Our trip to Eastern Europe

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.

Getting there

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.

Vienna

Schloss Belvedere
Schloss Belvedere

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!

Stephansdom
Stephansdom
Karlskirche
Karlskirche
Maria Theresia and Natural History Museum
Maria Theresia and Natural History Museum

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.

Hofburg
Hofburg
Statues on roof
Statues on roof
Stephansdom
Stephansdom

Getting to the Tatras

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.

Fog

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.

Stola

The Low Tatras
The Low Tatras
The fog was still down so we decided to do a walk to an old village, Stola, that was described in the notes. We enjoyed the walk but were a bit disappointed in the village. It had a nice old bell tower but most of the houses were modern and there were some rather ugly blocks of flats. We did not see any particular birds in the Nature Reserve but did see a nuthatch at the beginning of the walk and several redstarts along the way. The day was drier than our first day but the cloud was still down on the mountains.

Teryho Chata

The weather was supposed to be better today but we were warned of snow showers. We decided to use the funicular and do the walk to Teryho Chata, described as the prettiest walk in our booklet. It was still quite foggy when we started but occasional glimpses of blue sky gave us some hope and we could see some tops. We crossed a dramatic waterfall with the aid of a chain, about which Camilla was distinctly wary as we would have to cross again on the way back and it was not going to get any easier. We climbed steeply up to the hut and the lakes which it overlooks. The final part was enlivened by snow and wind. We succumbed to temptation and indulged in gluhwein at the hut. (The hut is kept supplied by porters who carry enormous loads on their backs.) The weather improved for our downward route.
Outside Teryho Chata
Outside Teryho Chata
Beside Teryho Chata
Beside Teryho Chata
Lake by Teryho Chata
Lake by Teryho Chata
Waterfall
Waterfall
The path
The path
Waterfall
Waterfall
Mountain view
Mountain view
Mountain view
Mountain view
Trumpet Gentian
Trumpet Gentian
Trees and rocks
Trees and rocks
River
River
Hat stand
Hat stand

Velke Hincovo pleso

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!

View up the valley
View up the valley
Mountain view
Mountain view
Tree covered slopes
Tree covered slopes
Man with pipe
Man with pipe
Porter and Direction Tree
Porter and Direction Tree
On our way up
On our way up
Stream
Stream
Mountain view
Mountain view
Scree slope
Scree slope

Ostrva

Mountain view
Mountain view

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.

Poprad river
Poprad river
River and mountains
River and mountains
River
River
Chapel at Symbolic Cemetry
Chapel at Symbolic Cemetry
Reflection in Popradské Pleso
Reflection in Popradské Pleso
Reflection in Popradské Pleso
Reflection in Popradské Pleso
Looking down at Popradské Pleso
Looking down at Popradské Pleso
View on our way up
View on our way up
View of Popradské Pleso
View of Popradské Pleso
Cairns near the top
Cairns near the top
On the summit of Ostrva
On the summit of Ostrva
Mountain view
Mountain view
Mountain view
Mountain view
Clouds and Mountain View
Clouds and Mountain View
On the way down
On the way down

Zbjonícka Chata

Mountain view
Mountain view

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.

Mountain view
Mountain view
Mountain view
Mountain view
Mountain view
Mountain view
Scree slope
Scree slope
Bridge
Bridge
Green lake
Green lake
Path going by a lake
Path going by a lake
Mountain view
Mountain view
Hat stand
Hat stand
Lake
Lake
Lake beyond Zbjonícka Chata
Lake beyond Zbjonícka Chata
Stepping stones
Stepping stones
Lake beyond Zbjonícka Chata
Lake beyond Zbjonícka Chata
Lake beyond Zbjonícka Chata
Lake beyond Zbjonícka Chata
Lake beyond Zbjonícka Chata
Lake beyond Zbjonícka Chata
Lake on the way down
Lake on the way down
Valley view
Valley view
David on a bridge
David on a bridge

Brno

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.

Svratka
Svratka
Veveří Castle
Veveří Castle
Garden train
Garden train
Bílovice nad Svitavou
Bílovice nad Svitavou
Church at Bílovice
Church at Bílovice
Main square in Brno
Main square in Brno
Mozart statue
Mozart statue
Experimental theatre
Experimental theatre
Brno Cathedral
Brno Cathedral

Prague

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.

Old town square, Prague
Old town square, Prague
Buiding statues
Buiding statues
River Vltava
River Vltava
Red squirrel
Red squirrel
Prague Castle
Prague Castle
King Wenceslas
King Wenceslas
House in old town square
House in old town square
Astronomical clock
Astronomical clock
Kafka
Kafka