We left Prague under the direction of GPS Schatzie who got us out of town cleanly. Experience from driving distances in Europe has taught me that I need a stimulant to be totally alert. Coffee usually solves that problem and we are now ever on the lookout for places that serve coffee for the road.
That usually turns out to be McDonalds. There are a surprising amount of them in the center of European cities but their popularity has spread to the edges of town and they are usually called McCafes and identified by the golden arches.
We found one of those on the edge of Prague and drove right in. I don’t recall seeing the McCafe format in the U.S. but the few we’ve visited in Europe are super neat, clean and efficient. Most have a separate coffee bar where you can get anything that Starbucks or Peets has to offer.
Ready for the road, we headed toward Çeský-Krumlov, a picturesque medieval village located in the Southwest corner that is Czechoslovakia’s second most popular tourist attraction. The road surface was geared for fast traffic but reality took care of that. There were spurts of the top speed limit (60 MPH) but longer periods of 20 MPH when traffic piled up behind a slow moving vehicle. I honed my Audi Driving School skills at sudden acceleration followed by quick braking until I managed to pass the farmer on his tractor taking produce to market. Did this a number of times.
Way out in the Czech countryside there’s not much of a choice on radio, so Louise plugged my iPhone into the Bang & Olafsen system for some music. Suddenly I hear a familiar voice through the speaker. It’s that of Roger Carroll, one time big Los Angeles DJ on KMPC radio. It was a recording of Roger’s popular program for AFRTS (American Forces Radio & Television). The program was originally recorded in 1984 and aired on AFN. How it got into my phone I’ll never know, but the irony was not lost on us. Here we are listening to a program that might been heard in this very region some 31 years ago, only then the listening would have been clandestine while waiting for the Communist nightmare to end. We enjoyed the music of the ‘80’s for almost an hour but it was like being in a time warp.
We reached Çeský-Krumlov near dusk and went for a walk in the almost deserted medieval town. If you ever wanted to visit a site that is frozen in time, this is it. Unlike many similar towns, autos are allowed but on a permit basis and not for any length of time.
We’ve learned that the best time to visit a popular site is at night. The tourists have gone, the locals come out and spots are available at the restaurants. This one had a special on Beef Stroganoff and a table on the patio.
During the twilight hours it’s easier to imagine what this place was like in its heyday. The Vitava River flows in a tight hairpin around the castle located high on a convenient peak. Must’ve made it much easier to pour hot oil down on invaders in the olden days.
Also made it easy to control the river traffic just in case you wanted establish a toll booth…usually a heavy chain stretched across the river. As we ate our stroganoff we made plans for our return the next morning.
We were housed at the Pension Gardena, an especially handy place to be since it is just opposite the entry to the old town. An unhandy feature is the lack of an elevator for those heavy bags we’re lugging around.
The owner, Vincent, (Vlatov to his friends) came to the rescue. He grabbed the bags and two-timed it up to the first floor without breaking a sweat. I don’t think he even heard my advice, “Keep your mouth open, or you’ll never have children,” as he charged up the stairs.
Breakfast was the usual fare only less to choose from. One table was filled with girls from the U.S. studying history on the “Junior Year Abroad” program. An American woman, living in Prague for 13 years, was their overseas instructor. We asked if she’d seen any changes in American teenagers over the years. “Yes, definitely,” she said. “With the availability of iPhones, computers and other devices, attention span has shrunk to almost zero. During the bus ride from Prague, I describe the country; its people and their way of life. Instead of listening, they are texting their friends or each other, checking Facebook or listening to downloaded music. I’d be surprised if they even knew they’d left home.” It was little consolation that we saw the same thing happening with European kids. We’re sure the girls pictured are the exceptions though,
Things had a different look in the morning as we crossed the footbridge into the old town. For one thing there were people floating down the river on inflatable rafts.
Also, the streets would soon be crowded and all the good photo spots taken…but only temporarily.
The castle looked less mysterious in the daytime. It was hard to realize it was home to the same family for three centuries. Why they moved out in the 1600’s is the mystery now.
My nose for a good photo spot pointed to what appeared to be an aqueduct adjoining the castle that could lead to a great Kodak Moment. When we learned that 162 stairs would have to be climbed to get there, our interest suddenly waned.
We decided to use an old trick and follow the tour buses. They led us up a hill to a viewpoint the overlooked the river and the castle. Not the best photo spot, but better than having to climb those circular stairs. Maybe in our next life.
Good friends Janet and Don Dolan visited here some years ago. They mentioned something about storks nesting in chimneys and thought it would be a great photo. That meant more climbing so we settled for a shot of this manhole cover instead. Look closely and you’ll see the name Çeský-Krumlov embossed in the cover. Our guess is that is probably the last modern improvement installed in this living medieval museum. Perhaps not. Flush toilets would be next.
Next stop is located on the banks of the blue Danube…Vilshoven, Gemany.
We awoke early because this is to be our last day in Prague. We are staying at the U Pava Hotel in the new city. That means it only goes back to the 1600’s rather than earlier. This hotel is not a Rick Steve suggestion but one given to us by our friends, the Youngs and the Crofoots. Don’t know what they did to it but it is under reconstruction today.
They all stayed here in the past so it came highly recommended…especially room 203 with it’s preferred view. Unfortunately that room was booked early but management said they’d do their best to offer something similar.
We must admit we were a bit disappointed when we entered the room. It was in what we might call the garret…possibly for the servants. The walls were slanted and it was necessary to walk in an articulated manner to keep from bumping your head.
In an upper corner was a hand-painted figure of an angel standing watch over us while we slept. The front desk had no explanation or back story for the angel over our bed. Can’t say we slept any better because we were being watched.
We were curious about the view because there was only one small dormer window far in the corner of the room. I almost laughed until Louise said, “Come here and take a look.”
The view was of the impressive fortress that overlooks Prague. It contains a church and a good sized village up there and immediately became a priority to visit. We would ask about it at the front desk.
Breakfast came first. The fare is not that different from most hotels of this size and we’ve become accustomed to eating a large breakfast, skipping lunch while touring and wait to have an early dinner.
A standard offering includes yogurt, breakfast breads (including croissants) jams, jellies, fruits of all sorts, juices, breakfast cereals, a selection of luncheon meats, assortment of cheeses and boiled eggs. Teas of all sorts are offered and coffee prepared by a machine…six or seven choices were average. It was enough to hold us until evening.
Against the advice of the desk clerk, we decided to drive the Audi up the hill…especially after she said, Oh, it’s only a short walk straight uphill. You’ll be there in no time.” We found very little in the way of crowds. Perhaps they were still walking up the hill.
The smarter ones hired cars like this one. Don’t try to figure out the manufacturer. There are a lot of them and they appear to be custom made for just the purpose of porting tourists all over Prague.
Contrary to what I was led to believe, there was plenty of open parking at the fortress. Large “P” signs, meaning parking, are everywhere but the fine print usually means that it is restricted in some way. I was in the mood for a beer and pulled into an empty spot in front of a restaurant. As I got out of the car a booming voice said, “No parking allowed without a permit. You will be ticketed and towed.” I replied, “All I want is a beer and a snack.” He said, “I will let you know when they’re coming. Please sit down,” and ushered us to his outdoor cafe.
For the next hour I watched this man deftly work the passing crowd of tourists. As they’d walk by he’d greet them in their own languages. English, Spanish, French, German, Italian and even Chinese. I asked him how he knew which language to speak. “Mostly their clothes,” he said.
“Americans are the easiest because most wear white shoes.” Looking down at my tan desert boots, I wondered how he’d picked me so easily. “You were a little tougher,” he said. No white shoes
but you’re driving a new German car with license plates issued by the factory in Ingolstadt. They are temporary and due to expire on the 6th of October which means you’re a tourist. The model of your car with a 3 liter engine is not sold in Europe which means it will go to the States.” He went on, “Besides, you got out carrying an empty coffee cup. No European man would be caught dead drinking coffee while driving his car.” I must admit, you must admire a man who knows his market that well.
To celebrate our last evening in Prague we decided to splurge and ate at the Kampa Park restaurant, right on the banks of the Voltava River near the Charles Bridge. Friend Tim Young said he and his father had eaten there several times while on business in Prague.
The food was good and well presented but It was also pricey. It was only then I remembered that Tim and his Dad were there on their expense accounts. All in all, a good experience though.
After dinner we walked along the Charles bridge with hundreds of others. Saw this statue in an inconspicuous spot just off the bridge. Guess his job is to stand there and spear the cruise boats that ply the river.
A popular thing to do for almost everyone was to rub this figure mounted on the bridge railing. My best guess is it has something to do with good luck.
Women seemed the most attracted to this action. In fact, never saw a man do it.
The early evening hours seem to be the best time to photograph statues on the bridge in silhouette. Have no idea who these figures are but they look great, don’t they?
Hollywood’s magic hour of twilight arrived while our camera was aimed at the fortress and it was ready for its closeup.
To appeal to the shutterbugs who just won’t quit because it’s dark, Prague turns the lights on their famous Charles Bridge and you could hear the camera shutters click away like crickets.
It was time to call a wrap to our visit to Prague. We went back to the U Pava (Czech for peacock) and took one long last view of the fortress at night from our “view” room. Once again, Prague was generous with illumination and gave us this wonderful sight.
Tomorrow we leave for Cesky-Krumlov. Still in Czechoslovakia but almost in Germany.
Driving to Prague was easier than one could expect. We resumed our now expected 100+ MPH on the autobahn and only knew we’d crossed into Czechoslovakia when the top speed dropped to 120 KPH (approx 74 MPH) and the roadsigns displayed language with a lot of accents and missing a lot of vowels. No border guards, no passport showings, no Carnet de Passage books, no passport stamps…nothing.
Schatzie, our GPS, was not fazed by the change in language, speed limit or road smoothness. To her it was a piece of cake. We were sailing along when the warning signs signaled a detour. The autobahn had come to a sudden end. She deftly moved us along with left and right turns until we passed the same brewery we had passed earlier. Only after we’d passed the brewery for the third time did we suspect there was a problem. Basically, we were in a mobius loop with little hope of emerging. No amount of resetting the GPS for Prague seemed to work.
After quickly exhausting our own solutions, we pulled into a service station with the presumption someone would know the local roads and conditions. There were at least nine people in the cashier line when I asked in a loud, but friendly voice, “Does anyone here speak English?” The room grew suddenly quiet, like I’d said something really improper in the Czech language. Some looked at the ceiling, others stared at their shoes while the remainder shook their heads slowly.
I showed them the Garmin GPS map display and they all laughed because they were familiar with that detour. It started a spirited discussion on how to solve the problem of the confused GPS that didn’t know another way to Prague. All were speaking at once when the the cashier finally took command and entered a different name into the GPS. His idea, communicated by gestures, penciled arrows and hand waving, was to fool Schatzie by asking for directions to a nearby town on a back road to Prague. On arrival at that town, we had only to change the direction to Prague. The group applauded the clever solution but we went on our way with a certain amount of trepidation.
Well, it worked! An outsmarted Schatzie guided us in to Prague well before sunset, giving us time to explore the Charles Bridge that crosses the Voltava River.
It is now a pedestrian pathway that seems to draw an unreal amount of people going nowhere and in no hurry to get there. We plan to walk it again tomorrow to find a reason for the attraction.
Leaving Berlin and Tempelhof Airport behind, we cruised over the ever-smooth roads of the German autobahn toward Dresden…at one time a most unlucky city. Between 13 and 15 February 1945, almost 4,000 tons of high explosive and incendiary devices were dropped on Dresden destroying the center of the city and killing almost 25,000 citizens.
It was considered by many as an unnecessary strike that succeeded in obliterating a cultural landmark of little or no military significance. The debate goes on today but what is done is done.
Much of that has been undone though. Almost everything you see here was damaged or destroyed by that raid and has been rebuilt to the original design…many times using the same building stones.
One outstanding example is the Frauenkirchen (Church of Our Lady,) a church that became prominent in the reformation. It was destroyed in those awful bombing nights and was left by the Communist regime as an example to the German people.
Reconstruction began in 1994 and was completed in 2004. It, too, was rebuilt to match the original plans and fire-blackened stones were reassembled using a plan somewhat akin to a jigsaw puzzle.
Standing in a prominent spot, just in front of the church, is a statue of Martin Luther. The Frauenkirchen was his home church from whose pulpit he announced his radical ideas that changed the face of religion up to today.
Today Luther is visited daily by tourists with their cameras and serenaded by various forms of musicians and their instruments, One we had never seen before was this guy playing popular music from a grand piano right out in the open.
Along with the usual bucket or hat for tips, he had a little stand that sold his CD’s and his piano appeared to be sponsored by Facebook. To add a little class while playing, he wore white gloves.
I wanted to stick around to watch him strike his piano at the end of the day, but we had to move on. I wanted to see if he disassembled it at the end of the day or loaded it onto a pickup truck. I’m still curious.
We located another Evi and Michael Stadler recommended restaurant. The Sofienkeller is located very near the church and apparently very popular.
We filed down a curving staircase and came upon women, in costume, preparing the evening’s fare. It was 7:45 PM and we had to promise the maitre dame that we’d be finished by 9:00 PM since the table was promised. Didn’t seem like much of a challenge until we were seated.
It was one of those cozy theme restaurants that not only offered reasonable meals but wandering entertainment.
Several musicians in medieval costumes floated about the room singing popular German drinking songs. At the appropriate moment the entire restaurant would hoist their been steins and break into song. This went on almost until our time ran out. It was a great evening…full of gemütlich. Pardon the soft focus but I didn’t want to spoil the mood with a flash…and we did get out on time so Anglo-German relations are secure.
We returned to the Hotel Martha Dresden for a good night’s sleep under the feather blankets we’ve become accustomed to.
This is another Rick Steve recommendation, and as usual, a good value for the money. One thing, that seems to be inconsistent in many small hotels, is the WiFi. All claim to have it but it doesn’t always reach your room. Leaving the elevator, we saw kids lounging on a hallway couch playing with their phone devices. After futilely trying to reach the internet to do the latest Blog insert, I found myself sharing that couch with them. Not surprisingly, they were American teenagers who were bored stiff while traveling Europe with their parents.
Breakfast at these small hotels varies but the hotel Martha Dresden put out a pretty good spread. Good selection of everything and we took advantage of that.
The best part, for us, was a table on their glassed in patio. The weather was a little rainy but we were warm, comfortable and dry behind glass.
Next we head to Czechoslovakia and the capitol city of Prague. We’ll brush up on our Czech in the car.
We realize you cannot do a world capital justice in just three days but we gave it our best in Berlin. Time to move on, but on our way out, we took the time for one last look.
Another outstanding reminder of the terribleness of World War II is prominent in a revitalized Berlin. The remains of the Kaiser Wilhelm Church stand as a monument to the futility of that war or any war. Karin Berning, our girl in Berlin, says the tower wrapped in scaffolding belongs to another church and is under renovation. Both are located on the Kurfurstendamm, the street ordained by the Axis powers to be an extravagant display of Western commercialism, progress and beauty.
And so it remains today even as the Unter den Linden struggles to rebuild itself as a retail showcase of the new Berlin.
Another relic with a once stellar past is the now defunct Tempelhof Airport in an area of Berlin that grew to, and ultimately swallowed, a monument of the earliest days of aviation…1923 to be exact. Tempelhof came to my attention early in my youth when it served as the home base for the Berlin Airlift.
From April 1948 to May 1949 Russia closed all supply rates, either by truck or rail, to Berlin. The reason was pretty simple. They wanted to remove the other Allied powers who were occupying Berlin and the easiest way was to starve them out….or so they thought. The Allies responded with an airlift, that at its best, brought in more supplies than was ever carried before. The Russians finally accepted the futility of their efforts and re-opened all ground access to the city. The airport labored on until 2008. when it was decommissioned.
While the city fathers debated on what to do with this suddenly vacant chunk of real estate, the populace made their wishes known by streaming in to use the open space for recreation purposes such as picnics and soccer games. But Tempelhof is still in the flying business, just not the jet type. On our visit, the sky was full of kites of all sizes and the crowds it drew could not be discounted.
But her day on the world scene may happen again…sooner than later. The recent influx of Syrians refugees is streaming into the country. The buildings are empty and there is plenty of vacant land so why not house them there? So, once again, Tempelhof Airport may become the home base of people who have suffered oppression and brutality of their own land and are looking for a safe place to land. Just goes to show, you can’t keep a good girl down.