Here is the diary with pictures from driving 3700 miles across Europe.
Click on a date below for the day's photos.
Sunday May 6th - Home to Bruges
Leaving home at 7:15, we had a good trip to Dover. We stopped at the Oakdene Café for a great old fashioned trucker’s breakfast and tea and slabs of bread and butter. We arrived in Dover just before 10am thinking as we were early we would be able to get on the 11:00 ferry instead of the 12:15 booked sailing. We were quite wrong as Jane had purchased a £36 saver ticket (one way) and these kinds of tickets cannot be changed at all, so had we been late we would have lost our ticket!!!! We sat in the car until we boarded and read the papers.
The crossing was very calm and very few people on the boat. One and a half hours saw us in Bruges, trying to find our hotel through all the tiny narrow cobbled streets – all one way! We found it – the Bryghia Hotel. It was delightful, very quiet and a short walk to the centre – the Market Square.
We took a city bus tour (a mini bus especially designed and running
every hour). This was good and we saw the main sights of the town.
It had English on headphones with additional information on a TV. Dinner
was had on the way back to the hotel in an Argentinean steak restaurant
and was excellent.
Monday May 7th - Bruges
We awoke to wet roads but dry although cloudy. After breakfast we donned our anoraks as it had started to rain. Undeterred we walked all round the various sites. Fortunately it didn’t rain very hard. We visited the Half-Moon brewery, the only one left operating in the city centre. There was a good view of the city from its roof.
There used to be 400 breweries! It started to rain a little harder so we decided to have an early lunch and stopped for Moules and Frites – the Belgian speciality.
The rain stopped completely for the rest of the afternoon so we took a boat ride around the canals which was very good. The buildings are quite incredible.
The Church of our Lady is the tallest church built completely of bricks anywhere in the world - mediaeval churches did not usually get built of bricks.
The tourist shops are mainly lace shops – Flanders lace being very famous, tapestry shops – Belgian tapestry is also famous and finally chocolate shops. The Chocolate show was one place we decided not to visit for Jane’s sake. We also missed out the diamond museum for similar reasons - chocolate no good for Jane and diamonds no good for Graham!
A lovely place, lovely day, so pleased we had decided to spend some time in Bruges.
Tuesday May 8th - Bruges to Eisenach
Gearing themselves up to a long journey Jane and Graham set off at 9:15 and drove out of Bruges, out of Belgium, through Netherlands passing Eindhoven then into Germany passing Essen, Dortmund, Kassell, all driving was on motorways so no problems and a little boring. From Kassell the journey continued across country roads and wound through some villages, all very pretty, finally arriving at Eisenach. A visit to the tourist information centre ended with a hotel room being reserved at the Eisenach Hof.
This town is famous for Martin Luther and the Hotel has two restaurants, a Spanish one serving Tapas food and the German one where you ‘eat like Luther did’ which we assumed meant medieval banquet type food. And that is what it was – half a metre of meat or pork shank - lots of food and some quite good. The staff were all dressed in medieval costumes. And so to bed to prepare for Dresden tomorrow. The photographer had had a rest today.
Wednesday May 9th - Eisenach to Dresden for our 37th Wedding Anniversary
We left after breakfast at 9:15 and drove to Dresden. On the way it rained a little bit and the road went from 3 lanes on each carriageway to 2 lanes then back to 3 but was really a very good road and is obviously going to be enlarged to 3 lanes each side soon. We stopped a couple of times, once for petrol, which is not much cheaper than at home at 1.34 euro a litre. Next stop was for a loo stop and a coffee at a roadside ‘café’ which looked like it was straight out of the 1950s but was very clean. We saw yellow roadsigns which implied that cars could drive at 50 kph whilst tanks could only do 40 kph.
On arrival at Dresden we had the problem of finding the hotel again, the old town has small streets but we did eventually find it. We are staying at the hotel Am Terrassenufer which is on the edge of the river Elbe and also the old town. It is one of the currently recommended IBM hotels so of quite a high standard.
We left the luggage and set off for the old town looking at some wonderful baroque buildings which all need a good clean. Dresden has, since reunification, renovated many of the buildings that were destroyed in 1945 and has not yet had time to clean them. It was easy to find the rebuilt Church as it was clean. It has been beautifully built and is quite spectacular inside.
We tried to buy tickets for the Green Vault in the Residenz Schloss but were told that we could queue tomorrow from 7am for tickets. It opens at 10am. The guide did think that if we arrived at 9am and only queued for one hour we might be able to get tickets for 6pm or later. It started to pour with rain so we stopped for lunch in a café and had a very good meal, as we know everyone thinks we only write about food I shall leave it as, asparagus (spargel in German) omelette for Jane and beef and knudle dumpling for Graham. Graham is enjoying drinking German beer though he could have opted for Guinness in the Irish Bar.
A bit more sightseeing before we went to our hotel and the room
was ready. Jane tried the wireless network but found it cost quite
a bit so resorted to using dial up which is free for her but of course
it’s slower. Photographs were stored on the laptop and a selection
of ones to share with friends has begun – it takes so long. The excellent
bathroom facilities were made use of and now a clean Jane is ready for her
anniversary dinner! Come on Graham let’s go. We now have blue sky
and sunshine so we will cross fingers it stays like that tomorrow. We ate
in the hotel.
Thursday May 10th - Dresden
We walked to the Green Vault entrance and arrived at 10am assuming we would buy tickets for the NEW green vault or other parts of the museum. We were really pleased when we got to the end of the queue and found we could buy tickets for 15:30 so we did. We walked around the old baroque buildings like the Opera house, the castle etc. We decided to walk over the bridge to the new town and visited a market which was mainly sweets and sausages to eat now. The food market hall had a lot of asparagus for sale - mainly white as seen everywhere in Europe but we did see some green which was much more expensive. Lunch was eaten in a fish and chip type shop. The afternoon was passed by walking along the river towards our hotel but along the new town’s river bank.
15:30 saw us back at the green vault and doing the tour which was amazing. The whole set of rooms had been destroyed during the 1945 bombing but the treasures must have been hidden. The building has now been restored and the jewels, silver, bronze etc etc put back in their original rooms. It is quite different from anything we have seen anywhere before. The amber is not quite as good as the Amber Room in the Summer Palace in St. Petersburg. The ivory must have resulted in too many elephant’s deaths. Some of the exhibits were OTT like the Augustine Obelisk, a 5-foot high obelisk encrusted with a mass of jewels. The visit is a real must if you go to Dresden.
Friday May 11th - Dresden to Prague
9.15am and off we went towards Prague. The motorway has recently opened - a long new stretch, so the journey was even shorter than we had planned. Prague is larger than Dresden and we did not really have a detailed map other than for the very centre, but we did finally manage to find our hotel, the Hotel Vysehrad. We have a locked up garage for the car as we also had in Bruges. We unpacked and then walked all the way to the Zentrum (centre) along the side of the river. It took about 1hr 30 mins. Just before one bridge Jane was watching a swan chase a smaller bird. The bird went under the bridge but the swan could not make it so did a right hand turn and continued round getting lower and fell on the electric tram lines, injuring itself a bit. The traffic stopped for awhile during which time a man sort of chased it back to the river - poor bird. We continued and walked up to the Charles Bridge which is opposite the Castle.
After lunch we went to the Jewish Quarter and visited the old cemetery where Franz Kafka is buried along with many other since 1643. We also had paid entrance to the 4 synagogues that remain so we visited them all. One has been set up especially as a memory for the holocaust, others contain wonderful old artefacts, silverware, scrolls etc used by the Jews during the 17th and 18th centuries.
The next adventure was to purchase a travel ticket allowing us to get on and off any tram or metro for 72 hours and then to use it on the metro to get back to the hotel. It’s OK knowing which station to alight at but without a map of your area it is tricky, the first time, to know which direction to go in from the station door! We made it eventually with a little help from the locals.
Discovery of a free wireless LAN at the reception area pleased
Jane and she was able to communicate with Emma, but could not access her
email as the IBM connection would not work, she will have to try it again
Saturday May 12th - Prague
Today is the start of the annual music festival in Prague and the setting up of the paraphernalia needed for the Prague Marathon being run tomorrow the 13th.
The tour bus picked us up at 9.20am and after a drive round various hotels we met our guide and did the grand city tour, passing, in the bus, the main sights before going over to the old city and to walk round the castle, St Vitus’s Cathedral and all the other wonderful buildings in this area. It rained a little while we were out walking and queuing for the cathedral, but never mind. The cathedral has amazing stained glass windows. The changing of the guards at the castle was over more quickly than usual (probably due to rain.). Back in the bus and over to the Jewish area again, from where we walked to the market square in time to see the astrological clock strike 1pm. This was the end of the tour and it started to rain, so we quickly found a restaurant for lunch. There were many inflatable arches in the square signifying the end of the Marathon so it was nearly ready for tomorrow.
We walked through Wenceslas Square which was packed, a 2 km run having been set up for people to do. Taking the metro from Museum Station at the end of the Square we decided to visit Vysehrad. We stood as there were no vacant seats. During the journey a man put his right hand on Graham's hand on the handrail. The man's left hand was entering Graham's right pocket. Graham spoke to the man who left the train empty handed at the next station. We got off at Vysehrad station. We followed one of the walks from the Lonely Planet and found ourselves in a lovely, leafy and reasonably quiet area. Just outside the two spired St Peter and St Paul’s cathedral was a small stage and a Japanese show was being enacted. The cemetery was quite impressive. Dvorak is buried there and many other famous people including Smetana. The music festival is started every year with a procession leaving from Smetana’s grave and walking up to the Municipal Building in the centre of the city, an hour’s walk away.
From here we were able to walk back to our hotel. We have been
lucky again, the weather has been hot, dry and sunny since lunchtime.
Sunday May 13th - Prague
After Breakfast we took the Metro from the hotel to the Old town, walking through the gardens of the Senate house where there is a drip stone wall. Continuing up Nurodva Street we climbed to the top, passing many spectacularly beautiful baroque buildings. At the top we could look over the hill with the observation tower looking very similar to a smaller Eiffel Tower. The area looked lovely and green. We found the Loreta Church and the Loreta Hotel where Mike and Ann are booked in for the next 3 days. We left them a message as they had not arrived yet. We walked back down to the Castle and managed to repeat many of the photographs Jane had taken in the rain but this time in the sunshine. We descended by walking through the Castle terraced gardens. We had found somewhere where there were no tourists.
Prague is lovely and the buildings are in wonderful condition. It has one major problem. It is quite small in total area and this area is FULL of tourists, we included of course. It reminds us very much of Paris as the buildings are from the same era.
Our walk after lunch took us back over the Charles Bridge and down the river till we got to the Dancing building where we got a Tram to come back to the hotel. You don't have to show your tickets to anyone on the public transport. Apparently there are plain clothed inspectors who do spot checks.
Our third evening meal was taken in the hotel – it is quite amazing,
the food is good and much cheaper than the tourist traps in the centre,
but we are the only people eating there!!! Many more people are at
Monday May 14th - Prague
As we will be in the car for the next 2 days Jane decided a long walk early in the day was called for, so we walked down to the river then back up to the centre crossing over to the other side near the dancing building. By 11am the temperature was 29 degrees. We made our way passed the Communist statues and on to the funicular which we boarded to go up to the top of a large hill with the observation tower on top. We had to show our tickets to get on the funicular. Now we could look over the busy tourist part of Prague and it appeared that we were deep in the country – lovely. We took our time walking round and down. By now the temperature was nearly 35 degrees with high humidity.
We went to Kampa Island once we were down to river level again
and had lunch in a very nice fish restaurant. After lunch, sitting
on a bench in the grassy area with Graham reading his book and Jane doing
a Suduko along came Ann and Mike - what a surprise to see them. We joined
them on a boat trip down the river.
They then returned to their hotel for a shower but we were too far away from ours so we just went back to the park and read etc. We were by a funny little building with graffiti but also a mark around it near the top – this was the water line that the floods had come up to in 2002, startling.
We crossed back over the Charles Bridge and met up with Ann and Mike at a little cheap Indian vegetarian eating place in the courtyard of the Youth Hostel, recommended by both Monica the guide we had on Saturday and also the Lonely Planet. It was excellent and very cheap. It was near the Market Square round the back of the Church of Our Lady.
Home to bed using the Metro, walking finished for the day and 2
Prague is lovely and has great appeal, it a shame about all the tourists and the rip off in some of the bars restaurants etc, but we are very glad we have been to visit.
Tuesday May 15th - Prague to Paczkow via Kutna Hora
Fed, packed and ready to go we left at 9.15am. We had decided to visit Kutna Hora on the way. Kutna Hora is a town 65 Km east of Prague with several tourist attractions. We chose to go on the yellow road (as marked on the map) – country road – and it was quiet and pretty with a good surface. The Cathedral of St Barbara was built starting in the 12th century and then added to. There is a silver mine there and it was once one of the richest towns in the area. The cathedral was built to outdo the St Vitus Cathedral in Prague. It is quite magnificent and different in several ways from other churches. Many of the Frescos are from hundreds of years ago and some depict the miners and coin makers from the early days of the mine. The mine flooded in 1541 and was closed in 1741. We had difficulties finding our way into the area of the church by car so we parked down some country lane and walked up the hill into the cathedral area. It is next to a very large Jesuit college. Many of the original artefacts are in the church and the confessional stalls are particularly ornate and beautiful.
After a coffee in a bar – half the price we paid in Prague – we walked back down to the car and set off in search of the Ossuary which is an old monastery bought by some rich person in days gone by. They found 40000 skeletons and decided to make something of the bones. Inside is now meant to be a reminder that even in death we live on. The bones have been arranged in various designs. Although rather macabre it was quite fascinating. Our route then took us on the yellow roads again in the direction of the Polish border at Nachod. Before getting there we stopped in a wayside bar to have something to eat. It was rather like an old bar in a movie. Rather smokey, very few people, the owners and family, 2 ladies and us. No one spoke English and the menu was in Czech. We looked around and they had various things on blackboards and one was titled Menu 60 Kc, (there are 40 to the pound) so we pointed and ordered 2. We managed to ask for a beer and water. First the soup arrived - very nice minestrone type soup, hot and tasty, then a plate with 3 very large dumplings ( a bit like doughnuts) covered in cinnamon and sugar and cream sprayed on top – just what Jane needed. They were very nice and not too sweet. Inside they had stewed cherries but not sweet. It reminded Jane of Thursday meals at lunch time in Sweden when they eat pancakes and jam!! Full up we set off again for the border having still got about 3 pounds of Czech money left after our lunch totalling 4 pounds including drinks.
We had a short queue at the border where we showed our passports, and saw our first UK number plates on a motor bike with 2 passengers. Once in Poland we had decided to stop at Paczkow pronounced Patchkoof. So more driving along single track roads in the country through small villages. Whilst driving on the Czech roads had reminded us very much of driving through France, Poland appeared to be a little different, very much poorer and more dilapidated. The Lonely planet had recommended 2 hotels in Paczkow, the Korona, a family run hotel and the Energipol – larger with a restaurant. As it was now 4pm and had started to rain we decide we fancied the Energipol so we could eat in and not get wet. We were unable to find this hotel despite following maps and directions and retracing our steps so we finally gave up and stopped outside the Korona, which just looks like a large family house. Jane went in and in her best Polish communicated with the older lady inside in some weird way – she never stopped talking in some mixture of German, Polish and the odd English word and Jane just used her hands. A room was chosen and Graham bought the bags in. I think we are the only people here! Cost is 80 Polish Zlotys for the room, 10 for parking securely inside the gates and 15 each for breakfast; this all comes to the great sum of about 22 pounds. (5.53 Zlotys to the pound). Prague was very expensive as it is a tourist area and I expect Krakow will be too, but out here in the countryside it is still all very cheap for us.
A short walk into the central square will provide us access to
an ATM as we have no Polish money yet and also for somewhere to eat tonight.
With umbrellas and coats out of the car we are ready to explore. The town
has one of the most complete medieval fortifications in Poland and there
are many interesting buildings to see inside the walls of the town some
of which we may explore tomorrow if its not raining!
The square in the centre was quite large so we walked all the wayt round it – it has the town hall in the centre. We only found one restaurant so we went in. what a laugh! Jane ordered Trout with vegetables by pointing at the pictures, Graham ordered sauerkraut with Fleisch. When it arrived Jane’s was good but Graham had some kind of Ravioli stuffed with potatoes and quark, it turned out the waitress doesn’t speak German so when Graham spoke the words rather than pointing she thought it was the ravioli!!! He ate it but asked her for the sauerkraut. Jane finished her meal while Graham waited and waited and waited. Finally he asked her where it was – she had completely misunderstood us so quickly Mother got the food for Graham. We learnt some Polish words.
Wednesday May 16th - Paczkow to Krakow
Today it is still raining and we had a lovely breakfast in a little dining room where they had a 1920s International Time Recording Company clock on the wall. IBM was originally called International Time Recording Machines. Neither of us had ever seen one before except in pictures.
Our next journey in Poland began in the rain and we decided to stick to small roads until we got to Kowice where we would join the motorway. It was a nice drive mainly through forest areas. Once on the motorway it did not take long to arrive at Krakow (pronounced 'crackoof' by the locals) and the hotel. The Wyspiansky is a large practical hotel rather austere and unfriendly, and cell 315 is small but quite comfortable. Twin beds arranged toe to toe.
We had lunch in the restaurant and it was very nice. Graham had
sauerkraut (Bigos) again – quite different from last night. Jane had tripe
(Flaki) also very good. We have to try the Polish specialities and the Lonely
Planet guide describes them quite well. Jane unpacked and sorted out washing
before we went for a walk in the old town. A quick look at the central
square then we tried to do a walk that we wont do with the others. We walked
all around the old town on the circular park area which surrounds it. We
visited the Wawel castle and admired the wonderful architectures that have
been used over the centuries and appreciated the renovations that have
taken place in the past 6 years. A very large brick building is quite
impressive by the castle which is the Archdiocese museum.
The rain had stopped at lunch time but it was not very hot all
afternoon. Apparently the weather is going to improve at the weekend. Dinner
and bed. Lets see what adventures we have tomorrow.
Thursday May 17th - Krakow Salt Mines
Garry and Amanda arrive at 11.05 this morning so we set off for the airport an hour early. The airport was very busy but is reasonably small. As they came through customs we whisked them away and drove off back to Krakow but then on and out to Wieliczka - the Salt Mines. The Salt Mines are situated south east of Krakow about 20 Km away. We parked the car in the usual ‘secure’ parking lot and walked to the entrance arriving at 12.15 to find that the next English speaking tour was at 12.30, perfect timing. It was fascinating to travel through 3 levels of the mine visiting caverns with amazing carvings all made of the rock salt. At the end we were in the underground restaurant about 100 meters below ground. A quick lunch and a beer and we all squeezed into the small double-decker lift cage to whished speedily up to the surface. We set off to take Gary and Amanda to the hotel. Trying a different route back in Krakow we found one way streets and had to do a short detour around the old town!
Gary and Amanda are happy with their room - a normal 3 star hotel
room and not a cell like ours. At 7pm we all walked into the old
town and found 3 men playing accordions in the Town Square – they
were excellent and we could have stayed longer but we were hungry.
We eat in a place called Rooster which is similar to Hooters in the USA.
Back through the Square and to bed.
Friday May 18th - Zakapone
Breakfast is interesting in the hotel, self service with many choices of things, cheese delights, meat in aspic, jams, cereals of course, lots of different meat and in the hot container some strange sausage. As we will be spending time visiting the old town with the others we decided to make use of the car and go to one of the recommended places outside of the city. We set off for Zakopane 99 Km from the city and nearly on the Slovakian border. It took nearly 2 hours to get there. We walked around the town, had a beer or coffee, bought some of the famous cheese made with sheep’s milk and decided to go on the cable train up the mountains to the Ski resort. We are now in the Tatra mountains. At the top we had lunch in a small bar ( £10 for all 4 of us). On the way back to the car we spent a little while looking at stalls in the huge market we had to walk through. Graham bought a lovely sewing box for Emma just the same as the one he had made for Jane. Other trinkets were purchased but Garry and Amanda didn’t buy their sheep’s skin which was about 11 pounds to purchase. We saw cow skins and sheep skins for sale at stalls along the route home together with the smoked cheese.
We arrived back at the hotel at 6pm and met up with Hoopers and Whitelocks who were all in standard plus rooms as were Garry and Amanda. Jane had another unsuccessful go at reception to get a room change. Before going out to eat Hugh and Jane (L) went to reception to book a minibus to take us to Auschwitz tomorrow and at the end of the discussion the girl smiles shyly at Jane and said she could have a change of room. We made a quick move of all our things before going out to eat.
We are led to a small restuarant by Hooper which was OK but not
nearly as nice food as at the hotel, and a bit of a rip off. Two bottles
of wine cost a third of the bill! The temperature had dropped quite
a bit so we did a brisk walk around the Square before bed.
Saturday May 19th - Auschwitz
We spent the whole day travelling and visiting Auschwitz. Our minibus driver was called Peter and he told us that whilst we in England may have a Polish problem, they have a Roumanian problem. We arrived at Auschwitz 1 and were shown a black and white documentary in English and then taken on a tour of the concentration camp by Lucas who had a very unemotional matter of fact delivery style. The camp was once a Polish army barracks. Piles of shoes, hair, spectacles and suitcases attempted to bring home the enormity of the horrors. We got back into the minibus and Peter took us to Auschwitz II (Birchenhau) which covered over 100 acres. Most of it was built by prisoners. The small wooden buildings housed up to 600 people. Lucas took us on a short tour of some of the buildings. This was an incredible experience and something everyone should do, just to remember the horrors that took place and must never be repeated. We'll watch Schindler's List again.
Sunday May 20th - Krakow
As a group we walked off to the castle and then to the Jewish quarter. Back to the castle to visit the royal staterooms at 13:00, then a trip round the Cathedral. All quite amazing and very interesting. The architecture is all very mixed around the castle and many changes were made every century. We tried to get into the restuarant recommended by the Lonely Planet - Pod Aniolami ("Under the Angels") but it was full so we all eight ate opposite at the Miod Malina.
A great UK group were playing in the streets. They were a band from Bristol called the Ambling Band (more...). They were very good and great fun.
Monday May 21st - Krakow to Wolkersdorf
All packed by 9am, we said goodbye to John, Gill, Gary and Amanda and set off with Hugh and Jane towards Slovenia. The first part of the journey was a bit slow but we managed to get to the Czech border and then we got lost!!!! Still do not know how, but we did a 10 mile detour to Otravia. This area is a big coal mining and steel working area and was quite interesting in that respect. Finally we got back to the correct road and stopped for lunch at a little wayside bar place. Jane had 300 KC (about 7.50 pounds) in her pocket left from the earlier trip. We asked the bar man what we could buy for that as he did not take cards. He said the pork dish for 60 each was very good so we went for it. Graham had a large beer having driven to here. The remaining change was left as a tip. The pork dish was excellent served with dumpling slices and a nice sauce. Three of us drank water when we got back in the car. Hugh took over the driving and we continued, crossing into Austria. We stopped about 4pm at Wolkersdorf, the Klaus Hotel. We had a beer in the main square and a lovely evening meal in the hotel. It was very good.
Tuesday May 22nd - Wolkersdorf to Lake Bohinj
Hugh started the driving and got us round Vienna which was a little jammed. Driving south was only on normal roads but was quite interesting and pretty. We stopped at Lake Bled in Slovenia, for lunch. The walk around the lake took us about an hour and a half. Then off to Lake Bohinj and the Stare Penzion where we will stay for 4 nights. There was a minor tantrum en route concerning a certain peerson's inability to appreciate the differences between left and right. The travel committee have instructed map readers to issue hand signals to clarify directions.
The pension is a bit like a ski chalet. We have a room without a television
but with a small bathrooom. The Whitelocks have the penthouse suite
- a room larger than ours but with a sloping ceiling.
It’s very hot. The evening meal was eaten outside. It was excellent although it was preceeded by being ripped off by the owner's mother selling us the most expensive (though good) bottle of wine in the place.