Wonderful Prague and Prague to Berlin: A train ride worth taking

I wasn’t entirely sad to be leaving Moscow, 3 days is enough. This is how Human Rights Watch describe the situation in Russia.
“Russian authorities continue the crackdown on civil society and government critics that began in 2012. Enforcement of the “foreign agents” law has led to an unprecedented, nationwide inspection campaign of hundreds of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Dozens of groups are fighting the prosecutors in courts, refusing to register as “foreign agents.” Parliament adopted laws restricting LGBT rights and freedom of expression and infringing on the right to privacy. Abuses in the North Caucasus continue.”
Arriving in Prague if you take the No. 119 bus you should get off at the last stop, Dejvická, where you can transfer to metro line A. In just a few metro stops you will be in the city centre. Get off at Můstek or Muzeum after planning your onward route.
I was to take Line A to Museum then line 13 to Otakarova. Once I found the tramline I was OK but line 13 doesn’t run on Sunday. A kindly gentlemen explained line 11 would land me at the same spot. I arrived at the Ramasun Hostel where they’d left a telephone number on the door, the reception was closed. If like me you’re travelling and have no Mobile phone you are f*****! Fortunately for me a local shopkeeper spoke some English and offered to call them for me. The man arrives and speaks no English, there is one sign that says you can order breakfast the night before. I enquire about this but I’m met with stunned silence, I ask about laundry, nothing, so I do I do my laundry in the shower. My double room has 2 singles, again despite me having my booking.com print out he doesn’t understand. Despite all this the accommodation IS worth the money. I just hoped my laundry would dry as it was hung all over my room.
After a nap I headed into town, the beer is remarkably cheap. Most Czech beers are light beers, brewed naturally from hand-picked hops. Increasingly, breweries are producing a dark ale too as an alternative, but most Czechs like their beer light, nicely chilled and with a tall head. When ordering a beer in a pub, ask for “male pivo” (small beer – 0.3l) or “pivo” (beer – 0.5l). I prefer the dark beer and settled for the Kozel. Kozel Černý is a dark beer which is 3.8% ABV, made of 4 different types of malts including a dark caramelised malt. This beer has an unusual dark foam. It easy to manage 3 or 4 :-).
On the second day I’d decided to climb the hill that forms Petrin Park. First to set me up for the day a humongous breakfast at Cafe Slavia opposite Shooters Island and Legii Bridge. Eggs, bacon and a giant sausage hit the spot.
Crossing the bridge I stopped to snap some graffiti and a bronze installation before being shadowed by a group of irritating American  girls.
“John Lennon wall. Like, you know, like, I think it’s nearby, maybe, I’m not sure, it could be but it might not be!”
“Is this really a castle wow? It could be a fortress but I think its a castle. Do you think the English made it because they make castles?”
“The lift (funicular) is closed, will they open it for us if we ask?” {sign says closed for maintainance}
“Is that snow? (hailstones) It’s very hard snow, I’ve never touched hard snow. Is all snow like this in Europe? Shit, they can’t make snowmen with hard snow!”
At this moment I wanted to either commit suicide to celebrate the inadequacy of the human race but on consideration decided that only through reformation of the education system can the USA irradiate cultural leprosy. I was still suffering from a tight chest and once back in blighty and MOT was on the agenda. Unperturbed by an impending cardiac arrest I set off up the hill.
I risked annihilation by navigating past a legion of Segway’s. I stopped to read the carved inscriptions on a lovers rock before reaching the Petrin Tower Observatory (1891 reconstructed 1993) which was overrun by tourists sheltering from the “hard snow”. After the hail storm came glorious sunshine. I met charming Polish people and local couples asking if I’d take their photo, all with generally perfect English. I was so happy to have left Korea and returned to civilisation.
The Petřín hill (formerly one of King Charles’ vineyards) offers beautiful views of Prague, to the rear of the tower I was able to take the walk through the former vineyards past Strahov Monastery and Library towards Prague Castle. The Bellavista restaurant has a hearty traditional menu and magnificent views on the outside terrace.
I pottered through the district of Hradcany (the Castle District) stopping at a patisserie cream vanilla slice plus coffee (£1:20). They also sold huge seeded bread with mozzarella tomato and Basil for £1:20. The buildings here are beautifully preserved and the area not too overcrowded as most visitors approach the castle across Charles Bridge at the foot of the hill. I’d no intention of entering the busy areas deterred even further by the irritating eye poking selfie sticks.  Rumour has it that the Prague Castle was most likely founded in around 880 by Prince Bořivoj of the Premyslid Dynasty (Přemyslovci). According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Prague Castle is the largest coherent castle complex in the world, with an area of almost 70,000 m². It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site.
At the adjacent Starbucks everyone drinking hot coffee except the SK’s who also decide they can smoke inside the Castle. I’m mildly irritated after being indoctrinated into the cult of Japanese hatred. Who burned Korea to the ground? Well the Japanese of course! Lets hope Prague isn’t burned to the ground! And how to spot the SK’s? Well the boys are wearing skinny jeans and summer weight blazers supported by no socks and of course the girls have altered eyes and unmanageable stilettos.
I quickly skirted the castle and emerged at the Villa Richter restaurant, tres posh. Further down the hill I passed another SK couple easily identified by attire, surgery and the fact that he carried her handbag. They were confused about their location so being a good Samaritan I asked them to open Google Maps on their Galaxy S6 and pointed out how to use the App. Navers no good here! lol.
On the way to the Kampa Museum I settled by the river; a man tumbled over as he foolishly decided to approach a Swan and her cygnets. I could see the Kafka museum but I wasn’t in an indoors mood and the weather was beautiful. After a short power nap I pottered to The Kampa area which despite having a craft and food market was relatively deserted. The heart of Kampa Island is a small square in the shadow of the Charles Bridge. I sat in one of the local cafés before strolling to the public park and art gallery. I was able to also visit the John Lennon Wall which the Americans had decided was on Petrin Hill, do they have Internet access in the USA? The islands been voted the second most beautiful city island in the world. Its pretty but aren’t tourist boards prone towards exaggeration?
I doubled back to Charles Bridge. The Gothic Charles Bridge (Karlův most) is a 14th century stone bridge linking the two sides of Prague. This beautiful structure, one of the city’s finest attractions, is the main pedestrian route connecting the Old Town with the Lesser Town / Prague Castle. As usual it was uncomfortably busy and choca with vendors selling tourist trash. I celebrated on selfie stick snapping and watched amused as the Samsung Galaxy 5 plopped into the river!
Leaving on the old town side it was incredibly claustrophobic, most of Italy had defended on Prague for the Easter holiday. Why do people travel in unmanageable groups of 40/60? I thought of hiring a drone to disperse them. As I headed into the Old Town it got worse and so a sharp right took me towards U Fleku. U Fleku is a large pub, restaurant and micro-brewery and of all the traditional Czech pubs in Prague, architecturally there is no finer example. It’s located in an ancient building which dates from 1499. This huge, sprawling tavern is a complex of rooms laid out in true European beer hall-style. Unfortunately times change and there’s no entry without a booking. I settled for some Goulash and beer from Cafe Restaurant V Podloubi which was comfortably busy and the fayre terrific.
Bloody hell day 2 was a torrent of “hard snow”, so bad I went pottering around the shops before landing for a boozy lunch at La Casa Blu. The rest of the afternoon I just flaneured whist trying to avoid the crowds and to discover some street art. Later I visited a spa because that’s what you do when the “hard snow” is falling! So Bernards Beer Spa was on the agenda. The Beer Spa is a popular type of spa from the Middle Ages. It is a unique spa therapy, where only natural materials are used such as hops, yeast and other natural substances, which have a beneficial effect on your ageing body. Part of the Beer Spa experience is also the unlimited consumption of unpasteurized Beer Bernard.

It was day three and while Prague Castle gets all the hugs and screaming tourists, Vyšehrad, located in the southern part of the city, was also one of the original castles of the kings of Prague. It was built around the 10th century and contains Prague’s oldest surviving building, the Rotunda of St Martin. Few tourists ever come here (hurrah) so you’ll get the castle and its views of Prague to yourself. From the castle take the awesome walk along the river back into the centre of town. There are walking and bikes paths as well as places to stop, sit, and watch the world go by. It’s mostly locals around here, despite it being about 20 minutes from the city centre.

Day 4 was chill-out day, no plans just pottering. Coffee and reading prior to my Berlin train journey.

The Prague to Berlin journey I can confirm is one of the finest middle-distance hops anywhere in Europe. It is less than five hours by train between the two capitals. Reliable EuroCity services run every two hours along the route. This was not one of those high-speed journeys on a TGV or Eurostar. It is, rather, rail travel as it used to be. The route catches the warp and weft of the landscape, tracking north from Prague through soft Bohemian countryside and then following the Elbe Valley downstream into German Saxony. There are comfortable cabins and picture windows for sightseeing. the Czech, Austrian and Hungarian rolling stock used on the EuroCity services from Prague to Berlin all have a nicely retro feel. Grab a window seat on the right-hand side of the train for the best views. Heading north from the Czech capital you sense the spirit of the countryside that so inspired Czech composers.

Just over an hour out of Prague, the valley sides are even steeper, and the finest stretch of the journey is the spectacular gorge of the River Elbe just beyond the station stop at Decín (dreamland). Once over the border into Germany, there are fine views of sandstone turrets and perched castles, beautiful!  Later in the journey, the train sweeps through Dresden before heading north through seemingly endless forests to Berlin. This is truly a ride worth taking.

I arrive on time and happy ready for my next adventure in Berlin.

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