Global travel. On local public transportation.

Czech Republic: Babies crawling on TV towers, none on castles

June 21, 2010 Markus Seppälä

Czech Republic: Babies crawling on TV towers, none on castles

My first time kayaking. My first subway fine. And my first and probably only baby-decorated TV mast. All this and more on my first visit to the former East Bloc. And I was plenty impressed.

Prague: Castles and concrete

It’s no surprise that Prague ranks in the top ten European cities by visitor count. They have all the castles and culture you’ll ever want, but also a vibrant international atmosphere, being a global city and all. And don’t forget the medieval torture museums, omnipresent in Central Europe. The capital is a natural starting point for any independent exploration of the Czech Republic.

View from Charles Bridge, Prague, CZ

A view from the Charles Bridge toward the Prague Castle District

Malostranska subway station, Prague, CZ

The camera flash highlights the dimples in the wall.

Getting around town is a breeze on the subways, trams, buses and ferries. Particularly the subway impressed me with its retro-futuristic station designs like the one seen here. What also made an impression was getting caught without a valid ticket. You see, there are two types of tickets on the subway: one valid for 75 minutes with unlimited changes and travel distance, and one valid for 30 minutes with limitations in both changes and distance. And I was caught holding the latter. Clearly I was not the first foreigner to do so, since the ticket inspector kindly asked me if I had any Czech money. He then asked me to pay the fine in cash on the spot, and handed me a very official-looking, gold-emblem-clad receipt. Having to pay cash right there and then was rather curious, but, I must admit, efficient.

Žižkov TV Tower, Prague, CZ

You can barely make out the babies on the Žižkov TV Tower against Pragues old town...

Close-up of Žižkov TV Tower, Prague, CZ

... but you can see them clearly here, on the pods and on the pillars.

Out of the many sights and attractions of Prague, one really stuck in my mind. It’s the 216-meter Žižkov Television Tower, which dominates the city skyline. VirtualTourist placed it high on its 2nd Annual “World’s Top 10 Ugly Buildings” List, but I disagree. Firstly, the design itself is already pretty unique, and the baby statues crawling up and down the tower certainly add plenty of charm. And secondly, it’s a prime example of what makes former Communist cities cool: the mix of the centuries-old and the concrete-grey. You can wander along a perfectly peaceful, park-filled neighborhood, and step right up to a concrete apocalypse like this:

Concrete building in Prague, CZ

Jičín: In a Bohemian Paradise

Bohemian Paradise, CZAfter a few intense days in Prague, I needed a change of scenery and some fresh air. So I headed northeast to the town of Jičín, the gateway to the Bohemian Paradise (Český ráj), a scenic and protected landscape. The town itself has some beautifully manicured gardens and well-preserved architecture, and is the perfect place to start your exploration of the surrounding natural environment. I chose to go by bike. This is a great idea, but it’s even greater if you speak Czech. Which I didn’t. Usually German is a good second option around these parts, but alas brought me no luck this time. The friendly bike shop owners didn’t mind, though, and we managed to negotiate the rental using a calendar, a pen and pad, and vivid gesturing. Helpful hint: months are written with roman numerals in the Czech Republic, so 21 September 2010 is written 21.IX.2010. Once bikeborne, my day trip offered numerous trails in varied terrain through part-forested, part-open landscape. Oh, and there were also castles.

Český Krumlov: Easier to love than to pronounce

Český Krumlov Castle

Notice the elaborate decorations on the buildings in the foreground, as well as the castle tower.

If you didn’t get tired of castles by now (and since you’re visiting the Czech Republic, chances are you’re not the sort of person who does), the small southern town of Český Krumlov could well be your next destination. And if you’re looking for one of the most romantic places on the planet, this is where you should head. Český Krumlov’s postcard-perfect fairytale castle crowns the UNESCO-protected Old Town, and its elaborate artwork should impress even the casual observer.

The slow-moving Vltava river cuts through the town and also provides an easy paddling experience. I picked up a kayak from near the Pivovar Eggenberg brewery and spent a few pleasant hours on the river. The kayak return location was just after a small damn (see map). Here, right after a blind turn, I was presented with two options, the continuously moving river not giving me too much time to decide: I could choose to either fall off the edge, or take a right and try to float down a kind of slide. Going right was probably the correct choice; getting soaked was probably part of a joke from the rental place. My advice: get off the river before the damn.

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Český Krumlov, CZ

Český Krumlov, the fairy-tale town on the river Vltava.

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