Paddling in pea soup

Day 300 – something of a milestone and, as people keep helpfully telling us, we are down to our last couple of months. As yet we are still heading South so it really doesn’t feel anything like being on our way home yet, we expected to be out of the Czech Rep by now and into Austria.  The good weather together with our both very much liking it here resulted in our agreeing to stop for a few extra days for a ‘mini-break’ near Lake Lipno.

Before that we had our last hit on the culture scene, Cesky Krumlov. Yet another Unesco site, where as Budejovice had some listed buildings Krumlov old town is listed in its entirety.  Thinking it would be a few more old buildings we were both a little awestruck when we arrived, like something out of a fairy story with castles, turrets, steeples and cobbled streets galore.

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Wow just about covers it!

The town and castle were both built back in the late 13th century. Most of the architecture that still exists dates from the 14th – 17th centuries with a wealth of the usual Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance styles. The main part of the town is set within a keyhole bend in the River Vltava with the castle on the other side. It really is one of those places where you don’t know where to look first, our eyes were out on stalks trying to take it all in.

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The Eastern Bloc era wasn’t kind to the town and it fell into disrepair, you wouldn’t know it now. Since the 1989 Czech Velvet Revolution the town has had a radical makeover and been restored beautifully in most place, only the castle gardens are now an ongoing piece of work.

It is a major tourist destination, not a few tourists – there were thousands of them flooding off buses every few minutes. We arrived just after 9am and there were a fair few people around, by lunchtime it was bursting at the seams. Seeing how busy it was proved our theory that Prague would have been way to chaotic in August, as the morning wore on it was becoming difficult to see anything other than people!

It is a city that claims notability for many things, gingerbread being one, there is a history of gingerbread being produced in the town that dates back a few hundred years. In the ‘ye olde’ type gingerbread shop we loved that the gingerbread was labelled as edible but also guaranteed to keep for 100 years – if it only keep for 99 years make sure you take it back then?

Krumlov is also known for  puppetry, mainly due to a historical connection where puppet shows and theatres were common place forms of entertainment in the 18th century. There is a museum dedicated to puppets and theatres and there are numerous shops selling everything from old fashioned marionettes down to finger puppets.

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puppets everywhere

The most controversial aspect must be the bear moat at the castle. Records show bears have been kept in the moat since 1707 and on and off ever since.  It does seem cruel but there are arguments that it is no worse than a zoo and that there is a successful breeding programme.

The moat bears are a much-loved part of the community, they even have birthday and Christmas parties, where the local children bring gifts and exotic foods for them. We spied the bears for a few seconds, then they sat under the drawbridge where no one could see them – says how they feel about it then :).  Whilst its very probably very un-PC to admit it – I was thrilled to see the bears.

Once it got too hot we got going, off to Horni Plana, on the edge of the Sumava National Park. Situated in the Bohemian Forest the village is on the edge of Lipno Dam. We found a small campsite on the lake, complete with its own sandy beach, and booked on for a few days. Iain has had a hankering for a scooter, we have seen more and more adults on them in recent weeks, so as the the hire shop had some he was off out for a trial – verdict : great for the flat and downhills, too much like hardwork on the uphills. There was a brand new tarmac cycle path though, which we took advantage of to cycle down to the next town, you still can’t beat a bike.

Scooter man                                Man-made beaches at Lipno

We have been what can only be termed as fairly idle for the last three days. We have sat in the sun, then built shelters to keep out the sun (using string and sheets, all very Blue Peter).  I had a first and went out on a pedallo – never been on one before, a quick whizz around the lake but think I got on Iain’s nerves keep moaning about I didn’t have life saving equipment on-board!  Iain yet again found a kind site owner happy to loan him a canoe without charge. By this afternoon the water on the lake here was pea green, looked a bit like cabbage soup. Despite it being 35 degrees the green bloom put off all but one or two hardly souls from taking to the water.

Tomorrow we will move on,  Austria awaits.

Sun-baking and cycling

We took to the back-roads on our way out from Kutna Hora, decent roads, not at all busy and lovely to be back off the beaten track for a while.  After the last few months of forest lined roads through Scandinavia and Poland it was a real change to see  open countryside, mile after mile or rolling farmland – pretty much all harvested.

The joy of the back-road without a map is we never quite know what is coming up next. Down through a village, turn a corner over the bridge and hey presto Cesky Sternberk.  An early Gothic Bohemian castle, the most impressive fact is that its still in the ownership of the family who built it in the mid 13th century.

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Cesky Sternberk Castle

Onwards and downwards to our next stop at the city of Ceske Budejovice. Main reason for coming was that rain was forecast and we thought we might do a bit of shopping. On arrival it was cracking the flags, lucky for us a new swimming pool had just been opened at the motel site we were staying at. Not sure why but hardly any  of the Czech’s were in for a dip, everyone seemed a bit reticent – enter us and a very pleasant and cooling dip. We really hadn’t thought of this country as a summer destination but they seem very geared up to good weather with the pool at the site and another very large outdoor pool in town.

Ceske pool


The drizzle came in on day two so we had a day in the city, a bit of sight-seeing and a wander around the shops. The old town is on a small island which is linked by several bridges. Much of the town was destroyed in bombing raids in WWII, that said there are still plenty of stunning of examples of  Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance buildings, mainly around Ottokar II Square.

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Ottokar II Square

Around the edge of the city runs a maze of Skoda trolleybus services, linking the several shopping centres and the suburbs. I managed a little bit of shopping the we went all ethnic and ate at the local McDonalds (at £3 for dinner and drinks for two we wont knock it). By mid afternoon the sky was clear again so we finished our retail therapy and went back to some sight seeing.  We found plenty to see and do on top of the architecture, several sculptures, a couple of parks, and some very impressive bridges crossing backwards and forwards over the rivers

“Rush hour” and “Restful” sculptures

A couple of the buildings are Unesco listed, but in the main its a working city and for us none the worse for that. Less of a museum setting and more a chance to see how the average Czech lives. Iain climbed the 16th century Black Tower and took some cracking ariel photos, whilst the square is the main attraction many of the side streets held better preserved buildings and for us were much more appealing.

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Ottokar II Square

Other than the war damage, architecture and a stack of ice hockey stadiums, the town is best known for beer production, so much so it was the imperial brewery of the Holy Roman Empire. As infamous is the legal wrangles between the local brewery, who produces Budweiser (and has the legal right to market its beer and name through most of Europe) and the American ‘Budweiser’. The US version is a different beer and a different company, who used the same name to imitate the successful Czech beer.  The American company has made many offers to buy out the Czech Budweiser to secure the rights to the name but the Czech government wont let the name go as a matter of national pride. So in some countries asking for a Budweiser gets you the American brew and in other the Czech brew.

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Our well earned Budweisers (Czech version of course)

We were moving on this morning but decided on an extra day by the pool.  Where we are staying is on the edge of the town park, acres and acres of grass and trees with a lake in the middle – just a good old fashioned park. We walked across to the local Kaufland to treat ourselves to some bits for lunch and then retired to the sun-loungers around the pool  to sun-bake (as they say here). By late afternoon it was cooling down so we took the bikes out for a quick mile or two around the park. From the park though we found a cycle path along the river so, as you do, we needed to follow that. And follow it we did for 6 or 7 miles down to the next village, brilliant wide tarmac path all the way.


The cycle path was incredibly busy but what shocked us most was for every cyclist there were at least two inline skaters. A few youngsters but in the main aged from mid 20’s up to mid 50’s, as many blokes as women and they can skate a hell of a lot faster than we can cycle.

The other big sport here is canoeing, at the end of the cycle path we came across a canoe slalom course, again full to over-flowing with people on the water. We sat and watched for a while, Iain pondering if he is buying a canoe (!) before heading back to camp for a quiet evening to work out where to next.

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This could be him soon!!

Simply clever

Part II of this week was going to be all about cars, so en-route we stopped off for some castle action. There is no shortage of choice as Bohemia has numerous castles and châteaux from it’s various historical epoques, travelling down any road there are signs in most directions to a historic church, castle or museum.

We went for Frydstejn, perched high on a hill it is a typical rock castle. Built sometime in the 14th century the castle consists of a tall turret on a sandstone ridge, the rooms were carved out of the nearby rocks and have long since gone. The car-park was a 15 minute walk away, where we encountered the most unhappy looking car-park attendant on earth. Once we established a price he insisted I walk over and read his sign stating we had one hour. Not sure what happened if we went over but he looked so glum we didn’t risk the potential repercussions.

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Frydstejn castle

Moving swiftly on, after 10 long months we finally arrived at destination nirvana for Iain – Mlada Boleslav – the original and largest Skoda production plant in the world.  We weren’t just there for a drive by visit, we had booked a tour inside both factory and museum. It’s fair to say excitement levels were high, mine in case it was like the Guinness tour and you a free sample at the end, Iain’s just because he is a Skoda freak :).

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Happiness is a car-plant

A strange system for the tours, you arrive at the museum but the first visit is around the factory a couple of miles away. You take your own car, and also have to transport your guide there and back. We were exempt due to the motorhome, so they shoved us in with a few people who didn’t own a car and we got a lift the Skoda mini-bus.

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After much mockery I will concede the factory tour is very interesting, it firstly takes you into two of the pressing plants, where we saw doors and roofs for Octavia being produced. From there it’s into the production line – where we toured the main line as cars were being produced. Other than an instruction to not take photos it was access all areas. A yellow fluorescent jacket was all we needed, cranes moving over-head, gigantic dies being moved, the sound of metal being thumped at a  million decibels – a H&S nightmare in the UK but nothing to worry about here as long as you wear the jacket that says ‘visitor’.

The site is similar in size to that of your average town, all the staff have to park their cars outside the factory and walk, with 25,000 employees in the main factory there are a lot of car-parks – oddly enough rather full of Skoda’s! Back at the museum there are many Skoda cars to see, many, many, some old, some not so old. I left Iain to it and went and read a book whilst he indulged in Skoda history.

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After an automotive over-load the plan was to visit Kutna Hora. We had toyed with idea of Prague but decided against as a) its mid August and we are told it’s heaving, b) the four campsites in the city all advise they are full. Kutna Hora is recommended by the Czech tourist info as the place next worth visiting after Prague, so that’s where we went.

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Kutna Hora

The city is in the central area of Bohemia, and was established as a silver mining area by the Germans in 13th century.  Now a Unesco site (where isn’t?), there are truck loads of thing to see in a very small area, for although they call it a city it’s really no bigger than your average small market town stuffed full of historical buildings, cobbled streets and quaint ally ways of shops.

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Cathedral of St. Barbara

Surprisingly, it wasn’t as busy as we thought it could be. There were plenty of people around but nowhere was over crowded and we were able to get to see everything we wanted without queues or hoards of people. Unfortunately several of the buildings we wanted to see were shrouded in scaffolding for repair or restoration, no matter there were more than enough with two cathedrals, a Jesuit college and even an ossuary (bone chapel).  We found that if we wanted to shop then we needed to be up earlier on a Saturday – shops were only open from 8am to 11am then closed until Monday.kutna hora (42)

Jesuit College

Just when we thought a place couldn’t get any better we came across more cars – this time a vintage car rally in the centre of town. Iain believes all his Christmas’s have come at once this week. The cars were all pre 1935 and the owners were all dressed in period costumes, my favourite bar none was the gorgeous little girl sat in the rumble seat, happy to pose and wave at anyone with a camera.

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The Czech Republic is proving to be a winner with us. My role of chancellor of our tour exchequer is reaping the benefits of some of the cheapest prices we have seen throughout Europe. Campsites are much improved, the weather is good enough that evenings can be spent sat outside until after 10pm with just the sound of campers chatting and the smell of over-cooked sausages on barbecues.

Again there are not too many motorhomes about, as with Poland vehicles over 3.5 tonnes need Go Boxes to pay tolls, possibly why so few larger moho about. The mix of campers in tents and smaller vans here is very cosmopolitan, tonight we are on a small garden site with vehicles from Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Russia, France and one Czech.

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Just window shopping

Poland into Czech

All our moaning about the weather came back and bit us on the bum – Monday was pretty much rain all day. The first couple of hours were bright enough so we walked into the village to see what was there.  Whilst Bolkow will probably never win any beautiful town awards it has the look of being well lived in, yet well cared for.  Around the town square on three sides were old buildings, once painted in bright pastels, which although they looked like they needed a new coat of paint when the sun came out they looked well enough. The majority of the shops were open, selling the usual stuff we all don’t need with the addition of many, many arrangements of silk flowers.

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Bolkow town square

We had a perusal through the town shops, still marveling that everything is a bargain based on price – whether we need it or not. I couldn’t resist a new oil-cloth for the picnic table at £2! Got it back to camp, put in out, sat and admired it under the awning along with our friendly wasp brigade. Twenty minutes later we noticed a hole burnt into the cloth, that would be the insect repellent bottle that we had left on there. If it does that to the tablecloth Lord alone knows what its doing to our skin so we have binned that one and will be embracing the wasps more often.

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Borlow town 

Back onto  town and the main attraction of the village is the castle, as all good castles should be high on a hill above the town. Built in the 13th century and devastated in the Thirty Years War in the 17th century, restoration work didn’t start until 1905.  The restoration is ongoing, not all sympathetically as lots of very new looking brick work appears around door frames. The central courtyard houses a bar and cafe and an annual Gothic rock festival takes place inside the castle walls – it seems more restoration is to stop it collapsing than to bring it back to its former glory.

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Bolkow Castle

Our route towards the Czech Republic took us over the Giant Mountains, not actually that giant as they are relatively low but despite that they have a climate similar to the Alps with low winter temperatures and a long period of snow cover.

We stopped off at Szklarska Poreba, a popular ski town just before the border. Plenty of new building work taking place with wooden hotels and chalets sprouting in every corner. The ski area covers a massive area for both alpine and Nordic skiers, this along with the low costs here compared to the Alps has seen the whole area growing in popularity with those fans of hurling themselves along in the snow.

Even in summer its busy, a few outdoor shops, lots of restaurants and bars and more ticky-tacky stalls than we have seen since Dracula’s castle. We walked up to the chair lifts to consider a lift up and a walk back down –  deemed pointless though as low cloud meant there weren’t any views that could be seen (phew).

Instead we made do with an evening in the centre of town at a small campsite come hippy haven. An eclectic mix of people who took too much of one thing or another in the 1960’s along with a few motorhomes – everyone rubbed along together rather well.

On our way out of Poland we found a garage selling vignettes, £5 for 10 days, and exchanged our Zloty into Koruna – for the first time in nine months (except the Euro zone)  we have arrived in a country with the correct currency and road tax, we seem to be getting the hang of it at long last :).

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We only travelled a few miles over the border before stopping off at Tanvald.  Not the biggest or most exciting looking of towns, now mainly a winter ski resort but not so long ago the centre of glass making in Bohemia, the evidence of which can still be seem with several gargantuan abandoned factories along the valley.

We cycled to the nearest factory as we had seen a sign for a museum there. Slightly disappointing to find it was a wooden toy factory not a glass works, but still worth visiting and spend a few koruna at the factory shop where Detoa wooden toys are still produced over 100 years after the company started here.  Each factory has a small supermarket area, a sports bar (aka the pub) and two or three blocks of apartments for the workers. Whilst some of the housing appears a bit Eastern Bloc many of the factories were here long before any thoughts of dividing up Europe ever too place, it seems they just replaced the factory worker houses with blocks of flats.


One of the many Tanvald factories

At 4 pm we were somewhat disconcerted to hear the air raid sirens start, first in this village, then in the next, then the next etc. We had seen the loudspeakers on lamp posts through the villages and lanes and assumed it was for some type of fete. Ostensibly the air raid sirens are still tested once a month through out the country, just to be sure they are working in case they are needed – makes you feel safe here the then!