2006 October 27 - Nov 4 Czech Republic
Our car was VW golf, compact 4 door car with manual transmission. As a matter of fact, this time we noticed that many people including our colleague in Budapest and our friends in Vienna were driving automatic. One taxi driver in Paris drove automatic too. We were told that better cars now come in automatic and Europeans started to like to drive manual especially in traffic. George loves manual so we got one – less expensive. It was hard to get our out from Vienna center, but after driving in circles J for an some time, we got out and were on the way to Czech republic for Cezky Krymlov. We crossed the border in 2 hours – 1 more stamp on passports. We arrived Czecky Krymlov . We checked in at our hotel, 5* Ruze. http://www.hotelruze.cz/ .
This is the best hotel in Cezky Krymlov but besides being luxury 5* hotel, it has character. It compares with paradors in Spain and Posadas in Portugal. It used to be a Jesuit monastery in 16C and it is more like a museum.
People just come in to sightsee it. It is not for everybody since it is not modern, and room was typical room in tower with a small window as in turret and what a view – a river and a castle! The hotel is meticulously restored and is an experience in itself.
As for Cezky Krymlov, Unesco Historic Heritage site and second most visited town in Czech republic, it is a monument of Renaissance and Baroque art. It is such a fairy tale place…. It has castle above Vltava river, gardens, delightful small cobblestone streets, nice gardens and very well preserved Baroque theater. This is something like Rothenburg in Germany or Gruyers in Switzerland or St. Paul de Vence in France. We enjoyed stroll in town , had dinner .
I am better with Czech language since it is Slavic and I speak Russian and Ukrainian. Czech has many common words . Austria was easy – we knew some plus Austrians speak English. Hungary was the most difficult to understand.
So we finally arrived in a country where it is easy to understand and being understood. Plus if not English, they speak Russian. Money are difficult to understand, 1:20 Czech Crone. They do not have euros yet. But some accept euro unofficially.
October 28. After breakfast we did some more sightseeing, took pictures and left Cezky Krymlov for spa town Karlovy Vary.
Karlovy Vary has 600 year of summer resort tradition , was founded in 1350 by Karl IV. It is popular for mineral waters. Many Europeans come to drink curative waters and take baths. My mother used to go there for 4 weeks treatment and told me to drink water. We checked into grandhotel Pupp ,
It was really grand, what a contrast with yesterday’s hotel Ruze! From Jesuit convent, to grand Palace. It really reminds grand palaces in France, Germany and Austria. We were lucky to be upgraded to jr suite with 1,5 bathrooms and living room and bedroom. About 5 meters ceilings, huge windows, beautiful silk wallpaper.
Many famous people stayed there from Goethe and emperor Franz Joseph to Gorbachev and American movie stars. What a history this hotel has! http://www.pupp.cz/
We went for a promenade. I was looking for a place where people drink water. We went to colonnade. I asked a vendor on the street “Where is water?”. He seemed to be frustrated by such a stupid question: “Water, water, everywhere is water!! “. There was a stream of water like a river, and it was steaming. There was also fountain of hot water and also small fountains where people were filling with special porcelain cups with pout and drinking from it. I bought a cup and tried the water. It was strange tasting – warm, salty tasting , something like warm saltwater. Not for me. Not sure what is the hype with this water. I neither felt better nor worse J .
The stores on main street had beautiful porcelain and glass. Bohemian crystal and local Moser porcelain are the things to buy.
We went to the hotel’s roman bath. It is actually just a Jacuzzi, although there is a myriad of different treatments and rooms – sauna, massages, hot and cold baths with stones for feet massage.
We considered ourselves experienced after Budapest spas. J
It was coed and women and men change in their respective lockers and come out to roman bath area. I came out to Jacuzzi. George came too. When I came into Jacuzzi , 2 men left it. I noticed they were naked. George came in… I explained there were naked Russian men. I know Baden Baden in Germany is code clothes optional but this was not supposed to be. At this moment since I was the only one woman in the spa and men fled, the only logical conclusion was that I am in wrong spa? We both were wondering. Fortunately, a young german couple came in and they were in swimming suites. So we concluded even it is coed spa, it is allowed to be without clothes. So we stayed. Not an issue for us but something to have in mind – usually Americans do not appreciate taking spa with people without clothes so my job is to warn .
We went for dinner afterwards at hotel Grand Pupp restaurant. It was a beautiful dining room. Less expensive is buffet all you can eat – popular with Russians who take half board plan. We opted for a la carte. The dinner was exquisite and service was excellent. It was great people watching too. Guests were some Americans – very few. Majority was Russians and Germans.
Staff is fluent in 3 languages. Great people watching .
My cousin Ella and her boyfriend Klaus came from Germany for a day and we spent half of the day with them – drinking water, strolling and we had lunch. A lot’s of food so did not have dinner. After they drove back, we had some work to do. We sure getting used to 2 rooms and 2 baths! Enjoying this hotel very much, great service.
October 30. We drove after breakfast to Prague, getting to Prague was easy but inside Prague it was like driving in labirinth. All directions did not prepare us for narrow one way medieval streets and trams. Finally made to our hotel Oriental Mandarin
As all Oriental hotels, this one is excellent. Location is Mala Strana (Little quarter). It is built in convent but hotel is brand new, opened Sept 12. It is contemporary design inside however they preserved the structure of old convent, we have a large room with few steps in hallway. Hardwood floors and heated marble tile in bath.. It is only first day but we are enjoying hotel very much. I checked spa, very nice, but who has time for this... In spa, there are also remains of roman ruins preserved and glass floor is built on top of it...
Staff is young and anxious to please. We went to ballet to see Swan Lake at State Opera theater . It was fine, but after Vienna theater is pales in comparison.
October 31st. Happy Haloween! Actually, you can see some pumpkins at the windows of building. We went to Old town and dropped off the car. We are getting the hang of it. Even car driver yesterday who drove us from Opera said it is very difficult to drive in the town. In any case, we are free from the car so we started our pedestrian sightseeing :-)
Old town square was very busy. We went to Tyn gothic church and it was nice however the problem is beacause of traveling after 2 weeks, you got lazy on sightseeing. At this point, after seeing so many churches and museums, we got bored with churches. One more church.... :-)
Same with astronomic clock. It was brief show, we've seen this before.. We passed by horse carriage offers and touring in vintage cars and made a point to come back next day. At this point we like to stroll, and enjoy city and watch people. We watched 2 American young women taking pictures of each other. They had few scarves, beret and they skillfully changed their appearance with accessories and took different pictures of each other with different looking clothes. Amazing .
On Charles (Karlov) bridge as usual were too many people especially groups so it was crowded. No chance to touch figure which brings luck. Tomorrow we have a private guide in the morning so we saved some energy and left the best for Jewish quarter. I am glad that we are staying in Mala Strana, it is such quiet and refined quarter within embassies and still in walking distance to old town. Lunch was quick pizza and greek salad (too much of Czech food already). We had some break at hotel and had a nice dinner at nearby restaurant "U Modre Kachniki" . Good Czech food...
Nov 1st. Most of the day was spent with a guide. Our guide Jirina was excellent and getting a private guide, even if we are familiar in city in general, still gives completely different perspective for traveler. Besides general seeing of the sites, she also discussed with us (beacuse we were interested in it), Czech history, politics and life under Soviets. She appreciated also the fact that we know European history and understand what it was like living under Soviets.
We walked in Prague's beautiful castle district . We took tram there and metro back. It is possible to walk from the Old town and Mala Strana however we saved energy and time. We also wanted to ride that Czech metro and tram again beacuse we grew up with this transportation in Soviet Union. Nostalgic. Same exported Czech trams. I have a picture of it.
When we walked by president's residence, it looked familiar to us. We remembered driving by it past checkpoint ("controla") on day of arrival, when we were looking for our hotel and got a lost a bit. The policement at checkpoint told us we cannot come here but we did not understand why. We did talk him into letting us at least make an u-turn which was about 50 meters along the building and then to turn around. He gave up. Now it turned to be - it was restricted zone reserved for president of Czech republic. Wow! Try to drive into White house entrance.
After Castle district we went to Jewish quarter and toured synagogues and cemetery. Cemetery is amazing. You need to look into gravestones and look for family signs which shows family name and occupation (doctors, finance, etc). Again, I strongly recommend a guide beacuse even if you read Hebrew, depending on light, you will not see some interesting signs on graves.
Our guide was also helpful in explaining how the czech glass is made and showed us local stones - granates and moldavites. Good for souvenirs. She did not push selling. She showed us marvelous shop with armor and tin figures... Very interesting. She also helped me to scout free informative tourist maps which I could not get at tourist information. All TI offices gave me at least 1 map but I need many to bring for my clients. So I loaded on maps. She showed us where Cedok travel agency in located so tomorrow we will go to buy tickets. I might splurge for assigned seats this time.
Tired, we got back to hotel . It was cold and windy. Warm hotel was welcoming and staff opened the doors for us greeting us by name. George rested in the afternoon and I had a business meeting with Oriental sales manager. The hotel is impressive and while is only one month old, is getting many inquiries and showing from industry suppliers. Later on I had another meeting with a lovely Russian woman whom I work already for 5 years for central europe booking abd later on George and I went for dinner with her. Dinner was at hotel's Asian fusion restaurant and it was good although our collegaue was shocked about prices Americans pay at this restaurant. No more than in NYC so we did not think it was that much. She gave me though some other recommendations for dinner so we will try them for next few days.
Nov 2. Today we went to to Terezin concentration camp. It is a sombering experience. It is a fortification town created by Franz Joseph emperor in 1780 as a fortifed town named after Empress Maria Teresa for purpose to keep prussians out of Austro-Hungarian empire. In 1941, the Nazis removed their residents and brought in 60,000 Jews creating Terezin concentration camp. This was nazi's model Jewish town, a concentration camp for propaganda purposes. Red cross came to see it and Nazis demostrated how "citizens" seems to thrive , put on plays, concerts, soccer matches. Red Cross did not raise extra questions , although it was obvious that propaganda was all lies. But red Cross delegation was lead by Swiss doctor and Swiss had Jewish money at their accounts. Virtually all of Terezin Jews ended up dying either at Terezin or were sent to next concentration camps (Aushwitz, Mauthauzen, etc..) The art of of children of Terezin survived as a testimony to the cruel horror of Holocaust.
In the evening we had dinner in old town, in the Balkan restaurant was recommended yesterday to us by my collegaue. It was good and surpisingly inexpensive.
Nov 2 . We took easy that day, mostly exploring our neigborhood mala strana. We took funicular to Petrin hill and enjoyed view from summit. There is a copy of Eiffel tower, 90 meters tall.
In the afternoon, we had tickets to the concert of Mozart's music - Mozartissimo. It was surprisingly good. Much better performances that ballet in State Opera. Mozartsissimo was in theater of the estates. I booked tickets in advance for both performances in Prague at bohemiatickets.cz and asked for best tickets. We got first row, and in the middle in both . Best seats. After theater, we had a dinner at nice restaurant near our hotel, U Vladaru.
Tomorrow we are leaving for Dresden. Prague was very enjoyable.