Diary - Czech Republic

Thursday 7th February 2002 - DAY 8

Apart from being woken up by pesky backpackers returning from the bar at 3.30 am, slept pretty well. Decided to stay in Cesky Krumlov for an extra day as we'd both been feeling pretty tired from all the driving and it the sort of relaxed place that you really want to spend some time: very picturesque with its castle, river and little winding cobbled streets. Caught up with the things we needed to do, like e-mailing and updating the web site. Tempted as we were to return to the same restaurant as the night before, we decided to try somewhere new on the theory that you never know what's round the corner. The place we found was just as good as the first, with an even more 'authentic' Czech feel - bit like going back in time: you half expect someone wearing a suit of armour and carrying a sword to come walking through the door. At 40p a beer 'practically giving it away' and really good food, we spent another lengthy evening feeling very pleased with ourselves in front of the fire.

Friday 8th February 2002 - DAY 9

Starting point: Cesky Krumlov
Ending point: Kutna Hora
Distanced travelled: 177 miles

We departed from Cesky Krumlov, promising to come back, and headed north on the road towards Prague. It was a fairly uneventful journey - another grey Czech day, with the occasional snow drifts on the road side. At least we now have some snow chains should we need them. Some of the Czech drivers are slightly mad, but we're going to see a lot worse I'm sure. We took a detour through the historic town of Tabor, but we weren't able to drive into the centre as there's a 2.5 tonne weight limit and we didn't want to be responsible for collapsing any of their little wooden bridges! So, on to Prague, not entirely sure what we were going to do there. Ade's (Robin's brother) friend Pete is living there, and we had been in e-mail contact, but driving around and finding somewhere to park isn't as easy as it sounds. We found an expensive car park near the train station and spent the afternoon wandering about the Hradcrany, Nove Mesto and Vltava River areas before heading out to the small town of Kutna Hora, about 30 km east. Little did we know that it would probably have been simpler to stay in Prague. We arrived in good time with some sunlight left, but then embarked on a two hour search for a place to stay. It would appear that in little places like this, most hostels close down for the winter - there is simply no demand. Eventually we managed to get a hotel receptionist to phone through to a hostel, and a very friendly Czech lady opened it up especially for us. It was basic, but very cheap at £2.50 per person, and we were glad to find some beds.

Saturday 9th February 2002 - DAY 10

Starting point: Kutna Hora
Ending point: Brno
Distanced travelled: 144 miles

Bones at Kutna Hora

After a brief visit to the ossuary at Kutna Hora (a Cistercian Monastery ornately decorated by monks with the bones of over 40,000 people), we headed east for Brno. We decided to take a detour via Telc as it was supposedly the 'most picturesque town in the Czech Republic'. It was admittedly a very pretty and quaint little place with its large main square lined with coloured houses - like a mini-Prague but with a wild west feel. Stopped off for some lunch in a slightly peculiar restaurant serving food such as: 'potato pie served untraditionally', 'pork to noodles cut and to Chinese art prepared' and 'whole pork knuckle in the art available in this restaurant only'. Drove on to Brno the non-motorway route, passing through the rural Czech countryside and lots of tiny little Czech villages. The landscape isn't exactly hilly or flat but sort of lumpy looking. Brno turned out to be a much more smoggy, industrial city than Prague, although the old centre had some fairly impressive buildings. Having no maps or ideas for accommodation, and not being able to find any kind of information point, we drove back out of town to find somewhere quiet to camp. We spotted a sign for a motel/autocamp from the motorway so followed it to what turned out to be a fairly derelict place, but seeing as it was getting dark and we had no better ideas we decided to camp there anyway.

Main square at Telc

Sunday 10th February 2002 - DAY 11

Starting point: Brno
Ending point: Budapest, Hungary
Distanced travelled: 227 miles

Made an early escape from the derelict campsite before any questions could be asked and headed down the motorway towards Bratislava (Slovakia) and on to Budapest. We were aware that when using the motorways in Czech Republic you are supposed to buy a 'vignette' sticker for your car, but as we hadn't been using the motorways we hadn't actually seen anywhere to buy one. We saw a petrol station selling them close to the Slovak border so stopped to get one - a bargain at £2. Unfortunately at the border, it turned out that the sticker we'd bought was for the Slovakian roads (green) and not Czech Republic and the customs officer was quoting us a £100 fine. Eventually after a lot of gesticulation and broken conversation we managed to settle for £10. Felt a bit guilty just passing through Slovakia on the motorway, having spent 5 days in Czech, but we didn't feel we had time to go off and explore the beautiful eastern mountains and from what we saw of Bratislava it was all high-rise apartments and didn't have much to offer. They seemed to be used to people just passing through and didn't even bother to stamp us into or out of the country. At the Hungarian border, our vehicle was given a fairly thorough inspection by an officer who seemed to be more curious than suspicious. On arrival at Budapest, we drove about lost looking for an all-year campsite listed in our guidebook, until we spotted a no.158 bus (directions in the book said to take the 158 bus from the centre to its terminus). We followed it and sure enough ended up right outside the campsite we were looking for. We were the only people camping, not surprisingly as the courtyard had been being used as an ice-rink just 2 weeks before. Most of the ice had now melted and the owners spoke very good English and provided us with a pasta dish topped with what appeared to be cottage cheese and a sprinkling of paprika. We then took the 158 back into central Budapest for a wander. The city is split into 2 parts by the Danube (still trying to remember how the song goes...) - Buda, the touristy bit on the hill; and Pest, the flat bit where the businesses are and people go to work. The city is a lot scruffier than Prague, but very impressive and definitely one of those places that grows on you the more you get to know it. We wandered along by the river and then up to the castle to see the obligatory sights. All the internet cafe's we found had such slow connections that we weren't able to send any e-mails at all, which was a bit frustrating as we are still trying to sort out the indeminity for travelling through Pakistan. Hungary wasn't nearly as cheap as we had been expecting it to be, so we bought some food and locally produced beer in a supermarket and went back to the campsite to cook.