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Off for the weekend

by Katia Sand on February 25, 2013 · 0 comments

Away from Prague, the Czech Republic opens into beautiful hills and sweeping fields dissected by streams and rivers. Moravia, the southeast corner of the country, is known not only for the natural beauty of its highlands, but also as a hub of traditional Czech culture and especially music, full of folk songs, cimbaloms, and dancing.

Apparently, going away for the weekend is very typical in Prague. After succeeding in acquiring a roof over our heads, the first order of business was to abandon it in favour of a weekend in Moravia to celebrate my boyfriend’s mother Zuzka’s birthday.

Having in the past only narrowly survived experiences of hurtling down winding Czech country roads at breakneck speed, accelerating alarmingly close to cars ahead and clinging on to the “Jesus handles” for dear life while overtaking at the last minute, I looked forward to what winter weather conditions might add to the whole adventure. Unfortunately, dark, wet roads and fog have no noticeable effect on Zuzka’s speed or willingness to use her mirrors.

Nevertheless, we arrived safely and I gratefully extricated myself from the vehicle of doom.

We stayed in a large inn in Rožnov pod Radhoštěm called Koliba Pod Horů, where the food, a robust supply of various cuts of meat, dumplings and potatoes, tastes fantastic and, of course, the beer flows ceaselessly. The nightly entertainment started shortly after we arrived in the form of a cimbalom band led by Jaroslav, the inn owner and feted cimbalom player, whereupon tables were pushed aside to make a dance floor instantly filled with merry customers. Here apparently, where co Čech, to muzikant (every Czech is a musician), no one is burdened by the panic and inexplicable lack of rhythm that accompanies most British men when faced with the prospect of moving in time to music. Unfortunately no one aside from the musicians was wearing traditional costumes, but, according to Jaroslav, summer months see them on full display.

Daytime activities in Rožnov are plentiful. Even in the grip of a slushy winter in the run-up to Christmas, the Moravian-Silesian Beskydy Mountains form a beautiful backdrop to the spidery woods along the banks of the Rožnovská Bečva river. What now constitutes most of the town of Rožnov (pop. ± 17,000) is not particularly scenic. However, its mediaeval history is exhibited in the museum vivum the Wallachian Open Air Museum, where we wandered around a reconstructed mediaeval village, complete with furnished houses, shops and a hospoda, and watched a traditional wood-carver make exquisite and more or less useless trinkets it was almost impossible to resist purchasing.

Zuzka told us about a nearby world-famous candle shop so, quelling my doubts about how an international candle exporter came to be based in a small town in Moravia, we sallied forth to check it out. Unipar is amazing. We were greeted by a giant advent wreath in the courtyard, and the shop itself felt like candle heaven, with candles of all different shapes and sizes, some scented, some patterned, some fantastically shaped. I think Kuba was a little alarmed by the total our candle purchase came to, but it was a major sacrifice to dissuade myself from buying one of everything. The owner invited us upstairs to see next year’s collection and showed us candles destined for various 5 star hotels in the Middle East, spas and wellness centres all over Europe and America, promotional candles in the shape of beer bottles and Christmas candles that made me want to throw fire hazard caution to the wind and risk blowing up our new flat in order to light every single one of them.

We walked back to the inn along the river, parts of which were frozen and picturesque, and debated going to the Christmas market so that Kuba could indulge his hot wine addiction, until we saw the hordes of people queuing outside the entrance. Instead we ploughed home through the snow. Or rather, Kuba walked lightly while I struggled to lift my booted feet out of the slush without crashing to the ground on a covered sheet of ice. The ordeal lasted about 45 minutes. For someone who prefers sport to be practiced on a yoga mat in the warmth of a heated gym, the whole thing was a bit much. High time to warm up in a spa.

Nearby Hotel Eroplan has a beautiful wellness centre, complete with Jacuzzi, 100 degree Finnish sauna, steam room, infra sauna, freezing outdoor terrace to cool down and resting room with massage chairs. There is also, rather bizarrely, an exercise bike in the corner of the resting room. No thanks; I’ll take the hot tub! I am not yet totally accustomed to parading between sauna and steam room in the buff alongside total strangers of both sexes, but it is the done thing so doing my best to put my western prudishness aside we settled in to relax and enjoy. After all, with another car trip with Zuzka ahead of me tomorrow, I needed all the relaxation I could muster!

Advent wreath at the Unipar candle factory in Rožnov pod Radhoštěm
Photo by Katia Sand

 

Katia is a Belgian native who studied in Scotland and went to work in America, where she met her Czech boyfriend. In September 2012 she moved to Prague to live with him and is quickly falling in love with the city as well. Her passions are travel and adventure and reading and writing about them!

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Jeff and I tried the new Czech train service called RegioJet. It is operated by Student Agency, a company that started back in 1996 as an au-pair agency, became a successful national and international bus operator and is now the largest travel agency in the Czech Republic. It has distinguished itself on the Czech market by providing a high quality of service at affordable prices. The company’s first staple, introduced in 2004, was its “yellow bus” service operating between Prague and Brno and quickly spreading to other Czech and European cities. Student Agency set a new level of bus travel experience in the Czech Republic, combining low prices with unprecedented service on board.

The introduction of the RegioJet train service on September 26, 2011 ended the monopoly of Czech Railways. Without even realizing it, Jeff and I had been waiting for something like this for years. We like train travel and the type of train we have used most frequently is the good old rychlík (express). We find a peculiar sort of comfort in the tired, squeaky rychlíks with their sagging seats, overheated compartments, non-working windows (and sometimes doors) and emergency-use lavatories. Czech Railways also operate newer, good quality trains, such as the IC and Pendolino. For comparison purposes, there is not much added service on the IC, and the Pendolino is not an option for us because it does not cover the route we need. We don’t take the train often enough to benefit from any of Czech Railways’ customer discount options, so we’ve either paid full fare or, if we thought we’d use up 2,000 kilometers in six months, bought the prepaid kilometrická banka.

We were curious to try the new RegioJet service. I read through the website at regiojet.cz and called the help line with additional questions, which were answered politely and with patience. I set up an online account and put some credit in it. Then I booked our trip. My ticket was emailed to me but I knew I didn’t need to print it out. All I needed for the trip was my 10-digit account number for the stewardess to look up on the train and see the details of my reservation.

Our first trip with RegioJet was almost delightful. The fresh looking yellow train was clean and quiet. The young staff was pleasant and smiley. There was no mad rush getting onto the train because every passenger had a seat reservation, which is compulsory, but free. Hence, no scrambling for seats and no crowded aisles. The seats were firm, spacious, and comfortable. Our stewardess gave us each a small complimentary bottle of water and offered free newspapers and magazines for the trip. We flipped through a rather extensive menu containing, in my opinion, ridiculously low priced refreshments that included free coffee and tea. We ordered some croissant sandwiches and enjoyed them. There were electrical outlets and free WiFi in the compartment. The lavatory was clean, softly scented, with music playing and a flower in a little vase sitting on the sink. The trip was smooth and fast. The fastest I’ve ever experienced it, also owing to the fact that the train barely stopped along the way. We were helped with our luggage upon arrival. Our tickets cost 152 CZK each, compared to 206 CZK we used to pay for a 2nd class trip with České dráhy. Actually, we usually paid 309 CZK per ticket to enjoy a little more space and privacy in a 1st class compartment.

Now on to the two cons of RegioJet I can think of. There were only three trains a day running at the time of our trip, so we were not able to get tickets for our preferred date because the train was fully booked a week in advance. This should improve once more trains are put into service. Nine trains a day should be running starting in December. My other complaint has to do with a little glitch when boarding in Prague. Since Jeff and I are not used to having to remember or write down seat numbers before a train trip, we forgot to do that and only realized at the platform that we had no idea which car to board and what our seats were. Contrary to what is stated on the RegioJet website, we did not get any assistance from the staff when boarding the train in Prague. Not even when we were finally able to catch a stewardess and explain our problem to her. She didn’t have time to deal with us then. We were told to get on any car and wait for help. Which we did, blocking the aisle with our luggage for several minutes while other passengers tried to get by. A note to self: make sure you know your seat numbers next time. A note to RegioJet: A little more time to board at the start of the trip would be appreciated.

Let’s see how things pan out in the coming months. Czech Railways seem to be trying desperately to match RegioJet’s prices and services. I look forward to traveling with RegioJet again soon and have put more credit in my account.

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