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Salt, Bones and Iron Curtains.

CZECH REPUBLIC | Friday, 21 October 2011 | Views [591]

They have real fire breathing dragons in Krakow

They have real fire breathing dragons in Krakow

We left Munich to travel east again, this time to Prague in the Czech Republic.

What can I say about Prague….It is a beautiful old city but completely overrun with tourists and therefore also an expensive Eastern European city. In fact I would say that prices of accommodation & food in Prague were almost on a par with Western European cities such as Munich or Barcelona. Nevertheless when we arrived in Prague we pretty much immediately decided to extend our stay by an extra night because it was such a beautiful looking city with plenty to explore.

First thing we did is the free walking tour around the Old Town, New Town & the Jewish Quarter. We had a really great guide on this tour as he was a local guy who had lived in Prague his whole life so he had a really in-depth knowledge particularly of the recent history when they were occupied by Soviets prior to 1989. He told us some interesting stories about the city and its history. One thing I think we missed out on in Prague was the nightlife. We were just too “beered out” after Oktoberfest to enjoy it. We heard that it is great fun so I would still recommend it to anyone headed that way but unfortunately it wasn’t until we left Prague that we finally felt ready to drink another beer.  Our hostel was more like a big share-house that most hostels we’ve been too so we enjoyed cooking in their kitchen a couple of nights. It has actually been ages since we cooked in a hostel so it was nice to enjoy a huge homemade Grilled chicken salad! Lack of vegies can be a little trying sometimes…never thought I’d say that J

We spent our other day in Prague exploring the Castle quarter which is on the other side of the river to the main part of town. We meandered through the small cobblestone streets winding our way up to the top of the hill where the castle is perched overlooking the rest of the city. We’ve been feeling a little over looking at the insides of castles & churches these days so we decided to just enjoy the buildings from the outside rather than actually paying to go inside. It is still a really beautiful castle complex and well worth a wander.

From Prague we were travelling to Olomouc in the South of Czech Republic. We were recommended to stay in a hostel there while we were in Romania, so that was our only reason for going. We’ve been finding that recommendations from other travellers & locals have often worked out to be our favourite things we’ve seen & done on the trip so we didn’t hesitate. On the way however we had to make a day stop at a small town called Kutna Hora. Just one hour from Prague this little town is home to a church full of human bones! Yes, that’s right there are bones and skulls piled high all over this church. There is even a chandelier made from bones hanging from the ceiling. As expected it is a pretty creepy place but I was coping fine until I saw these skulls with their jaws wide open and all these teeth. The teeth did it to me! They were just way too creepy and gross so I was out of there to wait out the front until Tegan had finished taking photos. We could have left it there and jumped straight back on a train but we heard that the local cathedral on the hill was really beautiful so we decided to have a look. It was a 3km walk into town from there. Being the backpackers we are we weren’t prepared to pay the $10 to use the Tourist bus to get there. So it was some well needed exercise for us and then a well-earned pizza for lunch when we got there…yes possibly did that the wrong way around there but hey, it tasted delicious after the long walk. We took a look at the Cathedral after lunch which is indeed beautiful and then walked all the way back to the train station. So yes, that pizza did get worked off after all.

The hostel in Olomouc was everything we’d been led to believe. Great Aussie owners, fantastic atmosphere, comfy beds, clean bathrooms & a wonderful little Czech town. The owners, Greg & Francine have been running this place since they first started it almost 10 years ago and they do a wonderful job. They’ve created a town map which lists all of their favourite places to eat & drink around town as well as a comprehensive list of all the paid & free attractions in town. This info is invaluable as a backpacker. So often, particularly with food & drink, you end up on the main tourist drag and pay twice the price for crap food just because you didn’t know where else to go. So we LOVED the map J Our time in Olomouc was really relaxing, we wandered around town, visited a museum and just generally took some time relaxing and sampling the local fare. We met some great people at the hostel as well, including three Aussies who we then caught up with twice more in our next destinations. In fact, we loved Olomouc so much that one of the owners, Greg, actually convinced us that we should go and visit a couple of other places then come back in a week so we could go to an ice-hockey match with him. So that is what we did.

We were always interested in going to Krakow in Poland so we decided that would be our next destination and then we thought somewhere in the mountains would be nice. Well, there was a poster on the toilet door for a hostel in the Slovakian mountains so that was where we decided to head.

But first, Krakow; a lovely old Polish city, and very easy to get to from Olomouc. In fact, it was just 5 hours on the train with one change. We stayed in a great little hostel which was themed in an Art-Deco style (very 1920’s) just outside of the tourist part of the city too so we enjoyed that. We once again took advantage of the free walking tour in Krakow and once again had a local Polish guy guiding us. In fact he told us that in Krakow only Poles are allowed to take the free walking tours as in order to be a qualified guide you have to pass a very difficult course and exam which is run entirely in Polish! He was great fun, full of jokes, he especially enjoyed taking the piss out of Aussies making us try and pronounce Polish words such as our highest mountain, Kosciusko, which was actually named by a Polish explorer and is definitely not pronounced the way we do in Oz. Whilst in Krakow we also visited the Salt mines which are a 30 minute bus ride from the city. They take you through part of the first three levels of the mine which end up being 135m under the ground. But there are actually 9 levels of the mine in total and they go 330m under the surface. They only stopped official mining in 1996 so it is still really recent and they do still produce a little bit of salt (just enough for souvenirs and Krakow locality) each year. It was a really cool experience and one we would recommend. It’s fairly expensive – cost us almost $50 for two of us but well worth it and we got a private guide for the final part of the tour which is in the underground museum because everyone else in our tour left without hanging around so we had the tour guide all to ourselves. The museum was actually really great because you got to see heaps of the huge old machines they were using. The other thing we did in Krakow which is definitely worth mentioning is a visit to Schindlers Factory. This is in fact a brand new attraction in Krakow, it only opened last year but an amazing museum. Of course, it is all about the persecution of the Jewish people during World War 2 and in particular the stories surrounding the use of the factory which was of course later made into the movie “Schindlers List.” We found this to be one of the most interesting and in-depth museums we have ever visited, also one of the most moving. It is an experience not to be missed by anyone visiting Krakow. Also being new it is not on the general tourist trail yet so there were nowhere near as many people as we found elsewhere.

Like I mentioned above our next stop was the Slovakian mountains in a town called Zdiar. Around a three hour trip on two different buses from Krakow. Well worth it though. It was a tiny little town and the day we arrived the weather changed from summer to winter! It was cold and rainy the whole day whilst we travelled there and then that evening as we were returning from dinner it actually started snowing on us which was fantastic. In 48 hours the weather had changed from +20 to -2 degrees at the same time of day! We were lucky that we bought winter jackets for ourselves the very day before in Krakow!

The hostel we stayed at in Zdiar, the Ginger Monkey was what made our stay so great (the one we read about on the back of the toilet door in Olomouc). It was like one big giant sharehouse. It had great comraderie amongst guests and within an hour of us arriving everyone was already friends and knew everyone staying in the hostel. We once again caught up with the three Aussies, Simon, Kate & Elliot; whom we first had met in Olomouc and had also bumped into one night in Krakow.

Our time in Zdiar was just really for relaxing and recharging the batteries. We took a short walk together with some others from the hostel one morning and tried to reach the snowline on the mountain but managed to get ourselves a little confused and way too muddy then just turned back to the hostel. So for us Zdiar was all about a great hostel, great people and a lovely tiny little town with mega cheap Slovakian food! In other words, the perfect backpackers destination. We loved it.

From Zdiar however it was time to head back to Olomouc. A short bus and then a direct train and four hours later we were back where we were a week ago. It was quite a strange feeling to be heading back to the same place again actually. Especially even the same hostel. Kind of felt a bit like going home! We knew exactly what to do when we got off the train and even knew our way around the town already when we arrived at the hostel. However it was a rude awakening the next morning when I woke to find myself sweating with a really bad fever. So what was going to be a lovely day wandering around Olomouc ended up being a day in bed with the flu and a fever unlike anything I’ve ever had before. I was shaking uncontrollably for most of the day. Not very nice, especially when you’re in a foreign place, but more than anything I was just glad we’d happened to fork out for our own private room here so it didn’t matter that I lazed around in bed all day. Tegan was a gem and looked after me with hot tea & soup. Our whole reason for returning to Olomouc was of course for the ice hockey and I really didn’t want to miss out. So, yes I may be a little insane for doing this, but full of panadols, I dressed in multiple warm layers and joined everyone else in the hostel and went out for the ice hockey game. It was great fun! Freezing cold, especially in my condition, but great fun. Lucky for us Olomouc won. Tegan went out with the rest of the hostel for a victory dinner whilst I headed back for bed. 

Lucky for me the following day the fevers had subsided and it was time to head back into Western Europe to Berlin.

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