Day 58: Prague

This morning we traveled from Cesky Krumlov to Prague, a 3 hour bus ride.

This city is gorgeous! Every building is perfectly preserved, over-the top ornate – its almost unsettling.
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The weather was bipolar today, so we cut our exploring short. One minute it would be sunny, the next pounding hail from a dark sky. I saw someone tragically have their meal blow away.

We grabbed lunch at Cafe Neustadt – a popular hipster hangout. They turned out to be vegetarian – the best surprise – and served amazing soup, sandwiches and desserts. The cafe spearheaded public pianos in the city and hosts a lot of cool events.

With our bellies full we headed to the old city. It’s jam-packed with pedestrians. The narrow cobblestone streets are perfect for walking around – which is why it’s so dissapointing that the centre is not car free. There’s maybe one driver for every 100 pedestrians, yet the sidewalks are lined with parked cars and pedestrians are forced out of the way – even in public spaces – when a car barrels past. Another pet peeve: segways are becoming a popular form of touring a city. As amusing as it is to see old people timidly try to ride these things, I don’t like the trend in an already crowded public space, and lets face it pictures dotted with segways riders in helmets are less appealing.

The city is in full swing with easter preparations. The old town square is full of market stalls, painted eggs, and decorated trees. There are plenty of stalls selling Trdelnik, a Czech tubular pastry cooked by rotating over coals.
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We checked out the astronomical clock. I don’t know how to read it but it looks pretty spiffy. The maker was blinded because the city didn’t want him to be able to recreate similar clocks in other cities. Every hour a parade of the apostles appears in the window above the clock.
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We bought groceries at the subterranean grocery store (not a very pleasant experience), and headed back to the apartment early to cook and watch movies.

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Day 56 & 57: We love Cesky Krumlov

This place is amazing – right out of a fairytale.

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Disclaimer: the photos are from a cellphone – we’re making due. We headed out early to grab groceries and breakfast.

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We took a free tour offered by a resident, now a stay at home mom.  She had lots of good information.  The town was originally 2 towns separated by the river.  Its well preserved because in the early days it was overshadowed by Prague and largely unnoticed.  There was a period of stagnation from the 1700’s on due to an uninterested ruler and communist rule, which means all the buildings are from before the 1700’s.

The cobblestone streets wind so much that amazing views are continually revealing themselves. The buildings are brightly coloured and beautifully decorated in Renaissance and Baroque style. We saw one building with a different style for each floor, Gothic on the bottom, then Renaissance, then Baroque.

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The smokey beer this region is known for happened by accident.  The brewery was wooden and frequently catching on fire. They didn’t want to throw out hops that had been smoked, so they used them and the rest is history.

We headed up to the castle – overall a pretty simple structure that had all its decoration painted on or etched in. Bears have been kept here for the last 400 years as they are significant to the royal family – the Rosenbergs. The bears were shy, but we managed to catch a glimpse of one.

We checked out the castle gardens, with the manicured french portico. And the forest-like english section. One anomaly is the rotating theatre, built during the communist era.

We walked by the river in the afternoon, and made dinner back at the hostel. The owners are a couple from Canada and the US who fell in love with the place. Its easy to see why.

We climbed to the top of a nearby hill, with a church on top, to watch the sun set over the town.
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Day 2 – we had a late morning during to the pesky daylight savings time – which is 3 weeks later in Europe than North America. At least now it won’t be light out at 5:30 am.

We found an outdoor patio for coffee and spent the morning sketching.

We walked around a bit more and checked out some of the shops. Crystal, wood carvings, art. We also tracked down the specialty smokey beer.

It was rainy and cold in the afternoon, but we found a hookah and tea lounge – perfect indoor activity.

All of the restaurants we have been to have been fantastic. They have very cozy interiors and hearty, quality food. We tried grog (hot rum) and blueberry dumplings from another great vegetarian place.
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Day 54 & 55: Day 2 in Budapest & travel to Cesky Krumlov

Today will be a mostly photo less blog, but I will paint you a picture.  Unfortunately on the train ride from Budapest to Vienna the next morning our camera and lenses were stolen.  We’re very lucky that’s all that was taken – money and other valuables were fortunately left.  The bags were taken from under our seats, riffled through and then returned – very strange.  Others on the train had stuff taken as well and we later found out that it’s something of a hot zone for theft between the Hungary and Austria border.  We learned our lesson and warn others to keep a hand on you bags at all times! Again luckily, all our pictures – with the exception of day 2 in Budapest are backed up.  We will be using our phones and other camera until we can get it replaced. We don’t know who did this, but it makes us feel a bit better if we imagine it was a monkey.

Back to Budapest…in the morning we rode Bubis across the beautifully lion-adorned Erzabet bridge to the Buda side.  There we climbed to the top of a peak for views of Pest and the Danube.  Unfortunately the riverfront was reserved for cars, but a high wall wall partially makes the sound and view so we could bike and walk along it.

it.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budapest

A view of what we saw – photo credit: it.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budapest

Then we headed to a thermal bath – pure bliss! It was a traditional Turkish bath.  We couldn’t go to the one we originally planned, because it was naked men only day (women are only allowed 3 days a week). The Kiraly bath was great though – we spent hours there – warm pool, hot pool, cold pool, repeat.

For lunch we had the best falafel I’ve ever had at a place called Hummus bar.

Budapest has a lot of multi purpose shops. Or rather stores that combine with cafes. There was a print shop / cafe, and an analog photo studio / cafe, and a tights and chocolate store.

We went to Szimpla, the first, biggest and best ruin bar. It has an interior court and 2 storeys surrounding with bars, wacky rooms and interesting seating. It looks like a flea market and and art supply store threw up all over a dilapidated building – in a good way of course! There was an old car with booth seating, a giant fibreglass kangaroo, bathtub seats, etc.

For dinner we had Hungarian goulash! I love that word – goulash. It was hearty and paprikaey and delicious – from a vegetarian restaurant called Napfenyes Etterem.

We had an early night and packed up to catch our early train.

The next morning we headed out early and as mentioned earlier, had a little misfortune. We spent our short layover in Austria filing a police report.

We took a 4-hour shuttle from Austria to Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic.  The driver was great, offering info about the country and the town.  It’s a town of about 15,000 (double that in tourist season) from the 13th century.  It’s in a valley with the a river zigzagging through.  There is a castle built up on rocks on one side and a cathedral on the other.  Even at at night it was beyond quaint.

Map of the town with river winding through. Credit: www.ckrumlov.info

Map of the town with river winding through. Credit: http://www.ckrumlov.info

We got to our hostel, and got more great info.  We headed out for dinner and had a bohemian feast with potatoes, cabbage, millet and mead and different spices.  The restaurant was in a very old building – several centuries, that had been restored to how it would have looked.

Next we tried to squeeze into a pub with a live gypsy band – no luck so we headed to a pub serving the locally brewed Eggenburg beer.

Day 52 & 53: Travel and exploring Budapest

After leaving Dubrovnik, we took an overnight bus to Zagreb. Not as bad as it sounds. “One of the better moving vehicle sleeps I’ve had” – Darren.  We had a few hours in Zagreb before our train to Budapest, so we lingered over coffee.

Due to track maintenance what would have been a simple train ride required 3 busses and 3 trains to get to our destination.

We are lucky to have a very generous hosts in Budapest, who allowed us to invade their apartment and provided lots of great tips on the city.

The apartment is great – a courtyard style which is typical in the city. Upon entering from the street, you enter an exterior space, two interconnected courtyards with apartments lining them.

We settled in grabbed some dinner, and then a drink with our hosts.  We got to try some of Hungary’s emerging craft brew scene – I am impressed.

The city is made up of the hilly Buda to the west, and the much flatter Pest to the east with the Danube running through. The drastic change in topography is the result of adjacent tectonic plates, which habe resulted in thermal springs and numerous baths throughout the city. Our first impression is that this city has a lot going on. Billboards are covered with events, there’s lots of art (both gallery and street variety), and beautiful buildings with a bit of grit.

The next morning we started our wandering. We are a great neighbourhood. We checked out the parliament building, some parks and more pedestrian-friendly streets.

The parliament building

The parliament building

Then we headed to a design street in the Jewish quarter. We stopped in a number of little shops – locals artists and thrift shops.

Hooray for Bubis!! (Thats the name of the Budapest bike share). They are the clunkiest bikes imaginable, but the name makes up for it.  It was pretty seamless to use – we didn’t have trouble finding stations that had both bikes to use and places to park.

Budapest bikeshare

Budapest bikeshare

The Central market hall is the Hungarian Granville island public market. Here we sipped hot wine and felt very old-timey.

Budapest is know for their ruin bars – bars located in abandoned buildings. The trend started in 2002 as a temporary installation, but now they are a permanent fixture with several throughout the city.  We checked out a couple located in the interior court of apartment buildings. They are empty here, but very lively at night.

Day 49 – 51: Dubrovnik

Day 49 started with another early morning and another trip with endless beautiful views.We took a 4 hour bus ride from Split to Dubrovnik. The area around Dubruvnik is separated fron the rest of Croatia, so we had to cross the border into Bosnia & Herzegovina.

This is the best of all walled cities, iconic even without the help of Game of Thrones.

The view of the old city from our place

The view of the old city from our place

We arrived at our Air Bnb at the top of the hill, looking down on the old city. It was about a 10 minute walk down the stairs to the walled city. It takes much longer on the way back, especially when you lose your way at night.

The city itself is from the 7th century, but many of the buildings were rebuilt following an earthquake in the late 1600’s. Once inside the walled city, there were still a lot of stairs.  The city is split by the Stradun, the wide main street.  To the west of that, the city is very rectilinear, with long narrow blocks and steep staircases.  In the western side, the blocks are a bit more organic, arranged around plazas and squares.

The Stradum

The Stradum

The harbour

The harbour

The rest of Dubrovnik beyond the old city

The rest of Dubrovnik beyond the old city

The wall is between 4 and 8 feet thick and nearly 2 km around.  With considerable change in height around the perimeter.  There are a couple of wall bars that have great sea views.

The first afternoon was sunny and we just wandered around the old city.  We had pizza (again!) in a plaza and perhaps watched pigeons for a little too long.

Lanterns bear the signage for the shops and restaurants – great at night. The shops mostly cater to tourist and which is nice if you have a hankering for gelato, but not great when a swarm of Japanese tourist descends on the city.

We had dinner at a great vegetarian place.  It’s called Nishta, meaning nothing, based on the common thought that without meat there is nothing.  These little offbeat vegetarian restaurants are an oasis I for us in a depart of restaurant where all the other dishes are meaty and the same.

Nishta Restaurant with recipes written on the tables.

Nishta Restaurant with recipes written on the tables.

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The next day was rainy, but since it is only the second day of rain we’ve had in the whole trip we definitely can’t complain.  We ventured out for a little while, to grab lunch and get our daily trip up the stairs.  Mostly we caught up on blogs and made plans for the upcoming weeks of the trip.

The only picture from day two in Dubrovnik

The only picture from day two in Dubrovnik

The last day was cloudy and windy – making it a perfect day for watching the waves crash agains the wall.  We went up on the wall – a little pricey, but definitely worth it.  We took a couple hours walking around the top.

The bell is rung by a knight with a wooden mallet

The bell is rung by a knight with a wooden mallet

Moss and succulents growing between the roof tiles

Moss and succulents growing between the roof tiles

The view from the highest point – on top of the tower.

Then we checked out Lovrijinak, the Fort next to the city. It was the perfect lookout spot. Crashing waves make doing nothing a noble endeavour. We stayed here until we got kicked out, but I could have stayed here for days. After we reluctantly packed and took an overnight bus to start our journey to Budapest.

The fortress

The fortress

Day 48: Conquering the Fortress of Klis

Today was unbeatable! The Fortress of Klis and the view are unreal!

We took another short bus ride to the fortress, just outside Split and partway up the mountain.  The is so much to see just outside of Split.  The whole region is stunning.

The transport and entrance cost us only 6$, and again we had the whole fortress to ourselves,  with the exception of a school group taking archery lessons.  Archery lessons at a fortress – how awesome is that?  Hooray for the off season! The weather is around room temperature, a bit chilly in the shade, but great for walking around.  In a couple of months these places will be very crowded so we’re happy to see them now.

This is the filming location for the Game of Thrones Slave city of Meereen.  They embellished it almost beyond recognition in the show. The ticket guy said that 95% of guests visit it for that reason, meaning that before last year almost no one visited?

The fortress has a rich and complicated history of battles and sieges.  Here is a simplified summary: It is 2, 200 years old, originally Roman.  Croats ruled from the 7th century till the 11th, the end of the Croatian national dynasty.  The 16th century was the most tumultuous,  with a number of battles and some rulings lasting only a month.  It was last used for military purposed (other than Game of Thrones) during WWII,  as an Italian and German stronghold.  Then in 1990 the flag of sovereign Croatia was placed on it.

Darren got all Bill Nye the fortress Guy and explained all the defence strategies of the fortress.  Numerous lines of defence:

The geography itself helps.  It’s situated on peak that is unscaleabe at the back, and easy to defend from the front.The tapered slits in the walls allow arrows out but not in.  The shape, with protruding points allows for the length of the wall to be defended.  There are holes to dump hot oil out through.  If you manage to make it through any of the 3 gates, there would be soldiers waiting to attack from above.

The tapered arrow slits

The tapered arrow slits, very hard to see from the outside.

Darren managed to make it past the third gate, only to get attacked from above.

Darren managed to make it past the third gate, only to get attacked from above.

Points along the exterior, so the wall can be defended.

Points along the exterior, so the wall can be defended.

It had several additions, renovations and rebuilding over the years.  The centre part is medieval, with the outer gates and expansions added as late as the 18th century.

There was an exhibit of the armour and artillery used throughout the history.  Like today, each new technology in defence meant a new development in weapons.  Strange and scary that every defence at the time would now be completely useless with today’s weapons.

imagine running around in this.  I had a hard time lifting just the chain mail sleeve.

imagine running around in this. I had a hard time lifting just the chain mail sleeve.

We spent a few hours here exploring every nook and cranny.  At the very top we had a perfect picnic with the most incredible view. You can see Split and the surrounding areas, including another walled city on an island.  Right below is a small town with patchwork fields.  There are striated mountains with jagged tops, with an active quarry nearby.  We could see the smoke from several fires, burning fields.

Not a bad picnic location.

Not a bad picnic location.

Soccer field just below the fortress. There was a bench at the top so the soccer moms had a prime view.

Soccer field just below the fortress. There was a bench at the top so the soccer moms had a prime view.

We headed back to Split and relaxed at the apartment before heading out for dinner later. The town is livelier at night, and the narrow streets are kinda creepy.  Like the first robin in the spring, we saw the first tour bus of Asians, officially marking the start of tourist season in Split.

Day 47: Hooray for Walled Cities – Trogir and More Split

This morning we caught a bus 30 minutes out of Split to visit Trogir, another walled city.  It’s over 2300 years old, and one of the best preserved from this time.  It seems that in every city thousands of cats were released to wander and provide entertainment.  They look healthy and well cared for, though very skittish.

The view from the bus on the way to Trogir

The view from the bus on the way to Trogir

The city is an entire small island.  It’s separated by a small channel on one side and a larger body of water on the others.

It’s very similar to Split from inside the walls, but the streets are a bit narrower and its quieter with more picturesque surroundings.

Tragir means goat.

Trogir means goat.

We had lunch (pizza everyday) on a promenade by the water, with views of palm trees,  houses stacked on the opposite bank, and the city wall.  There are cafes, which serve only drinks, and restaurants for food.  At any point, the cafes are full of locals, drinking and smoking.  The restaurants have only a few people, mostly tourists.

We were back in Split by the early afternoon and checked out every cornern of the old city and took a walk to Marjan park, which had a great view.

Looking at the map of Split, the blocks and widths of streets in the old part are about a quarter of the size of the more modern neighbourhoods.  The way we live and move is now taking up 4 times more room.

Here are a few of the other sites from around Split:

We had wine at a little bar situated on the stairs – the perfect place to people watch.

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