Czech Republic 30.8.02-4.9.02 <  >

As a ‘consolation prize’ for my long suffering wife who was joining me this time, I’d arranged to visit Telč, which amongst other things has been described as ‘the best preserved Renaissance town north of the Alps’. Also on the agenda was the narrow gauge from Obrataň to Nova Bystřice. However, during the ‘between booking and going’ stage came the flooding which affected the Vltava in particular but other rivers in central and south Bohemia, also wiping out (temporarily) the Metro in the centre of Prague. Both CD and the Prague public transport authorities reacted pretty well, with helpful maps and other information on their websites which showed which lines were affected. Having watched this nervously for a week or so it became apparent that apart from the Prague Metro, which was going to be out of action for some months, we should be OK, so off we went.

I settled for taking video on this trip – so once again no pictures though I might put on a clip later…

Friday 30.8.02

By car to East Midlands Airport via a chance meeting with ex-colleague Pete in the Lamb (cheap food, no beer just John Smiths) and the Plough (St Austell HSD of all things, and Abbot) in Ashby-de-la-Zouch. A long wait from 1335 to 1535 enlivened by the appearance of Brian Clough looking extremely ill but doing a book signing, for GO151 to Praha. Arrival there was 15 early at 2030 after a dull flight (cloudy) much lightened by resident comedian/co-pilot, Andy. He was, he said, very pleased with himself for such a smooth landing ‘just as well, as apparently some of you were stood up’. They were too, greatly irritating the cabin crew. [I've noticed on many subsequent flights into PRG that incoming aircraft from the east end of the airport brake very hard in order to make a turn off the runway. I don't know which way we approached on this day, but I'd guess from the west as otherwise we would have been scraping these idiots off the cockpit door].

Lots of English spoken at the airport, greatly facilitating the purchase of bus/tram tickets (CZK32 in all including rucksack). 2100 no 119 bus took us as far as the no 26 tram which went the rest of the way to the Hotel Ariston, eventually. Arrival there at 2200 allowed time for a swift ‘alf (2 x 50cl of Gambrinus 12°, average but welcome and CZK16) at the nearest pub before retiring.

Saturday 31.8.02

Adequate breakfast with almost solid coffee, before making our way to Praha hlavni nádraží for the 0911 to Ceske Bud., hauled by electric 363128. Exit from P6 via the easternmost tunnel emerging still on the east of the layout passing Praha-Vrsovice box. Stopped at Praha-Vrsovice, Praha-Strašnice zastávka, Praha-Hostívař. Normal main line in fact, to Cercany, Tabor and Veseli nad Lužnicí, whereat there were not only ice creams, but an amiable station buff selling Gambrinus for next to nothing.

Slightly confused by the (2 coach, 1 double deck one single) local to Jihlava as a loco came on to the back, or what appeared to be. Reassured by local enquiry we piled in and were indeed top and tailed by 240106 and 230158 over a weedy single line to Jindřichův Hradec. The narrow gauge here is just across the yard – buy your ticket from the wagon at the end of the headshunt and you get proper Edmondsons. Buy it on the train and you don’t. Yesss….

The narrow gauge is wondrous. A little diesel shunter (or so it appears – quite sprightly in fact) and two coaches/railcar trailers with a wagon in between for bikes and the like. Better than that, there’s a ‘buffet’ which sold any kind of drink you liked provided it was beer (Samson from Humpolec and nothing wrong with that).

Highly irritating to meet the steam train (Sat and Sun until Sep) at Hurka, but we couldn’t have made it anyway so a bit of a shrug. Maybe one day from the Austrian side. Meanwhile, on to Nová Bystřice which had a lively bahnhofsgaststätte but slightly uncertain bus information. We elected to walk the quarter mile or so into town to be sure of getting the bus from the bus station (behind the church to the north).

NB seemed a pleasant little market town with a number of shops open at 1600 on Saturday presumably in view of its proximity to Austria. Having located the bus station with (or without, really) the aid of a pleasant chap in the tourist information office who knew not his links from his rechts, we retired to the pub for a couple of Budvars. Nice, too, on a warm afternoon. In view of my linguistic (in)ability it’s very fortunate I do know my links from my rechts! The bus, when it appeared, was an awesome 1950s device which took us both the 16km for about 80p. Highly, highly recommended! Rather luckily the driver chose to stop on the riverside at Jindřichův Hradec, enabling us to bale out and reach the Grand (!) Hotel earlier than expected. All in all, a highly satisfactory day’s travel.

The Grand turned out to be adequate, if not all that spectacular [it’s been done up since], and JH is a very pleasant large market town with railway and bus stations on the outskirts. An excellent dinner was taken at the Hotel Concertino which seems to be the smartest in town! Nevertheless two large portions of brambora (pork in a potato pancake), one each of Torte Malakoff (chocolate and cream), two bottles of Bohemia Regent 12° (4.4%, too much crystal malt for me but interesting) and a 10% tip came to CZK500 (about £11).

A final Pilsner Urquell at the Grand before retiring to bed to be wakened at 3 a.m. and at intervals thereafter by noisy fellow residents and hefty thunderstorms. Harrumph.

Sunday 1.9.02

Leisurely start, reasonable breakfast with scrambled egg, bockwurst and boiled egg options before a taxi to the bus station for the 1007 bus to Telč. This was less rateable than yesterday’s, being a fairly aged bendy bus. It went along in fine style though, and deposited us in a muddy yard on the outskirts of Telč after 50 minutes or so. An amiable local was soliciting custom for his B&B but kindly directed us to our hotel which was near one of the two gates into the old town, overlooking the fishponds. At the time of writing, seems modest but perfectly acceptable and rather better organised than the Grand. A prowl round the town revealed that it does indeed have a very impressive market square in contrast to the very unprepossessing outskirts. Lots of very touristy shops and a beautiful old castle rebuilt after a 16 th century fire.

After an ice cream stop and an unsuccessful attempt to get a high level view from the church tower we retired to the station for 1323 to Slavonice which was a very warm railbus and trailer. A very pleasant 40 minute run, some forest stretches and some ‘upland’. Slavonice is a town on fairly similar lines (no pun intended) to Telč but with seemingly no attempt to grab the tourist market. With Austria 1 km away you’d think they would try. [That remark written at the time, but I seem to remember a minibus from Oxford turning up…] A similar wedge shaped ‘square’, not as impressive as that of Telč. We located a hostelry which dispensed Radegast Pale, a thoroughly acceptable light beer, and Pilsner Urquell. After extended festering on a warm afternoon, there was just time to nip up the church tower for an excellent view of the town, before returning to the station for another railcar and trailer back to Telč.

Dinner was taken at one of the local hostelries, again for about a fiver each including pud and two beers (Regent light, very nice too).

Monday 2.9.02

Breakfast a bit bland but set us up for the 0904 to Kostelec u Jihlavy which was railbus and trailer again. I was somewhat confused by arriving at Kostelec from the east not the west as I’d thought, but we managed to locate 0947 to Horní Cerekev – an international train, no less (one ZSR vehicle next to the loco), hauled by 242277. At H.C. we took a brief stroll (after videoing a genu-yne working Trabbi) and then continued to Pelhrimov on a railbus. It was marked as continuing to Tábor but after much enquiry we established that it did so only after 39 minutes, at 1150. Off to the station buff therefore, which proved to be the most classic of fly blown caffs, thick with dust and with its plastic table cloths joined together with parcel tape. It dispensed Pelhrimov beer which if we’re honest, was on the grim side of average with just a hint of a Persil nose, but on the plus side had a friendly English speaking proprietor.

A pleasant trundle ensued to Tábor, where after purchasing tickets for the next stage about 15 minutes along a busy shopping street got us to the main square in the old town. A pleasant spot, though surprisingly cold after two very hot days. We shivered over a welcome half litre of Gambrinus before taking a quick look in the very handsome church (outside – too ornate for me inside) and returning to the station via the very good sticky bun shop.

Another (or maybe the same) wheelie bin and trailer up a very serious gradient to Obrataň where the narrow gauge (B-B or Bo-Bo, or even 1A-A1 or A1-1A, plus one coach) awaited despite our late arrival. A reasonable level of patronage, although with quite a short average journey, as far as Kamenice nad Lipou. Here serious confusion set in. Our one coach was labelled as Obrataň-Kamenice and return. The loco was removed, ran round, hooked on to the Obrataň end and was switched off. Silence. Non English speaking local assured us a) that the train was continuing to Jindřichův Hradec and b) that JH was at the end of the train that didn’t have a loco. Perusing the timetable (it was 1615 by now) revealed there to be a 1624 arrival, apparently terminating, from JH, and nothing to Obrataň until 1840. The plot thickened. The JHMD man seemed to be saying we would be top and tailed and eventually another loco (blue) arrived from JH. This shunted its coach into the third through line, left it there, ran back round our train and was attached to the JH end leaving our original red loco still at the Obrataň end. And thus we departed, at 1636 or thereabouts, with blue and red locos sandwiching one coach. The really irritating thing was that there was a pleasant and well patronised pub across the road. [On the other hand during the course of our enquiries Herself was befriended by one of the locals and came away with a bag of freshly picked plums. This sort of international friendliness is far from unusual but it never seems to happen in the good ol’ UK. Maybe it does if you’re not a Brit, but I doubt it.]

The last mile or so into JH is mixed gauge, overhead electrified, which is perhaps a tad unusual… On time arrival allowed time for a quick pic, purchase of tickets to Telč which made a total travel cost of less than £4.50 each, and rectification of the beer situation with a Regent at the moderately grotty ‘hotel’ opposite. There proved to be a 1745 D train to Kostelec as well as the 1752 R so we got that to save a bit of time. 242246 provided haulage. It all proved wasted at Kostelec – no sign of any beer! The Slavonice kart was waiting so we settled down on that to await the arrival (on time) of the 1752 from JH.

Back down the branch to finish only 2 minutes late at 1947, a most satisfactory day. Dinner was taken at a different restaurant in Telč, cheaper yet at CZK 329 for more than we could eat in what appears to be the best place in town.

Tuesday 3.9.02

Another rendezvous with Rama (the local margarine, grim) before departing for the 0904 wheelie bin to Kostelec again. This time we continued on a stopper (242277 hauling) of four open main line coaches, thank goodness, to Jihlava (trolley buses at the station before J-mesto), Havlickův Brod, and Nymburk. The train was a bit late and made a very lengthy stop at Jihlava but seemingly only to wait time as we were on time when we alighted at Světlá nad Sázavou. 16 minutes here allowed ticket purchase to Čerčany and beer purchase (two bottles of Rebel from Havlickův Brod, very presentable). [This came from a little bothy on the platform which seemed to provide a 90 second window of opportunity, so to speak, just before the train left!]

The line from Světlá nad Sázavou to Čerčany was a revelation – I’d expected a slow meander through (at best) cornflake country , but instead got a slow meander through forests, valleys and gorges. Nearly three hours on a wheelie bin is hard work, but it’s well worth it for superb scenery on a fine day. Pleasingly the train (wheelie bin and trailer) did a fairly good trade all the way though all (except us) in short journeys as seems to be the way on ČD. We also passed two freights en route, and with two junctions with branches heading north there seems sufficient traffic for the moment.

Arrival at Čerčany was spot on at 1444 and the booking clerk was completely unfazed by a (written) request for two singles to Praha hl.n. via Vrané nad Vltavou! Refreshments were taken; Ferdinand from the Benešov brewery, another pleasant pale lager. How do they make keg lager taste so nice?

Another crisis narrowly avoided as I’d failed to realise that trains to Vrané left Čerčany southwards, but luckily I asked just in time and we got our first diesel loco on the standard gauge, 749135, on two double deckers. 749162 crossed at Jilové u Prahy.

Flood damage along the Vltava was quite evident, increasingly so as we got into the outer suburbs where there were large piles of debris from smaller buildings which had been swept away. The train terminated at Praha-Vrsovice where we changed to an EMU for the short trundle round to Praha hlavní nádraži where we arrived in P7 via the easternmost tunnel again (see 31.8.02). Back to the Ariston after purchase of 24 hour passes, then off by the no. 9 tram down to the river just above the Charles Bridge. A riverside caff there had obviously sustained a lot of damage and was being worked on though still boarded up. Clearly a great deal of clearing up has already gone on.

Supper was taken at the Radegast at Templova 2 – excellent beer and a very hot ‘piquant sauce’ on the pork, but some sort of rip-off seemed to be going on, with severe overcharging for the beer, ‘cover charge’ and ‘service charge’. All that said, two meals and three half litres were still under a tenner. [It’s closed now (2008). Whether there’s a history to that, who knows.]

Final stop of the night was at the home brew pub just off Wenceslas Square, which was good. A light beer in very much an English style, and a dark one with (again) too much crystal malt for my liking!

Wednesday 4.9.02

Like Sunday, not really a railway day but we did stagger as far as the funicular line, with the help of a no. 9 tram, and have a ride up towards the castle, enjoying a spectacular view over Prague in the process. Returning on foot ( a very nice walk downhill, albeit hot) we just missed a no. 9 tram only to find trams backed up end to end all the way across the bridge. We walked across to the National Theatre and caught the preceding no. 9 by the time it had worked its way across. Back at the Ariston I enquired if anything special was occurring but was told that since the flooding, with all three metro lines out of action until the end of the year, the traffic problems were completely horrendous. I also got the receptionist’s view on the compensation scheme; apparently if you had insurance you only got one third of the compensation money. While this makes the same money build more houses she understandably felt it very unfair that you were penalised for looking after yourself at your own expense.

Politics over, we adjourned to Namestí Republicky on the no. 26 tram for a swift ‘alf of Pilsner Urquell while we cooled down a bit. Thence on the 26 again to Dejvicka where provisions for lunch were obtained and we changed to the 119 bus for the last stage to the airport, arriving neatly timed at 1340. Unusual procedure there in that you have [had – they’ve stopped doing it now] to report to a bod from the British Consulate to have your passport checked and be given a slip to present to UK immigration. Fortunately H realised this, unlike the persons trying to jump the checkin queue, who got sent away. Yesss…

The usual air traffic delays caused a 25 minute late departure for GO152 despite an on time arrival, or almost, from Bristol. A French (Belgian?) captain and Irish co-pilot took us via Nürnberg, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf and London to East Midlands where the Turbo Tractor awaited.

 

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