Waited until the morning of our departure from Wien-Vienna, Austria to U-bahn across the city and buy a cheap train ticket to České Budějovice, Czech Republic. Being a Saturday, the only bus tickets available were 8 hour trips going to Prague and then backtracking to České Budějovice 2.5 hours south of Prague.
Train tickets were priced from 30 to 70eur per person for a 4 to 5 hour trip. I purchased two 30eur tickets for a 12:28 departure from Franz Josefs Bahnhof to České Budějovice in 4 hours 54min. The railway station agent said, “I’ll print out the itinerary for you.” and came back with 2 sheets of paper.
Train – Bus – Train – Bus – Train
Train #1 from Franz Josefs Bahnhof, Vienna to Ziersdorf Bahnhof, Austria = 49 minutes.
Where to sit on the train to České Velenice? So many choices.
We took the large center table and in violation of Austrian rail travel etiquette, we piled our luggage on the two empty seats beside us. There were only about eight other passengers who came on the train carriage.
I looked at the electronic sign in the carriage with a different time schedule for station arrival than my itinerary printout.
Why should we follow the itinerary printout when the train station timetable showed České Velenice and an arrival time almost 30 minutes faster than the printed itinerary in my hand?
In 49 minutes we arrived at Ziersdorf Bahnhof. A train announcement in German a couple minutes before we arrived was meaningless to us, but all the passengers headed to the doors, except for two Asian tourists, who only moved when an older man said to them, “Train ends here. Get off.”
Looked like we would have to follow my printed itinerary after all. We headed to the door and looked around the Ziersdorf Bahnhof train platform. A couple of men in white shirts pointed toward the station exit and we followed the crowd of about 50 passengers walking across railroad tracks. We dragged our luggage across a set of train tracks to the parking lot where there were three large buses waiting. I showed another man my printed itinerary and he directed us to board the first bus in line. We stored are roller bags in the luggage hold of the bus and took the only available two empty seats together in front of the bus.
Bus #1 from Ziersdorf Bahnhof to Sigmundsherberg Bahnhof, Austria = 25 minutes.
We traveled through town to the highway, then to the byways as the bus made right turns and left turns onto smaller and smaller roads through the agricultural fields. I made Kelley fasten her seatbelt as I looked from my vantage point seated behind the driver to see the small road had no divider line and the road sloped in such a way that even from the elevated position of the bus driver there were spots where visibility was quite limited for oncoming traffic as we crested rolling hills and dropped back down again.
A sign promoted ‘Historic Eggenburg’. There were some gasthauses, antique shops and a high medieval wall in town that reminded me of Rome’s Aurelian Walls I walked past last month. I googled ‘Eggenburg’ to learn more about the historic wall.
Wikipedia had minimal information. I found the website TourMyCountry.com – Austria Culture and Travel with the description ‘Eggenburg – Pretty Far from Everything‘ in English. Pretty much summed it up.
After 25 minutes on the bus we reached Sigmundsherberg Bahnhof where we offloaded our luggage and boarded another train for the continuation of the journey to České Velenice.
Train #2 Sigmundsherberg, Austria to Gmünd NÖ Bahnhof = 1 hour 8 minutes.
The train arrived at Sigmundsherberg and we boarded for a 1 hour 8 minute ride to Gmünd NÖ Bahnhof on the Austria-Czech border.
I thought how the fields of Austria do not look much different than the fields of Lithuania we passed through last month on a cross-country journey from the Baltic Sea port of Klaipeda to Vilnius.
The skies darkened with storm clouds as we headed into forest lands of northern Austria.
For now I smell the rain
And with it pain
And it’s headed my way
Led Zeppelin Ramble On
Bus #2 Gmünd, Austria to České Velenice = 7 minutes.
Five of us, including the two Asian tourists, boarded a full-size bus for a 7-minute drive through the pretty border town of Gmünd, Austria. An informal border with an EU flag indicated we had crossed into Czech Republic. Seemed odd to pass by several Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants and a Chinese named shopping mall in České Velenice.
The bus stopped in front of the large and poorly aged exterior of the České Velenice train station. We looked around and wondered what we would do for the 1hr 45 minutes before the train departed for České Budějovice?
Beer drinking in České Velenice train station pub = 1 hr 45 minutes.
We saw a restaurant sign a couple hundred meters down the road. Kelley suggested I look inside to see if there was a place to buy a beer in the station.
My face lit up with anticipation when I walked into a glorious pub to find 34czk/$1.54usd pints of Pilsner Urquell on tap. We definitely were not in Austria any more.
Mine’s a tale that can’t be told
My freedom I hold dear
How years ago in days of old
When magic filled the air
(Led Zeppelin has nothing to do with this article, but Ramble On has been inextricably playing in my head this past week and much of the summer. Perhaps the fact that I have rambled on through Denmark, Lithuania, Poland, Italy, Austria and Czech Republic over past six weeks. Plug in your earbuds. I have. Tune in and turn on.)
As we tasted our beer, thunder boomed through the open windows and the white lace curtains blew inward as the skies let loose a torrential rain.
Train #3 from České Velenice to České Budějovice = 47 minutes.
The rain had ceased by the time our 17:03 train departure came around.
We boarded a three car train with about 30 other passengers. We were seated near the front of the train and the conductor walked by wearing shorts and a t-shirt to enter the driver’s compartment.
A few people boarded the train in each tiny town and village along the way where the train stopped. I assumed they were heading to České Budějovice for Saturday night entertainment.
Bus #3 from České Budějovice train station to Clarion Congress Hotel České Budějovice = 40 minutes or 8 minutes if you travel in the correct direction from the start.
Our journey still not complete, I called the Clarion Congress Hotel České Budějovice to ask which bus number would take us to the hotel. We boarded a #9 bus and paid 25czk/$1.14usd each for 60-minute bus tickets.
After a minute I thought to check Google Maps on my iPhone and realized we were going the wrong direction for the hotel. We exited after two stops, crossed the street and waited 11 minutes for another #9 bus to arrive heading in the correct direction. The bus journey took us about 40 minutes for what should have been an 8 minute direct ride. We could have walked to the hotel in 22 minutes.
Travel is not only about airplanes and airports. Some places you simply can’t reach by plane.
The journey is part of the adventure.