Days 153 - 156: Czech Republic & Austria

Trip Start May 10, 2013
Trip End May 09, 2014

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Flag of Czech Republic  , Bohemia,
Wednesday, October 9, 2013

After an overnight train from Poland, I could have hugged the receptionist who checked us into our hostel at 7am and then upgraded us from an 8 person dorm room to the biggest private king room I've ever seen. From dormitory styled accommodation, trains and single beds to a private king bed was enough to reset the batteries. It's people that do random acts of kindness like that, that you remember.... or maybe he smelt us after not showering for 3 days.

Prague or Praha came with more recommendations for a must see destination from friends and strangers than any other city. I was slightly worried it was talked up that much that I'd find it difficult to write about, if I didn't like it. But everyone was right, Prague is one of our favourite cities in Europe. What makes a good city is the look and feel, the food and wine and the people. This is maybe an ignorant thing to say but in my opinion it can't have always been a huge tourist destination (in comparison to Paris or London). It was only in 1989 a revolution ended the rule of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (former name) and they formed a democratic government. Our Czech tour guide said during that time you couldn't buy any anything that wasn't produced or made in Eastern Europe. Fruit and veges for example were only available a few times per year due to the weather. Clothing such as jeans or brands like Coke and McDonalds were also not available. The other turning point for this country was in 1993 when Czechoslovakia self-determined a separation and became two countries. The Czech Republic and Slovakia. Prague is the capital of Czech Republic.
The Prague that tourists see now is very colourful, most of the 14th century buildings are pastel coloured. When it was under the communist regime it was known as the 'grey city'. It was only after the fall of communism that the city was beautifully renovated and brightly painted by its original owners. I also heard that Hitler liked it, therefore they did not bomb it during WW2 like many other cities. As a consequence, it has all of its historical charm. 

There's this vibrant yet romantic feel about Prague that people fall in love with. In both the Old Town and New Town there are car free squares with musicians packed in every free spot to entertain the crowds. It's 7degrees and a Wednesday yet the streets are full of people eating the street food from the matching wooden carts, drinking local beer and hot wine on randomly placed bar stalls. My lunch of hot honey wine and hot plum and a cinnamon crepe was "out of this world, fantastic, best food I've ever eaten".

The other thing about Prague that isn't visible on first sight is what lay beneath. The city from before lies below the ground. In the 9th century the streets of Prague were purposely buried to prevent the flooding of the town. So the former level of the streets was much lower at that time than it is today. Many bars and restaurants today have entrances on street level but are below ground, including the one we went to for dinner. In a beautiful brick cellar with heavy wooden furniture and candles for lighting, we enjoyed a traditional Czech meal with Czech wine served in goblets (for under $10 each!). After dinner our plan was to enjoy one of the Old Town's underground jazz clubs but got sidetracked along the way with a singing Italian busker. A few hundred people stopped and listened to him under the lights in the square and like many, we bought his cd. A great ending to our first and only day in Prague. Wrapped up in a scarf, woolly hat and gloves sitting on the cold cobbles in 5 degrees taking in the sounds, smells and atmosphere of the official '7th best European city'.

Prague's famous 1410 Astronomical Clock indicates many things including name days. In the European name day calendar, my name Julia's day is 10th December and Dave's is 30th December. Our actual birth dates carry many different names, Francis for me and Byron for Dave. That's the only 'souvenir' we takeaway from Prague, sadly none of their famous bohemian glass. You know how much I love glass. 

We forfeited our second night in Prague and opted for visiting a smaller Czech town. Cesky Kromlov. Our train was delayed by a few hours so our exploring was unfortunately done just before night fall.  Thankfully the town is only a few roads.
This tiny fairytale town has confirmed that Czech Republic is one of my favourite European Countries. My love of Prague is shared equally, if not little bit more with Cesky Kromlov. The core of the old medieval town is within a horseshoe bend of the river. The cobble stoned streets can take you from one side of the town to the other in 10 minutes. Similar to Prague it was a grey city under the communist regime but has since been restored to its 18th century self and painted in pastel colours. The river and green-spaces are lined with the most magnificent towering deciduous trees, in gold and red. The ground is lined with colour from the leaves.
I'm not a castle fan, in fact I actively avoid them at all cost, but when I saw Cesky Krumlov's Castle I had to investigate. It has a tall colourful cylinder shaped tower with a large rather ugly bland brick building next to it. What makes this castle on the river so amazing is it's completely rendered. The inner walls are'painted' with 3D brickwork and windows. So there's no bricks but they painted the whole castle to look like its all bricks. When walking through it and over the bridges it feels like a set from a movie. The castle even has, real and not painted, bears in the castle's old moat.. 

We left the hostel at 7am the next morning, and walked the 40minute trip in the rain to the train station. Sitting on the platform waiting for the train we ate breakfast, left over bread that we took from the restaurant last night. It was freezing, every bit of me shivered. Dave's been sick too. Since we left Germany, the days are getting colder and colder and we do not have warm enough clothing to suffice. Seeing snow on the houses and on the ground from the train to Austria, we knew it was getting cold, really cold. 

The only musical I haven't fallen asleep in: The Sound of Music
We have entered the world where the hills are alive and Mozart's everything. Salzburg, Austria. Every hostel plays the movie over dinner and every tour takes you to those spots from the movie. As for Mozart, there's Mozart chocolate, Mozart airport, Mozart coffee shop or hotel etc etc. We did our own little walking tour of the city before joining the original Sound of Music tour - a 4 hour sing along... I'm now officially ready to leave this city and have a break from singing "do ri me fa so la ti do" in my sleep.
300,000 people come from all over the world each year to Salzburg specifically to relive the movie filmed over 50 years ago. Unbelievably but sadly our guide has met diehards who have watched the movie twice a day for 20 years. He also has received hate mail from the same types of people/freaks who he'd told that the movie was only 'loosely' based on the real Von Trapp Family's life. The family did not escape the Nazis by climbing over mountains with heavy suitcases and instruments (as that would have taken them straight to Hitler's summer house in Germany), they left by train and headed to Italy before moving to Vermont USA with $4 in their pocket.They became a hugely popular singing troupe which made them enough money to open a holiday resort, the Trapp Family Lodge.
The 1965 film was based on a broadway musical, a book and 2 German films documenting the Von Trapp family. The Austrian public saw the Julie Andrews film only 17 years ago when it was shown in the cinema for 3 weeks. For this reason they aren't really fussed on it even though the cities tourism demands they live and breathe it. Quite the contrast to the South Koreans. When the film was released there, it did so well that some cinemas were showing it 5 times a day. One cinema owner in Seoul tried to figure out a way to be able to show it even more often, in order to bring in more customers. So he cut out all the musical numbers. Maybe I wouldn't fall asleep in musicals if they did that more often...

There's a few things in the movie that I found really interesting. The front of the Von Trapp family house and the estate's gardens and lake were filmed in two different locations. The inside is different as well, that's actually in Hollywood as the building owners wouldn't give permission for filming inside. The front of the church, the wedding scene, is at Nonnberg Abbey but the inside is in a beautiful basilica in Mondsee just out of Salzburg. The most ironic thing we found out when we visited the gazebo used for the "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" scene is that it's now locked as an 80 year old injured herself while trying to reenact the scene by dancing along the seats.
We throughly enjoyed this tour, probably not so much for the Sound of Music elements, but it took us out of a city and into the countryside of Austria, to the beautiful lakes district and to the little Austrian town of Mondsee. Normally travelling by train we are limited to major cities so we enjoyed this tour for those reasons.  I'd love to revisit the alps of Central Europe one day.Another thing for the bucket list! 

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