PRAGUE (Reuters) – Thousands of Czechs have booked a 15-hour direct train journey to Croatia where the coronavirus-weary travellers look forward to summer holidays on the seaside.
On Tuesday, the first Czechs left for what has long been their nation’s favourite foreign vacation destination following the easing of travel curbs imposed to contain the coronavirus.
The RegioJet train and bus service said it has sold more than 30,000 tickets for the route it plans to operate until September.
From July 11, trains will go daily, each carrying up to 560 passengers, offering both seating and sleeping sections, with the starting price of 590 crowns ($24.95) for one leg of the journey via Slovakia’s Bratislava and Slovenia’s Ljubljana.
Direct train service was dropped two years because it was loss-making. Its resumption was a welcome change for travellers keen to avoid the high-season traffic jams that motorists risk.
“I have done this trip several times by car…and I see this as very comfortable and a little bit of an adventure. I like it and I think this is a new way to get to the sea,” Jan Vrana said aboard the train with his wife and son.
Croatia has long been the first choice of many Czechs going abroad for holiday except during Europe’s migration crisis in 2015 when neighbouring Slovakia, formerly in one state with the Czech Republic, took the top spot.
Travelling to the Adriatic Sea has been a long tradition for the Czechs, dating to the early 20th century when they were part of the Austrian-Hungarian empire together with Croatia.
Czechs also gravitated to Croatia during the Cold War era – ending in 1989 – when it was part of federal Yugoslavia, then a communist country like their homeland but with personal freedoms as it was outside the Soviet-dominated Eastern Bloc.
For many Czechs, Yugoslavia also became a conduit for emigration to the West as its borders with Austria and Italy were more porous than those along the Iron Curtain.
(Reporting by Jiri Skacel Writing by Robert Muller; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
PHOTO: A tourist stands outside a train on the first direct train service from Prague to Rijeka, at the station in Rijeka, Croatia, 2020. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic