Peaceful Prague

While in Prague we stayed at the Hotel General, where all the bedrooms are dedicated to different military generals.

Hotel General – Prague – http://www.hotel-general.com/en/  the building dates from 1890 – and was converted to the current hotel in 2007.

This hotel is out of the tourist area, which is a positive, because the evenings were quiet and traffic was light. The hotel is first class, and all the staff members go out of their way to make your stay memorable.
Vicky, the receptionist who greeted us, spent time explaining how the transport system worked in Prague, and she suggested restaurants, as well as answering all our questions. Our chat time was over complimentary drinks of our choice – we had Champagne – it was a very pleasant way to be welcomed to a new city.
Breakfast was from 7.00 am, which was a buffet for the cereals and juices etc, but white gloved waiters served eggs to order and all coffee was made on request. If you want to have breakfast in your room, this would not be a problem (at no extra cost). During breakfast you could, if you wished, watch the DVD of interesting places in and around Prague.
Rooms were a good size, and were spotless, as was the en suit, which had the shower over the bath. We had plenty of room in the bathroom for stowing our personal items.

The cost of the local tram in to the city was around $1.30 – the tickets are bought from sellers (newsagents etc) rather than from the tram driver. The ticket has to be validated when boarding the tram. Most days we walked to the city (about 20 minutes) for the exercise and to experience Prague. It is an easy flat walk. We used the tram to get back to the hotel after a day of sight seeing.

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Easy to walk everywhere
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Astro clock

I think Prague was our favourite of all the cities that we visited during this holiday.

It was a slower pace than Berlin and small enough that one could walk around all of the main areas without too much trouble.

Car- less

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if you get tired you can always hire a car DSC01187r.jpg

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Charles Bridge

DSC01199r ex tram bar in Wenceslas Square

My friend and I were in this small bar waiting for our wives to finish some shopping when the waiter offered me a Budweiser beer. Thinking he was referring to the American beer that I had some years ago, and didn’t like, I refused, and asked him for Czech beer. The Budweiser, he told me, was Czech beer and had nothing to do with the US brand. I trusted him and ordered the local Budweiser, which was very good. I’d forgotten about the name connection with the American beer.

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Everyone has a gimmick – as soon as he saw me taking his picture out came his sword.DSC01241r

DSC01244rI’d never have thought I stand at the foot of King Wenceslas statue.

We loved to sit and people watch –

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I just wondered if someone was taking photos of us, taking photos of others . . .

We had a lovely meal in the Blue Duck – a little expensive, but the ambiance, the taste and the service was worth that little extra.

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Try the basil sorbet, so different.

There is so much to see in Prague from clocks to castles . .

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From gardens to views

or an outside BBQ, perhaps a hole in the wall bar hidden behind the castle.

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All good things come to an end –

Prague – Budapest by train

Prague station is easy to navigate and all announcements are made in Czech and English. We were booked in first class, which was the first coach (wagon) after the engine. This trip was a much more pleasurable journey than Berlin to Prague. We had our own table and plenty of storage space for the suitcases. The storage space, other than on the rack over our heads, was the unused seats. The coach was not crowded and the ride was smooth once we left the main area of Prague. Passing through the Prague area the train was jerky which caused an unsettling feeling of being in the back seat of a car when the driver keeps speeding up and breaking. This went on for the first hour after which, it stopped and the remainder of the trip was smooth.

Being a train lover from my childhood I found the different coloured coaches from various countries across Europe, such as Russia, German, Slovakia fascinating.

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and I did like to keep an eye on the carriage in front . . .

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Bend the knees around the luggage.

Berlin to Prague.

All to soon we had to leave Berlin for Prague – again by train, and again I booked first class seats over the internet, via the German booking system, but on Czech rail – I had no end of trouble trying to book on the Czech system.

Only after I had paid for the tickets, via the German system, did I realise that Czech rail had a higher travelling class than First Class, called Business Class!
Who in their right mind would offer a business class service higher than first class? Let’s just say that Czech Rail First Class was not as comfortable as the Frankfurt to Berlin trip, and I am being polite.

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The 8.46 am train from platform one at Berlin’s mainline station was a huge change from the German rail first class service.

We had four seats in a compartment for six, that required us to use the corridor to change our minds. Czech-train-1stThe six-seater compartment wouldn’t have been too bad, if there had only been the four of us. Unfortunately the remaining two seats were also occupied.
With our four large suitcases – we struggled to put two suitcases on the overhead racking system – the red bags in the pictures below. We held some of our hand baggage on our knees, because the available floor space was required for our remaining suitcases, plus one of the third couple’s suitcases, so once this was completed we were unable to move our legs or feet. This was not going to make for a comfortable  five-hour journey. I hate to think what it was like in economy, because every First Class and economy class compartment was packed with holidaymakers.DSC01144c

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Unlike the French TVG trains and the German ICE trains, which have special stowage areas for suitcase and bags (see picture left) our Czech train only had the overhead netted area, which is usually only for hand baggage. Plus the Czech train was a corridor / compartment train, compared to the German open plan layout.

After we left Berlin, and settled down (after a fashion) for the journey, we, like many others, moved our suitcases in to the corridor, which caused problems for people passing along to the buffet car. The corridor, being packed with suitcases, haversacks, cardboard boxes etc discouraged people from using the buffet car, because people didn’t fancy an obstacle course to get to the buffet and then have to retrace their steps carrying food and drink.

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To be fair the Czech train was very well maintained, clean and without the large volume of baggage, the journey would have been very pleasant.

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Couldn’t knock the scenery

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Had to try for a picture of Usti nad Labem – what a town with a history. It is positioned just inside the Czech border and has changed hands so many times. It was sacked by the Swedes (they were a long way from home), later it was handed over to Austria, then handed back to Czechoslovakia, and later taken over by Germany in 1938 at the Munich agreement in an attempt of ‘Pace in our time’ – better know by the Czechs as the ‘Munich Betrayal’. Usti nad Labem was (is) part of the Sudetenland.

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Neville Chamberlain, in September 1938, arriving at a London airport waving his ‘Peace in our time’ Munich agreement, which required the Sudetenland to be handed over to Germany. The Czechs refer to it as the Munich betrayal.

While stretching my legs (more like just standing still) in the corridor I noticed the next compartment was the Business Class compartment, with just four seats and plenty of room. Only after the occupiers of this compartment left the train, about three quarters of the way through the journey, did we spread out and take advantage of the extra space. You live an learn.

Our hotel reception area was a welcome sight after our journey, and very different. The giant fish tank was real, it was not a photograph.

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Trains . . . .

There’s not many boys who didn’t have an interest in trains at one time or another.

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My interest started when I saved pocket money towards a Triang train set, and the love of trains has never left me – although my original train set did.

With grandchildren one can ‘remember’ to a certain extent when they allow you to play with Thomas the Tank Engine.  :-o)

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Not so long ago the thought of a train holiday around Europe took hold.

Why not fly in to Frankfurt and then use the high speed trains to move from country to country at leisurely, stress free, and economical way.

The last time I traveled on a German train was in 1960, when,as a member of the YHA I was youth hosteling along the Rhine, so how to plan and buy tickets in 2013?

Some years earlier I’d come across a very interesting site called The Man in Seat 61 http://www.seat61.com/ so I clicked on this site for advice on creating a holiday for four using the rail system. The site had expanded greatly since my last visit.

After a little research I logged in to the German rail system http://www.bahn.com/i/view/overseas/en/index.shtml and bought four tickets from Frankfurt to Berlin. While buying the tickets I was also allowed to pick the seats that I wanted, and because there were four of us I wanted us to sit around a table. The booking system is very like the airline system.

I picked the departure time and paid for the tickets using my credit card, and printed out the tickets at home in Sydney – couldn’t have been easier.

After checking the difference between the prices of a Standard ticket and First Class, I chose First Class, because I’d never traveled first class on a train before, and the difference was not as much as I expected – nothing like the huge difference between economy and business class on a plane.

We flew in to Frankfurt with Qatar Airlines and stayed at a local airport hotel for the night. A taxi, next morning, had us at the main Frankfurt railways station about forty five minutes before departure. Being First Class we had use of the lounge, which was nothing startling, but was OK for coffee and biscuits. We were called to board about ten minutes before departure so we were able to watch our train arrive in to Frankfurt station.

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The train was an ICE train (Inter-city Express) which left Frankfurt dead on time. Would you expect anything else from a German train?

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The seating in First Class is 1 x 2, and less crowded. There is nothing wrong with 2nd class, which is 2 x 2 seating, with similar leg room and comfort, but I wanted to travel 1st class by train, at least once in my life.

Using the ICE train, which traveled at up to 200 km per hour, the journey took us around four hours and was very pleasant.

We had four days in Berlin, which was long enough for a taste, but nowhere near long enough to experience Berlin life.

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Part of Berlin Railway Station (Hauptbahnhof)

 

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Brandenburg Gate

 

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Memorial to the Jews of Europe
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East Berlin
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Inside the Reichstag Building

 

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Indicator of the Berlin wall

Check point

Check point 1965

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2013
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Warning when crossing during the Cold War, if you an see it for tourists today.

We visited a concentration camp, which is about 50 minutes by train outside Berlin – see next post.

After four nights we moved on to Prague, Czech Republic, again by train, but this time we used the Czech train system.