27 July, 2007

Roundabout way to Karlstejn Castle

None too eager to shell out 950CZK ($47) for a half-day excursion to visit Karlstejn Castle, I decided to simply do it on my own. That way, I didn't have to be rushed nor comform to a group's schedule. After all, Karlstejn Castle was only a 45-minute ride from Praha's main train station, Hlavni Nadrazi, costing 61CZK ($3) round-trip, and coupled with the hour-long guided tour of the castle's interiors priced at 220CZK ($11), you really had to be sucker (or timid tourist) to take a guided bus excursion from Praha. I waited at the platform for the train to arrive, somewhat puzzled at the lack of other tourists going to Karlstejn, as I had heard that it could get quite mobbed during summer. Finally the train came, and I hopped onboard along with two other people after seemingly all the train's passengers disembarked.

After a few minutes, the train stopped at the next station (Smichov), and everyone in my car filed to get out. Now I got that sinking feeling in my stomach and was thinking, "Uh oh, something's not right". As if in answer to my suspicions, the stern-faced conductor burst through the doors, and spotting me still seated, practically bellowed at me to get out (I deduced this from his tone and body language). My futile attempts (where's that damned phrasebook when you needed it?) to ask if the train continued to Karlstejn were met with a firm shake of the head and repeated declarations of "Informace! (Information)", accompanied by an outstretched arm pointing upstairs. I hurried up the stairs, and unable to find any semblance of an information booth, stopped to ponder my plan of action. Should I just give up the idea of visiting Karlstejn and explore more of Praha instead? No! That would be a cop-out, and I'd hate to miss out just because of some stupid train mix-up. Eventually, I realized that Smichov was also a metro stop, thus I could retrace my way back to Hlavi Nadrazi and figure out the correct train to Karlstejn Castle. Voila!

So, back at Hlavi Nadravi, looking more intently this time at the Departures board, I recalled that the Lonely Planet (which I left at the hostel) instructed to take the trains going to Beroun and stopping on the way at Karlstejn. Bad news was I had almost an hour to kill at the dismal station till the next one came, so I used the washroom (5CZK!!!), bought an English newspaper and ice cream, settled on a chair and tried hard to ignore the smelly homeless-looking guy seated on my right whose attempt to strike up a conversation I rebuffed with a shrug and "Nemluvim cesky (I don't speak Czech)". What else could I have said anyway? :-D

Anyway, this time I got the train right and sat amidst a group of ten lively university students (the girls were cute and I marveled at how they could pull off the disheveled hair look) from Madrid. The castle is about a ten minute walk from the station, with the last part a really steep hike. Although the interiors were fairly so-so, the views from the castle of the surrounding countryside were spectacular. I spent a bit of time in town souvenir-shopping (didn't buy anything) and a late lunch of mixed grilled sausages (enough with the traditional Czech food). It took a circuitous route and a little longer than expected to get there, but the afternoon was well worth the adventure.

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