And an even more final, final, absolutely the last visit to the Czech Republic – apart from the trip to Brno in September and when they re-open the line from Harrachov into Poland next year. The main objective for this trip was the one-weekend-only service on the Slovakian branch from Spišska Nová Ves to Levoca, but I’d decided to go via Praha to try to deal with hlavní to Liben, the connection on to the Dobruška branch at Opocno, and the separate platforms at Studénka.
After a 6 month grounding due to the decline of the pound vs the Euro (near enough par at the start of 2009, at least for UK tourists) the early start routine was quite rusty. Frantic start to the week trying to get my contracted 39 hours into the week – managed 36 but you can only squint at a screen for so long! The plan for Thursday (very warm and humid) was to start with 0549 LM to Wolvo but arriving at 0541, 0541 ATW was just running in so I dived on to that instead. No air con as usual and the token windows are completely ineffectual. The smell within was horrific. Smartly into Wolvo though and I watched the 0604 Bendyleano go as I came back from collecting a Metro. 0627 is the next to stop at Milton Keynes Central so I waited for that. LM’s immaculate 170, no doubt with working air con, rolled in at 0617. [I sometimes wish I didn’t have this obsession with always getting as far as I can as soon as I can, but it’s stood me in good stead on many occasions]
On time, give or take, to Milton Keynes with a (for me) reasonably fast pass through Rugby and a very impressive tilt demo through Weedon. Early arrival and a green light at the set down only stop at MK presumably meant early departure too, but by that time I’d pottered off outside to get the VT99 bus to Luton. Apparently all four of the dedicated fleet had failed so it was an old banger with over a million miles on the clock, but it got me there with no problems. 3 hours to wait for the flight, complying with the usual ruling that if you allow for an hour’s delay and/or missed connection on each stage, it will all work perfectly.
3 hours+ at Luton. It’s still awful. Wizzair turned up on time but weren’t ready to go until T+10 minutes and were then delayed another 10 by Air Traffic Control. Getting on for half an hour late at PRG where it was bus to the terminal. Aircraft was an A320-232. Immigration delayed by 4 non-EU persons in front of me but I just made the 119. Slight delay at Devická but the A-C leap was perfect and I was at Holešovice clutching a shiny new sítové týdenní Klasik by 1605 having left Ruzyne at 1520.
1630 EC to Wien had an air con first (result – it’s very sticky here too) and was hauled by an ÖBB electric. Arctic Monkeys were noted to be headlining at Hradec Králové this year. Track was suitably done out to Liben [I’d done this the other way and it’s not a split alignment so I don’t know why I bothered really] where a major rebuild has commenced, taking out at least three through lines. On to Pardubice where the choice of via HK or via Chocen was a no-brainer as I knew there’s be a buffet at HK but I wasn’t at all sure about Chocen [little did I know]. To tide me over, Kozel was taken in the station buff. There’s a hotel on the station too – never noticed before.
Arrived at HK, after my umpteenth trip on a local from Pardubice, to find the station buffet closed at 1800. Having arrived at 1834 this was a disappointment. I made do with watching the loco change on R799 Praha – Letohrad, from an electric to all-blue Goggle 750 346. This put up a very spirited performance, leaving HK on time and arriving slightly early at Týnište. Having purchased a can of Holba for a mere CZK15 (52p) from the bothy, I then did my best to bring catastrophe on myself by heading for the nearest wheelie bin. Fortunately I had enough wits left to ask the guard who assured me that the 1940 to Opocno was the 834 at the other end of the platform...
On arrival at Opocno I set off for the long march to town, which is uphill though not steep, and about a mile and a half. As the temperature was around 29° it wasn’t too enjoyable. Found the Pension Orchidea and was welcomed by the owner, a delightful lady who speaks good English. More or less restored to human-ness by a shower I tottered back to the square (all of 50 metres), checked tomorrow’s bus time (OK) and retired to a hotel whose name escapes me, where I was able to sit outside on the square and have another Kozel with my chicken and chips.
Bright and early? Well, early. Showered and shaved, arrived at the bus stop at 0535 for the 0543 to Dobruška which turned up dead on time, charged me 33p for the ride to Dobruška, and terminated at the station. All very efficient and convenient too. The wheelie bin, 810 629, stables overnight at Dobruška so was already there.
Redcap emerged after a few minutes – no English but still insisted on chattering away. We established that the ‘bin went to Opocno and left at 0626 (I’d already checked the yellow sheet) and that I didn’t need a ticket. He seemed very insistent that I got on the train, so I did, which at least gave me the opportunity to get all the windows open!
‘Redcap’ turned out to be the conductor and driver. He was still anxious on my behalf and enlisted help from an English speaking (a bit) passenger to make sure I knew where I was going to, where to change, etc.
No problems at Opocno where we sailed into the main platform over my 50 metres of track. On time at Týnište where I had a brief chat with PR who was on his way to Dobruška. The Os to Chocen was delayed 10 minutes waiting for the late running Praha – Letohrad but that didn’t matter with a 24 minute connection. At the completely rebuilt and correspondingly smart Chocen (pronounced Coatsun) 162 014 was a minute early with R705 Praha – Luhacovice.
Still on time at Ceská Trebová – not so EC127 which in true Notwork Fail style was announced 2 minutes before its 0906 booked departure as 10 late. And it was, with 150 225 in charge. I’d grabbed breakfast at CT in case the advertised buff didn’t materialise but it’s there, so a beer might be in order later to prepare me for another spell in wheelie bins.
(Later) It really was far too early so I gave the beer a miss! Arrived at Valašske Mezirící 10 late at 1102; shop had nothing to offer so it was away to the 1112 to Ostrava, an 83-something and trailers. Slightly late at Verovice so no hope there either as I nipped over to the wheelie bin for the short working to Koprivnice. On arrival there I was just off to the nearby Pennymarkt when I spotted the well concealed station shop/buffet dispensing Radegast 10° at CZK20 the half litre. Result.
810 002, seen lurking at Štramberk, duly appeared as the rough riding 1217 to Studénka. Tension rises ... and we go into N4, the ‘branch’ station. Hooray. Off to the pub opposite to celebrate with further Radegast, then on a not very late under the circs Os to our old friend Ostrava-Svinov [the circs being that very heavy rain a week or so earlier had caused flood damage between Suchdol and Hranice which resulted in single line working and escalating delays throughout each day. Freights were queueing up most of the way from Prerov to Studénka and for that reason I’d opted to go round via Valašske Mezirící and Verovice for my attempt on the track at Studénka instead of going through to Studénka on the main line].
Then at O-Svinov one of life’s great mistakes [or so I thought when I wrote it – but I was wrong]. Got ticketed for Žilina and presented myself at 1400 at what I thought was nástupište 2 jih. It wasn’t (Svinov is more north-south than I thought) and consequently I watched EC235 go. Sigh. Realised my mistake in time to get the interminably slow Os to Cadca, which just served me right. Stupid.
Writing the next day with hindsight – maybe not! Trudged to Cadca on time (asleep quite a lot of the way, mercifully). PR arrived from Zwardon a couple of minutes later. I joined him once I’d realised that the train I thought was the next one to Žilina wasn’t in fact the 1635! We then waited. The indicated delay went from 5 to 10 to ... to 70. There was much shrugging on the platform and periodic announcements which unfortunately weren’t much use to two non-Czech speakers.
Eventually at 1755 decided that direct action was required. Enquired of the gripper on the adjacent train – more shrugs. Amiable taxi man outside said €25 to Žilina, so off we went. Arriving in time for a swift ‘alf before R611 to Poprad, the icing was put on the cake by the 120 minutes delay indicated for EC/Ex235 [yes, you got it, that’s the one I missed at Ostrava, thank goodness] which was obviously stuck somewhere south of Cadca. And so to Poprad on R611 with its buffet car providing Zlatý Bažant and a fryup. Hotel Satel is handy for the station and it must have taken, oh, 30 seconds to get to sleep.
Away at 0625 for the lengthy but successful process of buying a Senior Railplus pass which for €6.60 should pay for itself in 40% discounts [it did]. The Praha – Košice kipper turned up on time and took us to Spišska Nova Ves where 840s 004 and 5 were filling rapidly. We got seats in 004 however and travelled up to Levoca in comfort (ish). Very nice branch, far from level and through suitably picture-skew surroundings. Track seems to be in good shape, Levoca’s a fair sized town and there’s freight from at least three locations, one just beyond the passenger station. It leaves one wondering why there’s no passenger service.
Next move on our return was an old friend, R441, the Cheb - Kosice kipper which turned up 13 late. We’ve a reasonable amount of time at Kysak so all should (famous last words) be well.
It was; we had a choice of 13 or 38 minute connections and managed the 13 minute one, a slightly refurbished (new seats) wheelie bin on 1006 to Prešov. Prešov seemed most unprepossessing around the station; Soviet urban development in style even if not in date. After photting the plinthed Mallet and a couple of Grumpies we retired to a dreadful ‘under main road’ bar for a Golden Pheasant (which, to be fair, was a pleasant Pheasant).
'Bin and trailer then, for Os 9109/9207 to Bardejov (9109 goes to Humenné, the train dividing at Kapusany). Once off the main line it’s quite nice to look at though quite uncomfortable in a wheelie bin trailer on such a hot day. Approaching Bardejov you get a glimpse of the impressive city wall; on arrival you’re deposited in a huge tiled Communist-era (surely) station-cum-bus station-cum-shopping centre. Ludicrously grandiose. Would have loved to look at the town in the 1˝ hours available but it was just too hot for the walk so we scuttled into the nearest (cellar) bar and had some lunch, with additional Zlatý Bažant.
Another long hot trog in the wheelie bin trailer back to Prešov where the onward connection to Plavec was a 460. This was quite a relief (yes, even a 460) to one who was ‘looking forward’ to another hour and more in a sweltering ‘bin.
Arrival for our 70 minute stop at Plavec was met with no sign of any refreshment. Temperature was over 30 by now but we walked for half an hour anyway, with no success. No alternative but to return to the station and wait for PKP to arrive. The whole thing was reminiscent of Summerau in August 2008 but much, much hotter!
PKP duly did arrive with their EN57 and with windows you can lean out of and the sun starting to lose enthusiasm, provided a very pleasant ride across the border to Muszyna and Krynica which is a terminus.
Schoolboy error on my part led to us being overcharged for a manic ride in a battered old taxi (Ł4 for a mile or so) but on a hot evening it was still worth every penny! Pensjonat Lira was very smart and the prop speaks pretty good English so no problems there. Down to a nearby gastropub where one of the better pub meals of my life weighed in at under Ł3 (Zl 12). This in a place where the beer price was very high by local standards (Zl 7 for 0.5l of Zywiec vs the normal 4.50 to 5).
Tremendous racket from rock band in a nearby club didn’t stop me sleeping until 0430 by which time all was calm (unlike Poprad, which was astonishingly rowdy at 0430). When we left somewhat later it was all downhill to the station and with the temperature down to a more manageable 25 or so, quite a pleasant walk. Last night’s two loco-hauled trains (Warszawa and Gdynia) had disappeared and an EN57 was in P1. It was a different one from last night, with cloth seats – luxury indeed.
Ada in the booking office refused to sell us a ticket (too busy reading her book) and insisted we pay on the train – Bert the Grumpy Gripper seemed quite peeved that we hadn’t got tickets but sold us them anyway. Complement of passengers was one local going for the connection at Muszyna, half a dozen hikers and two somnolent Eurogricers.
At Plavec the 0901 to Poprad turned up on time, formed of 840 001. If I’m honest it’s a trudge to Poprad – pleasant enough but really just one it’s nice to have done. Train was well filled; not quite on time but good enough for the +8 on to the Os for Liptovsky Mikuláš.
At LM various opportunities were seized – bus station/stop located after realising in time that there is a Trstené and a Trstená thus avoiding it all ending in tears, beers (Kamzik from the Tatran brewery in Poprad, new for me) in the station buff, a fistful of tickets to make sure I get my OAP discount for the rest of the trip, and a timetable. All good stuff, especially the Kamzik.
Fantastic bus ride over a quite serious pass through the Tatras foothills in a thunderstorm, then a series of (you’d like to think) quite traditional villages until you reach Nižna. After that it’s a pretty boring suburban trundle (Tesco, Lidl, Co-op) to Trstená. Station located, we just had time for a swift Corgon in one of the ropiest pubs I’ve been in for years.
Trstená proved to ‘leave the best until first’ as it were, as the stretch nearest to the main line runs through a very impressive gorge. At the ‘country’ (Trstená) end it’s the aforementioned suburban trundle. Sunday night is student night, same as everywhere, and the kart got more and more packed until Kralovany. R610 was a complete nightmare, arriving 5 late and wedged to the point that we couldn’t get anywhere near the buffet car – we’d placed ourselves for the advertised train formation only to find it was the wrong way round. Corridors were jammed and we had to stand in the unventilated vestibules, which were extremely hot.
No time to check in at the hotel as R610 was 15 late by Žilina so it was off to Cadca on Os 3934 which was held at Kysucké Nové Mesto for 25 minutes for a late running Ex to clear the lengthy single line working section. On arrival at Cadca the Makov connection had gone so it was back empty handed to Žilina where there was no food to be had. Thanks, Slovakia.
Another poor night’s sleep, another sticky morning, and the joys of a Czech public holiday to look forward to. Still, track to be done so off to the station early, if not bright, for 0638 to Rajec, an 811 (twin unit refurbished wheelie bin).
Nice enough trundle to Rajec through a mixture of industry and some pleasant rural stretches, with mountains very apparent on the approach to Rajec. Stations are unmanned except for redcaps and ticketing is by machine. Our unit was DOO.
Back to the hotel for a sound breakfast, then off to a bank where my 2700-odd obsolete Slovak crowns realised €90 on conversion. Finally to Tesco for emergency supplies in case of buffet failure on Ex/EC 234 and then back to the station where it was waiting, sans buffet! Current thinking is that the loco taking over at Ostrava-Svinov will gronk the buffet on. [in fact it gronked us on to the buffet, but in principle I was right].
Straight through the moleworks this time, so only 2 down at Cadca. Hey ho. A new alignment, with tunnel, is being built for a mile or so immediately north of Odb. Šance, just inside the Czech border, on the east side of the existing one. [Discussion with one of m’learned friends on return to the UK, and examination of aerial photos, suggests that this may in fact have been refurbishment of an existing line, not construction of a new one]. A second shorter cut-off is being built, presumably just to ease the curve, on the west side of the existing formation just south of Jablunkov. Jablunkov is being renamed to Návsí; it appears in the current timetable as Jablunkov-Návsí but new signage on the rebuilt station shows only Návsí and its (I assume) Polish equivalent.
The ‘up’ (towards Havirov) flyover at Chotebuz is being reconstructed at present and all traffic is using the southbound (western) half of the flying junction.
Ex/EC234 reverses at Ostrava-Svinov having run via Havirov and arrived facing towards Bohumin. Relief loco 151 019 came on to the rear, hauled the train out and shunted it back on to extra coaches. That left the buffet at the rear and broke the air con! 2 late away from Svinov then a further 17 between Suchdol and Hranice. This was SLW due to flood damage (though you couldn’t see any). Another 2˝ between Hranice and Olomouc which we left 21˝ late.
At Zabreh lateness was around 21 – no track at all on the Šumperk line so bustitution for a while yet! No real improvement to Ceská Trebová, where we were still 20 late with the Ustí – Chocen moleworks to look forward to. Station overtime took it back to -21. The moleworks cost another 3, so 24 late at Pardubice. Another small gain to Kolín (-22˝) where we ran in on the main lines rather than crossing over to the Havlickuv Brod lines. A prompt getaway saved another half minute.
Looked like things were improving for a while but after the agonising crawl from Bechovice to Vršovice we left there 21˝ late. And so to hlavní (via western tunnel), 22 or so late. Seriously mad dash then via C/A/B (should have gone north on C but went south out of sheer habit getting to the airport!) to Andel to check in at the hotel. Two halfwits held me up checking in at half speed, even for them, and then couldn’t figure out how the lift worked even though they’d just been told with complete clarity. Inevitably my room was as far as you can get from the lift (and that’s a long way). Even madder dash back, B and C this time, but made it to hlavní with a few minutes to spare for a 162 on an R to Praha-Holešovice (and Cheb). No problems with that but not enough time to wait for CD back, so Metro again (C and B) to Praha-Masarykovo for the air con luxury of the 1815 City Heffalump to Liben (and Kolín).
At Liben Sp 1905 was on the board (timetable notes said Sundays and public holidays but not July 5th which was a Sunday) as both arrival and departure, but showing as nástupište 2 which currently is without such benefits as a paved surface, and track. I went to ask the person in the booking office but got no help there. She was adamant that there were no trains to Vršovice, only Mas., and [to put it considerably less bluntly than in my original notes] her attitude fell short of what I'd expect, and have always received in the Czech Republic regardless of language difficulties, from 'front of house' staff. However. It duly came up on the display (as n1 of course), the signals cleared, and to my great delight round the corner at 1915 appears 834 006 with two trailers, and the new route to Praha hlavní nádraží was duly done.
It remained only to potter out to Holešovice on line C and wait for R607, 2018 to Praha hl.n. It duly turned up on time, didn’t get caped (see 14.12.08) and did my last bit of track, the southbound curve from Holešovice back towards hlavní. I was fairly sure I’d done that before but didn’t want to leave it to chance.
And so really, really ended the Czech Republic. Well, of course there’s the Brno Trade Fair bash from Bratislava in September, and hopefully the Harrachov reopening next year, But I intend that those will be day trips from Slovakia and Saxony respectively.
You don’t often get the chance to take photos in tunnels so I had a go and this weird image is the result
CD did have one last throw of the dice for me though, as R607 stopped in the new tunnel just outside hlavní. It sat there for 10 minutes or so, reason unknown, but eventually dragged itself into the station. The noises from the loco seemed very peculiar, but maybe that was my imagination. After that it was back to the hotel with a couple of beers, as PR had been much delayed getting back from Ostrava via various attempts at the Studénka branch platforms and it was agreed we’d reconvene at a later date.
Can’t really fault Akcent for what it costs [booked through HRS], air con and all. Nice breakfast too, with fresh fruit salad available. Being almost on top of line B. Metro to Zlicin and 100 bus therefrom to the airport was the best option. Quite possibly my last visit to Praha, which I’ll not miss, particularly the airport trudge. Memo from the airport for thirsty travellers : water in the shops, CZK 80-90. Water from the vending machines, CZK 20. Still a lot, but three quid for 50 cl of water????
Good effort by Wizzair who landed us at 1106. Scheduled was 1120 which was exactly the time I emerged from Customs, soaked literally to the skin by the thunderstorm that started just as the aircraft (same one as Thursday, Airbus A320-232 HA-LPL, serial no 3166) came to rest. BeardBus to MK goes at xx05 and I’d been banking on the 1305, so the 1205 which I made by half an hour, was a bonus.
1313 MKC to BHM gave me a high speed run through Rugby, possibly for the first time ever. The tilt seems to work overtime on the ‘new’ bits. Missed the 1405 BHM-Shrewsbury by a whisler and forewarned by the conductor on the Bendyleano that the following Aber would be wedged with would-be students attending an open day, I ignored that. Opted instead for 1409 LM local to Wolvo and a pint in the Great Western before 1525 LM to Shifnal, where Herself kindly collected me.
This does seem to have put the Czech Republic into the ‘countries done’ file at least for the moment. The next outing will, subject to BA’s availability, be to Austria in August, where the rumoured imminent closure of Selzthal-Kleinreifling can hopefully be beaten by a few days. Many a slip, of course!
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