Saturday, October 31, 2015

A Day Trip to Kutná Hora

While in Prague, my wife and I decided to take a day trip to visit Kutná Hora. We had considered several options, including Cesky Krumlov, the Terezin concentration camp, and of course Kutná Hora. Cesky Krumlov looks lovely but it's a 2.5 hour trip in a bus each way and that doesn't leave a lot of time to actually sightsee if you're only going for a day. The Terezin concentration camp was a possibility but we were drawn to Kutná Hora for the weird "bone church" (Sedlec ossuary, see below) and the town itself.

Early on October 2 we walked from our hotel to the main Prague train station ("hlavní nádraží") and took a train to Kutná Hora. When you buy your ticket in Prague, you can get a ticket to the Kutná Hora main train station, but I don't advise this. The train station is a few kilometres from the town itself so it is not a practical walk. You can buy a ticket for Kutná Hora město ("town") which includes a transfer to a local train to take you to the town itself. The ticket is about Cdn $6/person one way, and the ride takes about an hour.

Diesel at Kutná Hora station
The transfer between trains at the main train station in Kutná Hora is quite quick, so don't dawdle like I did to take a photo! I saw this diesel switcher and had to grab a quick shot, but we very nearly missed the transfer to the local train. My wife was not impressed, and neither was the conductor of the local train! At least the picture turned out.

The local train is a little two car affair, and I'll provide a photo later. We chose to get off at the Sedlec suburb rather than ride the train right into town. The ossuary is there so we decided to get that first. There is also a large cathedral in Sedlec with the unwieldy name of  the Church of the Assumption of Our Lady and Saint John the Baptist. It's impressive and important enough to earn a UNESCO designation. I checked it out briefly but we were chiefly interested in the ossuary.

What to say about this place? It's weird and creepy and interesting. The ossuary is located beneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints ("Hřbitovní kostel Všech Svatých") and contains the bones of between 40,000 and 70,000 people. Many of these bones have been artistically arranged in the 1500s and it has become a huge tourist draw.

Here are a few photos. If you google Kutná Hora bone church you will see many more.

So weird.

There's a city bus that runs from the Sedlec suburb into the old town. It's quite inexpensive but a tad slow, but we took it anyway. We got off near the giant St. Barbara's Church and visited that, then walked through the old town and had lunch at the excellent Restaurant Dačický.

The local train was due to leave at 4:45 PM so we wandered over to the station area to wait for it. I took a photo of a crossing just to show the crossing signal.

Pozor vlak = "attention train".

I'm honestly not sure what the different light colours mean, as I never saw it operate.

I took a photo from the crossing to document the yard and area - see below. There are a few details visible in the photo.

Kutná Hora train yard
The station is visible in the centre. You can see a dwarf signal on the right, and a few tracks.

The train station itself looks fairly impressive, but in reality the passengers seem to see only a small part of it.

Kutná Hora train station exterior

Kutná Hora train station interior
While waiting, I took some photos of the area. There is a nice looking building - maybe an engine house? - opposite the station.
Kutná Hora engine house?
I wish I had had time to go peer in the windows.

There was some very old railway equipment nearby too. I was wondering if they were being collected for a museum display or something. They didn't look operational at all.
Locomotive in Kutná Hora

Old railway equipment in Kutná Hora
Our cute little train arrived, right on time.
Kutná Hora local train
Everyone hopped on board and we rattled our way back to the main station outside town. From there we walked under the tracks to the platform to wait for the train to Prague.
Waiting for the train in Kutná Hora
A train to Brno came by while we were waiting. Soon our train came and we boarded and headed back to Prague. I had a little GPS app in my phone that I used to clock our top speed. Pretty impressive for a local train!

The app is pretty cool.

On the way I snapped this photo of a train in the Praha Liben train station, a suburban station I believe.

Once we arrived at the main Prague station, I took a photo of our train and a photo of the train station itself.
Our train at the Prague train station
 Like many European train stations, the train shed is pretty open and airy.

Train shed of the Prague train station
That was our day visiting Kutná Hora by train!

Next up, I spent a morning railfanning the Prague train station.

Previous posts in the series:

Next post in the series

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Trams of Prague

After failing to document Vienna's trams very well, I resolved to do better in Prague. A railfan's work is never done.

Prague has over 140 km of track, with over 900 trams running 21 daytime and 9 nighttime routes for a route total of 518 km. It's a busy system.

The first horse-drawn tram ran in Prague in 1875 and the first electric tram ran in 1891.

The traditional supplier of trams for Prague was ČKD Tatra, a company that no longer exists post-Velvet Revolution. The most modern trams in the Prague fleet are produced by Škoda.

Tatra T3

The oldest regularly operating trams in Prague are Tatra T3s. Almost 14,000 of these were produced worldwide and over 500 still operate in Prague.
Tram 7152 in Prague
I did see a lot of the T3s around.

Tram 8278, a T3R.PLF tram in Prague

Tatra T6A5

Prague has over 100 T6A5 trams, which look a lot like T3s but more angular.
Tram 9066 with the Prague castle in the background

Tram 8719 passing an older tram by the National Museum in Prague

Škoda 15 T

The Škoda 15 T are the most modern trams in Prague, built from 2009 onward. Some of the newer trams are supposed to have wifi and air conditioning.
Tram 9308 in Prague

Tram 9341, a modern Škoda 15 T

Prague tram 9254 in a tight spot
I really enjoyed seeing and riding the Prague trams. They are pretty comfortable and fun to ride. Tram 22 is probably the most popular tourist tram as it takes you up to the Prague castle complex, a must-see if you are in Prague.

Prague tram 8400 negotiating a tight space
Next up, a day trip to the town of Kutna Hora and then a morning of dedicated railfanning at the main train station in Prague!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

On To The Czech Republic

After touring Vienna for six days (and a side trip to Salzburg), it was time to move on to Prague in the Czech Republic.

Before leaving Vienna, I discovered the Carl Hilpert toy store near Stephansdom. Check out the trains! The entire top floor is trains, mostly European models but I did see a SOO engine and a few American ones. It was pretty spendy and I didn't buy anything, but it was fun to tour it.

Bright and early on September 29, we headed to the Wien Hauptbahnhof to catch our Railjet to Prague.

There were a lot of trains departing!

We had quite a wait so I had a long time to wander around and photograph trains... I was OK with that.

A two unit diesel powered train
A Bombardier Talent trainset
CityShuttle 8073 011-3... pushed by an electric locomotive on the other end
An ÖBB 1063 pushing some passenger cars.
Nose to nose - two Talent sets coupled together

Our Railjet arrived and we boarded. We had paid extra to choose our seats so we were able to sit together. It was quite comfortable but unfortunately had no wifi. I visited the snack bar in the neighbouring car to get a little snack.

I used an offline English-Czech dictionary app to translate a few words here and there while we were in the Czech Republic. This chip bag says "lightly salted".

We soon left Austria and entered the Czech Republic. Since we were in the Schengen Area, there was no passport check or any notice at all that we were passing into the Czech Republic.

The train looks much like an airplane.

There were lots of trains to see on the way. Here's a sampling of some that I saw from the train.
Česká Třebová station

An LTE Group locomotive - no idea what kind but it's pretty cool!

This was our top speed - 160 km/hr or 100 MPH
Hey look, a grain elevator!

Even some grain cars on a siding... complete with graffiti. I felt like I was home again!
Transcereales grain cars

České dráhy series 163 locomotive #061-5, made by Škoda and capable of 120 km/hr operation

The Škoda CityElefant class 471 electric multiple unit train

The Brno passenger station
We arrived at the Praha Hlavní Nádraží (Prague main train station). The engineer spotted the train just right for this photo.
We collected our bags (stored in the same car that we were in) and headed out into Prague to begin the second half of our vacation.

Next up - Trams of Prague!

Also, have a look at this slideshow of Czech locomotives.

Monday, October 12, 2015

A Day Trip to Salzburg

After noodling around in Vienna for a few days, we took a day trip to Salzburg. Trains to Salzburg leave from the Wien Westbahnhof. This is a major train station, with trains to Salzburg, Munich, Frankfurt, Zurich, Moscow, Budapest, Bucharest, and Belgrade... I've visited or lived in four of those cities!

We walked to the Stephansplatz station and took the U3 subway to Westbahnhof. 
U-Bahn interior in Vienna

The station was quite busy and there appeared to be a lot of Syrian refugees around. They were trying to get to Germany but the border between Austria and Germany had been closed to refugees for a few days, so they were in Austria trying to find a way to continue on.

I can't say a whole lot about the Syrian refugee crisis, except that it's terrible that so many people have been displaced because of the civil war and the ISIS situation. Europe is being profoundly disrupted by the refugee influx. We were a bit concerned about how it might affect our vacation, but fortunately it was not an issue for us. I met an American family in Salzburg that were trying to get to Munich to fly home, but had been turned back, along with a train load of refugees, when the border was closed.

We had decided to take the WESTbahn train to Salzburg. There are ÖBB trains as well, but the WESTbahn train is more comfortable and has free wifi!

Our train wasn't in the station when we arrived, so I wandered around photographing the trains that were there.
The ÖBB 4020 class (3 car electrical multiple unit) is used on regional rail routes

The Railjet, the premiere ÖBB train type

City Shuttle double-decker cars with a weasel icon
Our WESTbahn train arrived and we boarded. You buy your ticket on the train and we used our credit card. As we rolled out of the station I took some photos out the window with my iPhone. The quality was... meh.
An ÖBB diesel!

I liked the look of this locomotive with the Austrian flag colours
As I mentioned in my last post, the rolling stock is quite different in Austria (and Europe in general).

After a while, I switched to my Canon camera to get better quality. It was still challenging because I was not on the sun side, and there really wasn't any sun anyway.

Open autoracks... no longer in North America!

The Salzburg Roundhouse

Entering Salzburg, we passed the roundhouse in the yard. Fortunately I was on the correct side of the train to catch a glimpse of it.
Salzburg's roundhouse in the distance on the left

Looking into the Salzburg roundhouse

The roundhouse is quite large - I count 16 stalls from the Google satellite view.


After we disembarked at the Salzburg train station, I took a photo of our WESTbahn train.
WESTbahn train in Salzburg
These trains are Stadler "KISS" (komfortabler innovativer spurtstarker S-Bahn-Zug) bilevel trains consisting of 6 coaches, capable of travel up to 200 km/hr. You can take a virtual tour of the train. They are very comfortable and the wifi worked well.

If you're any kind of The Sound of Music fan, you may know that some parts of the film were shot in Salzburg. There are many themed tours of the town's different shooting locales. We're not really "tour people" so we didn't take any of those, but we did go see the fountain from the latter half of the Do-Re-Mi song.

From the movie
Our photo
We wandered around the town for a while. There was some kind of festival going on, the Salzburger Rupertikirtag. This commemorates the consecration of the first Salzburg cathedral on September 24, 774 - yes, 774. There was a midway set up with rides, lots of people were wearing lederhosen and dirndl, and there were a lot of booths selling food and knickknacks. I bought a hat!

A very fine hat, I might add
It's a lovely city.
It came time to walk back to the train station and head back to Vienna. Outside the train station, the Red Cross had set up aid stations for the refugees.
Red Cross aid for Syrian refugees in Salzburg
A section of the train station was barricaded off by a line of military personnel, presumably to contain the refugees in one area while they waited to continue to their final destination.

We boarded our train, ready to head back to Vienna.
The WESTbahn ready to leave Salzburg

Here's the head end of the train in Salzburg:
Ready to roll!
It grew dark very soon after we started for Vienna, so I took no more pictures that night.

Thanks for coming along with our day trip to Salzburg, Austria. Next up, traveling to the Czech Republic by train!