This one was more of a Grand Tour, in the company of my wife and a friend. As usual there were a few pegs on which to hang it; firstly a steam trip in the Czech Republic (and Germany), then a fairly significant birthday for our friend, which was to involve the Mladec branch. On to Slovakia for the Tatras narrow gauge lines, and returning via Hungary (which none of us had been to) for another steam bash. It all looked pretty good, starting and finishing in Wien - then Duo Airways, who’d taken over the BHX-VIE route, went into liquidation… Luckily my credit card had paid for our tickets and we were able to rebook with CSA and start from Praha instead without too much serious damage to the plan (or our finances). Having recovered from this, I went down on the first evening with a particularly unpleasant flu-type virus which lasted me the entire 11 days, making me feel more and more ill, particularly at night when it kept me awake most of the time, and more and more stroppy particularly in the morning when I’d been awake most of the night! The resulting detonation on the final day was spectacular and inevitable…
The usual ungodly start to present ourselves at BHX at 0630 (just made it) for the 0730 CSA flight to Praha. Air traffic struck immediately with a 25 minute delay for takeoff and then made sure we missed our connection by keeping us going round in circles somewhere near Praha for another 10 minutes or so. Fairly dramatic landing with excessively violent braking but nothing seemed to come apart. Once safe on the ground the baggage handling was much improved since October 2003. Away on the 119 bus to Dejvická and the 26 tram therefrom to the main station. Despite an immediate connection we missed the 1205 by a few minutes. Lengthy negotiations to buy a first class Siťové Jizdenky which is CZK 1215 for 7 days - ludicrous but wonderful. [In 2006 it’s 1053!]
Much confusion over the platforming for 1258 to Zjnomo but P2 was eventually allocated and it appeared 7 late with 150.010. Departed Praha via the middle of 3 routes (joining the line from P-Masarykovo at the eastern end of the triangle) then off to Kolín and Kutná Hora hl.n. where rather surprisingly the 150 was exchanged for a 230. [Not all that surprisingly. It’s the boundary between 3 KV DC and 25 KV AC!] We decamped to join a wheelie bin as far as KH město whence we walked up to find pleasant accommodation duly reserved at U Zlonu, which did what I had hoped it had said on the tin!
After a wash and brush up, back to the station pausing only for the cash machine and a couple of bottles of the deeply unimpressive 3.8% Kutná Hora dark beer whose name temporarily escapes me (began with a D). Most definitely not to my taste. A wheelie bin and trailer took us down to Zruc where a Vietnamese operated bothy was dispensing mineral water and Gambrinus. After a 40 minute fester we moved on in another wheelie bin to Ledečko where the rain was hammering down with great enthusiasm. Fortunately the Kolín wheelie bin was waiting so we only got completely soaked… The heater was going full blast so by the time we reached the end of a fairly unexceptional run to Kolín (with steamed up windows to boot) it was really dreadfully hot. The Karlovy Vary - Havličkův Brod R train was running very late behind its Slovakian loco so we caught that to Kutná Hora hl.n.. Much good did it do us, as there was no connection, bus or train, to KH město until the one we originally intended at around 2026. The layout at KH hl.n. is odd in that Zruc trains leave eastwards and immediately reverse to pass south of the station.
Eventual arrival at KH město was as plan B at 2036 and we walked up to the hotel for a very nice dinner. And so to bed, as they say.
The cold which appeared yesterday is going well, but symptoms were alleviated by a shower and a nice breakfast. U Zlonu is much to be commended for accommodation, food and price. Off to the station via various shops to find the 0853 wheelie bin to Kutná Hora hl.n. just arriving at 0845. On to KH hl.n. for a brief connection to 0905 R train to Kolín and Praha where the first class rover paid off again with an empty compartment on a wedged train. Herself and I decamped at Kolín leaving PR to continue to Praha. We moved on aboard an averagely revolting 451 to Čelákovice where a wheelie bin (809 for a change) was waiting for quite a pleasant rural trundle to Neratovice, a worker’s paradise in the middle of nowhere particular. There was a fairly desperate pub opposite, but nothing venture etc., so we nipped in for a Staropramen which was perfectly acceptable.
On then to Kralupy nad Vltavou with another wheelie bin - two botulismburgers were obtained for a princely twenty crowns each and these sufficed for lunch. Surprisingly there were no ill effects. wheelie bin again to Libochovice, where a 40 minute wait was enforced, and thence to Lovosice, the 15 minutes extra of ‘dead’ track seeming preferable to being stuck slurpless in Čizkovice! We managed a Gambrinus in the station buff before returning to Libochovice and continuing on to Louny. The bus had gone but there was time to leap on to the 1744 Chomutov as far as Louny střed, whence the hotel was walkable to.
Early start for a walk in the sunshine (little did we know) to Louny město for the 0557 to Postoloprty. No bustitution this time (see October 2003). A two minute leap on to another 810 to Most where a very poor breakfast of sedimented coffee and mayo’d baguette was obtained. Loco hauled thence to Chomutov where an hour’s wait ensued for the 0838 steam trip to Křimov, hauled by 310 093. It had started to rain by now and as we climbed up towards the Erzgebirge it turned to sleet then snow. Summer wear was not suitable… The loco struggled a bit on the last part and stopped, seemingly short of steam, before Křimov. This made us sufficiently late not to have to freeze for too long before the bus left for Steinach, an interesting cross border journey with a cheery German immigration man at the frontier.
The train was waiting at Steinbach, with Mallet 99 1590 being watered. Mercifully it had a nice warm buffet car, immaculately maintained like everything else on the Pressnitztalbahn. I imagine when it’s not chucking down snow it’s a lovely run to Jöhstadt - but it was chucking down snow! However the buffet car was warm and congenial and the coffee was hot. On arrival at Jöhstadt H stayed on the train and got some diesel haulage (no runround loop) while I went off to photograph some snow with engines dimly visible through it. The bratwurst stall was in action, €1.60 each. The b/w man asked me if I’d come from Czech and when I said yes, charged me €1.00.
The nice warm buffet car provided an equally comfortable ride back through the snow (is this really May 23 rd?) to Steinbach, where the bus was waiting. Back across the border to Křimov and a dreadful, cold 1½ hour wait for the next service train down to Chomutov. PR and two friends who’d joined him in Praha arrived on the steam train, somewhat late but in time, and we all repaired on a full and standing wheelie bin to Chomutov’s ‘I can’t believe I’m here again’ station buffet.
Back to Louny with an 840 railcar and two coaches forming the 1640 Chomutov - Praha Mas., which went via Most and the Postoloprty north to east (avoiding) curve. We decamped at Louny střed again and walked up to the hotel before setting off again for a quick round trip (0.3l of Louny light before leaving) to Postoloprty (0.5l of Zatopramen in the astonishingly smoky station buff) and back (another good dinner at the Union).
Almost the crack of dawn (before breakfast anyway). Left the hotel at 0630 on a beautiful sunny morning (‘bout time too) to walk down to Louny město for 0655 to Březno u Postolprt, made with ease. Out of the wheelie bin at Březno (0702) and into 0704 to Beroun and České Budějovice, hauled by a very noisy Grumpy, 749134. A very scenic run down to Beroun where we decamped in favour of 0907 to Praha hl.n., 363 hauled. This got us to Praha a minute or two late; we bade farewell to PR’s friends who were going back to the UK then H and I made a frantic dash round to get breakfast from the supermarket, and a new mobile phone charger in time for 1005 to Břeclav. In the event it waited connections and left 25 late. Engineering still besets the Praha - Olomouc route and we were around 28 late at Zábřeh nad Moravé. The connection to Šumperk (a wheelie bin) was held and we got there just in time for a Connex-liveried wheelie bin to Sobotín, a short branch with only 3 minutes at the end. Back to Šumperk for a swift beer and then up the branch to Kouty nad Desnou, a much longer trip at over half an hour. Although surrounded by mountains around the 1000m mark it’s quite flat, only climbing significantly for a few hundred metres towards the terminus.
Leaving our trailer at the terminus we returned to Šumperk with the wheelie bin and then cught another DMU to Hanušovice, doing the east side of the triangle at Bludov. Back from there with a quiet Grumpy, this time completing the triangle with the west side. Chaos ensued (again) at Zábřeh nad Moravé but we eventually got away about 20 minutes late. Arrival at Olomouc was slightly improved and the 1846 kart to Olomouc město was held for us. We were checked into the (reasonably posh) Hotel Flora by 1930.
Breakfast at a table at last. Hotel Flora is quite well appointed, but breakfast is not really its strong suit. Off to town for some unsuccessful shoe shopping before the 0927 to Červenka which hit the dreaded engineering work and was a few minutes late. Connection was held however, and we pottered down to Litovel Předměsti in a wheelie bin. Communication was established re going to Mladeč tomorrow - all smiles and looks good so far. We retired outside to the local pizzeria and (single lane) 10 pin bowling alley at the end of the station drive which is open 0900-2400, dispenses Litovel at CZK16 and is very smart and pleasant. The brewery tap is at the brewery gate (end of station drive, across the grass triangle and then turn left, 100 metres on the right) and opens at 1300 so we weren’t able to sample that.
Onwards to Senice na Hané where a serious, if unsuccessful attempt to get on the wrong train was made. We did however make it to Prostějov on an ancient railcar, to discover from the parish notices that SEVs were in action north of Kostelec na Hané on the line to Chornice. We accordingly replanned, ending up going back to Olomouc on the main line, then south to Přerov (where the local brew, Zubr, was sampled) and on to Kojetin and Kroměřiž for the Zborovice branch. Connections were held, fortunately, and those parts of the Zborovice branch where I was awake seemed very pleasant, particularly towards the end where it’s less flat. I’ll have to see if I can stay awake back to Kroměřiž.
I did indeed stay awake, and surprisingly all the way to Valašske Mezi ř íčí where fiendishly complex calculations were made regarding connection times at Hradice nad Moravicí. Although we seemed to have backed the right horse with the 1815 local to Olomouc (via Přerov) we hadn’t in fact, as the 1820 fast passed us, running ‘wrong line’, at one of the intermediate stations. It all sorted itself out at Hranice though, where trains from the Ostrava direction were all running 10 late. We caught an Olomouc train which went via the Přerov avoider. At Grygov, just before Olomouc, we were looped to be overtaken by the stopper which had by then emerged from Přerov.
After a slightly eccentric tram ride into Olomouc we ended up in a pub near the market for supper - Gambrinus and steak, which seemed to fit the bill.Wednesday 26.5.04
PR’s Significant Birthday with cards from home suitably delivered at breakfast. H and I did a shopping/Internet café expedition to town before reconvening at the hotel and pottering to Olomouc město for the 1044 to Senice. This was slightly late but was delayed a lot more at Senice waiting connection from Červenka. We took the wheelie bin as far as Litovel Předměsti, where we made our presence known to the staff before retiring (again) to the bowling alley for Litovel.
I do enjoy a thoroughly overgrown branch! This photo was taken from 810 121 approaching Mladec on 26-5-04
On returning, the wheelie bin from Červenka was just arriving with another friend on board who’d arranged to join us for the Mladeč branch, and it immediately became apparent that the crew knew what was required. Phot stops at the intermediate stations, and other features were provided without being asked for and team photos were taken at Mladeč where a 731 (?) was waiting with a freight. After comprehensive photting we spun back to Litovel in time for a quick visit to the Litovel brewery tap to celebrate. Thoroughly satisfactory and recommendable. [In 2006 this facility is still noted in the CD timetable, though without timings, and rumour has it there will be weekend trains in next year’s timetable]. In the course of the morning our friend confirmed that Sunday’s snow at Křimov wasn’t an isolated occurrence. He’d been walking from Malá Morávka to Rymarov at the time and had a fairly unpleasant time of it.
Back to Červenka on the same 810; the main line seemed to be in its usual state of chaos and we were well late departing on a loco hauled Os to Olomouc hl.n. Fortunately we’d gone for the safe option and 1533 to Žilina was a simple enough connection. We’d been misled by the train composition diagram on the platform but luckily I asked the conductor and we ended up in the Žilina portion and not the one which was dropped off at Přerov. An uneventful run [via Horni Lidec] to Žilina where we were still late but not late enough to miss the connection on to Poprad (final destination Košice). We spent that portion of the journey in the restaurant car enjoying wiener schnitzels and beer, pausing only to admire the High Tatras as we approached Poprad. Dreadful.
The Hotel Garni [note added in 2008 - don't be misled by this - it's now called Hotel Tatra, its web page is http://www.tatrahotel.com/. Thanks to LB for this update] was located easily enough (it’s visible from the station) and was significantly better than I’d feared. Poprad wasn’t. One of the most dismal places on the planet, surely. [Or was this the ‘flu bug talking? It seems a harsh judgment.] We managed to locate the Tatran Brewery tap without too much difficulty and had a beer there before wandering into a desperate concrete jungle full of closed everything. We managed to find another open pub (dead on its feet, but open) courtesy of the Rough Guide and had a snack and another beer there. We then retired, defeated.
[Accents will be missing for the next few days! I’m not familiar enough with the languages and I haven’t a timetable to check.]
Quite a reasonable breakfast from the Hotel Garni. After booking Tatra Electric Railways day rovers (SKK 100) and surprisingly expensive tickets to Budapest, we departed on the 0907 to Stary Smokovec from the ‘upstairs’ platforms. This was a well filled class 451 (Adtranz 2002) with all mod cons apart from toilets. It’s mainly moorland followed by forest to SS with some sharp curves and steep gradients.
Rain was bucketing down at Stary Smokovec and the mountains were invisible! We retired on another 451 to Tatranska Lomnica where coffee and Zubr were taken before the standard gauge train for Poprad appeared. This was an impressively refurbished wheelie bin, class 812, with air conditioning, seat back tables, carpets and general added comfort!
Back at Poprad the weather was improving and after sampling the particularly grim station bar we set off for Stary Smokovec in the 451 again. This time we were able to walk up to the funicular in the dry, and enjoyed a ride up to Hrebienok. The funicular is metre gauge and quite sinuous. The journey takes about 7 minutes, running on the hour and half hour, for a fare of SKK 90 return.
Back at Stary Smokovec we refuelled on a particularly revolting ‘hamburger’ before setting off on another 451 to Strbske Pleso. Here we changed for the rack line down to Strba where the rack line terminates in a rather opulent covered station a floor above the main line.
810 414 at the terminus at Spisske Podhradie 27-5-04. The building behind is Spisske Hrad (Castle), one of the area's major tourist attractions.
It being only around 1500 we had time to squeeze in another branch so we set off on a stopper via Poprad to Spisske Vlachy where a wheelie bin was waiting to go up the branch to Spisske Podhradie. The view of Spisske Hrad from the station is most impressive and much photting went on before we retired into town for a Saris.
Back on the wheelie bin to Spisske Vlachy thence the local back to Poprad where arrival was at 1930. After renegotiating tomorrow’s Poprad - Kosice booking to an earlier train it was back to the hotel for dinner and bed.
Off to the station with two of us bright eyed and bushy tailed, and one feeling awful, for the 0834 to Kosice only to find it showing 50 minutes late, just behind the 0934… It soon became 70 minutes in the traditional style, so we elected for the 0934. Although we got chinged on the way for SKK 110 each, reason unknown, it was worth it because the connection at Kosice wasn’t held for the supposedly earlier train! It was a ZSR electric with two coaches, starting quite full and emptying out towards the border (again in the traditional style). Kosice looked a fairly grim prospect with at least one very large (steel?) works closed and being demolished, just north of the station.
Minimal formalities at the border although we were stopped for immigration purposes at the north end of the platform at Hidasnemeti. The Slovakian loco was removed and we were gronked on to some more coaches by an MAV electric. We finally set off on time, the whole performance being booked to take 20 minutes, and had a compartment to ourselves all the way to Miskolc which is a major junction and seemingly quite a large town. At Miskolc H kindly volunteered to mind some seats while PR and I foraged for beer. A very wise move as it turned out (minding the seats, that is) because the Budapest train, five or maybe even four coaches double headed by V43 1028 and V43 1038, left full and standing and remained completely wedged all the way to Bp-Keleti where it terminated in a bay platform on the north side outside the rather fine trainshed. Of the scenery, the rolling stock and the train toilets, the least said, soonest mended.
3 day public transport tickets were easily obtained at the Metro station and we pottered off by Metro and foot to the Queen Mary Hotel, a pleasant newly refurbished hotel in a side street, located through http://www.budapest-hotels.com or something similar.
Once checked in we started out to look at a pub or two. First port of call was Gerbeau which is adjacent to Vorosmarty Metro station. A nice old Viennese style caff but really outrageously expensive at £12 for two beers, a coffee and a piece of cake. [Even more so as it reputedly doesn’t brew its own beer now.] We moved on to the Kaltenberg brew pub from which we were turned away as the 2/3 empty pub was fully booked… Ended up in an excellent restaurant on the way back into town where three main meals and a starter, two beers and a bottle of the most expensive red came to £30 which was rather more reasonable!
A dreadful night courtesy of the virus, but a reasonable enough breakfast and off on the tram to Nyugati for the steam bash to Szob. Linguistic difficulties led to us queuing twice but tickets were obtained in the end and by the time we arrived at the platform, 4-8-0 424 247 was just backing in with a motley assortment of antiquated stock.
Leaving 4 minutes late, performance was unexciting even though the time was regained easily enough. Enquiries of first a British ‘Great Rail Journeys’ traveller who pointed me to their tour leader, then said tour leader who pointed me to an English speaking MAV person, finally elicited that the narrow gauge at Kismaros would be working, although not steam. Accordingly we baled out at Kismaros to find a hive of activity including MK48 2031 and two coaches. A number of bothies and a pub (not yet open) provided refreshments and a merry throng was ready to go. We joined it, and enjoyed an increasingly rural ride up to Kiralyreti where we found MK48 2017 and one coach in the headshunt. 2031 reversed back to the depot and 2017 took us back, most punters having disappeared presumably to go walking.
Nothing much for it when we got back but to sit it out until the kettlex returned, which we did in all three available bars!
I believe this vintage railcar at Budapest Nyugati pu is petrol fuelled - but I'd welcome confirmation or otherwise
Back to Budapest in the (preserved) buffet car, once again not a very inspiring run - but a nice phot was possible on arrival at Nyugati, where at long last I discovered that pu stands for palyaudvar). Dinner was taken at the same restaurant as yesterday, and very pleasant too.
Another memorably rotten night [typing this up two years later I’m really beginning to see why I was on a short fuse by then!] but breakfast went down well and H and I set off by tram to the riverside whence we walked a mile or so beside the Danube past the parliament building (impressive neo-Gothic) and on down to the next bridge south which is a suspension bridge with a road tunnel at the western end. Not to mention a funicular running up the valley side, which we didn’t have time to try. Return was by tram 19 up the west side of the river then a rather brisk walk to get back to the 4/6 tram route.
Back on the ‘formal’ itinerary we reconvened at Nyugati for the 1025 EC to Bratislava and Kuty which had ZSR electric 350119 and amongst other things, two very nice air conditioned open firsts and a trolley to provide coffee. There followed a very comfortable and punctual (and relatively fast) ride to Kuty in some of the best stock I can recall.
Kuty turned out to be similar to Dead Man’s Gulch but without the gunfights. However the station buff obliged with a very nice chicken schnitzel and a beer and we emerged to find trains heading in all directions. Ours was for Sudoměřice nad Moravou, achieved in a CD 810 which paused at Skalica for border formalities. The ‘connection’ proved to be the same 810 and we pottered on to Sudoměřice where the Czech formalities took place. It’s a very desolate location, but the team applied its considerable talents, spotted a Kozel sign attached to a garage by the level crossing and were there drinking Gambrinus (no Kozel) in a trice.
One of the various 810s which were at Sudoměřice when we arrived had set out for Rohatec in the meantime and arrived back almost full. However three seats were available and we continued to Veselí nad Moravou where a side trip to Bzenec beckoned (filling in gaps again). Goggle 754075 obliged by hauling us out to Bzenec where - gosh - there was a shack across the road with a chestnut tree and some tables with people drinking beer… We did our duty then returned to Veselí on a DMU. Finally on to Luhačovice with a goggle on the main line and an 810 on the branch. A most attractive little branch it is too on a summer evening, with a very well maintained terminus as befits an important spa town.
Various shenanigans made breakfast hard work but we made it to the station for the 0810 wheelie bin to Staré Město u Uherského Hradiště (doing the physical connection off the branch) and a local from there to Otrokovice. We’d had some fears about bustitution on the Zlín/Vizovice branch but we decided to risk it and ran through to Vizovice without incident. A celebratory Gambrinus was taken at the four-ale bar opposite the station and my penultimate phot was taken of the wheelie bin. There’s a great deal of industry in Zlín, the one time company town which sprawls for miles along the branch, and it sustains a measure of freight activity including a container terminal. The last bit’s fairly rural albeit there is a factory next to the four-ale bar and the station.
Back to Otrovice on the wheelie bin and then an electric loco hauled local to Přerov to await our connection back to Praha hl.n. The last of around 170 photos was of an electrically hauled freight at Otrokovice.
Return to Telford was all ‘dead’ track via Přerov (where the last straw was inadvertently loaded by a restaurant which failed to produce lunch in time despite it being made quite clear what time we had to leave), Česká Trebová, and Praha hl.n. to Dejvicka, then bus to Ruzyne, CSA’s 737 to BHX and car home.
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