Three days in the Czech Republic

Disclaimer: We have not included all of the diacritical marks in place names because our computer recognises some of them but will not allow us, for example, to put an umlaut over a consonant. We’ve tried our best to add them from Google but may have missed some. On the plus side, this has given us the opportunity to learn the word “diacritical”.

Our first stop in the Czech Republic was the town of Karlovy Vary where we planned to embark on our first proper walk since getting back on the road. However, our immediate priority on arrival in town was to find food and money. It was in attempting to achieve these two things that we realised quite how out of our depth we were with regards to the language. We drove around for a little while but couldn’t fathom what the different shops might be or where there might be an ATM.  Eventually, we pulled in to a large shopping mall, stumbled over an ATM accidentally and went in to the first shop which had pictures of food in the windows. The very friendly lady on the checkout chatted away to us, laughing occasionally and we, having absolutely no idea what she was talking about, smiled, nodded and chuckled along with her, hoping desperately that she didn’t expect a verbal response or that we hadn’t inadvertently signed up to the loyalty scheme.

We’d picked to walk at Karlovy Vary because we’d read somewhere that the walk along the river Ohře to Loket is one of the top twenty walks in Europe. We aren’t sure now where we read that but it sounded like a good place to start. We had a bit of trouble actually locating the start and our maps.me app was of little help. James did eventually manage to find it and we had our customary cheese sandwiches in the carpark before setting off. (Incidentally, we have so far found that the standard blocks of hard cheese that you can buy in supermarkets in Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia and Montenegro are usually some form of Emmental or Gouda and therefore have the flavour and eating enjoyment akin to chewing on a wetsuit. We took the decision very early on to be a little extravagant and have since paid a bit more for some good old cheddar.)

Fed, we set off down the road towards the river. The first couple of kilometres were down through a forest on a tarmac road which we shared with people walking their dogs, the occasional car and hundreds of cyclists. We aren’t particularly fond of walking on tarmac but the forest was pretty enough and we were confident that we would get off the road eventually.01The road ended at a restaurant on the river bank and there were plenty of people enjoying a beer in the garden and a fair few also enjoying a beer whilst kayaking down the river. The main attraction of the walk is on the other side of the river, directly opposite the restaurant. The rock formation of Svatošské skály is nice to look at and pretty cool with the rock climbers dangling from the edges.03

We crossed the swing bridge just beyond the cliff and headed off along the river bank, meandering through the beech forest with the occasional rock formation as we went.

02We didn’t go all the way to Loket, as the walk was pretty samey, but clocked up 11km round trip and felt better for a bit of a stomp. Whilst the walk had been perfectly pleasant we doubt very much that it is one of the top 20 short walks in Europe and we wouldn’t recommend making a diversion purely for the sake of it. Afterwards, we headed out of town and in to the countryside in search of a campsite for the night. Maps.me took us on some crazy rural roads which were more pothole than road but eventually we pulled in to Stanowitz and our camp for the night. It was a tiny place with a small bar/restaurant and tents in the field. It was perfect for us.04The next day was a driving day with a few stops planned on the way, but first we had to track down the vignette which we had neglected to buy and had luckily been told about by James’s cousin, who has been imparting her wisdom after doing a trip around Europe a couple of years ago. For those not in the know (like us!) vignettes are the means of paying to use major roads in some European countries, they are temporary stickers that you put on your windshield and are valid for varying lengths of time. In some countries they are also electronic, so check before you go as we are told the fines can be horrific. Securing it was an interesting experience, one which again highlighted our complete lack of understanding of the local language. We learned that they were widely available in garages and stopped at the first one we saw. After lots of pointing and hopeful expressions, another customer finally took pity on us and translated what we wanted, we emerged from the garage with the required paperwork.

Our second stop of the day was Karlštejn to see the Disneyesque castle. It isn’t t open for tours on Mondays, so the town was very quiet.

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This did mean that we got to enjoy the views of the castle perched on the hill in peace, without throngs of tourists, and it is really beautiful and impressive, looming over the small town.

06The Czech countryside was very pretty and the drive did not feel tedious, we both enjoyed taking our turns staring out of the window at the passing fields and villages. We stopped for lunch overlooking a huge landscape, it really added to the tea and cheese sandwich experience.07We’d read in Lonely Planet about a creepy church, the interior of which is decorated entirely with human bones. Naturally, we had to go and see it. We made our way to the town of Kutna Horá and quickly found our way to Sedlec Ossuary. It was as weird and creepy as we had expected with bones forming chandeliers, a coat of arms, signs or simply piled up in corners.080910There is actually a reason for the bizarre decoration; the abbot of Sedlec brought back soil from Golgotha at the end of the 13th century and sprinkled it over the ground in the cemetery. As it was now considered to be particularly holy, it became a very popular place to be buried and the cemetery was expanded; the Black Death in particular is known to have swelled the ranks of those interred there. When a Gothic church was built on the site in 15th century the bones that were exhumed during excavation were stored in the ossuary and someone twisted thought it would be nice to make light fixtures out of them. There was some building work ongoing at the entrance to the Ossuary and you could see more bones just poking out of the soil. It was pretty gross.11We felt all topped up on ghoulish culture at this point and wanted to lace up our hiking boots again. We found some excellent looking trails in parks along the norther border and, as it was a fair drive, we found an area with three campsites on the way, assuming that at least one of them would fit our needs. We tried all three and found that they either did not exist or were closed. Tempers started to fray. We pulled off the road again to start searching on our phones and realised that we had driven up to a campsite by accident, we immediately checked in for the night. In hindsight, this may not have been our best move as we ended up in place that had all the marks of the setting for a Scooby-Doo episode. We were on the edge of Lake Rozkos in a campsite set over about 30 acres, there were several creepy broken rides and water slides, odd looking cabins which we weren’t sure if they were redundant or not, numerous closed restaurants and a few half open places. In the enormous space, there were probably no more than 10 campers there. Needless to say, we did not spend much time exploring the entertainment and got an early night.12The walk we chose to do the next day was at Adršpach-Teplice Rocks, the so-called “rock towns” named after the actual towns which they border. There are actually two distinct sites and after a bit of research we decided to go to Teplice as the walk is longer and apparently the less busy of the two. We stopped by the visitor centre in town where, blessedly, the woman spoke excellent English and directed us to the start point, about half a kilometre away. We paid to enter, picked up a map and set off in to the park. Word of warning, the numbers on the map bear absolutely no resemblance to the numbers on the notice boards dotted around the park. It took us quite a while to figure this out, hence why James looks so confused.13Once you figure this out, however, the walk is absolutely wonderful, the rock formations are the highlight but all of the countryside around it is also beautiful. The actual loop around the rock formations is very easy going and you can stroll it quite comfortably in trainers or even sandals. Do bring a jumper, even on hot days the very heart of the labyrinth is decidedly chilly. Make sure to pick up the map at the beginning because many of the rocks have been named based on what they look like and half of the fun is in figuring out what rock they are talking about, sometimes obvious, sometimes a stretch even for the most imaginative.1415One of the optional side trails is directly skywards off the main route to “The Castle”. The thing to bear in mind with this is that it isn’t just a name, Castle Strmen genuinely used to exist up here, you can see markings in the rocks where beams would have sat. We would highly recommend this detour, starting with this set of steps:16

Then winding up through the rocks themselves on a fairly rickety staircase

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Up a couple of spindly ladders to the very top.

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The views are totally worth it

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It’s a bit of a lung buster but the main issue is vertigo on the way back down, the nervous among you will at least be glad that the old ladders, still visible behind the new, are no longer in action.

20The basic loop walk can be extended in plenty of different ways and it is also possible to walk along Wolf Gorge and connect to the Adrspach loop walk as well, although we chose not to do this. We did add an hour or so by taking a trail off through the forest which proved to be our favourite kind of fairytale land that we had mostly to ourselves encountering other walkers only once or twice.2122Thoroughly satisfied with our day’s walk we shared a single cup of black tea in the car park, we’d accidentally bought yoghurt instead of milk and James’s cofee had to be abandoned, observed by a highly amused parking attendant. We climbed back in to the van, now named Delaney for reasons which we will explain later, and set our sights on the Polish border.

 

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