Olomouc & Punkva Cave, Czech Republic
When entering a new country we are oddly excited to see what the road conditions are like. So far, they have been excellent in the Czech Republic, other than the slight mishap of accidentally driving down a road that wasn't supposed to be driven on (the "Do Not Enter" sign was not at all clear). At the other end of this street I had to jump out and move a few barriers so we could squeeze through. Luckily no one saw us.
My initial impressions of the landscape were of how much it reminds me of Switzerland, with rolling hills and the occasional vibrant green forest. The temperature has dipped, being a fair bit colder today and spitting on and off. It looked as though a storm might pass through, but somehow we avoided any serious downpour.
Night had fallen by the time we arrived in Olomouc. We parked two kilometres out of town, next to a petrol station that happened to have an ATM (a rarity in Europe), allowing us to withdraw some Czech currency before hitting the sights the next day.
We woke to cold, grey weather - it felt like we skipped over spring and landed in the middle of winter. It was back to jeans and closed shoes for us, for the first time in months. The first thing we did after walking into Olomouc was wander through the two centre squares (why a small city needs two centre squares is beyond me). The first had beautiful old buildings lining the edges but in the middle was an unattractive car park. The second contained an imposing Town Hall and numerous baroque fountains - in fact, the whole city seemed to be an exhibit of fountains.
Danny was over the moon about finally arriving in Czech, solely because of the amount of beer produced here. It didn't take long before I had lost him to a microbrewery. I spent my time meandering around the rest of Olomouc, which was mostly a few churches, palaces and more fountains. The architecture was stunning, and I was far happier out here on the streets than I would have been inside a bar. I eventually walked back to the car in the rain, where Danny met me some time later. He did not disclose how many beers he had consumed.
We learned yesterday that on the way to our next destination there is a cave system (Punkva Cave) that is are supposedly fantastic, so we decided to make a detour past it. Parking was two kilometres from the entrance, but the walk took us through a lush forest alongside a river. The tour was just us plus a busload of Japanese tourists, and because everything was translated into Japanese I think it took longer than normal. But I didn't care, because I was completely awestruck by the beauty of the cave. We were led through huge chambers, past towering stalagmites and stalactites, and stood around calm lakes that reflected the scenery. Thankfully we had dressed warmly, because it was freezing inside the cave (around 8ºC). At one point we came out at the bottom of a huge abyss, with a small lake at the bottom and moss growing up the walls. It was like a movie set. After 45 minutes of walking we arrived at an underground river, where we all jumped in slender boats for a ride through a narrow tunnel. There were places we had to duck down so we didn't knock our heads against the rocky ceiling. Unfortunately the boat ride was extremely fast, and we barely had time to glimpse a cool underwater bridge off to our side. Overall though, Punkva Cave was well worth the detour.