I’m a big fan of getting out of Prague to go hiking whenever possible, so when my small hiking group decided to go to the High Tatras in Slovakia I was the first to sign up. I’m glad I did!
We travelled from Prague to Poprad on the Student Agency Leo Express train. It was comfortable and quick – about seven hours each way. The service on the train was excellent with great food and snacks at even better prices. To top it off the cost was only about 700Kc return for comfort class.
After 45 minutes on the train we arrived in the mountains, Štrbské Pleso is a nice little mountain village which was quite quiet in May. It is hard not to notice the mountains everywhere.
After finding our accommodations (a very cozy tourist hotel for only 20 euros per person per night) we wandered around and then had a fantastic dinner at Furkotka (where we ended up eating every night!). Even from our rooms the view was still nice.
The next morning dawned cold (4 degrees) but clear and sunny. After a breakfast in our rooms we headed back to the train to head towards the start of our hike at Starý Smokovec. From here we headed up into the hills and valleys on our way to our destination at nearly 2000m – Zbojnícka chata. The trip started out in the trees and along the rivers….
…but quickly became snow covered…
…which made for interesting hiking…
…but left me happy!
It was worth the climb to the hut, the views were amazing and the food was very good.
The 22+ kms and elevation gain left us all a little worn out, so after a long day we returned by train to our village, had another nice meal and retired for the night.
Day two dawned wet and cloudy, but we headed out for a long traverse hike which started in Štrbské Pleso. The wet weather made for poor photos, and some of us were feeling the pain from the day before. In the end part of the group carried on to Chata pod Soliskom at over 1800 metres, while others, myself included, opted for a more leisurely stroll and time chilling at a nice cafe.
The following morning we took the train directly from Štrbské Pleso to Štrba, a much shorter and straight downhill ride, and were able to catch our Student Agency train from there.
I’ll be back, that I know for certain! It was great to be back in the mountains again!
At midnight on Monday the 6th of April I caught the Student Agency bus from Florenc. Transit time to Vienna should have been 4.5 hours, but the first bus had issues and we had to return to Prague and switch to another bus. My visa appointment was at 9:30 and I had considered taking the 3:30 am bus but, after my bus broke down, I was happy I had taken the midnight bus. The bus drops you at Stadion bus station on the U2 Bahn line in Vienna. My intention was to walk around all morning (I’ve been to Vienna twice and don’t have any need to see much more) but it was so cold that instead I went to Westbahnhof and hung out eating fresh bread, drinking tea and using the free wifi. Cost: Student Agency bus (return) 976kc plus two Bahn tickets at €2.20 each.
From Westbahnhof it is a pleasant 25 minute walk along Mariahilfer Strasse to the Embassy. There are also trams that will take you most of the way there. There are many nice shops and cafes on the way and you will also pass the Technical Museum. The entrance to the visa section is down the left side of the building.
I arrived a few moments early for my appointment and was greeted by the friendly staff who took all of my documents and my €91 (in cash, exact change required). Moments later I was invited into the office where I was asked a series of questions:
- what do I intend to do in the Czech Republic?
- how long do I intend to stay?
- how much money do I plan to earn every month?
- where do I live in Prague?
- how much is my rent?
- how many people do I share a flat with?
- do I have a Czech bank account?
- when did I first visit the Czech Republic?
- when did I arrive in the Czech Republic this time?
- when did I previously live in the Czech Republic?
At this point I also supplied copies of my previous visa and residence card. I brought up the fact that I am studying Czech and used a few well rehearsed phrases to emphasize this. Interestingly I was NOT asked what I would do if my visa was not ready by the time my 90 day Schengen limit expires on May 19th. The staff translated my statement into Czech, read it all back to me in English and then had me sign the application document. I received a stamp in my passport to show I had applied for a visa and a receipt with a reference number. The staff informed me that the process can take up to three months, but that I would likely hear from someone sooner by email. They were friendly, polite, helpful and even thanked me for being so well organized. The entire visit lasted about one hour.
When I originally booked my ticket I chose the 15:40 return bus that would get me to Prague around 20:00. Out on the street at 10:30 in the morning I was at a loss as to what to do, so I returned to Westbahnhof and used the free internet to look for an earlier bus. Student Agency allows free changes up to one hour before departure so I was able to switch to a 12:40 bus that would get my home by 17:00. This left time for a stroll, lunch at the Stadion shopping centre and then onto the bus with time to spare.
Of course there was construction on the way home and we had to take a rural detour….
…but it was a good trip and I was happy to be back home and into my bed. 10.5 hours bus travel time for a one hour meeting! And now I wait, patiently, for the email to tell me my visa is ready to be picked up. Watch for the final installment sometime soon!
Prague is a seriously beautiful city. And this is coming from a non-city person.
But if you are going to live here it is worth spending some time out of the city. Here are some places I can recommend from personal experience:
Just a short 40 minute train ride southwest from Prague will bring you to this lovely village and castle. The train ride itself is worth it as it runs along the Berounka river and through other small villages. You can catch the train either from Prague Main Station (Hlavni Nadrazi) or from Smichovske Nadrazi in Prague 5. The train runs about every 30 minutes but check schedules on Jizdnirady.cz.
Another lovely area not far from Prague is Český ráj. Easily reached in a couple of hours by train, start your hike in Malá Skála where you can also find some nice cafes and restaurants. The hike through the cliffs, rocks and forests is lovely and you can happily spend the day there.
Even closer to Prague, mere minutes from Opatov metro station, you will find the village of Průhonice and Průhonice Park. If you are looking for a quick escape from the city this area will satisfy you. The park is very green and has a diverse collection of flowers. There is a very modest entry fee of 50Kc.
If you aren’t sure where to go or how to get there, consider joining a group. Meetup.com has many groups including Foreigners in Prague United who organize hiking trips in various beautiful places. The group sizes are manageable and you will get to meet people from all over the world as well as some locals.
Have fun out there!