I have just returned from a short (one week) trip to the Czech Republic. I spent four days in Prague at a professional conference, and then my wife and I spent three days driving around the southern part of the country (Bohemia).
In Prague, we stayed at a hotel and conference center that was formerly owned by the Communist Party. It has since been run by a consortium of universities, but is open to the public as a hotel. It is called the Hotel Krystal, and the rates are extremely good -- about $50 per night. The rooms are good, though some may think them slightly Spartan. It is located in northwestern Prague, close to the airport and on a major tram line. It is an easy tram-subway ride to the historic center of Prague. The subway is excellent, and so is public transportation in general. Prague itself lives up to its reputation as the most beautiful city in Europe.
Birdwise, near the airport I saw Kestrel and Magpie. If you stay at the Krystal there is an interesting network of trails just behind the hotel leading up a hill, through a woods. From the balcony of my room I saw pigeons, Wood Pigeon, House Martin, House Sparrow, and Gray Wagtail down below in a channelized stream. The paths behind the hotel revealed Wren, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Jay, Blackbird, Robin, and Chiffchaff. I was delighted to find that my pishing works on most of these species. (Common wisdom of course is that pishing works only in North America.) In the center of Prague I saw Kestrels apparently nesting on one church tower, and Mute Swans and Black-headed Gulls on the Vlatava River.
The next morning after the conference ended we rented a car, checked out of the hotel, and headed south. It was the hottest day yet of a bad hot spell. Our rental car had a thermometer display on the dashboard, and it said 36°C!! Hard to believe, but my wife says she believed it!
Two of the big tourist destinations in southern Bohemia are Cesky Budejovice (from which Budweiser beer takes its name) and Cesky Krumlov. I recommend both towns, especially Cesky Krumlov. But nearby (a bit to the east) is the lovely small town of Trebon, with history and architecture of its own, as well as a network of streams and lakes to entice the birder. We recorded in the area Coot, Mallard, Pochard, Creeper, Grey Heron, various Tits, Nuthatch, Chaffinch, and of course the ubiquitous Chiffchaff.
After Cesky Krumlov we concentrated on the Sumava Mountains, a relatively low range (up to around 4500 feet) forming the border of Germany and the Czech Republic. They are sort of a blend of the Smokies and the Adirondacks, with the looks of the former but the trees of the latter. The area is mostly a National Park, and there are many trails and places to stop and park. We had made no reservations and had a bit of trouble one night finding a place. We ended up in Kubova Hut, which has two nice hotels.
Just west of Borova Lada is a lovely boardwalk into a bog, called Chalupska Slat. We had Tufted Ducks in eclipse here. Farther west and north near Modrava are several lovely places to hike. Along a stream we had a Dipper, always a treat. Also in the area were Crested Tit, Willow Tit, and Goldcrest.
The night before flying out we lucked into a good B&B (they call them "Pensions" -- pronounced pen-tshee-own) in Prague. If anyone wants the address let me know.
This is the second time I have been in central Europe; the first was six years ago in Vienna and Austria. I would have to say, based on this small sample, that Austria had more and more diverse birds, but maybe that's because I spent three weeks in Austria and only one week here. At any rate, the Czech Republic is a lovely and fascinating country, and Prague is unexcelled for history and architecture. It is also a very inexpensive country for the American tourist. Our hotels were around $35 a night for two, and a fine meal with beer and wine for two cost about $12 (yes, that's the total).
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