With great sunny weather and high temperatures, it seemed like summer started early this March. So, we felt like having some days off after enduring the long, bitter winter and we decided to go on a roadtrip.
There are many car rental shops around the town. We normally prefer to just walk in and handle things with cash (that’s usually the best way to negotiate the price) but here, they prefer to have their bookings done online by a third party. We found holidaycars.com to have the best prices. We didn’t take the cheapest car, but we took one that was a little bigger (a brand-new Škoda Fabia) so we’d have more space for sleeping. It cost us € 115 for 8 days (the cheapest car was about € 10 less).
An old, communist-style abandoned village called Milovice was our first destination. It was actually a little disappointing. It seemed as if the town has been renovated with new buildings, houses and even a theme park. Then, suddenly, it started raining and hailing so much that we could barely the road in front of us. We didn’t want to leave our car and we skipped Milovice and continued towards Turnov.
Turnov is located right next to Český ráj (Bohemian Paradise) and there are several sights in this area.
The first sight we visited was castle Valdštejn. The road ended in a parking lot, which, according to the signs, was paid parking. It was completely empty and there was no place to pay so we parked here and continued on foot through the forest. The castle itself was closed, but it was a nice area nonetheless. The signs indicated the next castle was a 3 km walk from castle Valdštejn. Instead, we walked back to the car and drove around the mountain to get there. The drive took longer than expected.
The next castle was called Hrubá Skála. As before, there was a pricelist on the wall but we could pass this and see the view from behind the castle. The interesting part in this area though, is not the castle. It’s the paths below the castle that were accessible through an almost hidden path behind a stall for snacks and souvenirs. Near the end of the path, the path leads through high rocks that make it look like you’re walking through a cave. We exited the rocky part in a new snow-covered world. The snow from winter was still here and the rocks sheltered us from today’s hard wind, making the temperature quite comfortable.
We headed back to Turnov to eat and to spend the night in our car. Although we left Prague when it was hot and sunny, the weather wasn’t friendly to us in the rest of the country. It started to get really cold and we couldn’t sleep. We were planning to visit Krkonoše the next day, so we started driving in that direction already so we could turn on our car heating on the way. Luckily, our car had seat warming too, which made the ride a lot more comfortable.
We arrived in Vrchlabi, a village close to the mountains of Krkonoše. It’s a very small town and at night is was almost completely abandoned. After a small walk around the town square, we parked on another parking lot not far from the center to try to sleep. In this area, there was still snow everywhere around us. Only the streets were clear of snow. The dashboard indicated a temperature of 2 °C and despite all our clothes and blankets, the cold made it impossible to fall asleep. We tried to get some rest anyway and we started the seat warmer once in a while until we moved our car to another part of town.
As we drove further towards Krkonoše, it started snowing. Further down the road, we could see the road was covered in snow already. Although the area seemed nice, we decided not to continue on these slippery roads.
We drove through snowy mountain roads. Although the roads were cleared of snow, it felt slippery at times. We saw one car that got off the road and only the roof was still sticking out of the snow. Our next stop was supposed to be České Švýcarsko (Czech Switzerland). It’s on the German border of the country, whereas Krkonoše borders Poland, but it’s still in the cold North so we decided to change our route. We headed to Karlštejn instead.
We drove through Prague on our way. Around Prague, it was still warm and sunny. It was very crowded at castle Karlštejn, with only paid parking available. We felt like it wasn’t worth it at this time and kept driving a bit further to the abandoned quarries of Mořina. There was free parking and even a bus stop to get to the quarries, so it was strange to see some “no entry” signs, but they can be ignored.
We walked all around the first quarry (Lom Velká Amerika). At times, the path was partially overgrown and we were just centimeters away from this huge hole in the ground. Below, the blue-green colors of the water were an interesting sight. The next quarry (Lom Mexiko) lies right behind the first and is a bit smaller. With a little tree-covered island in the middle, it looks a bit like an oasis between all the rocks.
The final quarry, Lom Malá Amerika, is supposedly the most beautiful but it’s also the furthest away. The area surrounding the quarries was covered in dry, yellow sand and with the burning hot sun right above us, it felt like a desert. We decided to skip the third quarry and we drove through the small, bendy roads of Karlštejn and Srbsko to get to Beroun, a small city that at least had some supermarkets and a river to sit by to relax a little. We then continued our journey towards Karlový Vary (Karlsbad).
We made a small stop at the small village of Andělská Hora. The ruins of an old castle are on top of a hill, making a good viewpoint from where you can see far in the distance. In our case, there was not much to see because the sun already set when we made it to the top.
We quickly drove through Karlsbad. Parts of it looked nice, but we were looking for a place to park for the night and the city was crowded and not very car-friendly so we ended up in a small village called Chodov before we finally were able to stop for the night.
We woke up early when it got too cold again and we drove to Loket, not far from Chodov. This village is basically a big hill with a castle on top, with a river nearly encircling the whole village. We took a stroll through the town, but only after we slept a little more. The town looks nice and almost medieval, but everything was still closed. The castle itself would only open at the start of the season in April. But, with an entrance fee of € 5.50 each, we would have skipped it anyway.
We drove to the other side of the river where we found a viewpoint with a great view of the castle and a table where we warmed ourselves in the sunlight and we prepared some morning coffee. Another, higher viewpoint of the village was on the other side of the road, next to the start of a hiking path.
Mariánské Lázně (Marienbad), famous for its fresh water springs, was our next destination. A small town, but still touristic. We found a quiet parking space at the city limit, but not far from the center. We passed some abandoned buildings and a garden before we reached the esplanade in the center.
On top of a hill, there was a viewpoint we wanted to have a look at, but unfortunately, this was part of a restaurant which was also closed for the season. Further up in the mountains, there were villas and ski lifts with many families enjoying their holidays. We ended up on the other side of the mountains, in a small village called Teplá. The town seemed dead; there were almost no people. Only the monastery next to the town had some tourists, but we arrived just before closing time. We returned to our parking space in Marienbad and had some drinks in town before we stayed for the night. Although the center of Marienbad is even more expensive than Prague, cheaper places aren’t far from the center.
Today, we headed for Šumava (the Bohemian Forest). We drove around sunny Pilsen, then toward the South, and we made a stop in drizzly Kratovy to have a look at an old church we saw and to get some coffee and fuel. From here, we followed the quiet, idyllic mountain roads toward Šumava. The mountain range lies the border with Austria and is full of forest, lakes and nature. We didn’t see much of it. Again, the main roads were clear, but everything else was still covered in snow. Even the parking lots were inaccessible. There was no place for us to even stop for a while. Once we got high up on the mountains, the forests were cleared for chalets, ski lifts and hotels. We’ve experienced summer, spring and winter in one day.
Next to Šumava lies the Lipno lake, a lake formed by the Lipno Dam. This is a popular recreational area during summer time, with a small beach and a ferry. The lake was still partially frozen and the beach sand didn’t look very inviting. There are several towns and places around the lake. The first one we had a look at, was Horní Planá. The parking lots are in the town and a long walk from the lake, but at this time of year we decided to just park in the no-parking zone next to the beach. Our second stop was Černá v Pošumaví, with a beach called Windy Point. Unlike some other places we visited today, it wasn’t windy.
We stayed in Český Krumlov for the rest of the day. We strolled through the town and walked up to the castle. This is a very popular place for “bus tourists”, people who like to come by bus in huge groups to take turns taking the same picture of the same view with different people in it, usually waving around their selfie sticks and umbrellas, so you have to be careful not to get your eyes poked out.
We wanted to have a look at a viewpoint called Křížová Hora. It was on top of a steep hill and the road turned into a narrow, muddy path. It was too steep and slippery for our car, so we had to park and walk up. There was a little chapel on top, which, although closed at this time, seemed to still be in use. There was a nice view over the town center, although trees blocked out some of the view.
We made some small stops here and there. First in Tábor, then had a quick look at the historical town square of Telč and then we arrived in Třebíč, where we only stopped to get snacks and wifi. It was already getting dark so we were hoping to find a good place to stay for the night. After previous nights, we thought it would be nice to sleep somewhere warmer so we tried to find a Couchsurfing host in Brno and we kept going towards Brno.
It was easy to get lost in Brno. It was already completely dark, but still full of traffic and every little space was already taken up by parked cars. We finally found a little place to park in Střelice, a village near Brno.
During daylight, it was a lot easier to navigate through Brno. Also, there was a lot less traffic. We arrived very early in the morning and we could stay on a supermarket’s parking lot until morning. The center was only a 3 km walk away from here, so we left the car behind and walked around the center of Brno. The center even had free wifi, so we found out a Couchsurfer was willing to host us for last night, but we didn’t have any wifi yesterday.
Our next stop: Olomouc. This place seems to be a student town and it has a nice center with a relaxed atmosphere. Like Prague, there is an astronomical clock on the city’s main square; just less popular than Prague’s clock. When we visited, it was being reconstructed. The prices are very decent here; it appears to be a nice place to live.
We drove back to Prague to stay in our own bed this time. We took the long highway from Brno to Prague where there is always some construction going on somewhere as the road is old and bumpy. For most of the way, rain was pouring down as well and it already got dark when we were there halfway. For Czech drivers, none of that seems to matter. It took us a few hours to get back.
Today, we made some quick visits to some small places around Prague.
When we already left Prague, we had to wait for oncoming traffic to take a left turn to leave the main road, so cars behind us had to wait. Someone in an expensive car didn’t feel like waiting and I saw him turning his car 360° and he ended up in the trench, crashing at least one oncoming car. Somehow, we were expecting to see some accident in our time here by the way people drive. Surely, getting a driver’s license here can’t be hard. Maybe the officials can be bribed – the people with the most expensive cars are usually the ones who seem like they haven’t had a single driving lesson in their lives. Anyway, the drivers were lucky: there was an ambulance right behind them, but everyone seemed to be unharmed. The cars were a bit worse off.
Just to be sure, we checked the car for any damage of flying debris and we continued to our first destination: Želízy, a little village North of Prague. There is a small but steep path leading up to some faces carved from stone (Čertovy hlavy) on top of a hill.
Then we drove through Kokořín. There was a castle hidden somewhere between the mountains and from the paid parking lot it would still have been a long walk. We got a glimpse of the castle somewhere along the way and decided to skip it. We stopped a bit further up the road at a place called Pokličky. A path lead up to a little viewpoint to see big rocks that have been eroded to sort of look like a table.
Via Mšeno we drove to Mladá Boleslav. It seemed like a nice town, but we parked far away from the center and we just stayed a while to eat. We made a last quick stop at Brandýs nad Labem where there was yet another castle. We didn’t stay long.
We decided to follow the river (Vltava) from Prague towards the South, just to see what we would find on the way. There was supposed to be a good viewpoint called Vyhlídka Máj, but we didn’t make the walk because of the weather – it was again cloudy and drizzly. We did stop a bit further at the castle of Konopiště. In the castle garden we came across a squirrel, a peacock and a colorful woodpecker. Also, Jiří, a lonely Himalayan long-eared bear, is locked up next to the castle, continuously walking in circles.
We then made a stop at the palace of Orlík. We parked in the town to avoid paying and walked down to the palace. Like all the other castles or palaces, it was closed, but the surroundings are more interesting than the inside of the castle so this season is a good time to visit it without having too many tourists around. The palace overlooks the river Vltava, but from here, it looks more like a lake with a beach on the other side.