Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pisek, the Final Chapter

So at the end of our very lovely day of castle touring, Kelly and I caught a bus that took us to the very old city of Pisek. Kelly, being the great Czech expert that she is, had worked out all the bus times, and figured that we could take one leaving almost immediately upon our arrival, or stick around a couple hours, have dinner, and see some of the sights. Pisek is home to the oldest bridge in all of central Europe, so we agreed that taking the 8:30 bus home would work out just fine. Besides, the weather was still so perfect that it just made sense to enjoy it as long as possible.
After reconfirming bus times on the schedule in the window, and finding the right place to catch our bus, just so everything would go smoothly, we headed up to the center. Pisek is, indeed, a really lovely town. The sun was falling, and in centers that often means it's a bit difficult to get good lighting, but I did my best to capture some of the views that we were blessed to see.

Not wanting to worry about missing our bus, we didn't wander long before choosing a restaurant. After a relaxing dinner (we were both pretty happy to sit a bit after all our running about) we still had enough time to wander a bit more. Kelly had been to Pisek once before, and wanted to find the park she'd been in, so we set out in search of it, and did, indeed, find the place, as well as finding a folk festival in progress. So we watched the folk dancers for a while, then headed back for the station. I was a bit sad not to have seen the ancient bridge, but figured it would give me a reason to try coming back again some day in the future.
Now let me tell you a bit about the Czech transportation system so that you can hopefully appreciate the next bit of my story. The trains are all owned by one company. This is not exactly a good thing. It means there is no competition, so, basically, they can do what they want. The prices aren't always the greatest, and when they have delays there is nothing to do but wait, and wait, and wait. I've experienced this plenty of times, and it's definitely not the best thing. The bus system, however, is a bit more varied. You have your city buses of course, which are run by their individual cities. Then there are the CSAD buses that go all over the country. These are like the basic cheap, not very nice buses that are also connected to the train system. Then there are the Student Agency buses. These buses are...Nice! You can ride in style sitting on stuffed leather seats. They give you a free hot beverage and the option to watch a movie. They also are sometimes cheaper, but you really need to book a ticket in advance if you want to ride on one of these.
So Kelly and I arrived all tired and sweaty at the bus station only to make a rather frightening discovery. The last bus of the evening was a Student Agency bus. There were about ten or fifteen other people waiting for this bus to arrive. And on these buses, they don't allow as many people as possible to crowd in. Either you have a seat, or you don't get on the bus.
The bus was coming from a large touristy city as well, which meant, on a Saturday evening, that it was very full. As soon as the conductor got off the bus he shouted out something cheerily in Czech to the effect of, "if you have a ticket, please get on. If not, unfortunately, you have to wait and see if we have space."
The people pushed right up to the doors, depositing their luggage into the open compartment and accepting their seat numbers happily. Kelly and I waited, along with one young girl, up near the front to see if there was any possibility that we might yet squeeze on.
When the time came, the conductor looked around and after checking the seating arrangement inside came out with a smile again and said "Bohuzel..." That was definitely NOT the word we'd been hoping for. It means, "unfortunately." I must admit, I felt he was far too cheerful when using this most distressing word.
And so the big beautiful yellow bus pulled away, and Kelly and I were left with nothing. We searched for information about possible buses to other cities that might still have connections taking us back to Prague, but there was a great big NOTHING.
This was one of those times I was definitely thankful that I wasn't traveling alone. I was also thankful to be with someone else who is level headed, and also who can speak a fair amount of Czech. We turned with disappointment back toward the town, and made our way to the center once more. The good thing was that I was going to be able to see the bridge after all. There was a international folk tale festival going on, and this meant that there wasn't as much room in hotels and pensions as we had been hoping for, but after some serious walking around town, we ended up at the white rose. The man at the counter was friendly, and spoke English. It was literally the first English we'd heard from anyone besides each other since leaving Prague in the morning, and it was a relief not to have to fight to communicate. We paid more than we would have liked, but by that point we were pretty desperate, and I've definitely been living super cheaply as far as accommodations are concerned, so it probably wasn't as bad as it felt to me. Typically I stay in hostels, and don't like to pay more than $10 or $15 for a night, but this place cost about $35 each which seemed pretty steep to my way of thinking. At least there was a bed involved. And even separate beds for us both, but not in a room with strangers, which made it quite different from hostels. We were also able to take showers, even though we had only one set of clothes and no tooth brushes. (sigh) Gives a new definition to "packing light" for sure.
And so that was that. We stayed the night and got at least a bit of sleep. Not the greatest, thanks to a very hard bed, but better than wandering the streets all night. Come morning, I got up around 6:30, took a really quick refresh shower, and then headed out to take a few more photos. Okay, so for the first one I just stuck my head out the window, but it worked :)

I was really impressed with the bridge. It was really incredible to know I was standing on something so ancient. According to Wikipedia it was built sometime in the 3rd quarter of the 13th century. Yes, that's old!
I took several pictures there before heading back to a few of the places I'd enjoyed the evening before. It had been too dark to get good photos then, so I wanted to go back and try once more when there was better lighting.

I made it back to the hotel in plenty of time to enjoy the "free" breakfast. Basically, we figured since we'd already paid for it we should eat as much as we could manage :) Plus that was a good way to start the day.
We made it easily to the station for the 8:30 AM train. Not quite so many people are crowding on so early on a Sunday morning. Even though we had a Student Agency bus to contend with once again, we were able to get on, and we were soon riding on style and I had a little hot chocolate to warm me up since I still only had shorts to wear. Fortunately I didn't freeze, and by the time we got back to Prague it was actually appropriate attire.
We had a nice hike back up to Kelly's palce, where we were both thankful for real showers and a fresh change of clothes. Then I headed off to enjoy a bit of the city for the day. I'd really been looking forward to going to church, but with the bus issue, that sadly didn't happen. I did, however, get some shopping in (not that this is really any sort of church replacement mind you) and was able to sit for a couple of hours in Starbucks enjoying an ice cold Caramel Frappaccino before catching the train back to Marianske Lazne at about 4. In all, a very satisfying weekend.

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