Sunday 3 July 2016

Pilsen to Karlovy Vary, and onwards into Germany

The main square in Pilsen

Czech Republic and Germany, 27th – 30th June 2016

It feels strange to think that our trip is nearly coming to an end.  Here we are less than a day’s drive from the English Channel parked by a riverside in Germany, the country that we first stayed in back in April 2015 when we had just set out with no return ferry booked.  We still have no return ferry booked now so I suppose some things don’t change, but we will be booking one soon as we plan to be home before the British school holidays hit full swing.  The last time we posted we were in the Czech Republic having visited Prague, but before we left the country for here there were still a couple more places we wanted to see, starting with Pilsen.

Pilsen Theatre
Our pitch at Autocamp Ostence
Pilsen (or Plzen in Czech) is the second largest city in Bohemia after Prague, and last year earned the title of European Capital of Culture 2015.  Founded at the end of the 13th century it has seen architectural styles come and go, and in the main square a large Gothic cathedral stands proudly in front of a Renaissance Radnice (town hall) and a Baroque column.  Industry wise it is the home of two important Czech brands, with Pilsner Urquell (the world’s first pilsner beer) and Skoda both originating here.

For camping, we found two campsites on our database with one being closed down, which means that Autocamp Ostence (GPS: 49.77796 13.39331, 360Kc, Serv. pt. extra, Free WiFi at reception) to the north currently holds a monopoly market.  Thankfully it’s a fairly pleasant campsite overlooking Lake Bolevák, and you can get into town fairly easily either by a bus/tram combination or by cycling.  We opted for the latter which was a flat 6km journey with the only downside being a lack of cycle parking in the city centre, although luckily there was a rack for two cycles just outside the tourist office.

As well as the different styles of buildings in the main square, on the nearby streets there is also a large Jewish synagogue, several gardens and a theatre, which on the day of our visit just so happened to be performing a show about Robin Hood; they must have known where I’d come from.  It’s a much quieter more laid-back place after seeing Prague, and the restaurant terraces were more populated with locals than tourists.  If you’re really into your beer there is a beer museum and the Pilsner brewery is available for public visits; I was much more interesting in drinking the stuff than learning about it, and we looked around in hope of some Czech drinks and food.  We found a restaurant offering Pilsner Goulash on the menu so I finally got to tick consumption of Beef Goulash and dumplings off the list.  Pricewise, two mains, a side, two desserts and two beers came to the equivalent of €17; I don’t know how we’re going to adjust to UK prices when we return.

The Town Hall and the Baroque Pillar
Our Czech feast, slandered by the addition of chips
Dining out isn’t the only thing that’s cheap as the fuel prices in the Czech Republic are very reasonable, and the lowest we found was on our way out of Pilsen where diesel was the equivalent of €0.99/L and LPG €0.39/L.  We filled up and carried on to Karlovy Vary, a thermal spa town east of Prague, where we stayed in our first (and last) freeparking spot in the Czech Republic (GPS: 50.23015 12.88190), a car park mainly used for local storage of coaches and taxis.

After seeing the rest of the Czech Republic, Karlovy Vary (sometimes known by its German name Carlsbad) felt very strange and alien.  Due to the thermal springs it’s very much an upmarket tourist town that was traditionally popular with Russian aristocracy.  The springs have several free drinking fountains where you can sample it at various different temperatures, and the water is cited to have various healing effects for everything from digestive disorders and gout to preventing neurological issues, post-surgery complications and ‘civilization diseases’ – or so the pamphlet from tourist information tells me.  Many of the well-dressed spa customers were wandering the town drinking the water from odd-shaped porcelain cups with drinking spouts, a bit like sippy cups for adults.  We didn’t invest in the cups but did sample the water.  Maybe it does have health benefits, maybe it doesn’t, but either way it’s not enough to convince us to keep drinking something which tastes like sour, chalky bathwater.

We wandered by the grand buildings that looked out over the river, where it seemed that at least half of the shops were either jewellery shops or currency exchange offices.  An advertisement for a beer spa offered unlimited beer consumption, where it appeared you could have a beer bath and then lie in a bed of uncomfortable looking straw.  I suppose someone must find this an enjoyable experience, but perhaps it would be cheaper to have a few drinks with a farmer and then sleep in a barn?

We were about to cross over into Germany, so we used up the last of our Czech korunas making sure we had sufficient levels of fuel; beer for us and diesel for the van.  We had a day getting lots of travelling in to get a little closer to home, so the German motorways were very much appreciated as with our steady 90km/h cruising we were getting fuel economy of 32mpg on the van computer.  There were lots of roadworks sections where it didn’t look like much work was being done, but unlike the M1 back home somehow Germany manages it without making you want to tear your hair out.

Our first stopover was at a free stellplatz in Eltmann (GPS: 49.97275 10.66074, Service point extra) which was very busy with German vans, immediately reminding us that we’re back into main motorhoming territory.  As a town there wasn’t much to see so we found most of our entertainment by testing the outdoor gym equipment along the riverfront, where we established that tightrope-walking is not one of my natural talents and I’ll have to find something else to do should I ever choose to run away to the circus.  However, I’d assumed it would be fairly impossible to find a free riverside stellplatz in a country that’s so densely populated with motorhomes, so I have to give Eltmann credit for that much at least.

We were heading towards the Rhein (or Rhine in English) and Mosel (Moselle) rivers, so we continued west past Frunkfurt, calling in at a McDonalds for lunch and WiFi.  It’s a bit more difficult registering SIM cards in Germany if you don’t have a German address (although we’ve since heard from Julie at OurTour that they managed it by getting a phone shop to use the phone shop’s address, so it can be done if you find a willing shop) and unsecured WiFi networks are more difficult to come by.  For our shorter stay we decided we’d rely on the occasional McDonalds visit and limited use of roaming data.  After getting a blog posted we managed to get in touch with friends Colin and Ro who we met last year at Bucharest in Romania who were travelling along the Mosel, and after finding our paths were about to cross made plans to meet around Koblenz the next day.

We got more miles under our belt until we eventually joined the road that follows the eastern side of the Rhein river, stopping at the first stellplatz we found at Eltville am Rhein.  The parking was already full but there was a service point, so we forked out €1 to fill our water tank for the first time in 9 days, a new record for us (but mainly due to having access to campsite showers and washing facilities).  Unfortunately there was no drive-over drain so we were carrying around a lot of excess weight, but at least we didn’t need fear our shower running out mid-lather in the morning.  We moved to the next place along for motorhome parking at Oestrich-Winkel, where there is a designated row of bays near a sports centre (GPS: 50.00479 7.99886, Free).  After a long day of driving we didn’t do much beyond reheating some leftover soup and watching telly, so our explorations of the Rhein were left for the following day.

- Jo

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