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We departed Vranov with three nights left in the trip. The last night was already booked in Prague but we didn't want to go back there just yet. And at the same time, we wanted to be close so we could turn in the rental car in the early afternoon of our penultimate day to avoid being charged for an extra one. So, with the help of the guide book, we picked Beroun, a small city about 30km outside Prague.

We rolled into town to find Lonely Planet's most highly recommended accommodation closed down. We asked a shop keeper where another recommended place was and I could understand her German well enough for us to find it. We ended up in yet a different place, a huge third-floor room with kitchen and a second bed off on the other side, owned by a technical geek. How much of a geek? He had four satellite dishes on the roof and swapped out the TV box so we'd have the one that got all the English channels. After having from one to several channels in English everywhere else, we got many dozens there, including a bunch of regional British ones. We paid about $83 per night including tax, breakfast and secure parking. What a deal.

Our side trips from Beroun included Karlstejn Castle, lunch in the tiny town containing the monastery of St. John Under the Rock (the server sporting a monastic beard and the first person ever to tell me that my signature on the credit card slip didn't match my signature on the back of my card, but accepted it anyway), then Krivoklat Castle in the afternoon. I've added two more photos to my trip site, one of the actual monastery of St. John Under the Rock and a second of St. John of the Rock, taken years ago in Spain, just to pursue an international theme of St. John and rocks.

Karlstejn is probably the most visited castle in Czecho outside of Prague. And it looks like a real castle, as you can see. It's a steep walk up, the road lined by the ubiquitous souvenir junk shops and the usual wax museum. But by keeping your gaze directed upward, you get great views of the castle all the way up and it's quite nice inside, affording vistas of the countryside.

The St. John monastery is a classic building in a tiny village with a hotel and restaurant, set in a canyon. Very lovely. Krivoklat, reached by winding narrow mountainous roads through little villages, is also lovely and more isolated. It was a good day of sightseeing although we could have used a Garmin, what with the ambiguous road signs. But getting lost gave us the opportunity to see more cute little towns and some excellent scenery.

Austrian food was pretty good. I blew my low-carb diet utterly, unable to resist the lure of its fabulous bread. And in Drosendorf I just had to split a couple of desserts (which I never have at home) with DW, made with poppy seeds, a regional specialty. If you're going to cheat, it might as well be worth it. Back in Czecho, we were once again getting tired of the cuisine and found a Mexican restaurant in Beroun, last place I expected to find something like that, where we had dinner both nights. It was a perfect reproduction of a Mexican restaurant you'd find in the U.S., complete with sombreros and serapes on the walls and bright Mexican colors, although the staff spoke neither Spanish nor English. And the guacamole was more than acceptable, in fact it was a welcome relief. La Paz Mexican restaurant:

On our last full day we dropped the car at the airport and taxied in to the Hotel Praha, a large hulk of a building outside the center, the lobby of which could have been designed during communist times, being big and gray and lacking the amenities one expects in a large hotel, like a gift shop to get a snack or bottle of water. But the rooms were totally modern and upscale, with nicely tiled bathrooms and big open terraces looking out over the city. It must have been one of the chi-chi places of Prague, to judge by all the expensive cars in the parking lot, but the rate was only $129 with breakfast and a free shuttle back and forth into town. We spent our last afternoon and early evening revisiting the highlights of Prague, including another climb back up to the castle.

The travel gods must have been smiling on us on the return trip as we encountered no turbulence anywhere and our luggage was first off the plane both at ORD for customs and at PDX. Then they changed their minds, smiting us with long, drawn-out jet lags, a full week for me and nine or ten days before DW was back on local time.

Next: Final musings and conclusions.

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