Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Train to Hradeck

Goodbye Prague!
All aboard! Next stop, Hradeck Kralove.

An interesting little find in Prague.
I just love train trips in Europe!
Prague had been very kind to us, showing us why it's famous for being a beautiful city. The weather couldn't have been better to be honest - the first day was cloudy and a bit rainy, but every single day after that was sunny and warm, even warmer than Barcelona was at the time. When exploring a city, it's important to follow the tourist trail if you want to see what most people come to see, and there's a reason why these tourist attractions are popular. Who wouldn't want to see the Charles Bridge or the magical Astrological Clock in the Old Town? A bridge that is over 650 years old and has beautiful statues adorning its stone arches, and the oldest astronomical clock in the World dating back to 1410 - you don't get to see these things everyday! There is the other side of the coin however, the crowds and tourist prices and tickets to see the 'top 10 things to see and do' in a city, so you should also head off the tourist trail a little, get lost, don't look at your GPS and just explore. Don't forget to look up! On my way through the city I noticed a few artworks, some literally 'hanging' from the rooftops - men with umbrellas, one man who looked like he was hanging on for his life (or was going to jump then changed his mind), as well as a very interesting and controversial one. In a small square on the castle side of the river, there is "The Piss Sculpture," with 2 bronze figures peeing into a small pool of water, which just happens to be in the shape of the Czech Republic. Installed in 2004 outside the Franz Kafka Museum, it caused a stir immediately. The two men move mechanically at the waist, angling their junk to pee in patterns - test messages to be more precise! You can actually send your own message via text message to a number (+420 724 370 770) and have them spell-pee it out for you.
The controversial statue that lets you 'pee' a txt message./
Hold on! Street art in Prague.
Views from the train.
Sunset on the train to Hradeck.
Sadly, 3 days in a city like Prague just isn't enough, but how could it be? I missed the Jan Palach Memorial, which is in front of the National Museum. It commemorates his act of protest of the Socviet invasion in '69 by self-immolation. I only read about this after coming back, but I'm sure there is much, much more to see and do (the 'Thief's Arm' included). There is never enough time (or money) to do everything. Heading back to the train station and picking up out larger bags that we had stored in a very handy (and cheap) locker service, we boarded our train and headed towards the city of Hradec Kralove. I always enjoy train rides in Europe, and I love the shittier and dirtier the train, the better for stories and experiences (Asia has its fair share too!). This train wasn't dirty or rattly, in fact is was a delight. The trip was just under 2 hours and cheap at 100Kr (€4), so and we watched the countryside go by as the sun set. I had a local Czech guy pointing out things to watch for, old churches and nice towns, but as his English was very limited, and my Czech non-existent, I didn't get a great deal but we managed, and it was pleasant to meet someone on the train. We were greeted at the station by my friend Tereza, whom I've known since 2014, and her fiance (who have since been married!). We were immediately whisked away (on the bus) to one of their favourite pubs for a meal and a few pints. The bar was beautiful, typically Czech, with a low, wooden bar and many beers on tap. After a long day, a pleasant and filling meal accompanied by an evening ale (and some good company!) was just what the doctor ordered. Needless to say I slept well and contented, ready to get up and see the city in the morning!
Sunset in the countryside
Hradeck Kralove's main square.
The original name of one the city, which is one of the oldest settlements in the Czech Republic, was Hradec (the Castle); the Králové (of the queen) part was affixed when it became one of the dowry towns of Elisabeth Richeza of Poland (1286–1335). The decisive battle of the Austro-Prussian War took place near the city, the battle bringing an end to the need for fortifications, which were finally destroyed in 1884. Walking around town I could see where the fortifications had been, some of the walls still standing, but now topped with buildings and surrounded by gardens. Hradec straddles 2 rivers, the Elbe and Orlice, in a Y-bend with the city right in the middle, obviously serving as a natural fortification in past times, but nowadays giving the city a lovely canal to walk and a place admire to city from. We crossed the river at one of the locks and headed in to the first pub we saw to grab a beer and scope out a place for lunch later. Most Czech pubs brew their own, and this one was no exception with big, stainless steel vats behind the bar. Refreshed, we decided to head for the central square of the city and the White Tower, which I planned to climb for a view. This tower dominates the European square that it sits on - standing at 72m tall you can see why. The tower was built in 1574 and the bell installed in 1581, the 3rd largest bell in the Czech Republic - and he's called "Augustin." Although not really white anymore, it is still beautiful and worth a visit, if not to climb the stairs and read about the history of the city, but for the spectacular view. Along the way, make sure you take a look at the recently installed glass model of the tower. The main square of the city is ringed by beautiful and very colourful buildings in true Central European city style, but unfortunately slightly ruined by the large carpack in the middle of it. There was plenty of little streets to wander around and explore, beer and food stops, all without any tourists! This was wonderful, coming from the packed streets of Prague to this city was a real breath of fresh air - normal prices, quiet streets and only locals (apart from us). It was a nice break!
The town square - only spoilt by the parked cars... but at least they're all in straight lines!
The view from the White Tower.
A narwhal's horn, not a unicorn.
One of the many beautiful statues at Kuk.
We didn't have that much time here either unfortunately - such is life and holidays. We did have one more full day to spend here with Teresa, so we decided to head out of the city a bit to see Kuks Hospital. A short drive away and we were there - but the drive itself was also very nice. Mainly countryside views, a few small villages and some rather strange cow sculptures, but very nice and relaxing. Nobody else was in the carpark and when we started the tour (in Czech but very well translated by Teresa) there were only 4 other people - a nice change to the tourist hot-spots in Prague. Originally founded in 1695 as a spa, using the healing waters nearby, Kuks became a famous health spa and resort for the rich and famous at the time. The hospital held wonderful events here, such as hunting and music events, cannon salvos and evening boat parties, even wine-filled fountains during fairs. This was all on the left bank of the river, the carpark and village side, but on the other side of the river was the hospital itself and the church, built slightly between 1707 and 1715 - the left bank for pleasure and the right for business. Sadly, the hospital didn't last long, only 2 years after its owners death in 1738, and fell into disrepair, the mansion burning down in 1869 and then demolished in 1901. The building served as a nursing home for old and wounded soldiers until 1938. After the war it was used as a correctional home for young boys and then used as a nursing home again. It was bought by the Czech government in 1995, restored and opened to the public. Now everyone can stroll the gardens, take tours of the hospital and grounds, as well as see the cemetery and gardens. In front of the hospital stood large stone statutes of Fate and Beautification on one side, with the allegories of Vice and Virtues on the other. These statues are now housed inside to protect them from the elements, with remakes taking their place outdoors, and very interesting. They all represent something, from motherly love to greed, with very detailed carving and detail.
The hospital's pharmacy.
The church and hospital at Kuk, just outside of Hradek Kralove.

The original statues.
The beautiful gardens of Kuk Hospital.
After the tour and a lovely stroll through the gardens, we stopped off for a bit of refreshment. Being the Czech Republic, a lovely pint was on cards, but as well a large glass of Kofola. This very Czech drink is the number one rival of Coca-Cola and Pepsi in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It tastes a little like a cola but there's something else in it too - much like IronBru is Scotland's national drink and it's hard put a finger on the taste other than it tastes just like IronBru! We headed back home for dinner, treating Teresa and her fiancee to some Spanish tapas, including Tortilla de patates (omellette with potatoes). We only had a few days here but I loved it immensly! The small yet beautiful city had captured my heart, it's relaxing atmosphere, leafy streets and river which runs right through the centre of town. There are plenty of places to eat and drink, surrounded by lovely countryside and also very close to Prague, yet far enough away to not attract tourists. But our journey was continuing, as the next day we all got packed up into the car and headed off for Czesky Krumlov, my absolutely favourite place in the Czech Republic, and one of my favourites in Europe (up there with Annecy in Fance!).
Hradek's Cathedral and White Tower.
The Cathedral.
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UncleTravellingMatt. April 2019.

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