Czech Republic + Vienna
God’s amazing. Sometimes when you expect less, He gives you more. With the floods hitting hard on Central Europe in June, I went from hopeful to doubtful of my trip to Czech Republic. I kept an eye on the Vltava River water level through a website, spamming for hourly updates. The river that snakes around Prague was overflowing to promenades lining the river and subway lines were shut down. In despair, I thought my trip probably has to be called off . I continued to monitor every single related news and very luckily found out that things weren’t as bad as it seemed. SO. Just the night before my flight, I made up my mind to go ahead! I exchanged some Czech kunas the next day, packed and headed off to the airport.
Flooded areas seen from plane.
As the plane descended through layers of pillow-like clouds approaching Prague, patches of flooded areas could be seen from the window. Down on the ground, I took the express bus to the train station (to catch a train to Hradec Kralove where Agnes was) and got off at the wrong stop. I made unsuccessful phone calls while running around trying to find a map but found none. A glance at my watch told me I had less than 20 mins to the departure of my train and I had no idea where I was. The rarity of locals speaking English was not helpful. Very fortunately, an English-speaking guy volunteered to help with directions. I had late night exercise running from that train station to the right one, thankfully I travel light! Arrived at the train station and realized my train is at the last platform, furthest away. RUN! Got on for a minute or two and the train departed.
Exhilarating first night in Prague. :) Slept happily until the train pulled in at Hradec Kralove.
A somewhat industrial city, it is definitely not the touristy place but I so enjoyed myself with a good tour guide who even brought me to her university. :P Had fun grocery shopping for dinner and snacks. Supermarkets are always one of my favourite destinations while travelling! We chit-chatted together with her uni friends over dinner at home, headed to another friend’s place where I meet this seriously hyperactive dog and lastly, wound up in a new cosy cafe nearby. Such bliss sipping on chocolate shakes in the pleasant, quiet environment.
My first meal in Czech Republic. Cheap and good!
It wasn’t planned at all, this trip to Vienna (aka Wien in German). I did, however, include it in my itinerary (which was ditched later on) for summer last year. So when Agnes suggested a detour to the Austrian capital, I almost immediately agreed to the idea. That was in Hradec Kralove – we booked our tickets and hostel the day before we went.
Vienna strikes me as a fairly modern place with a hint of the classical Baroque feel. With “Mozart-fied” souvenir shops dotting the streets, people taking the metro with violin cases slung across their backs and music sheets in their hands remind tourists of the rich musical history this city beholds. The abundance of coffee houses is another special trait I notice about Vienna. They come into sight at every corner you turn, beckoning passersby to sit down and chat over a cup of coffee. Most of them also sell a variety of cakes and gelato which are hard to turn away from.
In one of the more ‘high-class’ cafes. Be spoiled for the choices of cakes and drinks.
An interesting market street – Naschmarkt – lined with restaurants offering a wide culinary range.
The infamous Vienna State Opera, where Herbert Von Karajan once conducted the Vienna Philharmonic.
Wiener Schnitzel. A must in Vienna.
The Schonbrunn Palace located slightly out of the city centre can be reached by one of the metro lines in roughly 30 minutes. The palace building is painted in a brownish-yellow shade with wide staircases sweeping up at both sides of the central entrance. A wide courtyard spanning across the front gates to the palace adds to the grandeur of this used-to-be royal residence. We did not enter the palace but went through to the gardens via a side door. Suddenly, I found myself in a rose garden thriving with well-pruned rose shrubs. Dark red, orange, yellow, pink, champagne and white – the roses sent me in admiral-frenzy-mode. The entire garden was splendid and we even met a Swiss lady who told us she had her passport stolen in KL on a trip to Malaysia. (*buries face*) But she was all positive about it and said it can’t be avoided sometimes.
A green passageway in the gardens of Schonbrunn.
The majestic Gloriette of the Palace Gardens sitting at the highest elevation point.
Vienna at night time is no less attractive as lights lining the main shopping streets sparkle with elegance. Strolling around felt rather different than during the day and we hopped on the tram for more night views, taking it in the wrong direction at one point. Lastly, we visited the Ferris wheel Riesenrad across River Danube, only arriving back at the hostel approaching midnight.
A private bus took us from big city Vienna to this little fairytale town nestled in the South Bohemian region of Czech Republic. It was constructed in the 13th century around a ford of River Vtlava, the same river stretching down from Prague. The castle stands right next to the river at an elevated height, providing the best view of the steep orange rooftops covering the medieval town.
Another view from the castle grounds.
I had the best pork steak I have ever eaten at this restaurant – was recommended by the lady at our hostel!
Hot trdelniks in the making! A wonderful afternoon snack.
After a visit up the castle, we settled for drinks by the river where the lower river banks were still submerged in the river water. This was where I realized how nice ginger ale is! We loitered around peeping into the shops before returning to the hostel for a rest. Nearing sunset, we came out to hunt for dinner while taking in evening views of the charming town.
One of the most sought-after destinations by tourists in Europe, this city is indeed a gem! It is home to many historical attractions drawing crowds of visitors everyday. Charles Bridge (Karluv most) was brimming with umbrellas on a rainy day – why, one of my pictures had a big rainbow umbrella blocking my head. When the sun is out, it is simply packed. To the point you just look at it and decide to take another route, assuming you had been on it before.
Old Town Square – Church of Our Lady before Tyn on the right.
I was a bit put off by the alarming hordes of tourists (especially those in a tour) roaming the streets at first but I grew to the city more day by day. If you are not in a hurry, it is a pleasure to explore the entire city slowly on foot over a few days. There are the Old Town, New Town and Lesser Town areas boasting their own popular sights. The famous astronomical clock (which I personally find fairly overrated), Old Town Square, Municipal House etc are situated in the Old Town section whereas the New Town encompasses Wenceslas Square and the National Museum sitting proudly at one end of the Square. The Lesser Town is where the Prague Castle is, across the Vtlava River. The Petrin Lookout Tower is on top of the hill here as well.
Powder Tower – just next to the Municipal House.
A view from the Prague Castle.
The ‘Dancing House’ (Fred or Ginger) being the odd one out of its neighbouring Baroque/Art Nouveau buildings.
Since Agnes had to return to Hradec Kralove for classes, I had 2-3 days of wandering around alone. The first night I attended a concert at the magnificent Smetana Hall in Municipal House. Had a mental battle and couldn’t resist it, what more with some of my favourite classical pieces including the complete set of concertos from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Bach’s Canon in D and the unexpected Divertimento in D Major KV 136 by Mozart. Left the hall wishing for more!
Interior of the Smetana Hall.
I would also recommend walking up the hill to Petrin Tower AND climbing the spiral staircase to the top. It was a good break from the busy lanes and buildings. Plenty of trees to keep the walk cool and the view of the city just get better and better as you go higher. (Less and less people too XD right, because there is a funicular option I forgot to mention heeeh) You need to pay a small amount to climb the Petrin Tower – cheaper than if you take the lift! :P Don’t worry about getting tired and blocking people’s way, there are some tiny ‘benches’ built along the way. At the top, you can have a 360 degrees view of the city. Yes, the swarm of tourists on Charles Bridge is still visible from here.
View of Prague from the top of Petrin Tower.
Vtlava River at night from one of the many bridges.
On a brighter note, the flood did not affect the city too badly. Besides the lower riverside promenades and Kampa Island, the rest of the city was functioning pretty normally when I arrived. It rained a fair bit in the beginning but got sunny after a day. I have to say, sights are always so much more beautiful in sunshine against a bright blue sky. Sounds cliché but it’s true.
My last day in Prague was as delightful as any other day. Headed out for more sauntering in the Lesser Town area and very coincidentally bumped into the Canadian girl I talked to the day before at Petrin Hill! We kept each other company and went for lunch at a bagel cafe. Both departing later on in the day, we went separate ways mid-afternoon. I had fun dog-watching at a park and enjoying the breezes under a tree and after my final packing, Agnes’ friend Adeline whose place I stayed at took me for Vietnamese food before she sent me off to the airport…acts of kindness! :)
Endless thanks to Agnes for bringing me around and spending time with me! I’m really glad I got to visit you in Czech and do some travelling with you! THANKS for suggesting a last-minute trip to Vienna too, though we couldn’t make it for the national parks in Czech itself…let’s go somewhere else again someday! :D And special thanks to Adeline in Prague too! Such a small world that we have a mutual friend in Manchester (Mel dear) lol. You have been a lovely host till the very end, extremely touched! Hope to see you again in the future. x)