We had just over a fortnight travelling ot Eastern Europe. We visited Vienna, Brno and Prague and had a week walking in the High Tatras, following routes suggested by New Experience.
We had decided to go by train. All went smoothly as far as Cologne - with an interlude of Belgian beer in Brussels. We were due to catch the night sleeper from Cologne to Vienna. This turned out to be 2.5 hours late, giving us a long and somewhat anxious wait on the platform. It did finally arrive with front coaches consisting of car trailers. The sleeper was fun, however, and we both slept well, possibly helped by the free wine, as it wended its way to Vienna.
Our hotel was near the Hauptbahnhof so easily found. Once we had checked in we walked to the Belvedere as it was fairly near and we wanted to stretch our legs. After a brief look at the building we set off to walk to the Danube canal. We then made our way to the centre and had an expensive and over salty lunch at a cafe, apparently frequented by Beethoven et al. We then acquired 48 hour tickets for the city transport and had a short rest back at our hotel. Our next stop was the Albertina gallery where we enjoyed paintings by various impressionists and by Picasso. We took our evening meal at a micropub, cheaper and better than lunch!
On our second day we started with the main museum/gallery (Kunsthisorisches) where the paintings were largely from the Renaissance era. We enjoyed seeing works of many artists from Europe from this era. Camilla preferred the portraits to the religious and classical paintings, many of the latter involving violence in some form. We had a good lunch in the Museum Quarter follwed by an excellent organic ice cream.
In the afternoon we explored the area round the Hofburg and then had a rest before finding dinner in yet another microbrewery.
This was straightforward. We spent the time we had in Bratislava obtaining registration cards for free rail travel. These were really useful on the Tatras electric railway. Although our train to Poprad Tatry was about 30 minutes late we had left enough time for the connection onto the electric railway. We got off at Stary Smokovec. Our hotel was about 15 minutes walk away (more with luggage). We later discovered that our hotel was much nearer to another station, Sibír.
We expected a cloudy morning but did not expect not to be able to see much at all. We decided to do the first walk suggested by New Experience anyway. The funicular to Hrebienok was straightforward and we found the sign for Sliezsky Dom as described. Unfortunately the direction it was pointing in was not clear so we set off following lots of people along a possible track. We were reassured that we were correct by the red and white signs and even more by crossing a blue and white track as described in the notes. (We were unable to see much more than the track due to the fog.) After walking quite a bit further and reaching a dramatic waterfall, Camilla checked her gps track and discovered we were going North rather than West! We looked at the map and discovered that the red and white track passed through Hrebienok and did not start there. In both directions it was crossed by a blue and white waymarked track at a similar distance from Hrebienok! We returned the way we had come and restarted our walk in the correct direction this time. The fog persisted all day so we were unable to appreciate the views mentioned in the notes. We did discover sweet mountain tea at Sliezsky Dom and we did enjoy the exercise.
Today started reasonably fine so we decided on a walk from Strbske Pleso going past the lake at Popradeske Pleso and then on up to a lake at Velke Hincovo Pleso. At Popradeske Pleso there were several nice wooden carvings including one of a mountain porter. On the way up David spotted an animal, some distance away, and we spent some time watching it through the binoculars before deciding it was a deer and not a mountain lion. We continued on our way, crossing two streams below an exciting waterfall on stepping stones and started the steep climb up to the higher lake. The weather deteriorated and by the time we had done the climbing the mist had come down and it was windy and snowy. We decided to turn rather than go the last little bit to the lake. We enjoyed this walk but arrived back at the hotel, after the train journey from Strbske Pleso, distinctly wet!
The forecast for today was poor the previous night but better in the morning. We decided to take the train to Popradeske Pleso and walk up to the lake from there. We could then just walk round the lake if the weather was poor. On our way up to the lake we passed a 'symbolic cemetery'. This was founded in 1930 to commemorate climbers' lives lost in the Tatra mountains. It consists of several colourful crosses, a large number of plaques recording sadly short lives and a shrine.
When we reached the lake the weather had improved sufficiently for us to take the zigzag route up to a minor summit Ostrva. This we did and thouroughly enjoyed the walk. We were very impressed by the path with its 15 zigs and 14 zags. It is very well graded taking the sting out of the climb and making the descent straightforward. The views from the path and from the top were spectacular. We saw several spotted nutcrackers, including one eating a nut.
Our last day walking in the Tatras set fair so we decided on a walk up another valley reachable from the top of the funicular. As the pictures show, this was a lovely walk and the weather was the best of the week. There were great colours in some the lakes and the mountains on both sides of the valley were spectacular.
We moved onto Brno where we enjoyed two days being shown around by our neice, Ruth. Brno is the capital of Moravia and has some of the feel of a capital city with some fine buildings and an impressive cathedral. Ruth's local knowledge of restaurants came in very handy and we visited a couple of gems. It is possible to walk from Brno, through woodland and by a river, into the countryside and we did so on both our days there. On the first we took a ferry om Lake Svratka and visited Veveří Castle.
We spent two days in Prague. We enjoyed the river with its many bridges, the cobbled streets and the many fine buildings in the old town but did find it very crowded with tourists (including ourselves!). Our favourite encounter was with a red squirrel on the way up Petřin Hill when we decided to walk up rather than cram into the funicular. We very much liked the library in the Strahov Monastery where it was wonderful to look at some old books that had been written and illustrated by hand. The Kafka statue with its layered moving parts was impressive and the astronomical clock in the old square was great fun on the hour when the statues, including a skeleton that was somehow full of character, became animated and the cock crew.