As I have been doing for the past five years, this is a travel log I keep after our summer vacations. Don’t expect any fancy piece of literature, it’s mostly a record of our wandering around Europe (so far), the things we’ve seen or missed seeing, our crazy schedule, whining about weather and stuff. As usual, the names of the innocents, and not so innocent ones (hehe!), will be protected. Let’s go…
Saturday, the 20th of August
- in order to determine the family to have everything ready on time for a change, I had threatened them to cancel our booking if they didn’t have their packing done the weekend before our leaving. The plot sort of backfired on me in the sense that on Friday evening the suitcases were out, but they were still empty.
- we spent the morning packing, moving in slow motion, still feeling tired after having gone to bed after midnight.
- when we were finally ready, we had two flash drives with music selected for the trip by little brother (I had let him do it because one, it was late, and two, the previous year he had complained there was not enough of his music in the selection) and I had no idea what was on them. Later on it turned out he had been considerate and had cared not only about his wishes but for the other people’s who would be listening too.
- up until almost the last moment we had no GPS to guide our trip and since everyone had struggled to find one, we had ended up with two, a fancy one with no Czech map, and a more basic one with everything on it and ready to go. Believe me, trying to find new maps and figure out how to install them right after midnight is not an easy thing to do, especially when the device doesn’t work unless plugged in inside the car, so we had given up and decided to bring both along and use one for half of the trip and the other one for the rest of it.
- to start the vacation right, little brother managed to injure his left hand just before leaving, though how he was able to smash his fingers by sitting on them is beyond me. From that point on he was no help with any heavy lifting.
- we kissed grandma and the cat goodbye (yes, in this order) and on our way out of town we stopped to buy a memory card for the camera, stopped at the bank too, and then to put on some gas. While the boys bought the memory card, Mom went to the nearby store for some last minute shopping, including soup. When they returned, they told us about a friend of ours who worked there and was very excited about getting a car, so our motto for the next few days became “We’ve bought soup!”
- at 12:50 PM, we were finally (finally!) leaving town.
- the music was good, but the road not so much. We followed the usual route, Iasi – Tg. Neamt – Borsec – Toplita – Reghin – Cluj – Oradea, nice scenery but very bad roads. I did not remember to be that many holes in the road, and since we had run into some road works last year on the same route, I had hoped for the roads to be repaired by now. On the contrary, the roads were even worse and there were at least 3-4 segments with only one lane, which delayed us quite a bit.
- the part right before Cluj was more like an obstacle course, luckily pretty deserted so we could slalom properly between the holes. Chris Rhea was singing “Road to Hell” and we were like “Yeah, baby, here we come!” When we made it to Cluj, Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” seemed very appropriated. In a way the road between Cluj and Oradea was even worse because on top of all the traffic was busy too.
- at 23:00 we arrived at Pension Z in Oradea, the same place where we usually stay. That means the owner wasn’t shocked by our late arrival, and he put us in the same room we were used to occupy, hot, no air, but no roses sheets for a change.
- we were tired so after we ate something we went straight to bed.
Sunday, the 21th of August
- after a bad night with little sleep because we had to sleep with the windows open not to suffocate and we could hear everything that was happening in the street, we had no problem waking up at 7 AM even before the alarm went off.
- still, with breakfast, little brother going up to buy himself a toothbrush and then Dad stressing his phone trying to activate the roaming feature, it was already 10 AM by the time we continued our journey.
- at the border, we stopped to buy vignettes for the road for Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic and… Austria. Err… In my defense, I must say that I’m not the driver and I was not supposed to be in charge with the route. My responsibility was the accommodations and I took care of that. Why they didn’t study the maps when they didn’t know they would have a GPS available until the last moment is their problem. I had looked on Google Maps, but if you don’t zoom in it’s not quite clear if the road crosses the Austrian border or not. Shrug.
- our followed route was Oradea – Debrecen – Budapest – Bratislava – Brno – Prague. This time we used the small GPS and it worked perfectly. We crossed Budapest, stopped for lunch at a rest stop on the Hungarian highway, saw the outskirts of Bratislava and decided to visit it on the way back, and then at the Slovakian border when we were talking about stopping at Parndorf to see what the fuss was about (we’ve heard people talk about it and we passed by four times, but we never actually got to stop and check it out) we realized we weren’t crossing the Austrian border at all.
- first Czech impression: their roads are bad. Not as bad as ours, but still bad compared to Slovakian and Hungarian roads. No holes in the pavement, not on the highway anyway, but the road seemed to be made of transversal pieces badly patched together. The car kept jumping on them like a flea on crack, so we had no other option than to use the speeding lane, which was slightly better, much to Mom’s chagrin, tee-hee! “Not so fast! Slow down!”
- at first glance, the city reminded us a little of Budapest and we feared we might have problems with the traffic and the one way streets, but the apartment was easy to find and we arrived there at 18:00, a few minutes before the landlord did. I love traveling to the east because we gain an hour due to the time difference. Of course, coming home is always a pain since we lose one.
- we stayed in Navratilova Street (hard to forget the name) in Nove Mesto, not far from Old City Center. It wasn’t exactly what we had expected. We had especially requested no stairs and there were about ten steps at the entrance of the building, and the elevator was the size of a matchbox, two people hardly fit inside. Eh, anyway, we managed. I must say that the apartment was falsely advertised as a three room apartment, when in fact it’s a two room apartment. The living room is separated in half by a screen, but the screen doesn’t go all the way in height and length so the separation isn’t complete. We would have been just as happy with a two room apartment, we would have taken it if they had one available at the time of the booking, so there really wasn’t any need for that. At first we thought the fridge wasn’t working, we couldn’t figure out where to take out the trash, and Dad complained his bed wasn’t good to sleep in. I thought the mattress was a little too soft for my taste, but I could rest just fine on it. The biggest problem was the noise, not only we could hear everything happening inside the building, the elevator’s door was especially loud when closed regardless the floor, and the garbage trucks were just murder in the morning. Those workers should be shot! And let’s not forget the street lamp post right outside the bedroom window, which made the light inside the room absolutely not necessary with the drapes on and off. Other than that, it wasn’t too bad.
- while Mom and I finished settling in, the boys took the car to the garage recommended by the landlord, on the other side of the river. Not long after that, they called asking me to look for another parking, because the price turned out to be three times bigger than we had been told it would be. Suddenly I had flashbacks of our first evening in Vienna and kissed the evening walk goodbye. Thank God for free WiFi! First, I sent them somewhere on the north outskirts of the city. From there Dad called to find yet another one because it was too far and he was requested to pay for the entire week out front, which wouldn’t do since it was late Sunday evening and we had exchanged only enough money to cover the rent for the apartment. For once Facebook turned out to be useful as I could get in contact with a friend who spoke Czech and helped me find another parking. Next, I sent them closer to the east, and by the time they returned, after using several buses and the metro, they were too tired to complain.
Monday, the 22th of August
- by some miracle we managed to wake up at 9 AM. Well, according to our internal clock it was already 10 so no wonder I felt pretty rested. I won’t get into how long it took us to get ready, those who read the previous entries know we have a big problem with that, I’ll just say we managed to leave the apartment around 11.
- it’s a good thing I was aware that most streets and sidewalks were paved with cubic stone so it wasn’t that much of a shock. At home, cubic stone is a killer, but in Prague it was tolerable while still annoying. Back and neck pain is a small price to pay since they were going to hurt anyway from the long trip inside the car. They still do.
- we started with Wenceslas Square. It looked different than it did in photos and somehow I kept feeling it had been set the wrong way and it should have been higher at the other end. For the same considerations, the river is flowing the wrong way too. ROFL
- we went up to Wenceslas Palace at the higher end and stood by the fountain and next to the cross embedded into the sidewalk. It was the point when I decided that no matter how much I liked my brand new sunglasses, it was time to give them a break because the red tinted lenses were changing the colors way too much. The building is big and beautiful, but the passing of time has made the stone become very dark so the walls are in bad need of a makeover. I’m not the only one who thought so since we discovered that the National Museum residing inside had been closed until 2015. Next to it, Narodni Muzeum is a big, black, ugly monster of a building that made me think of a funeral house. Since we were there, we went a little further down the street to see the State Opera too. That one was small but pretty.
- we returned into the square to finish our trip around it and then we headed up north to the Powder Tower and the Municipal House. This is one place I particularly liked.
- through the Powder Gate we went and made it all the way to the Old Town Square where we admired the buildings lined up on the sides and the astrological clock. This is one oddly shaped square with the tower set off center and is always crowded with tourists who either sit on the terraces, in the park, check the merchandise sold in the kiosks or wait for the clock to strike and announce the time. We agreed to watch the show another time when we wouldn’t have to wait half an hour for it.
- by this time the family was getting tired and insisted to take a break and return to the apartment. It was weird because I’m usually the fragile one in our group, but now with Mom’s bad knee, Dad’s bad shoulder and little brother’s thankfully not broken but still aching hand, I was the only one in a reasonably good shape. Or at least not complaining about it.
- I was getting frustrated because they had dragged me into every store that showed up in our way. I couldn’t understand why they did that when there were so many beautiful building to look at outside, even if they had seen them thirty years ago. Later on I figured out it was because of the A/C. Apparently it was too hot for them. I felt fine. I was just sick of souvenir stores. Czechs also seem to be big on jewelry (never seen so many jewelry stores in one place), especially granats, which I don’t care much for, bohemian crystals (Mom loves them), and puppets (they give me the creeps).
- anyway, we went to the water and walked along the river to Legii Bridge. We crossed about half of it and wondered why they sank the island (more on this later!), then we returned and looked at the National Theatre, another fine building in need of work.
- back at the apartment, Mom made us soup (tee-hee!). While the family napped, I stressed Dad’s laptop glad that at least the WiFi signal was strong. The funny thing was that, in spite of the absence of the A/C, the temperature inside the apartment was rather cool, while outside it was hot.
- in the evening we went out again on a similar route, Wenceslas Square, Republic Square, where we stopped to buy beer, then Old Town Square. We passed by the Philharmonica on our way to the famous Charles Bridge, which we crossed in both ways at the light of the lampposts. I love their lanterns.
- we stopped on a bench to watch the water and the bridges, and drink some beer, but we got attacked by some awfully big insects.
- most stores began to close around 11 o’clock, the number of people in the streets considerably decreased, while the number of suspiciously looking black people increased, determining Mom to declare that this was the first and the last time that we were staying out after 11.
- we took a detour through Wenceslas Square and the long route from there to return home, and I think they did it on purpose because they kept asking me, “So are you tired now?” I was.
- at the apartment we wondered who had dropped by in our absence and left the TV on because none of us remembered doing it.
Tuesday, the 23th of August
- this time we woke at 8 o’clock and by 10 we were out already.
- we left for the market, but somehow we ended up in Old Town Square, and since we were there we bought home made ice cream (zmrzlina). It was good.
- from there it was easy to find the market. There were more souvenirs than fruits and vegetables so we spent quite some time looking at things. We didn’t buy anything because it was still early and no one wanted to carry a heavy backpack.
- Mom and I joked that we had brought the wrong set of clothes. Most young women wore short shorts or mini skirts, while middle age women wore bermudas. Also flip flops and Roman sandals are back in fashion, still being awfully appalling. They make everyone look like they’re barefoot.
- we went back to the Old Town Square and since it was in the middle of the day and getting really hot we decided to go inside and visit the two temporary Mucha and Dali exhibitions. I’m not a big fan of Dali, but I do like his aquarelles. As for Mucha, I love his work and I was happy to see some pieces I was not familiar with.
- only when we went out again we realized just how hot it was.
- the boys were getting hungry so they bought some potato dish cooked right there in the square. Mom and I said pass when we saw the amount of grease dripping from it.
- next we visited St. Nicholas church. It’s small and white inside and out. Nice.
- in spite of the heat and the crowd of tourists we decided to go see Charles Bridge in the daylight. Beautiful and not overly crowded as we had feared, many souvenir stands thought. I particularly liked the ones with paintings of Prague, the problem was I was tempted to buy them all.
- since we were already in Mala Strana, we went on and explored some more of that side of the river, but only after we stopped for more ice cream, yum!
- St. Nicholas Cathedral (yes, another one) was bigger than the one in Old Town Square, prettier too, with a green interior.
- St. Tomas church was closed, but we could see inside through the iron bars.
- we returned on our side of the river by Manesuv Bridge.
- in the evening it was time for a little bit of shopping, so after crossing to the Old Town Square we tried Kotva, Palladium and Albert supermarket, where we bought sausages and more ice cream.
- we were back home at 9:30, after having taken a shorter route from Wenceslas Square.
Wednesday, the 24th of August
- this day was reserved for Prague Castle.
- on the way to the river we saw the Dancing House (it looks better in the pictures) and we crossed the water by Jiraskuv Bridge. By then we had figured out that the island from Legii Bridge had not disappeared. We simply hadn’t crossed the bridge all the way to the other side and we had been misled into believing that the trees were signaling the end of the bridge instead of the island. One mystery solved.
- we headed north on a street parallel to the river until we reached St. Nicholas Cathedral and we enjoyed the quiet and less busy life of Mala Strana. Then the ordeal started.
- the ascension to Prague Castle sort of reminded me of that to Buda Castle in Budapest, only hotter. From the top there was a lovely sight over the city. We entered the yards, repairing works are being done to the inside buildings, and we went straight to St. Vitus Cathedral. The two old towers reminded me of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, but the interior didn’t. I noticed it was big and possibly beautiful if you cared for bare walls and ceilings, but once I laid eyes on the stained glass windows I paid little attention to the rest. The third from the left was painted by Mucha, still my favorite was the first one from the right because of its vivid colors. Little brother preferred the round one above the entrance.
- we took our time admiring it on the inside and on the outside, before taking a tour around the yard, passing by St. George Chapel and the Powder Tower. We skipped the Golden Lane, I was too tired to argue, and we went to find a place to sit and eat.
- after we rested for a bit, we decided to skip the art gallery inside the castle and go further west to see Loreto, at my insistence.
- shaped like a monastery, with an interior yard and chapel in front of the actual church, Loreto is or maybe was a pilgrimage place. A fee has to be paid in order to be allowed to take photos, but that’s money well spent because the whole place is beautiful inside, including the treasury. After being scolded earlier during the week for not making detailed lists with where to go and what to see, lists that we wouldn’t have respected anyway, I was congratulated for my pick.
- on the way back to downtown, Dad produced a purple beaded bracelet and told us not to fight over it since both Mom and I were wearing purple, tee-hee!
- at the return to Old Town Square we entered several crystal stores and I think at some point Dad had had enough because he bought her a purple crystal heart pendant.
- the late afternoon and evening were spent in the Jewish Quarter, though we didn’t visit anything in particular and just walked on random streets.
- a quick stop by the Palladium, I like the way you can see the pink walls of the enclosing building from the inside, unfortunately my eyes instantly turned red and began to hurt because of the A/C, after which we headed home with the usual stop in Wenceslas Square.
- a thunder storm kept us awake several hours during the night.
Thursday, the 25th of August
- the morning was reserved for Mucha Museum. It was smaller than expected and several of his most known pieces seemed to be absent. Since we still had time, we watched a short documentary about the artist’s life, and then we spent quite a lot of time in the gift shop trying to decide which poster to buy for my room. I couldn’t make up my mind so we agreed to return another day.
- since we had started with a museum we decided to continue with the National Gallery of Modern Art inside Veletrzni Palace in Holesovice. That’s when we discovered we had left the map at the apartment. Oops! After wandering too far east until we ran into the train tracks, we managed to find a map and figure out where we were and where we needed to go. We crossed Stefanikuv Bridge and walked along the river up to the street that might or might not have led to the museum. Luckily, it did.
- the more Dad drags us to modern art museums, the more convinced I become that modern art is not for me. I mean, when it makes no difference which way you hang a painting on the wall, that really says something. I don’t mind going though, because I usually love the buildings in which the museums reside. The one in Barcelona was great, but this one wasn’t too bad either. Dad was taking his time looking at the paintings, sculptures, and models, little brother was taking pictures, so Mom and I went ahead and managed to see the whole five floors in three hours. The third floor was the best, there I fell in love with a Renoir, The Lovers. There was also a Klimt, a Miro, Rousseau, Monet, Van Gogh, Degas, Rodin and even Mucha. Besides being so big, it was so damn cold inside that I had to put on a sweater not to completely freeze. No wonder the museum was almost empty and with nothing to do the guards were breathing down our necks like we were terrorists or something. Good thing I’m used to ignore people, but it was really bugging Mom and Dad, and especially little brother who was trying to take photos even in the forbidden areas.
- because we were already that far up north we went to the exhibition center near Tesla Arena to check the Krizik Fountain. This is supposed to be something similar to the one in Barcelona, with light shows and music, but we found it very disappointing. It only functioned during the show hours, and it was small, placed in an enclosure surrounded by benches behind the main building of the complex. When we arrived there, the place was deserted and there was still time until the show started. It would have been too late to return from there after it ended so we had a late lunch and started back on the familiar path to Wenceslas Square.
- sausages and beer were waiting for us at home. The mashed beans dish was ruined by the olive oil and we didn’t want to risk doing the same thing to the mashed potatoes.
Friday, the 26th of August
- the hottest day so far. It was as if the weather was making up for all the cold I had to endure in Frankfurt last year.
- having a presentiment, Dad took us to Mala Strana, first to another outdoor market, and then to Nove Smichov mall, where we spent several hours without buying anything, of course. When we walked out, the heat hit us so hard it was almost impossible to breathe. So we treated ourselves with ice cream and started back to our side of the river.
- we made it to Old Town Square to watch the show when the clock announced the hour. Not impressed.
- we walked around a little more, by then I was grumpy because we had wasted so much time without seeing anything new, and headed home. Hot guy alert in Wenceslas Square, then quick stop to see the Franciscan garden nearby. The temperature suddenly dropped inside, and for a garden it didn’t have nearly enough flowers. But then again I noticed that, while there is enough vegetation in the streets, there are few flowers.
- pasta night. More beer.
Saturday, the 27th of August
- cold, windy and rainy. I cannot stress enough how disappointed I was with the weather. I had my jacket with me, but I could have been more appropriately dressed. I had warmed clothes at the apartment, I just hadn’t thought I would need them.
- the word of the day was flea market. First, we tried in Muir Square where there’s one being held on the last Saturday of each month. The date fit, but we couldn’t find it. Nice church and lovely flowers in front, though.
- because of the cold wind Mom was in bad need to go to the toilet so we entered several stores in Wenceslas Square in search of one. It was rather funny actually. Well, maybe not for her.
- when we got to Manesuv Bridge and descended on the shore to the flea market, we only found a few stands with nothing worth buying. Except for a blue stones and white shells charm bracelet.
- we tried to check more objectives from our list, we still hadn’t seen the synagogues, but we only managed to see one, and only from the outside, before it started to rain.
- we hurried to the gift shop behind the Powder Tower to get my Mucha poster. I had decided to get “Music” from The Arts series. It was either this or the entire “Moments of the Day” series, but those would have covered the entire wall as only one of them was too narrow and not enough. Don’t worry about little brother, he’s got his fill with necklaces the previous day.
- the rain stopped, but we headed home anyway because we were all frozen. The boys were wearing t-shirts and little brother had a several days long cold, so it was time to warm up.
- we saw a group of youngster dancing in Wenceslas Square, bought delicious cakes and checked out a few more shopping galleries. Soft spoken guy in a sport outfits store. Why do all the interesting guys show up the last moment?
- it rained for the rest of the day. We checked the route to return home, discovered that Parndorf was closed on Sunday, and went back to the initial idea to stop in Bratislava.
- in the evening, Mom and Dad went out to buy supplies for the road. Little brother and I stayed in and watched a movie on TV. Oh, I forgot to say that everything airing on TV was dubbed in Czech. Ever tried to watch a movie dubbed in Czech? It’s highly entertaining, but only if it’s a comedy and at least one member of the audience has seen it before and can explain what the hell is going on.
- after dinner we packed our luggage and around 1 AM we went to bed.
Sunday, the 28th of August
- the boys went to bring the car from the garage and at 10 AM we were on our way. Just to spite us, it was sunny and warm again.
- when we stopped for gas we spent on sweets the last Czech korunas we had left.
- at 1 PM we arrived in Bratislava and parked at Carlton Hotel. For two hours, we explored the old city center, ending with a walk along the water. I really liked it and found it nicer than expected. Would be nice to spend a few days there.
- several of the souvenir stores seemed to have painted glass globes with candles inside like we had seen in Prague so we bought one of those.
- we were escorted by a dozen of biker for a while on the highway, much to little brother’s delight.
- lunch at a rest stop on the Hungarian highway, then off to Budapest and from there to Oradea.
- good thing the owner wasn’t there or he would have been shocked to see us arrive at 10 PM.
Monday, the 29th of August
- we woke up, had breakfast, and before we realized it we were half way into watching How To Train Your Dragon. LOL
- same route from Ordea to Cluj because there is no other, but from Cluj we went to Dej – Bistrita - Gura Humorului - Campulung Moldovenesc – Pascani – Iasi. That’s quite a detour, but nice scenery, especially the part with the Bargaului villages, and the roads were good. Once again we had the chance to debate how drunk were our ancestors so make roads with so many twists and turns. :P
- Mom drove the last hour and at 11 PM we were home, welcomed by a limping cat and an asleep grandma. End.
Umm, yeah, that’s about it… or at least all I remember at the moment. I’m almost done sorting 6 GB of photos and that helped writing the diary too. So I’m ending it here, with no idea what our future destination will be. It’s going to be a difficult year with little brother’s highschool graduation and preparation for college. Hopefully he’ll pass both exams with flying colors. Until then I’ll dream of Paris… yeah, Paris sounds nice. And while doing it maybe I’ll get to write a sequel to one of my stories that is long overdue.
Oh, and speaking about writing, my main goal for this trip was to come up with an idea for a short story I need to write. Well, I can happily report that during the car trip I developed the entire plot for a part of a trilogy (unfortunately it’s the second book and I haven’t written the first one yet LOL) and four other plots for stories popped out while in Prague. Of course, now I’m having a hard time trying to decide which one to start writing first. *headdesk* Ouch!
P.S. If anyone is interested in some photos let me know.