Random Superficial Thoughts About Central Eastern Europe

1. Everyone smokes everywhere, all the time.
2. There are a million nuns here!

Hiking in the Tatras

Hiking in the Tatras

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3. It’s shocking how many skinny women there are around given their cultural cuisine and cheap beer!
4. These women are champs of high heels… On cobblestones!
5. Prague is the city of rude servers.
6. Olomouc is the city of brides.
7. Krakow is the city of nuns.
8. Slovakia is super humid.
9. PDA is huge. I feel like I am constantly in line at an amusement park!
10. The showers here are different. They almost all are in a tub and the shower head does not hang above you. It is conducive to shorter, more efficient showers perhaps because it encourages you to shut off the water any time you need to use your hands to soap or shampoo.

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11. It is really hard to find broccoli. We got used to broccoli being a staple veggie at home. We have to be lucky to find it in supermarkets here!
12. The street lights go red, yellow, green!! They also do green, yellow, red of course.

Olomouc, Czech Republic

After our great visit to Prague with Eric’s parents, we planned to head to Krakow, Poland. We thought it would be fun to break up the trip and Eric knew that there was a unique UNESCO site in a small city called Olomouc so we decided to head there. Boy, are we glad we did! Upon arriving and exploring the old town of Olomouc, we decided to extend our stay to 2 nights instead of the original one!

Where We Stayed

Poet’s Corner Hostel –  This was the top-rated accommodation for Olomouc in the Lonely Planet so we were excited to try it out. It was a nice hostel, with the standard features. We decided to stay in a private room and didn’t end up being as social with the rest of the hostel as we could have been. The best part about the hostel was the good advice they gave us for exploring the town – they gave us a nice map with a lot of recommendations on it.

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What We Did

Olomouc was definitely a nice change of pace from Prague. There weren’t as many things to do, but there were still plenty of monuments and pretty sights to explore, without all of the people!

Climb St Moritz Bell Tower

Our first stop in town was to climb the bell tower of this church in the old town.The staircase was a neat double-helix spiral pattern, so you went up and down on different staircases with the same center. From the top of the tower you could spy a lot of the different sights we wanted to head to next.

Old Town Square

Like Prague, Olomouc’s main square has a few different sights. The most notable one in the UNESCO-listed Holy Trinity Column, This column is wide enough at the base that there is a small chapel in it.

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Olomouc has an astronomical clock as well. One interesting aspect of the clock is that the mosaic surrounding it was redone in the 1950s in the communist-area style emphasizing the socialist values. We also enjoyed trying to decipher all of the different dials on the clock faces.

St Michael’s Church

We thought the interior of this church was pretty impressive. Also, in one of its crypts there is a natural spring which they say the town was founded around.

Walk Around the City Walls

We found a path outside the old city walls and along a nice hike and bike trail.

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Spy on Weddings

When we started walking around on Saturday, we noticed one wedding party taking pictures in the square. Then, at St Michael’s, we actually climbed the bell tower during the end of another ceremony and the got to witness the bridesmaids handing out shots at the end of the receiving line. Then, at the Saint Wenceslas Cathedral one wedding was wrapping up… as another was getting lined up outside! In the end we saw six different weddings in various stages of the events.

SK Sigma Olomouc soccer game

We noticed that the soccer stadium was very close to Poet’s Corner, and the local team, SK Sigma Olomouc, was playing a game on Saturday afternoon, so we decided to check it out. Unfortunately, Sigma had been relegated to the second tier Czech league the previous season, so it seemed like maybe the attendance was a little low. Tickets were cheap though, and we got seats pretty close to the action. Sigma lost 2-0, so the local fans did not seem too happy.There was a small group of hardcore fans who chanted the whole time, but the overall atmosphere wasn’t much different from any US sporting event.

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Where We Ate

We hoped to try a few different places, but when we went around on Saturday, multiple places were closed! One was for a wedding but the others were just not open. We don’t know if this was a low-season thing (Olomouc is a college town and students were not back yet) or if the town always shuts down on Saturdays.

One place we did eat was the Saint Wenceslas microbrewery. The food and beer weren’t the best, but the price was pretty good. We debated but eventually decided against their “beer spa” experience: we would have bathed in beer!

Final Thoughts

Olomouc was a nice town to use as a break from hectic sightseeing. There are a lot of nice things to see and not nearly as many crowds to fight through as in other places. Anyone planning to go between Prague and Krakow should definitely consider a stop in Olomouc!

Connections: Beer Recommendations turns into Business Class!

Traveling is a wonderful way to meet people! Unfortunately, often those connections are strong but only fleeting. Connections is our tag to recognize and remember some of the wonderful people we meet.

On our last evening in Prague, we decided to try the brewery near the Strahov Monestary. We hiked up the hill, which of course has some amazing views over the city.

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We sat down at the brewery and enjoyed a few of the beers. When we were almost done, a group of Americans sat down next to us. They asked us for some advice on which beers to try, which of course we answered. As we continued to chat, we found out that they were a group of flight attendants… who were working a flight to New York the following day… in the morning… It was the same flight as Donna and Steve were flying on! The flight attendants thought this was just as great a coincidence as we did and insisted on getting their names and a photo!

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We weren’t too surprised to hear that Donna and Steve met their friends again on the following day during their flight, AND got upgraded to business class for their trip home. Talk about a great connection! =)

Prague, Czech Republic

Our first stop in Europe was Prague, the capital of Czech Republic. Eric’s parents joined us as well, and we all enjoyed our time in the “city of 1000 spires.”

Where We Stayed

Airbnb in Zizkov

Since there were four of us, we decided to book a flat of our own on airbnb. There were a lot of options, but many that were close to the main tourist attractions were pretty pricy. Eventually, we found a flat in the Zizkov neighborhood for a good price. Even though we weren’t super close to the attractions, it was still only about a 30 minute walk through a scenic neighborhood Also, there was a metro stop just a few minutes from the flat (and the Prague metro is very efficient).

Another bonus is that we were right next door to the famous tv tower. This made for a very easy landmark to identify where we were were staying!

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The Zizkov tv tower

The Zizkov tv tower

Old Town Home Prague

Our itinerary is Prague was split… we spent six nights at the beginning of the trip there, then two nights in Český Krumlov, then one final night back in Prague before Eric’s parents flew out the next day. For that last night, we decided just to find something simple and convenient. It took some searching, but eventually we stumbled upon this property. We were able to reserve a private room with four beds and its own bathroom down the hall. The location was fabulous: just a few minutes walk from the Old Town Square, but on a quiet side street so we were able to get a good night’s sleep. Another cool feature was that it included a free ghost tour, since the same people also ran one.

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What We Did

Free Walking Tour

There were a lot of different tours of the city offered… horse drawn carriage, bus, fancy car, segway, etc., but we decided to try a free walking tour. It’s not truly free – they expect you to tip – but it does provide a great incentive for the guide to make the tour entertaining. In Prague there are multiple companies offering this; we went with Sandeman’s. We greatly enjoyed the three hour tour that our guide Filip provided. He hit on all of the highlights of Old Town and kept it enjoyable throughout.

 

Prague Castle

This structure doesn’t look like a castle from a fairy tale, but it is still pretty impressive. We started our day at the castle by taking a tram all the way to the Strahov Monastery and found an awesome panoramic viewpoint looking back over the city.
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We then went into the castle complex itself. It is still the office of the president, so there is a colorful guard standing watch. It is free to walk through the grounds, but to go inside the buildings you have to purchase tickets. We bought the one of the cheaper packages that let us get into the buildings we were interested in. We visited St Vitus Cathedral, the Old Royal Palace, St. George’s Basilica and the Golden Lane.

Walk Through Mala Strana

On the way down from the castle,we did a self-guided walk through the neighborhood below the castle called Mala Strana. Here we found the Wallenstein Gardens (although it was about to close), Kampa Island and the Lennon Wall.

On the way back, we walked over the famous Charles Bridge.

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Vyšehrad

We explored this site where some of the original fortifications of the town were found. There’s not much left except for the castle walls and some older buildings. We did enjoy the interior of Basilica of St Peter and St Paul located here.

Day Trip to Kutná Hora

Visit the small town of Kutna Hora. See what we did here!

Jewish Museum

This museum is actually composed of multiple sites spread through the Jewish Quarter next to Prague’s Old Town. We spent a good portion of a day exploring these various sites. Our ticket covered:

  • The Pinkas synagogue, which is now a memorial to the Jews of Bohemia and Moravia that lost their lives in the Holocaust. Inside, the walls are covered with each person’s name written by hand. (No pictures were allowed inside).
  • The Old Jewish Cemetery, with its thousands of tombstones and graves piled on top of one another
  • Klausen Synagogue
  • Ceremonial Hall
  • Spanish Synagogue

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Letna Park

We climbed up the hill to this park overlooking the river and Old Town. We also eventually found our way to the beer garden where we enjoyed a few beverages!

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Overnight Trip to Český Krumlov

See separate blog on this awesome town!

St Norbert’s Brewery at Strahov Monastey

After returning from Český Krumlov, we had a final afternoon in Prague. It was a nice warm afternoon (after multiple days of dreary, cool weather), so we decided to walk back through Mala Strana to the Strahov Monastery, where there was a brewery. On the way we enjoyed the views back over the city. At the brewery, we tried four different beers (a nice change of pace from the standard pilsners).

Here we also struck up a conversation with a table of Americans next to us. Amazingly, they were flight attendants on Eric’s parents’ flight the next day!

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Ghost Tour

As previously mentioned, this was free for us since we were staying at Old Town Home Prague. We enjoyed this tour both for the stories (and legends) that were heard and also for the chance to see Prague at night!

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Beer Museum

This wasn’t actually a museum but a pub with many beers to try. Unfortunately, we were in a rush so only got one taster tray. But we enjoyed all of the beers we tried and wish we had a chance to go back!

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Where We Ate

Prague was a very hit-or-miss city when it came to dining. It seemed like a lot of the places that we went. even ones that were recommended, had servers that seemed frustrated by our presence and lack of Czech-speaking ability. After a few tries, we started to get a feel for how much things should cost and what types of things to order. We did enjoy a lot of the pork dishes, and also the goulash.

Also, it seemed like you needed to constantly be aware of how much things should cost and make sure to not get overcharged. A dishonorable mention goes out to the food stalls on the main square. They listed a reasonable price for some ham and another dish, but when it rang up it was as much as a sit-down meal! The catch was that the price we saw was per 100g, and they made sure to serve more than that…

That being said, our favorite was…

Restaurace U Parlamentu

Standard Bohemian food for reasonable prices a with friendly service. Eric’s parents got a dish that included duck, which they quite enjoyed.

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 Final Thoughts

We quite enjoyed Prague. It was a beautiful city with a lot to do! It was extremely touristy, of course, and we actually found many people relatively unfriendly. We’re glad we went but wouldn’t necessarily put it at the top of the list of places we need to get back to soon.

Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

When planning our Czech Republic leg, one thing we heard from multiple sources was that while Prague was amazing, Český Krumlov might be even better since it is smaller and more intimate. Therefore, during the time we were with Eric’s parents, we took a brief two-night trip down to this charming town.

Getting There

We took our first (and hopefully not last) trip on the yellow buses run by the Student Agency company. This was probably the fanciest bus service we have used: padded leather seats, free hot beverages and most amazingly a touch-screen entertainment system for every seat. Watching movies helped the three-hour trip fly by!

Where We Stayed

Since there were four of us, we decided to book a private place through Airbnb. We found a pretty cool flat that had room for the four of us. The best part of this flat was the location: we had a great view of the Český Krumlov Castle, and could walk to it and the historic Old Town area in about 5 minutes!

What We Did

Český Krumlov Castle

Like the Prague Castle, this building does not look like the fairy tale castle, but is still fun to explore. It’s free to walk around the grounds, but to go inside you do have to pay for a guided tour. There are a few different tour options; we chose the one that took us through Renaissance and Baroque era rooms (no pictures allowed inside, unfortunately).

The castle does have one tower that you can pay some money and climb up in. We did this and really enjoyed the 360-degree views from up here. If there hadn’t been a cold wind blowing, we think we could have stayed up here all day!

One interesting feature of the castle is that they keep live bears in the moat. Every time we walked in or out, we had a fun time trying to spot them.

Old Town

We spent most of our time just wandering the streets of Old Town. There are many winding roads and narrow passageways to explore. The Vltava River has a large bend surrounding Old Town, which makes it even more picturesque.

Eggenberg Brewery

We took a break from walking around at this local brewery. We were able to try four different types of beer: amber, dark, “yeast,” and lemon.

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Our Favorite Place to Eat

U dwau Maryí, a.k.a “At the Two Maries”

We found this place listed both in guide books and on some online resources. It stood out from some of the other places we ate because it offered some unique dishes that it claims more closely match to what the traditional Bohemians ate. We got a combo platter with interesting items like millet, buckwheat and barley. We also enjoyed the creamy dumplings with blueberry sauce for dessert :).

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Kutná Hora, Czech Republic

During our time in Prague, we took one day from sightseeing in the city to visit Kutná Hora, another town in the area with some interesting tourist attractions.

Getting There

There are guided tours offered from Prague, but it sounded pretty easy to do it on our own, so we took that route. We figured out that there was a train leaving from the main Prague train station at 10, so we headed over there that morning and were able to secure a ticket. There were quite a few other tourists doing the same thing! The ride to the main station in Kutná Hora took about an hour.

Waiting for our train

Waiting for our train

Sedlec Ossuary

Our first stop was at the hard-to-believe ossuary in the suburb of Sedlec. Apparently the surrounding cemetery became very overcrowded during the Black Death, so they decided to store the bones of tens of thousands of people in this chapel. A woodcarver hired to arrange the bones used them to make quite a few amazing creations. Probably the most impressive were the chandelier with at least one of each bone in the body and the coat of arms of the local noble family.

St. Barbara’s Cathedral

After a nice lunch at a restaurant in town, we headed out to this very impressive UNESCO-listed cathedral. We thought that the exterior was pretty magnificent, especially the spires. Kutná Hora was a silver-mining center, so there were also some interesting older frescoes showing scenes from mining life.

Old Town

We also enjoyed walking around the cobblestone streets of the old town of Kutná Hora. We were impressed by their plague column and some of the other architecture.

Heading Home

Unfortunately, we had to catch our train back to Prague at 5, so we didn’t have time to see all of the sights that Kutná Hora has to offer. We’ll just have to go back!