Solo Female Travel and Photography in Central/Eastern Europe and Beyond. Zof is a twenty-something travel and visual addict. Frugal solo female traveler and wannabe travel photographer. Freelance translator (Czech-Polish, Slovak-Polish), a seasonal poet. The Picktures is a story of picking the pictures and wandering around South Caucaus, Eastern and Central Europe, the Balkans and beyond.
Bohemian Switzerland is a fairy tale come true. The unique forest and rock landscape, the gorges of the Kamenice (Kamnitz) River, and the area around the Růžovský vrch might take you back to your childhood adventure dreams.
The most spectacular highlights of the Bohemian Switzerland National Park are Pravčická brána, the largest sandstone arch in Europe, Edmund’s Gorge and Silent Gorge, a rock ravine near the picturesque resort of Hřensko, the Falkenštejn Rock Castle and many other unusual stone formations. Yeah, it’s pretty much about the rocks, but I ensure you that one doesn’t need to be a geologist at heart to truly appreciate the place and its wild spirit.
To be honest, I’m quite sure everyone will love it. If I hadn’t seen it myself, I would have thought it was just a well-done photo editing job. I wasn’t even lucky with the weather, but Hřensko was one of the very few places on this planet where it didn’t bother me too much.
The gloomy aura has probably worked in our favor as we had the place pretty much to ourselves. Pravčická brána was a little more crowded, but not to an extend that would make it less enjoyable.
Bohemian Switzerland’s nature is stunning, I guess it’s hard to disagree with that. There is even more to this place. Since it has been a popular tourist destination since the end of 19th century (the hype has been on for a while…) Bohemian Switzerland is also home to some great architecture, including mountain castles and traditional wooden mountain hotels. The former are the main reason why I loved Hřensko so much.
The town was lovely to walk around and explore. This place made me feel like I was in a Thomas Mann’s novel. It was a very uplifting feeling. All that said, I’m quite happy we opted to stay a little outside of town, closer to the main tourist trails. We’ve only visited for a weekend, so we wanted to squeeze as much as possible in that time. I’m happy to report that was a good decision. And we loved our little cozy bungalow at the U Fořta Hotel Complex. It was a fantastic place to relax after our hiking trip. We were also very impressed with their on-site restaurant. I’m not getting any perks for that mention. I just had a great weekend.
Since we only had a weekend, we could only take two daytrips. We’ve picked the most famous/ most obvious attractions, believing that there must be a reason behind all the recognition. It paid off this time. We visited Pravčická brána, including the view points and castle, and the Gorges (including the boat trip). There is entrance fee to both places, but we found it reasonable. It’s worth it, and the money is supposed to go to the protection fund, so I guess it’s a win-win situation. The trails aren’t very demanding. Both routes seemed to be kind-friendly, dog-friendly, and perfectly maintained.
Bohemian Switzerland is incredibly easy to reach from Prague. We took a train to Děčín, where we took a bus to Hřensko. The bus stop is right in front of the railway station building. There is also an info center at the station, where you can get a map and extensive information on the region. While it’s easy and rather fast to reach Bohemian Switzerland from the capital, I wouldn’t recommend it as a day-trip destination. It just won’t give this place justice it deserves. Even after a weekend trip I feel like I will need to come back. See you next year then!
There’s not much to say about visiting Kotor, Montenegro. I feel like all has been already told a thousand times.
Kotor might be one of the prettiest towns in the Balkans and it’s getting the recognition it deserves. Not only that. Kotor is incredibly touristy.
You know, it is one of these towns that could enjoy a quiet vacation without cruise ships appearing every single morning. Everyone needs to be alone, sometimes. I believe towns do, too, otherwise they turn into a product.
That’s why I couldn’t have been happier to visit in Mid-October. I was still lucky with the weather, but I also got a chance to wander around Kotor’s narrow streets pretty much by myself. It’s more than likely that I wouldn’t love it all that much if I visited two months earlier. If you can visit Kotor in low season, do it (unless you love crowds that is).
I traveled to the gorgeous Kotor Bay last fall and I made Kotor my base, partly due to unbelievably cheap hostel dorms, partly because I felt like it made a good starting point for day trips, which turned out to be true.
It was a very brief trip, but I managed to cram a lot into it without getting exhausted. I took a relaxed half-day trip to Perast, I visited haunting Stari Bar, and, finally, I hopped on the Great Montenegro Tour bandwagon with the 360 Monte Travel Agency. I really recommend them to all travelers who would like to experience different faces of Montenegro in limited amount of time and/or weird people like me who never got themselves to obtain that driving license, once and for all. Also, just to make things clear, I paid for my tour. No freebies, just a happy customer here. OK, I’m digressing, I will write about the tour some time later on.
So, what did I love about Kotor! Everything! I guess it’s the location that makes people fall for the place. The landscape of the Bay is breathtaking. I know it sounds cliché, but this time it’s for real.
I really enjoyed climbing up to the fortress to uncover more and more of the spectacular views. The steps are steep, but the journey is rewarding. I loved taking lazy strolls in the evenings, when the last of the cruise people boarded their ships.
I was happy to eat fresh seafood again (yeah, I’m sure residents of landlocked countries feel me).
I loved Kotor, because it was a great beauty therapy. Not sure if it’d be the same if I visited in the peak season, but I dare to say that probably not. So, it turns out October is the right moment for the Kotor Bay romance.
(With the city, of course. I traveled solo. The Balkans are my favorite region ever to travel solo.)
2018 has probably been the quietest year in the history of this blog. There is a reason behind all this – I was rather busy with revolutionizing my life in the past months.
As some of you might know I was given a fantastic opportunity to spend three great months as a writer-in-residence in Prague in the framework of Visegrad Literary Residences. I worked on my translations of contemporary Czech female poets, attended approximately 74748959505 literary events, and – last but not least – I fully reconnected with the Czech Republic. I’ve spent 5 years studying Czech language and literature once and I earn my living as a translator, so there is a lot to talk about here. I was happy to discover that Central Europe is still my biggest love, even if I shamelessly cheated on it with the Caucasus for nearly five years.
Yerevan, my first balcony view, summer 2013.
I spent over four years living in Yerevan. Over. Four. Years. The first and second year were delightful and fulfilling. By the third year I was quite ready to pack my red suitcases and depart to pretty much anywhere else, preferably far away from the Caucasus and anything post-Soviet. I never tried to write about it on the blog, but one day I will. Sooner than later, I believe.
For now, I’ll just keep it short. Hi, my name is Zof, and I’ve overdone Armenia. For the most part I was painfully aware staying was not beneficial. Not only that, it was probably unhealthy, too.
Tsaghats Kar Monastery, Armenia
But saying is easier than doing. My adventuring in Armenia wasn’t only travels, wine, and pomegranates. As some of you probably know, I also met someone there. And this someone and I decided to be together against all odds. While I fell out of love with the place, I was still in Armenia, because I still loved that special person. It isn’t easy to actually pack a local and ship him to Central Europe, if you know what I mean. I can’t even explain how complex all of that was. So we waited. We waited until we are both ready. We waited until our finances will let us take a leap of faith. Then I won a residency and realized I literally can’t go back into gloomy Armenian winter. I wouldn’t handle it. That was it. That was the moment.
The Roofs. Prague Old Town.
I only went back to pack and discuss the details of our big move. On January 3rd 2018 I officially moved to Prague. I originally planned to do it back in 2014 after my one-year stint in Armenia was supposed to be over. I keep my word, people. I’m just a bit late to things sometimes.
I came to Prague with one suitcase and no place to stay. You can imagine or these inglorious things – apartment hunts, starting bank accounts, getting all the endless paperwork done, buying stuff for the apartment, getting a job to pay for the stuff, dealing with Central European winter blues, getting all my partner’s paperwork back in Yerevan done, so he can come stay with me…..it wasn’t exactly a piece of cake.
But we’ve done it, and here we are, in Prague, together, enjoying beautiful spring and early summer, and planning way more trips that we can ever fit into our busy schedules.
That’s me, enjoying spring.
Prague feels like home to me since the day one. I speak the language fluently and I love it. It’s my favorite language on Earth and beyond. I’m literally happy I can have conversations in it daily. Also, the city just feels like I never even left. It’s been half year since the move, but I don’t even count. I’m just here, and it feels right. I’m so happy I don’t have to justify my presence in a place on every step, as it was in Armenia. Prague, unlike Yerevan, is a city that loves me back. And I’m the kind of person who only settles for butterflies.
I can finally go to all these literary events to listen to the contemporary poetry I translate. Like, okay, I have internet. I can access these things from anywhere in the world including Yerevan. True, but it isn’t the same. I’m totally indulging in the experience, and I can’t believe I’ve voluntarily left that world a few years earlier to like, um, live in the Caucasus? Silly me. Luckily during my last Armenian year, I had enough time to rethink my life choices and redefine my priorities.
My birthday gift to myself
I turned 30 last winter. I feel like you can do anything you want after you turn 30. And I want to focus on being literary translator. That’s what I originally wanted to do after I graduated from Slavic Studies. But in the meantime, I started working for various migrant NGOs which eventually led me to the Caucasus. Literature had to wait, but I’m back at it. And I somehow always knew one day I would return. I was on a mission collecting experience and memories and turning into a more self-conscious person with a clear goal in front of me. Clearly there is no better place to be for someone who wants to translate contemporary Czech poetry than Prague. So, I will probably hang in here for a while. It seems like my partner is enjoying these parts as well, so, well, we are settled for now.
Prague in bloom
I started writing again. And I don’t mean blogging. I don’t care about blogging all that much. I’m writing poetry again, and it’s exhilarating. I have a public reading tomorrow. I’m back to where I belong. Believe me or not, I don’t even care how it sounds. I’m happy.
Reading my poems in Bucharest this May
Now, there is one more thing to clarify. I love this blog and I will keep it up, although I can’t really promise you regular posts or any kind of professional approach. I need to be professional 24/7 in other spheres. I don’t even travel that much these days. I haven’t edited my photos from trips I took last year yet. I’m no travel blogger, y’all.
Somewhere in Vinohrady
And it feels good, because I couldn’t care less about travel blogging lately. Seeing many blogs I used to love decrease in quality in the name of quick monetization made me cut my feeds drastically. Almost none of the sites I currently follow are run by called professional bloggers. I guess I will even write a whole post on that once. I have been following the blogosphere since 2012 so seeing it change to so much worse is actually a big deal.
Kralupy nad Vltavou, Czech Republic
This isn’t really a travel blog and it’s not trying to be one. It’s a blog of a girl who likes to travel to find inspiration. I love space and I don’t respect borders. I have a constant need to go, to move, to discover. I couldn’t care less about top things to do in a destination or posing in front of something to get an instagrammable shot. Or instaworthy. Call it whatever you want, I couldn’t care less. I just geninely like taking photos of places. That’s it.
Walking the Dvorak Pathway to Nelahozeves, Czech Republic
I’m also not a particular fan of these lengthy posts that pretend to be practical, but they just sound like Wikitravel to me. This isn’t about the road anymore; it’s about an industry I literally can’t stand. It lacks personal perspective. It’s tasteless. Of course, there are honorable exceptions, but that is probably a topic for a whole new article. And I’m digressing.
Forest, Central Bohemia, Czech Republic
Let’s go back to this very blog. It isn’t a travel blog and I don’t want to be called a travel blogger. I’m a girl who travels to keep her balance and likes to take photos. This is a photo diary. Nothing more and nothing less. I hope this is what you are looking for if you stayed with me till now.
Svaty Jan pod Skalou, Czech Republic
In the foreseeable future I will focus on rediscovering Central Europe and short-term travel in the Czech Republic, which will hopefully find some audience. I will be totally content with 20 like-minded people. I hope you are one of them.
On a third day of my stay in Montenegro I asked a guy from my hostel (a great one by the way) if Stari Bar was worth a trip. Nah, he said, it’s just ruins, a lot of stones, what would a girl do there, all alone?
He couldn’t promote it better, right? Of course I went. And, as many of you probably already know by now, it was one of the absolute highlights of my stay, especially after dealing with too much crowd in Kotor and Budva. Yeah, traveling in Montegro might get hard on introverts even in the low season. This is exactly when abandoned places like Stari Bar come to the rescue.
Silly jokes aside, diversity was my favorite thing about visiting Montenegro. This country is so tiny, yet so packed with all kinds of natural wonders, stunning coastal architecture, and tons of other attractions. Stari Bar might seem boring for some, but wandering the abandoned corners of the old fortress destroyed by the earthquake back in 1979 was a beautiful experience for me.
I loved to just explore, take pictures, and try to imagine this place when it still was a busy harbor that served so many different states and empires from Byzantium and Serbia to Venice and Hungary. It might sound a little odd, but I’m actually kind of happy that the town of Bar has rebuilt on the coast at the foot on the hill leaving the Old Town ruins to its own fate. This place really has truly unique atmosphere, and I don’t think it can ever lose it, no matter how many cruise ships come to nearby Kotor and Budva.
Stari Bar is a cultural monument today, and the entrance fee as of 2017 was 2 euro.
How to get to Stari Bar?
I took a bus from Kotor (central bus station) to Bar. The journey takes around 2 hours. The timetable can be found here. Since I didn’t have much time in Bar, I took a cab from the bus station to the fortress as it’s almost 4 kilometers away and I don’t think there is any kind of public transportation connecting these two spots.