12 May 2013

11/05
to Olomouc
finding a room

12/05
constant rain

This is going to be short.  We left Kutna Hora in the rain, and made our way to Olomouc.  This is to be our last town in Czech.  O15postpanoOn arriving, we found a map of town, and found tourist info.  The train stations have all been a fair way out from the centre, and we decided to take a tram this time.  It was raining a little bit, but not too heavily.  Tourist info is in the centre of town, and fairly easy to find after you get there.  There was one woman working, and she was fairly helpful.  O10posttown2Unfortunately, there is not that much cheap accommodation in town.  We were left with two options.  The first was an ex-military building that is now used in part as accommodation.  The other option was the university.  They have spare rooms in the student accommodation.  One drawback was that they were on different sides of town.  The Uni was closer to down town, but they could not check availability.  O11posttownThe Military barracks were further out, but we knew there was a place to stay there.  We tried the Uni.  Another tram ticket to get there, and a long walk around the uni complex trying to find the right building.  Finding the right place, we were out of luck, they had no rooms available tonight.  This meant that we had to head out to the other side of town, and hope that the room there was still empty.  At the moment the one good thing was that the rain was not too heavy, and our tram tickets last for an hour!
So, tram back to town, then a quick walk to the bus stop, and catch the bus.  We had been given directions by the woman from tourist info, and they worked perfectly.  Now we had to find the next building.  Thinking that it was military, it should be easy to recognise, but the road it was supposed to be on didn’t exist.

O12posttown3A man hanging out his window for a ciggy, saw us with our bags, and guessed what we wanted, so he pointed us in the right direction.  What we had assumed needed to be a road was a driveway. There was nothing to indicate that this building was the right one, other than the thumbs up from our helpful man, and we rang the door.  It was the right place, so we checked in sight unseen.  Language was a bit of a problem, but it all worked out.  Then we saw the room.  It was great.  Not so much a room as an apartment. Kitchen and everything.  This was a bit of overkill for us.  We have paid a lot more for a lot worse!

O13posttown4The rain was poring down now, so we tried to wait it out.  When there was a break, we made a break. Walking towards down town.  We didn’t quite make it, as the rain started up again, so we sought refuge in a pub restaurant.  This was great, as there was good food and drink.  However we did have to walk home in the rain after.

The 12th was very boring.  We staid in the hotel for most of the day as it rained heavily for most of it.  There was one patch of clear sky and we took advantage of that to find the local supermarket to stock up on some supplies before the rain set in again.

AA

10 May 2013

Kutna Hora
The Czech museum of silver in Hradek castle.
The Bone Church (Ossuary)

Up the hill again to go underground

Up the hill again to go underground

OK Its time to type Kutna Hora.  Past time really.  I have been putting this off, as it is a very hard day to type, and with the time passing was hoping to make it easier.  This is not the case.  It may be shorter to type, but just as hard.

How to start?  The rain is still around, and after massive storms last night, we were worried that it would continue today.  The morning was very overcast, and walking the couple of kilometres into town had spits and spats, but no torrential downpour as we expected.

The silverminer

The silverminer

In town we made our way to Hradek Castle.  Personally I would call it a palace, rather than a castle, but that’s how it goes.  There are documents that record its existence as far back as 1312, and has been extensively renovated over the years.  Currently it is in Gothic style.  A massive building by the church, and now turned into a small mining museum.  This is what we wanted to see first, before making our way to the bone church out of town.  Most of the palace is inaccessible to the public but when you do the mining tour, you get to see a cellar or two.

Down the mine we go

Down the mine we go

On buying our tickets, we still did not know what to expect, other than a visit into one of the many silver mines that the town is famous for.  They, well, they undermine the town!  Tunnels are all through the hills, and have never been fully mapped out.  Occasionally this causes problems when someone is building a cellar, or the road collapses into a sink hole.  The mine we are going into was only discovered in 1967!  Its right under town, yet they still lost it for about 300 years!  In 1995 after a lot of work within the mine, and creating a new exit, it was opened to the public.

That said, lets start the tour.  There was only the two of us and a Canadian doing the tour, so we were happy at that, especially as she was also interested in the small details on what was going on.  Being taken down into the cellars to get an idea of what it was like down there, we saw some mock ups of miners in action.

From there we were taken under a massive wooden teepee.  This housed some of the mining equipment on the surface.  Mainly a huge horse powered winch.  This was only used to winch up the ore that was mined.  The pore miners themselves had to climb the ladders up and down…
We were now joined by a group of Indians, so there went our nice small tour group.  It was not that bad, but it is always harder in a bigger group.
After being given white trench coats and torches,we paraded like idiots down a couple of streets to the entrance of the mine.  Descending down a fairly new staircase, which was a lot better than the ladders that they would have had back in the day.  By now we were at the back of the group, with only the girl making sure we were not left behind.  This was fine, as she let us take our time.

The mine is supposed to be narrow, and only enough room for the miners themselves.  This may be true, and they have expanded it a little bit for the comfort of tourists, but it was not that bad.  The very small narrow sections where they follow splits in the veins of ore are very tight, although we were not allowed up them.  There are also other sections that are full of deep clear water.  The area has so much rainfall that getting water out of the mines was a problem, and since they have been abandoned centuries ago, these deeper shafts have filled up.  We were told to hurry up a couple of times, as we were lagging too far behind.  This is not because the mine was filled with dioramas, it wasn’t.  The mine did not have any information posted around either.  What was making us take so lone was that the mine was no longer just a mine, it was a very active limestone cave!  KK29mine2There were stalactites and mites everywhere, the roof was being coated in straws, and there were sections of flowstone and cauliflowering everywhere.  Considering it had only been abandoned since the 1700’s this was amazing. Even the work that was done to open the mine to the public was being overtaken by limestone formations.  The girl keeping an eye on us started opening up a bit at our interest in everything, and not just the mine.  It gave her a new way of looking at it.  Her English also improved dramatically from nothing to a full conversation!  We did the obligatory lights out after the narrowest bit of the tunnel, and as expected, couldn’t see anything.KK10
Now there was a small stream running underneath the floorboards, and we followed this to the new exit, a nice round concrete section that took us out the side of a hill.  Back to the museum, and we were shown a little of the smelting process and minting.  We also found out that all the miners were free men, and fairly well paid for the time.  Even if conditions were not that good.  The government was also heavily involved, and even though the mines were free hold, the owners had to pay tax every step of the way.  Almost like a value added tax today, just no rebates!

KK37skullsWith this amazing experience done, we started to make our way out of town towards the Ossuary.  Now the clouds were a lot thicker, and by the time we were close, it started raining.  You could see here that this is what draws the tourists.  In town there are a few cafes around the square, and a couple of tourist shops, but not much.  It is life as normal there.  Here, the entire street is souvenir shops.  The tour buses are pulled up on the street, and tourists are wandering around everywhere before catching their bus, or walking back to the train station.  It is almost a blessing that they are not all swarming through the town!

KK32skulls2When we got to the Ossuary, we took a small walk around the graveyard first,to let the people in there clear out.  The Ossuary was built in the 14th Century and about 40,000 people are buried in there.  Well, when we say buried, we mean that the bones are interred inside.  Mostly within four massive pyramids of skulls and bones.  Then there are decorations strung up all over the place.  A couple of bone chalices, candle holders, and the rest.

Amazing what you can make out of bones

Amazing what you can make out of bones

While we were there, we found that half the bones had been cleaned and bleached with redecorations happening a couple of times.  It looks interesting with differences between the old and the clean.  While we were there, a couple of tour groups passed through, but each group was there for only five minutes or so.  It is good to be able to take your time and appreciate the human body!
KK36bonechandelier
That done, we headed back in the rain, with the hope that it ends soon.

AA

09 May 2013

From Prague to Kutna Hora
train delays
Kutna Hora long walk in
Walk around with rain
Philip Morris Tobacco Museum and Cathedral
Cathedral of St Barbara:  UNESCO Gothic from the late 14th Century

Small town is not that different from big city

Small town is not that different from big city

We left Prague this morning.  It would been too expensive to stay over the weekend!  Still, we made our way by train to Kutna Hora.  This was supposed to be fairly easy, but on arriving at the station, they had no idea what platform it was going to be.  The train ended up being delayed for over two hours, and it was not until it pulled into the station that they told us the right place to be.  Apparently this is normal here, as no one else was worried, and everyone would just hang around the boards until their train was designated a place, then trundle off to catch it!

Looking forward to seeing some skulls

Looking forward to seeing some skulls

Kutna Hora is a Unesco town with a Bone church.  We had planned ahead for one of the few times and booked a pension.  On arriving at the station, we thought we needed to go to another station, so we asked at the information desk.  Yes, it was a different station, as this is about 3km from town, but when we mentioned the name of the pension she got a bit confused.  Apparently it is right outside!  Walking out we did see it.  The directions online were wrong.  Still, it was an error in our favour.  Checking in, there was a lovely little old lady happily babbling on the entire time, oblivious to our lack of the language.  The room was ok, and we then went for a walk down town.  We are skipping the church at the moment, as the weather is miserable and it was getting on in the day.  There was a break in the rain, and we thought we would use it to see town.
KH18
Walking into town was fairly normal.  For small town normal that is where the train station is over three km away.  We passed a large factory and came up to the church on the other side. Here we found out that it is the Phillip Morris Tobacco factory.  And they have a museum!  KH33postvert3KH31postvert1KH32postvert2We had to check that out.  Andrew was hoping for a tour with free samples at the end!  On entering a helpful man directed us into a couple of rooms where we got to learn the difference between Oriental, Virginian and the other type of tobaccos.  It is not the plant that is important, but the way it is dried.  Quite interesting in its own way.
Then they had sections on Tobacco here from before WWII and the communist era.

Kutna Hora is ready for summer!

Kutna Hora is ready for summer!

Phillip Morris helped a bit in the 1980’s and took over after Czechoslovakia left the Warsaw Pact.  It is still in use today, and pumps out over 5 billion cigarettes a year.  The company also helps the town a lot, and has preserved the church and monastic grounds it is set up in.  I suppose they must have some kind of conscience to do this;  It was also interesting to see brand development over the decades.  They even mention that smoking is detrimental to your health – once.
KH26postchurch

After this, we made it to town.  The town is quite small, but very pretty.  There are a couple of squares, a few fountains and statues surrounded by ornate buildings.  We came up to the Cathedral of St Barbara.

One of the best cathedrals ever

One of the best cathedrals ever

This is a fantastic Gothic cathedral sitting on the hill.  The flying buttresses holding it together are so numerous that if you used a piece of string, you would almost have another level.  Still, it is an amazing piece of architecture.  Yet again, the rain started up.  We were on the other side of town, and a long way from home.  Making our way to the road, we saw signs for a pub.  We decided to take refuge here and get dinner at the same time.  It was a nice pub, but they didn’t serve food.  Still, we got our 1/2L of beer and sat down to out wait the rain.  There was an Ice Hockey game on, and as this is the national sport, we settled in to enjoy it.  KH25posttown3A few hours later, and much more beer, the rain eased up a bit and we managed to make our way back to the Pension.  I have no problem with renting beer, but do you have to make the repayments in installments?

AA

08 May 2013

Prague
Castle area

View over the roofs

View over the roofs

Another day in Prague.  We have moved accommodation, as the prices here are not fixed, and our hotel was no longer cheap.  Apparently there is going to be a marathon this weekend, and everything is getting expensive.  Yet we found a nice hostel just off the Charles bridge on the castle side.  Leaving our bags at the hotel was handy, so we didn’t have to drag them…
PPP50pano
Then it was time to brave the hill and walk up to the castle itself.  Not much to say about it.  A pretty steep walk up lots of stairs to give a wonderful view of the city.  PPP51pano2Here we found a good spot to drink our chocolate beer (we had seen it this morning, and couldn’t resist).  It turned out to be a dark beer, and the chocolate flavour was not that strong, but gave hints in the after taste.  Yet the smell was fantastic.  This is the life though.  Strange beers, good views and a nice place to sit on the walls.
PPP47church1
Entering into the castle complex, we walked around a bit, past the old walls, the newly renovated palaces, and to the cathedral that dominates the complex.  This is stunning.

but also pay attention to the details

but also pay attention to the details

Great. Inside and out.

Great.
Inside and out.

We are not sure about the multiple alters still, but the inside was well done, all painted up, or carved.  Back outside we got to witness another protest.  People came up with a very long flag, stretched it out and started chanting.  We have no idea on what it was about, and it was quite small, only twenty people or so.

Patterns painted and carved into the stone work

Patterns painted and carved into the stone work

Going out the back entrance to the castle, to see the rest of the hill, we saw the rest of the protest.  There was a van outside, belting out music with people dancing in the street.  A few placards was all that let you know it was a protest, and not some spontaneous street dance.

PPP54vert3PPP53vert2PPP52vert1We wandered around, found the monastery, and the old walls to the castle.  Following along these, until the military took over and forced us off them.  Then a park, where a lot of the local Pragueians where hanging out in the sunshine.  Further along there is a large park, and past this the massive blocks of apartments start.  Under each one was a pub or supermarket, but we kept going.  Eventually finding a place where the students were hanging out.  Playing volleyball, soccer, or just walking around on stilts.  Here we decided to have a drink or two, and watch the games.

Following the old walls back down

Following the old walls back down

The people here were amazed to see two Australians here, and we got the impression that tourists don’t go to this part of town.  Everyone thought we were students ourselves, which was nice.

It was getting on, so we took our time walking through the park to the base of the hill.  By now the good weather had come to an end, and the rain set in.  Still, we were not too far from where we were staying if we didn’t get lost.  Which we did…

AA

07 May 2013

PP64skyPrague
More old town
Astronomical clock
Town square
river and across
Grotto wall
Torture museum

Falling behind in the typing, as we are now in Hungary, so will make it a quick one.

There is something special with old cities on rivers

There is something special with old cities on rivers

It is our second day walking around the twisting alleys of Prague.  A beautiful city,with a lot of the old buildings done up.  Yet more need to be done, but there are signs that it is slowly happening.

The main town square.

The main town square.

Not a good place for those that suffer hayfever

Not a good place for those that suffer hayfever

We found our way to the old powder tower.  From here, all royal processions head up to the castle.  It is also in the main down town section.  From here it was a quick stroll to the square.  The old town hall,cathedral, and buildings.  It was crowded with tourists, which is understandable, as it was almost on the hour.  Each hour the clock goes off.  Music, chimes, and moving characters.

So, what was the time anyway?

So, what was the time anyway?

There is also an astrological clock built into it.  It is so detailed and complex it is impossible to read without years of study and practice.  It does look good though.  We managed to overhear one of the many tour guides yelling to be heard over all the rest.  He said that the clock is so complex that they have no idea on how to change the time, and as such, it was an hour out due to daylight savings!

PP61church

After this, we had a quick glimpse into the ornate cathedral, and made our way down to the river.  Crossing over at one of the few bridges, we got a good view of the main Charles IV bridge.

PP58view

Mom, why is the wall staring at me?

Mom, why is the wall staring at me?

We stumbled upon the senate park, and had a relaxing walk around the  manicured gardens.  Filled with peacocks, fish, owls and statues of people killing each other, or Hercules killing endangered and exotic animals.  There was one wall that had been created with concrete.  Usually this is not that noteworthy.  Everything is concrete nowadays, but this was in the form of a drip castle.  You know, when you get damp sand and drip it along a finger to create interesting shapes?  That was done here.  There were all sorts of animals in there, snakes, frogs, tortured faces and devils.  An interesting wall to walk along.
PP65pano

Battering rams in place, here to stop ice attacks

Battering rams in place, here to stop ice attacks

1 saint, 2 saints, what do you call many saints?  Holy!

1 saint, 2 saints, what do you call many saints? Holy!

Back along the river to the base of the Charles bridge.  Art classes out painting,people feeding the swans, and then, finally crossing the bridge ourselves.  The bridge is massive, and well constructed.  There are statues of important people and priests from the past along it. There is a touch of the modern as well,as now there are all sorts of stalls along it.  Portrait and caricature painters, souvenir stalls, beggars, tourists and people going about their daily lives.
The towers at either end stretch up into the grey skies.

PP59view2

Near here is the torture museum, so we had to check it out.  We skipped the sex machines museum and the alchemy museum, so thought we would do this one.  It was either sex or violence!

Feeling tired?  Take a seat

Feeling tired? Take a seat

The museum is actually pretty good.  Most of it was in English, and although the rooms were small, it did go up four floors.  It was an education to say the least.  How common torture was during the 12-1600’s and how creative people where when it came to hurting or maiming other people.  Mostly in the name of religion. Although it just seemed to be fun for some people.  The Spanish were the most creative in using normal tools to break people, and even came up with some ideas that the Popes banned as being too bad.  This was usually to do with male genitalia.  They were not worried about what you could do with the women though.  One of the most popular things was to hang a person upside down, spread-eagled, and saw them in half with a cross cut saw.  Charming.

On exiting the museum, we were slightly nauseated, but also a little hungry, so we went to find some dinner.  A good meal, and we may be able to forget some of what we saw.

AA

06 May 2013

Arriving in Prague
finding hotel
Quick walk around

We have arrived in the Czech Republic.  The bus ride was not the best, but being overnight, we managed to get some sleep.  The last time I was here was about 8 or 9 years ago, and it was an extra curricular excursion in sampling the local alcohol.  P24poststreetlidThis time I hope to see a bit more of the city and maybe even remember it.  I do remember that Prague was a beautiful city before, but the bus station does not reflect this.  There is a tourist information office right there though, and they are somewhat helpful, although asking for a cheap hostel they direct us to one right at he station for Euro 20 each.  This is not cheap.  So we took the map of the down town section and went to find our own.

Half finished renovations

Half finished renovations

or beautifully done up

or beautifully done up

We gave up quickly though.  There are many hotels and hostels in Prague, but just not on the streets we walked.  Having found one, there was no check in until 3pm, and it was still fairly early.  We couldn’t even leave our bags there.  Saying “blow that for a joke”, we checked into a three star hotel.  This was only 10 euro more expensive than staying in a 16bed dorm at the station.  Deal.  It was also a really nice hotel.  Good staff, breakfast included, and fairly central.

and stunning old decorations

and stunning old decorations

Modern-ish advertising

Modern-ish advertising

Now it was time to explore the city, and that we did.  A long walk around, into the winding streets of down town and out the other side.  We made it to Charles IV bridge, learnt a bit of history that we promptly forgot (and I took too long to write this up to remember it, but hey, that’s what Wikipedia is for isn’t it?).  Saw a few towers, plenty of fantastic old buildings, and a lot of fixer-uppers.

P22posthouse
There was no point to the walking, it just was.  What did surprise us is that being part of the EU for a while now, it is keeping its currency, however most things are priced in duel values.  We think it is for the day-trippers or people just dropping in from Germany for the weekend with a pocket full of Euros and not wanting to bother exchanging them.  It did not feel as if they had no faith in their currency as Tanzania did.  Just more out of convenience as it is a very touristy city.  This is meant to be off season and there were tourists everywhere (us included I suppose).  The main square was so packed you could hardly move.

P23postsouvenirs

Segway tours, bike tours, walking tours, pram tours for the educational benefits of gifted three month olds, and  even wheelchair tourists for those over the hill and at least 5 feet down the other side.  This is understandable, as it is a beautiful city.  The tourist shops don’t give a fig if you shop there or not, and although the prices have risen quite a lot, it is still slightly cheaper than Germany.

With our bearings now set, we could retire for a good nights sleep, and more exploring tomorrow.

AA