A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Clarabell

Doing the tough stuff first

Arrival in Poland

sunny 31 °C

I left Cesky Krumlov on Wednesday, and narrowly escaped sharing the bus journey with an irritating American school teacher who I had foolishly agreed to travel with the previous night. He insisted he could show me how to use the metro (underground) train when I got back to Prague. But any fool could have figured it out, so I was just fine and dandy thank you. I left Prague on Thursday morning and got the train to Krakow, changing at Katowice.

In my train compartment was a friendly and talkative young Canadian guy who is going to teach English in Krakow, and a lovely Polish Grandma. So we shared the usual conversation of 20 year old boys, something like "what music do you like?" and "Aren't Eastern European women hot?". He wouldn't believe the Arctic Monkeys aren't from Iceland, bless him.

That evening in Krakow, I spoke to the guys in my room who were from Melbourne, and we arranged to get up early the next day to go to Auschwitz, or Oswiecim (with accents) to use its proper Polish name. It was a pretty grim experience, and attempting to describe it is probably a bit useless. I should really just say, go there and see it with your own eyes.

The original Auschwitz I, with the famous gates claiming "Arbeit Macht Frei" is much smaller, as this was more for political prisoners and so on, but a couple of kilometres away is Birkinau, or Auschwitz II, which was built for the purpose of the "final solution". This was the most shocking, if only because of its scale. Barbed wire fences with lookout towers stretch along its perimter as far as the eyes can see. There were over 300 prison barracks, large huts crammed with rows of three tier bunks. But another horrendous fact, is that despite the numbers of prison huts, at the hheight of the atrocity, only the 30% of peoplewho arrived on the trains which pulled in would be deemed fit for work and sent to these huts. The majority were simply sent for their "shower". There were four vast gas chambers. The museum in Auschwitz I has just a sample of the piles of belongings that were found by the Russian troops who liberated the camp in January 1945. Womens hair, mountains of shoes, glasses, false legs, childrens clothes, and suitcases with their owners names and addresses scrawled on them from different cities in different countries, Amsterdam, Prague, Warsaw, and all over.

It was one of those things you have to see, to even start to try and get your head round it. I seriously recommend the visit though.

After, it was time to relax a bit and start explore the beautiful town of Krakow.

Posted by Clarabell 11:14 Comments (1)

Czech Mate

Cesky Krumlov

So it was pouring with rain again when I went to Cesky Krumlov. Having frozen half to death on the three hour bus journey, it wasn't too far from the bus station to the hostel, but flip flops, cobbles and rain aren't the best combination. When will I learn about wearing flip-flops in the rain? I've decided the only people that can get away with it are Australians, who live in their "thongs".

I'm staying in a cute little hostel in an old building right in the middle of the gorgeous old town of Cesky Krumlov, which is tucked into a small bend in the Vlatava river, overlooked by the fantastic castle with a lovely decorated pink fairy-tale tower. Since its so unspoilt, its a Unesco world Heritage site. And it is incredibly pretty. The rain was so miserable that first afternoon, and after falling down some slippery stairs in damp flip flops, and then walking straight into a locker door, I decided it was safer to stay put and went to sleep.

Later I met some guys from Western Australia who were playing (yawn) chess, but we had a laugh anyway down in the lively, raucous bar beneath the hostel.

The following day the weather was great, the sun was shining and the birds were singing, so I went up to the castle, where you can take a tour of the Renaissance and Baroque apartments of the aristocratic families that lived there back in the day. They were pretty rich I'd say. The highlight is the amazing ballroom which is painted all around with bizarre and slightly bizzare cartoony pictures of strange looking ladies and gentlemen dancing at a masked ball. There is also a lovely formal garden which would be a nice place to relax if the weather stays sunny.

I probably have enough pictures of old buildings now. I have to stop. On my last day in Cesky Krumlov, I was walking through the town square when I found out about this "mediaval tournament" thing up near the castle gardens. So I went to investigate with a guy from the hostel. It was all in Czech, but the basic idea was a load of dashing young men dressed as knights trying to impress the pretty blonde princess, doing clever stunts on horses, and even the horses were in costume. It was all a lot of cleverly staged fighting, trying to knock each ther off their horses. The main contenders where her true love, and the best, an arrogant blonde guy who looked like a Disney prince. But to cut a long story short, after 90 minutes of competition, the blonde guy came second to the other guy, but then in a fit of rage, murdered him. Then, to a chorus of boos from the crowd, tried to carry away the struggling princess, even hitting her. But just in the nick of time, the knight who'd come a close third showed up, and saved the day, and whisked her away on his horse, and they lived happily ever after. The End.

I might hang aroung here to se if a knight in shining armour comes and sweeps me off on his horse, but perhaps I'll just head back to Prague and on to Krakow.

Posted by Clarabell 04:25 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (0)

Still in Prague


I think one of the reasons you need a few more days in Prague, particularly in August, is that there is only so much anyone can take of the crowds of middle aged Italians with gold sandals and dyed yellow hair. And thats just the men. So my tactic was to do one really touristy day, then a slightly more chilled day, where I went shopping. Its so cold compared to the heat when I left Britain (whats that about its supposed to be August?)I had to go and get a warmer jumper from H&M.

My properly touristy day was all about the trip to the Castle. Which is very very big. Apparantly its in the Guiness Book of Records its the largest castle complex in the world but I'm not convinced. Anyway, every hour you get to see the changing of the Guards, in their slightly camp pale blue uniforms.

St Vitus Cathedral was one of the highlights within the castle walls. Pretty spectacular and gloriously over-the-top, it starteed being built in 1344 but they oly put the finishing touches to it in 1929. Builders eh? Good King Wenceslas (of the carol, he's the Czech' patron Saint) was supposedly brutally stabbed to death in there by his brother Boroslav I, and now his tomb lies off in a side chapel. There's also a narrow, crowded claustrophobic tower which climbs up to give another great view over the city.

So after another day relaxing, and a couple of nights out with a bunch of Canadian guys, I was ready to jump on a bus down to Cesky Krumlov, which I was really looking forward to.

Posted by Clarabell 03:59 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (0)

City of Spires


semi-overcast 22 °C

Since nobody in the dorm was awake I figured I was going to have to explore Prague by myself.

I went straight to the old town square, which is probably the best old town square I've seen, surrounded by beautifully painted buildings, the huge grand St Nicholas church and a huge statue where everyone meets. I was just in time to watch the famous Astronomical Clock on the Old Town Hall strike 11. A huge crowd had formed underneath it and I innocently jumped in front of them all. Which is one of the few benefits of being short. So when the big hand got to twelve, a weird little skeleton rang a bell, and a parade of cut-out saints filed past a window, and that was that. I don't know what I was expecting, dancing pigs or something but it was a bit disappointing.

The climb up to the top of the tower in the Old Town Hall is well worth it. Well, I say climb, but actually there's a lift, which is handy. It gives a brilliant panaramic view across the red roofs (sp?)of the old town and beyond.

I wandered around taking photos of old buildings until hunger got the better of me. I went up to the old Jewish quarter which has a tiny cemetery full of so many gravestones that they are all higglety-pigglety and back to back. The cemetery is actually raised up, because when they ran out of room they had to just keep burying people on top of each other. There is a museum of Jewish artifacts which I didn't go in, but the sinister story is, that most of the treasures were actually stolen by the Nazis, who planned to display them as a "museum of an extinct race".

After a traditional lunch of roast pork, cabbage and dumplings, I wandered over to the river to look at an old bridge. Charles Bridge, was built in 1357, but until as late as 1841 was the only bridge in the city. It's lined with statues of saints, postcard stalls and portrait painters, and hundreds of slow moving tour groups. In the past they used to throw people off it for various crimes.

Later I decided to learn something by going to a museum about communism, when I finally found it tucked between McDonalds and a Casino. It was one of those museums where you just walk round reading poorly translated, long winded explanations, with few photos and posters, but hey, its educational.

Since it was my birthday I decided enough was enough and went to meet the people I'd met on the train at their hostel. Their Hostel seemed so much more sociable than mine, everyone was mixing, and the beer was only 20 crowns. Soon we left to go into town and meet the American couple from the train. Tuesday is never the best night anywhere, but after walking miles we eventually found some nice bars open late. and so it turned out to be quite a good birthday, even if I did go to a museum.

Posted by Clarabell 03:47 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (1)

Czeching In

Ljublana to Prague


I stocked up on Paprika flavoured crisps and bananas, charged the ipod and got books ready for the 11 hour train journey to Prague. I will be happy if I never see paprika flavoured crisps again after this trip.

It was another rainy day, perfect for sitting on a train. I spent the first few hours reading and had the compartment to myself until Graz in Austria. When we crossed into the Czech Republic it was pissing with rain again. Then the ticket inspector, who looked like a Russian Shot-Putter came round and said something in Czech to the other girl in the compartment, who then explained that, at the next stop we will have to transfer to a bus for part of the journey. Rain and rail replacement buses. It doesn't get more British than this.

But since it was such a long train, we had to get off before the tracks, and climb down and walk along the tracks to the station in the pouring rain wearing flip flops. All the passengers on the train emptied into four or five battered coaches, the drivers of which then raced each other down country roads until the next train station. We then had about three hours left until Prague. In my compartment were a couple of Aussie girls who had been to Cesky Krumlov for the day and got very cold and wet, and an American couple. When we finally got to Prague we agreed to meet up the following night, and as it would be my birthday, we'd have some fun.

Since it was late and I was alone (the others were staying in different hostels) I went to get a taxi to the hostel. I knew it was really near, so when the first taxi driver told me it's cost 22 Euros, I nearly choked. He wasn't very keen to negotiate. "It's my taxi I make the prices," he said. I asked at the information booth what it should cost, and when I said where I was going he insisted I could walk, and that it was safe. What? At 10.30pm by myself with bags? I wasn't convinced at all and one look outside the main door told me everything I needed to know. I wasn't even going to try and get to the main road to hail a cab. Its well known universally that train stations attract the dodgiest looking characters imaginable, and Prague train station, with a dark scary park full of winos outside is no exception.

So I decided my only option was to go back and pay the rip-off taxi price. But the arrogant taxi man wouldn't even acknowledge my presence. Finally, I managed to pounce on a couple of Swedes who were getting into another taxi and convinced them "take me with you please?". So finally I arrived at my hostel, right in the old town. Nobody was around particularly to talk to. So I made some random American lads wish me happy birthday at midnight, then went to bed. Its amazing how tiring sitting down all day can be, I was exhausted! I fell straight asleep, only to wake myself up laughing out loud like a maniac at a funny dream. Weird.

Posted by Clarabell 08:29 Comments (0)

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