of it all was that we didn’t get chung the CHF12.50 extra for the journey. This being even more of a bonus as we were only going to Samedan, not even half the day out, anyway.
The weather was nowhere near as good as it had been the previous week and the amount of photographers around was next to nothing compared to the previous Thursday. Due to a couple of late northbound St Moritz – Chur trains we were allowed off a couple of times for photos while we waited; the crew on board being very sociable in that respect and the whole crew throughout, drivers and all, were completely different from my last outing.
We were on time into Samedan and the locos were detached quickly. Photos taken we waited patiently for the next train to Pontresina just so I could do the track and then we headed straight back to Landquart on a very empty RE1342 1237 St Moritz – Landquart, which couldn’t have had more than half a dozen folk in the front coach and made for a very pleasant journey back to Landquart via Sagliains avoider.
Being in two minds what to do back at Landquart my mind was soon made up when SBB Re 4/4 11149 arrived with IC10778 1438 Chur – Zurich HB vice Re 460. Having spotted everything the whole morning on RhB there was nothing I could really do in regards to getting new stuff in any way as we needed to be in Zurich for our overnight to Dresden that night so this was quite a bonus really and it put us into some early rush-hour running about downstairs at Zurich HB; much to my girlfriends amusement.
Moves done for the evening we opted to get food at a Chinese place, which we’d passed a couple of times when walking from the S-bahn platforms to the new platforms 31-34 in the shopping area below Zurich HB. The food was fresh and tasty and it wasn’t wedged; take-away is also available.
Having been in and out of Switzerland so much during the trip thus far it was finally time to say goodbye for good; on this trip anyway. The solid cranking would then give way to a semi-normal trip with my girlfriend as we headed for Prague.
What was slightly confusing was the fact that our CNL459 1942 ex Zurich was being advertised to Praha Hlavni Nadrazi; not so strange under normal circumstances but……. When trying to book the sleeper berths through DB from the UK I’d been told they couldn’t book anything as the system wouldn’t let them so they gave me the contact e-mail for City Night Line themselves who subsequently told me that on the date we wanted to travel the train was terminating at Dresden and we’d have to make our own way from there to Prague by alternative trains. When I rang DB in the UK back and told them this they then had no issue issuing sleeper berth reservations to Dresden and we were all set. Once on board the first thing I did was confirm where the train was going with the sleeper berth attendant; of course I was surprised to be told Praha! It seems not even the train operator can be sure of where their trains are running and our reservation was soon changed to Praha vice Dresden and everyone was happy; including my girlfriend, who’s first trip on an overnight train anywhere in the world was about to commence.
SBB’s 460108 handed over to DB’s 101026, which I’d already had across Germany and back during my trip, and once through Basel Bad we settled down to bed to relax for the night; although I had to set my alarm for 0615 to make sure I checked the loco that would work the train from Erfurt to Leipzig; having consulted all the diagrams I had on my tablet to figure out what worked where!
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.
Monday 28th July 2014 (The rains had arrived)
We made sure we were down for breakfast early and checked out with enough time to be on the platform at Praha HN before the stock was in to form EC275 0739 Praha HN – Budapest Keleti. When it did drop into the station there was a bit of a scramble but we were ahead of the crowd when it came to boarding with minimal luggage and my girlfriend spotted two unreserved seats straight away and that was us for the 4 hour journey. Unfortunately we did suffer a little bit with a family sat around us that had two young boys who just wouldn’t sit still, or shut up, for virtually the whole journey; hoorah for IPods!
Arrival into Bratislava HS was almost to time and nothing short of s scrum to get off the train and then off the narrow platform that is platform 1. Once out though we found our Hotel Mercure at the bottom of the station approach road, just off to the left at the opposite side of the now disused tram lines that once ran up to the station; the turning circle for which looks like it had been left as was as if the world had ended some years previous, just desolate and with vegetation growing out of the concrete all around.
Having checked into our third hotel in a row before 12 midday we were quite pleased at the size of the room and the facilities it offered. Every we needed was provided including the AC and the bathroom and toilet were separate. The staff spoke good English and were helpful; providing us with maps and directions to the nearby old town. Breakfast wasn’t included in the room rate and we didn’t pay the extra for it due to our early departure the following morning.
Unlike the weather everywhere else we’d been during the previous week the weather was pretty dull and overcast when we arrived but it did attempt to clear up during the early afternoon so we made a bid for it and used the map to navigate our way to the old town, through it and over Novy Most Bridge, from which there are decent photos of Bratislava Castle to be had. By the time we’d finish our walk the sun was glaring down; turning the old town into a very different place to what it had been on our way out.
We chose a place called Pizza Mizza for lunch, which we found on the Triposo App. It was empty inside when we arrived but the food served was very good, mid-late afternoon being a good time to go by the looks of it. Unfortunately the weather didn’t look like it was going to hold out and our afternoon strolling around the old town was cut short; and it was tipping it down by the time we got back to the hotel. Thankfully we missed the brief hammering down that followed shortly afterwards.
While my girlfriend did what she needed to in the afternoon I went out for a couple of hours to do a bit of spinning about, locally around Bratislava. The evening had gone way better than I could have planned on paper and I returned to the hotel very pleased with my smash and grab bash.
Unfortunately the rain didn’t seem to want to disappear for the evening and it ultimately resulted in us not walking too far that evening for food and no sooner had we walked into the Old Town did we settle on eating at a place called Primi Italian; where the food was as good as we’d had earlier in the day if not a little pricier.
Unfortunately, again, the rain put pay to any ideas we may have had of walking round the old town after dark and we headed straight back to the hotel and even though we’d only been in Bratislava for 9 hours we’d had a great day. It was a day we hadn’t originally planned as we’d going to go direct from Prague to Budapest overnight originally but it was worth making the change for.
Tuesday 29th July 2014 (Just how big is Budapest….?)
We were Budapest bound on board EC271 0622 Brno – Budapest Keleti. Having fought our way through the waiting crowds on the platform to board there was a lot more room on board than there had been from Praha the previous morning and the journey served as our breakfast time in the compartment we secured to ourselves while consuming bits and bobs we’d bought at a local supermarket the previous evening.
As per previous day’s arrivals into capital cities a couple of step backs were in the offering so as not to reach the hotel too early and a quick glance at Szob as we passed through revealed good news waiting to depart so off we got at the building site that is Vac to await its arrival behind us. Waiting to depart at Vac was more good news with the next all stations stopper to Budapest Nyugati so it would have been rude not to get off at Rakosrendeso to do it into Nyugati. Even with the two step-backs we were at the Mamara Hotel just after 11am; but were allowed to check-in immediately.
The Mamara is a 5 minute walk from Budapest Nyugati station, best reached by using the underpass; out of the station and on the right. It saves a lot of traffic dodging. While not a very big room it was well presented and had everything we needed for our two night stay. The hotel staff allowed us to check-in early and were very helpful throughout our stay. The room I’d booked included the comfort package which had airport pick-up as standard; as we’d arrived by train though we were allowed to use this option to get us back to the airport. The maps handed out at the hotel were probably the best I’ve used when in European cities, very easy to follow and they even gave the distance each walk covered.
Formalities done at the hotel and suitably rested we were out on the town shortly after lunchtime. As with Bratislava the previous day the weather started a bit crappy and was quite overcast; patience was on the menu if I was to get the photos I wanted, there were gaps in the clouds but not many early on! While the weather figured out what it wanted to do we opted to get an early lunch at a Mexican place called Iguana. Ironically we had to move seats while sitting outside due to the sun being too hot outside of the shaded areas. The food was good and plentiful, and more importantly cheap.
It didn’t take us long to understand just how big Budapest is; it’s not like Prague, which is large but nothing compared to Budapest, or Bratislava which has everything in one central area, other than its Castle. Having walked round the outside of the very impressive Parliament Buildings, the sun began to do it’s stuff and our walk was on. Unfortunately the sun shines across the Danube towards Matthias Church, Budapest Royal Palace and the Citadel in the morning but we made a bid for Castle Hill, on the opposite side of the river, to get the better afternoon shots looking back towards the Parliament Buildings.
Our leisurely stroll took us down the river back towards the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, where we then crossed via the Chain Bridge to the west side and climbed the hill on foot rather than using the sensible Buda Castle Fenicular Railway to get up to the top. The walk round the Royal Palace grounds was pretty impressive but for the ignorant tossers riding about on Segways that insisted on having a group hug right in the middle of the open grounds completely spoiling everyone’s photos at the time.
From the Palace we walked onwards to Matthias Church, which unfortunately had a bit of a building site thing going on outside it. The views down to Pest, on the east of the river, from Matthias Church were cracking and the sun eventually did pick out the Parliament Buildings so at least we returned that evening having achieved what we’d set out to do. The walk back to the Mamara was pretty much a retrace of our outward steps and we were back before the big black clouds that were beginning to loom over Pest managed to empty themselves over the city. If you believe the distances listed on the map’s walking routes we’d covered about 8km! Including the half an hour lunch we’d been out for almost 5 hours so I guess it was quite feasible we’d covered that distance? I certainly felt like it but my late afternoon gift to myself as a couple of hours running around on trains to recover; or not!
We didn’t walk too far that night and found an Italian place just up the road from the hotel, towards Margaret Bridge, called Okay Italia. The service was good, food tasty and served up the best home-made Tiramisu I’ve had anywhere in the world; nothing short of excellent and the price was reasonable too. As with all decent places we find this place was used again and again as the food was good.
Evening over it was nice to relax for a while in the hotel room, maps out, trying to figure out what to do the following day…….
Wednesday 30th July 2014 (One coach trains are the way forward)
After breakfast we headed out to Vajdahunyad Castle; following one of the walks from the map the hotel had provided. There’s nothing like a brisk 4.3km walk of a morning, the outward half wasn’t too bad as the sun hadn’t quite cranked the roasting factor up by that point but on the way back it was scorching. The walk itself is basically straight down Andrassy Avenue until you reach Heroes’ Square at the end and Vajdahunyad Castle is just beyond it to the right. Unfortunately the castles periphery is quite well obscured by trees, immediately around the outside of the main entrances, inside the grounds though it’s quite open. It seemed we’d hit it just as many of the morning tour groups had as well and there were quite a lot of folk about; many stood around getting the history talk by their guides and just generally getting in everyone else’s way! One ignorant tosser got a bit of a telling when he went to position himself right in the middle of our photo’s; having walked right past us to pose for his mate to take his photo. He learnt what photo bombing was for the rest of his walk round the Castle’s grounds as I kept getting pushed about by Danielle to be forced into his photo’s!
We did what we needed to at the Castle in about 30 minutes and we didn’t rush, and that included getting scuppered half way round it’s periphery by the fact you can’t actually walk the whole way round without using the surrounding park’s footpaths. Still we were back at Nyugati station with plenty of time to spare for the 1253 to Kiskunfelegyhaza and even made the 1223 Nyiregyhaza so got a reservation on that instead; so we thought.
I’d asked at the ticket office whether I needed a reservation for the 1223 to Cegled, the answer to which was yes. As it turned out the reservation I’d been given was for the 1253 to Cegled, something we didn’t realise until someone else wanted to sit in our reserved seats; this ultimately resulted in us getting off at Zuglo and waiting for the 1253 anyway. Its standard in Hungary to need reservations on IC trains but these are actually only required in the fully AC coaches. The xx:23 IC’s from Nyugati are formed fully of these full AC coaches and only usually load 3 but the xx:53 IC’s from Nyugati to Szeged are formed of mixed stock and the non-AC coaches don’t require a reservation.
The whole point of the afternoon was to travel with the one coach trains that MAV provided for the Kiskunfelegyhaza – Szeged locals during the summer months, which were hauled by shunting locos. The trains weren’t well frequented and it was a sweltering afternoon and I have to say the driver’s uniform was one of the best I’ve seen, a pair of shorts and trainers; nothing else! He must have been melting in his cab. To avoid the direct sunshine we hid in the station waiting area at Kistelek by the booking hall, with a nice breeze blowing through when the doors were open.
On the way back into Budapest on IC703 1545 Szeged – Budapest, I managed to figure out on the free WiFi that the two trains immediately behind ours both had required engines; we were off at Ferihegy for the first and Kobanya Kispest for the second, then straight into Budapest Nyugati.
Having had a good day again we were in need of a decent meal and the Okay Italia served us up some good food again; I couldn’t resist another go at their homemade Tiramisu either. There was even one guy that came in and all he had was Tiramisu so maybe they were renowned locally for the best Tiramisu in town?
After dark the opportunity was taken to get some night photos of the various buildings lit up on the Buda horizon, including the Royal Palace & Matthias Church, and the Pest river bank, including the Parliament Buildings. The best vantage point for this was on Margaret Bridge, which was actually quite photogenic itself; the many flat topped posts along the bridge were perfect for resting the camera on and the view down the Danube was quite spectacular really. Everything that Buda & Pest have to offer being lit up in the one view. Strangely though the lights shining on one side of the Parliament Buildings went out leaving one side in complete darkness; luckily we’d got all the photos we needed before the blackout occurred and were back at the hotel relaxing and packing soon afterwards, the following morning being the last day of our trip and we’d be homeward bound in the afternoon.
Thursday 31st July 2014 (Would you allow your kids to run a railway?)
The homeward bound blues didn’t take effect until later in the afternoon and after breakfast we had decided upon one last jaunt before heading to the airport and that jaunt would be on the “Children’s Railway”, on the outskirts of Budapest at Huvosvolgy. Unfortunately this place isn’t advertised very well, or even at all, in all the tourist gen around Budapest and while it may seem like a bit of a hassle to get to its pretty straight forward really.
To get from Budapest we used tram No. 4 or 6 from Nyugati to Szell Kalman ter, where we changed to tram No.61 direct to Huvosvolgy. Szell Kalman ter is basically a big triangular tram/bus interchange point and everything is well advertised as to what is going where on electronic screens. At Huvosvolgy, the end of the No. 61 tram line, it isn’t immediately evident when to go to find the Children’s Railway station but there are stairs that led up from the tram station to a dirt track, once up the stairs turn left onto the direct track and follow it the short distance to the end; Huvosvolgy station is right in front of you. Tram tickets are HUF350 for single tickets and should be validated when you board, they’re valid for the whole journey to Huvosvolgy, including changing trams. We didn’t realize the tickets needed validating but didn’t have any issues thankfully.
To return to Budapest we did so from Szechenyihegy by using the Cogwheel Railway, which is actually operated as tram line No. 60, to Varosmajor and then tram No. 61 back to Szell Kalman ter for tram No. 4 or 6 back to Nyugati. Again there are no directions from the Children’s Railway station to the Cogwheel Railway station but it’s simply out of the Children’s Railway station, down the hill for about 200m and the Cogwheel station is on the right hand side of the road. Timetables are displayed on the station and there are at least 3 trains an hour.
When we first got to Huvosvolgy station there was nobody about at all, even the booking office wasn’t open. One of the Mk45’s could be seen in the yard from the platform end and this soon brought two coaches into the station to form the first train of the day, the 0910 to Szechenyihegy. Tickets went on sale about 15 minutes before departure and cost HUF700 each for a single journey the length of the line; rover tickets are only available for families.
Mk45-2004 headed our train with an open veranda type coach at the rear and a second coach behind the loco. We opted for the veranda coach of course and while we sat on board minding our own it became evident that the first train was used as a staff ferry train as there were only four fare paying passengers on board when it left but it was quite full. There were Permanent Way staff, who got off with equipment en-route, station staff that were dropped off at the relevant station and of course the Children; without whom the railway wouldn’t have any staff!
I was beginning to wonder where all the Children were, just as they were marched across the car park, military style and almost in time, and then lined up on the station platform in rows three deep. Lunch was then handed out to all with the first kid in line taking three of everything and the goods being distributed behind. All were briefed by the person in charge before being loaded into the front coach and distributed to various stations en-route to complete their required duties for the day. The grippers for the train had turned up separately and must be rostered in advance as they all seemed to know what they were doing and I have to say it was quite strange having my tickets checked by a kid that couldn’t have been older than 12.
The line is basically a solid uphill climb from Huvosvolgy to Szechenyihegy; it’s a shame the Mk45’s are a bit pants and make very little noise. There is a cracking view over Budapest part way up the line, which the driver slowed down for; these are adults by the way! Our morning on the railway would be just that and we did 2004 all the way out and part way back to Janoshegy for what turned out to be 2003 back to Szechenyihegy on the other turn.
As there was no interest in selling me a ticket for the return journey to Janoshegy at the booking office we ended up buying them on the train. Single journey’s short of full length of the line cost HUF600 and we had no issue buying the tickets from the 12 year old gripper. On the way back though there was obviously a bit of a language barrier, which I was keen to figure out how they dealt with it and the many tourists they must have travelling on the line and was quite withered when the young lad produced a booklet, thumbed through it and ran his finger underneath the line that said “Where would you like to go”. Then he produced a map for me to point to my destination and moments later I was in possession of two tickets back to Szechenyihegy, the cost for which was written down on the lad’s booklet. Impressed I was.
While the railway does seem to run relatively to time there were occasions that you could tell it was being run by Children and also times when you could tell that the adults were frustrated with the Children; still we had a great time and by the look of the crowds coming the opposite way as we walked down the road to catch the Cogwheel Railway at Szechenyihegy we’d left at the right time. The train had already been full as we left the station and there was another train full walking up the road.
We were back at Nyugati with plenty of time to spare before our courtesy taxi from the Mamara to Ferihegy airport so we had a farewell lunch at the Okay Italia before beginning our journey home. The taxi journey took about 30 minutes and was as straightforward as they come. Unfortunately getting through to security at Ferihegy airport wasn’t as straightforward. The queues were massive at terminal B so we walked round to terminal A, where there wasn’t one at all and were promptly sent away to go and get proper boarding passes as our print-out entitled “Travel Document” apparently wasn’t what it said on the tin.
As we queued at the Norwegian Airlines desk it looked as though loads more folk had been victim of the same assumption we had. The queuing was harmless enough though and we were through security and sat in the waiting area with rafts of time to spare. The flight itself ended up being about 30 late but was a decent flight and definitely an airline I’d fly with again.
Luckily we were dropped at the right terminal at Gatwick for the station but I was further delayed getting through immigration as my passport was scrutinized, for a change. After it hadn’t worked at the electronic gate I ended up at a desk, as usual, but the guy processing me didn’t seem to be able to deal with whatever scribbling he was seeing on the screen so had to take me to someone else to get me through. Thankfully we made the train we needed to but it was fruitless rushing in the end as the third train of our journey to Tunbridge Wells, from Tonbridge, was cancelled! Upon arrival at Tonbridge it wasn’t quite the end of our holiday and we had three days in Tunbridge Wells; which unfortunately turned out to be a disaster when the very point of being there went a bit Pete Tong! Still we’d had a cracking trip away and were quite grateful of the fact we were back home 24 hours earlier than planned in the end……