East Germany & the Glorious Czech Republic | Part II
When designing our East Germany & the Glorious Czech Republic tour, I went back to the old ‘Eastern Bloc’ to piece together not what was obvious, but rather what was off the regular touring radar. We knew that we would hinge the tour around 3 nights in Berlin and 3 nights in Prague, and that Cesky Krumlov and Salzburg would be included, with slightly shorter stays. The big question though was what else was out there that absolutely demanded to be included. We had a short list, but by the time we got back to Australia it had grown longer…. much longer.
This is part 2 of our story.
In part one, I talked about those ultra-impressive cites of Berlin and Dresden and also the incredible Palace complex and parklands in Potsdam. Then there was the ‘what else’? And we found it. For a long time I had 3 places on my ‘Bucket List’ - the UNESCO biosphere marshlands of Spreewald, the stunning, stone Bastei Bridge and the heady ramparts of impregnable Königstein Castle. And superlatives aside, they certainly did not disappoint!
So in part 2, I will explain how the second part of the 15 day ‘East Germany & the Glorious Czech Republic’ tour evolved. I say ‘evolved’ because that is exactly how it happened. You see, it is all very well planning things using maps, the internet, and calculating distances, but a tour really comes to life when pestering tourist offices, chatting with hoteliers and restaurant owners that you pick up gems of local tips and ideas and find that magical ‘what else’.
Bohemian Switzerland and a delightful hill walk
We stay 3 nights in Dresden. Yes, of course we enjoy a guided city tour, see the rejuvenated city and visit the treasure and masterpiece museums. And most importantly we ensure you have substantial free time for ‘My Time’ - quality time for personal exploration and discovery.
For the more active we have included a wonderful excursion to Bohemian Switzerland National Park. The scenery is tremendous, and this really is a stunning, hillwalking paradise. Or you can opt to do some shopping, sit and relax and not walk through the National Park at all. Depending on your activity level, you can venture on one of 3 walks. The shortest and the easiest is a flat walk along the bottom section of the Kaminice River and another relatively easy flat walk is along a longer section of this Gorge. In two sections the canyon walls are so narrow you enjoy a short restful punt ride to get down river. The third and most energetic of walks is up through the woods to the massive ’Pravcicka Brana’ natural arch. At the top you will find walkways, viewing points and, naturally, a wonderful cafe set beneath the rock arch itself. When we arrived here it was mid-morning and I ordered a coffee. I can tell you from experience it is properly the worse cup coffee I have ever had! My wife told me they probably forgot how to make it. I asked why and she pointed out that everyone up there, despite the time a day, were drinking massive glasses of Czech beer. That seemed a good idea so I joined them! Ha, they do remember how to serve beer!
So, on this day you have a wonderful range of choices. You can either spend it enjoying delightful Dresden, or come out on an included excursion for some wonderful hillwalking and exploration. Magic!
We escape to Colditz
Prague is less than two hours’ drive away and, knowing we are going to spend three nights there, what’s the rush? So instead we head west to visit a castle that became world famous in World War II – Colditz! The castle is massive, and here the Nazis famously assembled the most notable ‘incorrigible’ Allied officers who had repeatedly escaped from other camps. This was a curious decision as the castle was originally designed as an imposing fortress to keep people out, not hold them! The second curious decision is the best part. By assembling the ‘best of the best’ escape artists in one place they in effect created a master class of escapologists. Every classic escape ruse was tried, from digging tunnels, hiding in mattresses and Red Cross Boxes, climbing down ropes, jumping fences, and one French officer even dressed as a woman and brazenly walked out. (He would have made it except for an incredible misfortune - after making it past the guards his watch accidentally fell off his wrist. Instead of stopping he walked on, attracting the guard’s attention). The museum here is filled with incredible artifacts, anecdotes and intriguing bits and pieces and compellingly illustrates a huge array of fascinating escape stories.
You will also enjoy a guided tour showing you some of the tunnels and escape routes. A great day and a memorable visit on our way to the delightful city of Prague. The following day we enjoy a guided tour of Prague at its best, and the afternoon and evening is entirely free for you to wander this great city. We also have another day where of course you can spend it at leisure again, in Prague, or you can choose to join us on an excursion out to a UNESCO heritage listed town called Kutna Hora.
500 year old Silver Mines
500 years ago many of the silver coins that we used across all of Europe were mind and minted here. In fact we get the name for our ‘dollar’ from the local Bohemian name for these coins which was ‘thaler". On the surface of this charming town you will find beautiful buildings, museums, cathedrals and churches, and down below the ancient Silver mines which had been closed for 500 years. There is plenty to do and see above ground, and we visit the Sedlec Ossuary - the church of bones - with its macabre decor of bone art, and the glorious Cathedral St Barbara. But for those who want to experience something really different, we have also included a visit down into the newly reopened mines to see how silver was mined by hand, and the appalling conditions the miners used to work in.
Třeboň and a pleasant raft ride in Cesky Krumlov
I was sitting having a chat with the owner of our Prague hotel and he asked me where we were going the following day. I told him we were dropping into České Budějovice, before the last stay of our journey. This is exactly when the delight of discovery kicks in. He said, sure, go have a look at České Budějovice, and you might like it. But you simply must go and visit the little village of Třeboň. “Where?” I asked. He explained that off the beaten track there is a beautiful area of man-made lakes and in its heart is a tiny Baroque town called Třeboň which would be perfect for our type of group. So, we followed his advice and, yes, we enjoyed České Budějovice, with its giant main square, but we also felt it was rather soulless. We then went onto Třeboň and absolutely adored it. So pretty and a perfect place to plan our group lunch stop en route to Český Krumlov.
‘Cesky’ is an amazing city and our 5-star hotel was once the former 16th century Jesuit dormitory. This hotel is in the centre of the cobbled stone town, and since it takes a little while for your bags to the taken by porters from the coach to the hotel, we devised a memorable way to introduce you to ‘Cesky’ – on a raft. Now before you start thinking rafting can be hazardous, this type of rafting is incredibly serene. Boarding the rafts just beside our hotel, we drift down the placid river all the way through this magnificent UNESCO heritage listed city. The highlights will be looking up at the ancient Castle looming high above on the left and the glorious mediaeval timepiece city on the right. What’s even better is that by staying 2 nights here we once again get to explore and enjoy this incredible destination at leisure when all the massed tourists fled to the onward destinations!
Salzburg, the finale!
So how do we complete this amazing tour? The answer to that is easy. Across the border, in to Austria, is one of the greatest cities on earth, Salzburg. So what better way than to enjoy a farewell night right in the heart of that glorious baroque city of Mozart?
When assembling our East Germany & the Glorious Czech Republic, I knew that it had to include quality three-night stays in both Berlin and Prague. I also knew we had to plan a decent stay in Český Krumlov to allow travelers to really experience the destination. But the process of discovery ‘what else’ was so rewarding. I knew Dresden would be good, but did not realise it would be that great! I also knew that if my personal ‘Bucket List’ sites such as Colditz, Spreewald, Bastei Bridge and Königstein fulfilled my expectations they would be worth considering. Now I know they are absolute highlights and ‘must sees’. And then I discovered so much more; the other palaces of Potsdam, and Pillnitz gardens by the Elbe, the magic of Bohemian Switzerland and beautiful, baroque, Třeboň!