Mon. Oct. 1, 2018:
Durnstein, Austria to Cesky Kremlov, Czech Republic:
We woke at 8:30am so we could have enough time to grab breakfast. Even still we had to rush. I stole a sip of Brent’s grape juice, apparently it is in his 1000 Foods book (it’s an Austrian and Italian specialty). It was weird, the flavour was really strong and I was expecting it to be thick and syrupy but it wasn’t. I took the last bites of my breakfast with me to go, finishing it off as we walked back to our room. How could I say no to a brioche-braid bun?
Hotel checkout was sheer agony. We were on a schedule to catch a bus. It made me really miss express checkout. The guy was being so chatty and nice, it was killing me. As we were leaving, he gave us a small jar of apricot preserves. We got to the bus stop with plenty of time to spare. Another couple showed up minutes before the bus arrived. We both agreed that was too risky. At least we knew we were at the right spot. Even the views during the bus ride were beautiful. There was a church down below in the valley and a castle up above on the hilltop. All being bathed in golden early morning light, filtering through the clouds. It was killing me. Where had these clouds been yesterday?!
We arrived at the train station just in time to catch the train back to Vienna. Amazingly, I fell asleep in the train. Even I didn’t see that one coming. I had no intention of sleeping so early in the day. We arrived in Vienna at the other (aka crappy) train station. I was king of disappointed. The first train station we had been to was great: there was shopping, there was a bar, and I later learned there was even a Dunkin’ Donuts. At the train station we saw that there was an earlier train we could take to Cesky Kremlov. Brent had bought tickets online ahead of time for the 4pm train, but there was a 12:30 train in an hour. Except it was way (way!) more expensive- 5 times as expensive maybe? We asked at the ticket booth to make sure we weren’t missing something. We asked if we could switch our tickets. The agent asked if our tickets had been super cheap. We said yes. He said no. The reason they were so cheap was because they were bought in advance and non-refundable. Spending an extra three and a half hours in Cesky Kremlov instead of in a crappy train station? The decision was easy.
We still had an hour and a half before our train departed. Thankfully the train station had a McDonald’s and a Billa grocery store. Brent had a “super” bacon sandwich. It had so much bacon, they were no lying. I had the McFirst burger, it was nothing special. The crunchy chicken strips were massive. I dipped my seasoned waffle fries in the curry dip I had for the chicken. I wish the waffle fries had been curly fries, they had the right seasoning just the wrong shape. There was a Lotus caramel McFlurry and as I sat there, between heavenly bites it occurred to me- if McDonald’s has Biscoff cookies maybe other places sell it too?
I’ve never been so excited to go to a grocery store: Biscoff cookies!!! In retrospect, I should’ve grabbed more. One package is never enough (even though I can get them back home now at Pusateri’s- I still get real excited about it). We got some soda and snacks for the rest of the travel ahead of us. Again, there were no signs of ciders or mixed drinks. We sat around outside on some stairs. The previous train was still at the platform so we couldn’t even board early. While sitting I noticed a logo across the street, it looked like Aldi but the internet said it was Hoffa, still a grocery store. I had forgotten to get some crackers for our apricot preserves. I ventured out in search of that and some drinks for the evening.
The store was so weird. They had giant plastic bottles of beer akin to soda. They had 4 foot pretzel sticks. A half bottle of rosé was less than one Euro. It was a Syrah from France, complete with a designation of origin protection label. I was floored. I found some nice butter cookies for the apricot preserves. It was a nice surprise, I had been wanting to buy some during the course of our trip and now I didn’t have to go looking.
We had to switch trains in Ceske Velenice. We were switching train lines as well, because now we were in the Czech Republic. It was so cold just standing there on the train platform waiting. I kept fidgeting and shifting my weight from one foot to the other in the typical “I’m cold” dance. From there we set off to Ceske Budowice- still not Cesky Kremlov. This was a long day of travel.
When we got off at Ceske Budowice I noticed an Asian family with roller suitcases. I had seen them in Vienna! We lost them as we entered the main train station. Now we were looking for a bus station. Google Maps said it was nearby. I was distracted by all the potential options for getting to Cesky Kremlov. It appeared there was a commuter train we could take? As we left the train station, Brent saw three little boys- about 10 years old- rejoicing because one of them had stolen a pack of cigarettes off a passerby. The bus station was across the street. Except it was inside of a mall. More confusion ensued. We found a board with bus departures and in front of it a giant line of people lining up to some service kiosks. Presumably they were all buying bus tickets. No sooner had we queued up, our travel buddies showed up. They had the same idea as us. As we slowly inched forward, I was suspicious. Why were there so many people in line, why was it moving so slowly? And for all different bus lines? I saw the young guy from the family go to the information booth. He then got on his phone frantically trying to find the rest of his family, he walked over to them. And they left. They did not get in line. I followed his lead and went to the information booth. At this point I was working on the theory, based on my limited understanding of the somewhat-similar (barely) language that we were in line for the DMV. The info lady pointed upstairs/out of the office and told me to buy a ticket on the bus. I never did find out what line we had been in.
It had been a little unclear where she had been pointing. We stepped outside and it didn’t seem right, there were buses but it was clearly outgoing traffic from the bus station. We went back inside and there was a giant sign saying bus upstairs- complete with an arrow. If only we had entered through that door initially! We had seen an arrow earlier but it wasn’t bent, it was straight so we assumed it meant ahead not up.
We got to the bus platforms and again there was a confusing layout. We mistakenly lined up at platform 9 not 10. A few second later, once we were in the right line, our travel buddies did the exact same thing. I was really enjoying their company, it made our mistakes feel less silly and more the fault of poor design decisions. The bus pulled up and a new round of confusion ensued: how much was the bus fare? Apparently, we just had to trust what the bus driver told us. Brent tried to pay with a 500 crown note and the bus driver pointed at Brent’s wallet. I had been right, a 100-crown note was more than enough. Brent tried to walk away without his change. I was pretty sure that the bus driver was making fun of us to three local teenage boys. Something along the lines of: did you get a load of those two?! have they ever ridden on a bus?! It was a 30-minute coach bus ride and again it lulled me to sleep.
We arrived in a bus depot (more like a parking lot and one shelter) just outside of the historical part of town. It was atop a hill and from there we could see Cesky Kremlov and the castle. It was a short walk to Hotel Růže. It was one of the wackiest hotels we have ever stayed in. the decor was medieval and throughout there were mannequins. They were weird and unnerving, I kept thinking they were people. The furnishings were also medieval-style. Right down to the toilet. It had a wooden throne frame around it, even though underneath it was a modern toilet. The frame made it all but impossible to flush the toilet. It took us a few failed attempts and ponderings to even figure out how to flush the damn thing. The frame hid the button but we eventually figured it out. We also had three appliances for one outlet. But finally- FINALLY- there was a tea kettle. I was elated and happily unplugged the fridge. I knew there would be, there simply had to be a tea kettle in the Czech Republic. Once I had boiled my water, I could plug the fridge back in. It was a very stupid setup. From our room we had beautiful views of the river and the back part of town. Except the window didn’t have a screen, I could lean all the way out. It was more than a little scary.
We had back-to-back UNESCO world heritage site days: both Durnstein and Cesky Kremlov have the designation. We went out for a walk through “town” (it’s way smaller). We had dinner at the Eggenberg Brewery restaurant. By our hotel there was a nice overlook giving a view of the castle and town. It’s not every day that you walk by a castle on your way to dinner.
At dinner we ordered two starters both because it was so cheap and each one said 1 piece. I should have seen it coming. We were having dinner at a restaurant in Eastern Europe (and apparently so close to Poland). The marinated Camembert was the size of a small wheel of cheese. It was salty and good- even if it was a solid three servings. Brent had the pickled sausage. Something I had never even heard of but I turned out to be a fan of it. Again, he was served an entire full-size sausage. I thought based on the price that it would be reasonably sized. Nope. It was good food, for real cheap and oh-so-plentiful. I had ordered the potato dumplings with meat, cabbage and onion. It was so good- even if it was two full-sized dinner portions. Needless to say: I was beat. I made a sizeable dent but in the end the dish won out. The mulled wine was just warm wine. No spices, no sugar, no extra alcohol. It did some with a packet of honey on the side which improved it considerably. Not really sure what I expected from a brewery. Brent had ordered the ham hock. Except unlike last time we had no warning. I helped as much as I could but I was fighting my own battle. Dessert was out of the question.
We walked back via a different route. It was nice to see some stores still open at 7pm. Alas the gingerbread (piernik) store was closed. We went back to the overlook and I took some nighttime shots of the castle and the town, using the ledge as a tripod. We walked onto the hotel terrace but it was too dark to see anything. We could hear a waterfall but we couldn’t see it. We would have to come back tomorrow to investigate. It did not seem far-fetched for the moat around the town to have a small waterfall.
Nick@Night was the only English channel we got. They had a short animation, “1000 Faces,” between shows that reminded me of “Sąsiedzi” the Czech show I used to watch as a kid. I immediately turned to YouTube desperate to find it, to explain to Brent why I was laughing so hard at the short animation that was so “Czech”- and what that meant exactly. We watched the one where the guy tried to roast a chicken, accurately titled “Grill.”
I got mad again at the toilet. It took two flushes and still had not cleared. I figured it was time to start getting ready for bed. Only now the shower was also being frustrating. It was a removable shower head hose, but it wouldn’t stay in place in its crook on the wall. It kept falling down and hitting me, spraying water everywhere. I also almost fell getting out of the shower because of the weird height discrepancy between the tub and the floor. I was ready for bed. Reading in bed= heaven, said my notebook.