Prague and Teplice

Czech Republic

We travelled from Cesky Krumlov to Prague by bus and then underground – good opportunities to see some more Czech countryside – lots of farms and grass like home.

Once in Prague, we had a three hour walking tour of the city with a local guide. The good thing about these walking tours is that you can quickly cover the “must sees”, like the castles and cathedrals. If you want to explore them in more detail, you can come back later. We saw St Vitus Cathedral, the Old Square and Astronomical Clock, the government buildings, castles and changing of the guard.

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One for Nicky – David Cerny’s sculpture of St Wenceslaus riding an upside down horse

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To be honest, we never became particularly fond of Prague during our three day stay. The architecture is incredible, but the enormous number of tourists (it was a weekend in peak season) and the often grumpy locals (when compared to Berlin and Vienna) took away much of the charm. It was a lot dirtier or grungier than we expected.

Day two we wandered and then found this small vineyard next to St Vitus Cathedral, overlooking the city. Five hours later and following coffee, cake and red wine, we finally left there.

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That night, Viv (our 25 year old tour leader from Hungary), Clint (the 25 year old Aussie who was in the army), Steven (the Scotsman who lives in Dubai) and I headed to one of Prague’s infamous night clubs. This place was crazy – five stories of night club with DJs playing different genres on each level. The downside was the number of tourists (we weren’t helping that ratio) and there were too many misters and not enough sisters (weren’t helping that either). But the drinks were dirt cheap and the music was ok, especially on the “Golden Oldies” floor (it’s scary that music from the late 90s fills up this category).

Perhaps more exciting than the night club, was walking home through central Prague at 4 am. I walked home with Steven the Scotsman. We both agreed that there is no equivalent in NZ (or any place Steve had been to – and he lived in LA for 10 years) to the seedy side of Prague at that time of night. By all accounts it was similarly seedy earlier on at 11 or 12 pm as well.

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Following the night time adventures, we were pretty slow the following day. There was a gay pride parade going on near our hotel (the anti-gays were there as well, complete with shaved heads, boots and Rottweilers), but we made it to the National Museum showing the collection of gigantic Mucha paintings. Czech artist Mucha painted these for the city over the course of 18 years. There are 20 canvasses in his “Slav Epic” collection, the largest of which measure 8 x 6 meters, with intricate detail throughout. The museum itself is huge, and we managed to get through most of it – lots of Picasso, some Van Gogh, Monet and other big names. On the way home, we picked up takeaways and sat on the roof of our hotel where we caught the sun setting over the Cathedral.

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Em’s camera mastery

All in all, Prague won’t go down as our favourite city, but it has an interesting history and we were pleased to have gone there. We were also lucky to have a young Canadian with a History Masters in our group. He was pretty much reading one history book for each place we visited, and was a wealth of information on just about anything you wanted to know. Quite impressive.

Swapping big for small, we caught three trains to get to Teplice Nad Metuji, which is a tiny village still in the Czech Republic, but close to the border (they speak German there). The trains were very “Eastern Block” – probably how it would have been in the 60s – and one of them dropped us pretty much onto the tracks to wait for another. The train staff were less than friendly.

Once in Teplice, the thing to do was a two hour walk to see all these bizarre rock formations. We did that, and they were bizarre. The highlight was climbing up a long series of vertical steps and steep ladders to the top of one of the rocks, where we had amazing views.

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Here I have spotted a Ninja Turtle – we saw some of their artworks in the gallery in Prague

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Checking out Cesky

Czech Republic

After a short train and a two hour shuttle trip (during which we sat silently as the drivers yabbered in Czech), we arrived at a dubious looking hotel perched over Cesky Krumlov in the south of the Czech Republic. Said hotel turned out to be fine inside (anywhere with free wifi is always more appealing) and the UNESCO World Heritage area below it would turn out to be very memorable.
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We arrived late afternoon, and after the group had withdrawn some Czech dosh we walked down our road to the old town. The little cobbled streets and colorful buildings sucked us in instantly as we got our bearings with the group leader. There was a small amount of time before dinner, so the group split up with Alex and I choosing to pay the small fee to climb up the castle tower to get an aerial perspective of the town as the sun went down. The first night was capped off with a hilarious group dinner, including birthday cake for one of the ladies.

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The group

The next morning we were booked onto a rafting trip. A river (the Vtlava) winds its way through the Cesky old town, making rafting or canoeing the most popular leisure activity. There were all shapes, sizes and levels of seriousness taking to the river when we arrived at the launching site 15kms away from the town. Dividing into three rafts and handed our paddles, Alex and I set off with three Aussies into the chilly shallows.

Fortunately, we made a pretty good team. Alex chose not to show off his paddling skills and took the (all important) job of steering at the back, while the weaker of us paddled and drifted along. The best bits about the river were the ‘raft-up’ bars, which sold the locally popular mojito, and the man made chutes which created rapids for us to tackle along the way. They provided a good thrill on what was an otherwise tame waterway. It was great to get out and do something different, and fortunately our crew were all still speaking to each other at the end…
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The food and drink stalls in Cesky were great, as were the restaurants. The local sweet rolled and toasted bread was pretty tempting, along with the market stalls of freshly cooked paper cones of potatoes which had been shaved into chips on what looked like a milkshake machine stick. Alex demo’d an entire cone of these in minutes, while I was distracted by the lady who had made her own slabs of peanut brittle, coconut ice and also had the hugest wheels of cheese I’d ever seen.
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The chip guy

The second night we dined by the river in a very cool little place. Alex went for the big plate of ‘Bohemian feast’, which had a wide array of meat and various forms of potato or dumpling. Very tasty by all accounts. After seeing the state of the river we had traveled down that day, I’m not too sure why I chose that night to order rosemary baked trout. The tiny whole fish that stared back at me made me doubt both its legality and edibility, but once I got into it and searched my way through the bones it was pretty tasty. It was the second birthday of the trip for another of the Aussie ladies, so more singing and cake was dished out at the end.

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The bohemian feast

The following morning, Alex (most enamored by Cesky and attempting to become a photography guru) got up at sparrow’s fart to snap more pics before we headed off on a public bus to Prague. The results were well-worth his early alarm clock, as hiking to the other end of the town got shots of the buildings under great light, as well as the lack of tourists at that hour. He was stoked.

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