Use ALL The Czech Railways!
I've liked trains for as long as I can remember liking anything. For much of my childhood, I could watch them go by my bedroom window. The National Railway Museum in York was within reach, and was always a delight to visit. And, of course, I had a model railway.
I've been living in the Czech Republic since 2015. When I arrived, I was pretty burned out with travel and ready for some nice quiet time at home. Come 2017, I slowly started to travel again - exclusively by train, to avoid the stress of flights and airports. In late 2017, I came across a map of the entire Czech railway network; the map is from the Czech Railway company (České dráhy).
I looked at it and thought: wow! Such a dense network, for a relatively small country. Wouldn't it be fun to travel all of it! Of course, my assumption is that this will take me a good number of years. But, with the Czech Republic my home for as long into the future as I care to think about, this feels like a great way to get to know the country - including plenty of places well off the beaten track. This page will document my progress in my mission, largely for my own record keeping and entertainment, but I figure at least somebody else will find this kind of interesting too.
It was only at the end of 2017 that I got the crazy idea of trying to travel over the entire Czech railway network. Since I had all the travel I'd done in the year readily memorable, I figured I'd mark it on the map. Here it is:
I started out with a trip to Beroun. Since that was before I had any intention of trying to cover the whole railway network, I had no idea that there are at least two different routes from Prague to Beroun. As it was, I did the same bit of line there and back. The Prague suburbs quickly slipped away, leaving views of the pretty surrounding countryside:
I wasn't expecting anything of Beroun station, and so was surprised to be greeted by a large stained glass window over the main station entrance.
Beroun is a small, but very pleasant town, to the west of Prague. It's off the regular tourist track, has a lovely Mexian restaurant, some bears (I only saw one, the other was hiding in the enclosure), and a pretty river running through it. A very nice place for a couple of nights escape.
In summer, I took the SuperCity Pendolino to Olomouc, which heads out east through Pardubice (where they brew a very tasty porter beer, by the way) and on to Česká Třebová; the latter is an important junction, since the line down to Brno branches off to the south. My train continued on east to Olomouc, where I was heading; beyond there, it was headed for Ostrava. Olomouc station offered up a large mural as its most noticeable bit of decoration:
Olomouc is known for its smelly cheese and having a large historical center. I heartily approved of both, not to mention the Moritz microbrewery just near my hotel, where I enjoyed some delicious, freshly brewed, beer and a great plate of goulasch. Here's how the main square looks:
In the summer, I travelled to Switzerland by train. My trip managed to happen exactly during the weeks when the Prague to Linz (Austria) line was partly closed, which meant the sleeper train was not running. Thus, I took the train down to Vienna, and took the sleeper train from there to Zurich. That netted me the line heading south through Brno and Břeclav - though sadly without me actually seeing anything of those places. Still, I'll count it.
On the way back, I took day trains and spent some time in Austria (St Anton turns out to be a very good place to break a journey from south Switzerland to Prague, both in terms of being "in the middle" of the trip, while also being a very pleasant town). Rather than going to Vienna, I changed at Linz. Unfortunately, the line was still out of service, so it was a bus over the border to Rybník and then the train up to Prague. Again, I didn't see the places along the way except from through the train window. Worse, the bus means I missed out on the bit of line south of Rybník!
In autumn, I headed to Plzeň, starting off from Prague's Smichov station, which is walking distance from home. That's the same station I used for heading to Beroun; indeed, the first stretch of the line is the very same as the one I took to Beroun.
Plzeň gave Pilsner beer its name, and the brewery does tours that culminate in tasting the unfiltered, unpasteurized version of the beer. For fans of both railways and beer, they can offer this wagon:
The craft beer scene also appears alive and well, with the Beer Factory microbrewery making some decidedly tasty beer that goes well with their very filling burger. Away from the food and beer, Plzeň is a very pleasant city, and this park was beautiful in autumn:
Plzeň station is a grand building, both outside:
Finally, in winter, I made a trip up to the Sweden for work reasons, taking a break in Hamburg along the way. I used the very comfortable Prague to Hamburg train for this trip; while there, I managed to snap a photo of such a service arriving into Hamburg (Czech carriages, but by this point with German locomotives):
That trip got me the line north from Prague up to the border, with Děčín being the border station on the Czech side and Bad Schandau on the German side. Again, it feels like a slight cheat in that I didn't see any of the places along the way - but it counts, and I'll be sure to vist them in the future! And that was 2017.
2018 is the first year where I knew I was going to try to cover the entire Czech railway network, and so could start to plan accordingly. I managed to cover a couple of the local lines in the Prague area, to take the secondary route from Prague to Brno, to travel two of the different routes to Germany, and to do the handful of kilometers from the Austrian boder to Rybník that I missed out on last year due to a replacement bus service being in place. Last but not least, I did the border line from Břeclav into Slovakia.
The first trip of the year was to Kladno, a town not so far from Prague. I suspect some amount of its population commute to Prague for work, given it's not much over 30 minutes trip on the fastest train/route. But on my way there, I picked the scenic route instead. That started out from Prague's Masarykovo station. It was my first visit to this station, and - with it being named for the first president of an independent Czechoslovakia - it felt fitting to visit it in 2018, 100 years since Czechoslovakia was founded. I had some moments before my train to track down the memorial to Masaryk in the station.
Translation: Praha Masaryk Station, the oldest railway station in Prague, built in the years 1844-1845, was on the 8th of March 1990 renamed for President T. G. Masaryk.
I took the train in the direction of Kralupy nad Vltavou (Kralupy upon Vltava). The comfortable "City Elephant" train runs next to the Vltava river for much of the way (views are on the right).
This wasn't a new route for me, since it's the same line that trains heading off to Dresden and Berlin follow. However, those trains pass straight through Kralupy nad Vltavou, which is where I had a connection. I had some spare minutes there to survey a collection of trains bound for assorted branch lines, before boarding the train headed for Kladno.
This, rather noisier, diesel train groaned its way along a mostly tree-lined route, many of the stops being request stops, though we seemed to stop at all of them anyway.
Little more than half an hour later, it reached Kladno město, a one-track station that lies one stop before Kladno's main station. Kladno město is, however, closer to the center. I would complete the last little bit of the line on the way home.
Penzion U Admirála was just a few minutes from the station. In fact, it was the only reasonably situated place to stay that I could find in Kladno. Thankfully, lack of competition didn't mean lack of quality: the studio room we had was spotlessly clean and modern, with a comfortable bed and a fridge and microwave - perfect for those who simply can't finish all of their Indian food and have the rest boxed for lunch the day after (we visited Namastaey Restaurant, and it was good). The owners of the penzion were lovely; the bar had a nice quiet atmosphere on the Saturday evening even though it had a fair number of folks in (it wasn't open on the Sunday or I'd have been there again), and the breakfast - which seemed to be just for the two of us on that quiet January weekend - was ample.
Kladno didn't strike me as a place that sees a great deal of tourists. There are some nicely decorated buildings around the center, especially along the pedestrianized shopping street, and its main square is pleasant. The apartment blocks that line the road towards the center had been painted in the different colors, which helped against the grey sky. I was somewhat disappointed to find that the pub of the Starokladno brewery seemed to have declared itself a private members club. The reason could be smelled from the door: being a private members club means they can allow smoking. The smoke could be seen hanging in the air. I passed. The better news was that Kladno is home to the second branch of the La Paz Mexican restaurant that my wife and I had so liked in Beroun, and this branch was indeed, just as good.
The trip home was shorter than the one there. I finished up the last 4 minutes of the line down to Kladno, and from there hopped on a train back to Prague, this time arriving into Praha-Bubny Vltavská - a temporary station that exists only because a viaduct is being reconstructed, so the trains cannot currently continue over the river. The sun was trying to come out on the way back, but it was bitterly windy - this being made all the more noticeable because the train from Kladno to Prague was delayed. That did, however, offer me chance to snap a quick photo of a retired locomotive that had been put on the display just near the station, rather than having to rush from one train to the other. Anyway, that netted me the route from Kladno to Prague through Hostivice. Not a bad start to the year.
I spent the last days of February and the first days of March visiting Brno. The quickest and most comfortable way to get from Prague to Brno is to take the RailJet, which stops at Brno on its way south to Austria. Having already done that line, I opted to take a different route, using the (still direct) train that runs via Havlíčkův Brod. Unlike the RailJet, this train starts from Smichov station, which is walking distance from home. I'd been there before, but this time took a moment to make a few photos inside.
This was also the first time that I had taken a train from Smichov station that went through the center of Prague, crossing the railway bridge not far from where I live, offering nice views along the river to Prague castle.
Just after leaving Prague main station, it was possible to catch a glimpse of the viaduct that is currently being reconstructed - the reason my train in January back from Kladno terminated at the temporary Praha-Bubny Vltavská.
The train set out along the same route that the RailJet takes as far as Kolin, before turning off to the south. I'd been somewhat disappointed that all the winter's snow so far had managed to miss Prague, and was glad to see some sprinkled across the fields and, further south, blanketing the gently rolling hills. The train ambled its way through the central Czech countryside, stopping off a range of towns, many of which I'll likely return to at some point when I get around to exploring the half-dozen branch lines in this area. The smaller towns and cities along the way gave a glimpse of a more relaxed pace of life than that encountered in Prague and Brno, a feeling I missed a few days later when being whisked between them on the RailJet back home.
I stayed in the Grand Hotel, just across the road from Brno's main station and - at least from the room I had - offering glimpses of trains coming and going from the window. The station building looked decidedly grand from the outside, the inside feeling strangely more compact and somewhat crowded.
Brno, being the second city of the Czech Republic, has no shortage of things to see, including a sizeable historical center and the Špilberk Castle, from where one has a view over all of Brno.
After my time Brno, this RailJet carried me home to Prague.
April did bring some rail travel, albeit of the international variety. The line to Berlin that I took away from the Czech Republic was familiar. On the way back, I came through Linz, and this time the full Linz - Prague line was in service without a bus replacement over the border, meaning I completed the handful of kilometers from the border to Rybník that I'd missed out on last summer.
July came with more international travel to do, this time thanks to a vacation in Switzerland. This was my first chance to try out the Czech sleeper wagon, which I soon discovered - from leftover signs - had been used as part of the City Night Line network that Deutsche Bahn used to run. Who knows, I might have ridden in that very carriage in its prior life. This sleeper compartment was rather more spacious than the double-decker sleeper carriages used on the Vienna-Zurich route. I made a few photos of the views along the route, as the evening drew in.
I was meant to come home from Switzerland in the same way, however a landslide in Austria blocked the line. There was the option to sit all night on various replacement train and bus services. That had no appeal, so after a night in a hotel just over the Austrian border, I took the RailJet across Austria as far as Linz (part of it replaced by bus around the area affected by the landslide), and then the local train from Linz to České Budějovice. This was a rather simpler train than the direct Prague to Linz ones, the opening windows providing some much needed air on a very hot summer day and also a chance to make some photos.
It would have been possible to continue on to Prague right away, but where's the fun in that? Instead, my wife and I enjoyed an evening in České Budějovice. After a week of delicious, but mild, Swiss dishes, we were ready for some spice, and were happy to find a very nice Indian restaurant, Gateway of India, which served up a very satisfying meal. We stayed at Hotel Malý Pivovar ("small brewery"), which was fine for a one night stay. While the hotel was nothing too special, the Budvarka restaurant/bar that was part of it was excellent, providing a modern and wonderfully air-conditioned environment with lovely fresh beer. I was sad not to have another night in the city to try the food. I made a few photos of the main square the following morning.
That just left the train back home to Prague, which offered a comfortable seat, but was hot, the open windows providing at least a nice breeze when the train was moving.
By late August, it was already time for yet more international travel, but I was determined to spend some time in some Czech towns as part of it. I was heading to/from Germany and there are multiple railway lines crossing the border, two of them convenient for my trip. I started my trip by taking the morning Pendolino train to Cheb. It was my first ride on one of those since visiting Olomouc last summer.
The town slopes downhill away from the railway station, first through a more modern shopping district before reaching a long, impressive, main square decked out with plants and fountains, and flanked by numerous photogenic buildings. The streets in the area around the main square were also pleasant, with what remains of the Cheb castle lying a little to the west of it. Just by the castle walls, I was surprised to find myself looking out over a park below with well-maintained gardens and artistic monuments.
The next morning, I hauled my case back up the hill to the station, and easily found the German train to Nuremberg. Within ten minutes, it crossed the border; I noticed nothing marking it.
Homeward bound, I took the Munich to Prague train, leaving it at Domažlice - the first Czech town the train stops at after crossing the border. Domažlice is a bit more distant from the border than Cheb, and the train passed through a number of other Czech stations before reaching Domažlice. Still, it was close enough that German was - as in Cheb - quite visibly the second language of the town. Domažlice is sadly one of the places that has its main station where all the important trains stop some way out of town (a 20 minute walk), and then a tiny Domažlice Město that is more conveniently located in the center.
My full day in Domažlice dawned cloudy and miserable, and it rained on and off until lunch time. It had the look of a town that would be much prettier if only the sun came out. Happily, the gloomy forecast of day-long cloud turned out to be wrong, and towards the end of the afternoon the sun appeared and lit up the colors of the buildings along the main street. I grabbed my camera and happily went to capture the city in a rather better light than I had in the morning.
I stayed at the hotel Sokolský dům, which has simple and pleasant rooms, and a restaurant that welcomed me back to the Czech Republic with a bowl of tasty garlic soup and some nice refreshing beer. The tex-mex restaurant U Kulinare provided a tasty dinner on the second day of my stay in Domažlice.
Rather than hiking it back to the main Domažlice station and picking up the Munich - Prague train, I instead took the conveniently-timed 10:30am local train from Domažlice Město to Plzeň, switching to a Prague-bound train once there. I was expecting an older train to Plzeň, but instead found myself on a shiny new RegioShark. In terms of comfort it easily beat the mainline train from Plzeň back to Prague (however, only the latter serves up cups of green tea for an amazig 10 Czech crowns!)
Finally, after 2 weeks of travel, I was back home in Prague. It turned out to be national railway day too, and while I was too tired to hang around much at the station to enjoy it, I did get to see some old carriages and locomotives from the days when it was the Czechoslovak railways!
October saw me making a trip to Budapest to catch up with a family member taking a weekend trip there. Happily, there's a very comfortable train from Prague to Budapest, and the restaurant served up some very tasty fare. This also netted me the little bit of line from Břeclav over the border into Slovakia. And that was it for 2018.