Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 part 7

Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 part 7

Today we traveled to stops

Today we traveled to stops 8, 9 & 10

 

This morning we leave Slavonice at 8:45 instead of 8:30 because we must drive to the Ceramic shop to pick up our finished projects. After enjoying the delicious buffet, we say goodbye to charming Pavel and the two hard-working women that run Dum U Ruze. I so enjoyed this charming hotel.

My "UCO" project, cat, carp or whatever. I don't have any photos of the worthy ceramic projects so had to use mine!

My “UCO” project, cat, carp or whatever. I don’t have any photos of the worthy ceramic projects so had to use mine!

When we arrive at the ceramic place, Milan runs into the shop and soon returns carrying a big box filled with our ceramic projects. Milan says he must wait to pass them out as they are still hot from the oven, literally! Perhaps a half hour later, Milan opens the individual boxes and holds the item in the air, describes what it is and waits for the owner to claim it. When he holds up a flat disc and proclaims it is a Kitty cat, I call out to claim it. However, this item looks like a cat so I must let the actual artist take possession which is Ms. D. When Paul receives his polka-dotted hippo, he takes one look at it and states that “this is awful”. Ha, at least he didn’t put a lot of time and effort into it. When Milan gets to my “uco”, he says here is the carp, (yesterday I jokingly said my project was a carp since it sure didn’t look like a cat). I claim my art work and just laugh. I thought several of the other people’s projects were quite nice.

Our first stop today is in Trebic where we are going to visit the Jewish ghetto. This is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and considered one of Europe’s best preserved Jewish ghettos.  We follow Milan across a bridge and then enjoy a lovely stroll along the river on our way to the Jewish ghetto. There is a man fishing across the river and as we walk by his cork begins to bob, I hope he caught that fish! As we survey the surroundings while walking down narrow streets, Milan fills us in on some of the history of Trebic. We learn that Jews were not allowed to live in Christian parts of the city but that Jews and Christians managed to co-exist from the middle ages until the 20th century. Most of the Jews were sent to concentration camps during WWII and after the war the Jewish population in Trebic was no more.

Crossing a bridge in Trebic. The river was really low.

Crossing a bridge in Trebic. The river was really low.

Narrow street in the Jewish Quarter

Narrow street in the Jewish Quarter

A young woman is our guide for our tour of The New Synagogue. We are escorted to the sanctuary where we take a seat on the benches. There is Hebrew writing on the sanctuary walls and the ceiling is painted with interesting designs. The young woman fills us in on the history of the Synagogue giving us information such as the Synagogue was built in the 17th century, that the last service in the synagogue was held in 1926, after which the Synagogue was used as a storehouse. I can’t recall why services ceased to be held here. The synagogue was renovated in 1995-1997 and now is used as an exhibition and concert hall.

Ceiling of the Santuary

Ceiling and part of the wall of the Sanctuary

Memorial to the victims of the Holocaust that was displayed in the Sanctuary

Memorial to the victims of the Holocaust that was displayed in the Sanctuary

We follow the young woman upstairs to look at the permanent exhibit which includes a model town of the Jewish quarter, old photos, and religious items from the synagogue that are kept in glass show cases. Our guide leads us to an adjoining building where several rooms are decorated to show how a Jewish family’s house would have looked in the past. There is also a room that is set up like a store with a mannequin that is a likeness of the actual owner. Perhaps the rooms we toured were also his family’s house. Hmm, I don’t remember now. I do know the tour was very interesting and sobering.

Kitchen in the house restored to show the way a Jewish house looked at that time.

Dining room in the house restored to show the way a Jewish house looked at that time.

The store and the mannequin of the man that owned the store.

The store and the mannequin of the man who owned the store.

On our way to the bus we pass by a farmer’s market in the town square where flowers and vegetables are being sold. The stands, topped with colorful umbrellas, stretch for some distance through the town square. We also see a building or two whose walls are covered with the stunning sgraffito designs that was Slavonice’s claim to fame. This is one architecture design that even I can remember. I love it!

Farmers market in Trebic's town square.

Farmers market in Trebic’s town square.

Close up of sgrafitto

Close up of sgraffito Now that I look at the photo closely is this just painted on?

Our next destination is Lednice which ends up a longer drive than expected due to road construction. Milan and Waessik spend a lot of time conversing while they try to find their way through the convoluted detour. I believe our lunch was to be at 1:00 but due to the lengthy detour we didn’t reach the restaurant until 2:00 a.m. The late lunch just made the food that much more appreciated! Our tour has gone like clockwork up to this point but no one can do a thing about road construction! A note to sister E, I haven’t forgotten the restroom incident but didn’t know how to write about it!  I hope it makes you laugh all over again now that I reminded you of it:).

Lednice Castle. The yellow building was the stables

Lednice Castle. The yellow building was the stables

One segment of the Castle.

One segment of the Castle.

Layout of Lednice Castle property. It is like a huge park.

Layout of Lednice Castle property. It is like a huge park which is free for people to use it that way

After our lunch, we tour Lednice Castle a beautiful but ostentatious structure where even the stables look as though royalty might reside there! The flowers and sculptured gardens surrounding this summer home are stunning. The young guide escorting us through the mansion informs us that this is his first English led tour but you would never know it as he speaks the English language with ease. We follow the animated fellow down a hallway where enormous deer racks are mounted on the wall. We next enter a large room with an unsupported staircase, (how does that work) where some more luckless creatures are showcased on the rooms walls. From here we meander through and are told stories about the numerous grandiose rooms, all of which leave me shaking my head in wonder. There is beautiful furniture, magnificent ceilings, a stunning spiral staircase, and much more to admire. We learn from our guide that this is part of the Lichtenstein’s legacy where some of the family’s wealth and power was acquired through beneficial marriages. That was a common way in those early century’s to acquire these elements. The Lichtenstein’s reigned over 600 years and just kept amassing wealth and power throughout this time. The Lednice Castle we are touring today dates from the mid 1800’s. I still can’t get over the fact that this magnificent mansion and the park around it was just a summer home!

Our guide showing off a nifty chair that can be folded out to make a step ladder.

Our guide showing off a nifty chair that can be folded out to make a step-ladder.

A unicorn! We were told that the horn actually is from an ocean dwelling fish?

A unicorn! We were told that the horn actually is from an ocean dwelling fish?

Incredible spiral staircase

Incredible spiral staircase

The weirdest, well it is actually disgusting, story our guide tells us is about the wife, (don’t recall her name), who is shown in a painting with an African boy at her side. The first thing he tells us is that it is very unusual to see a pregnant woman depicted in a painting but this woman seemed to always be with child, (could I remember correctly that she had nineteen children?). He then tells us that this woman was very close to the servant in the painting and when the fellow died she had the man stuffed! I about choked when our guide delivered that information!dscf6746

When our tour is over and we thank our guide for a job well done, Milan says we have time to tour the greenhouse if we desire to. Paul declines the opportunity but most of us do walk through it, admiring the various plants and flowers. In retrospect, I would walk the hedge lined paths of the garden in front of the Castle instead of visiting the greenhouse if I had to do this over again.

People enjoying the gorgeous garden in front of the Castle

People enjoying the gorgeous garden in front of the Castle

Greenhouse bloom

Greenhouse bloom

We make our way back to the bus and to a smiling Waessik, load up and due to the construction detour, traffic is backed up and we slowly crawl out of Lednice. It is early evening when we cross into Slovakia. Our destination is Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, where we are staying at Hotel Devin. Waessik manages to back the bus into the only space in the hotel’s parking spot that will accommodate a bus; he truly is a professional driver! What a great location as the hotel is located next to the Danube River, well there is a street between the hotel and the river but still it is wonderful!

Melting the Paris ball.

Melting the Paris ball.

Paris ball.

Paris ball.

Milan takes us into the dining room to give us information about the breakfast buffet and our evening walking tour of Bratislava he is taking us on. He also has a treat for us before we go to our rooms; a local specialty called “Paris Balls” which some of the restaurant staff serves to us. The round chocolate shells filled with ice cream symbolize the cannon balls that Napoleon shot at the city.  Once a staff person puts the dessert in front of you another server pours warm milk on it making the thin shell melt and revealing the chocolate ice cream inside. The whole concept of the dessert was great fun and the Paris ball was absolutely delicious. I got my chocolate fix for sure!

A view of the Danube and what the Slovakians nicknamed the UFO bridge.

A view of the Danube and what the Slovakians’ nicknamed the UFO bridge from our room balcony

Fountain in the square next to the American Embassy.

Fountain in the square next to the American Embassy.

After settling in our lovely room, which has a small balcony that overlooks the Danube, we meet in the lobby at 7:30 for our evening tour of Bratislava. Milan takes a short cut through the parking lot and the first building we walk by is the American Embassy. There is a wonderful square next to the Embassy with numerous cafes, a bubbling fountain, and lots of inviting places to sit, relax and enjoy yourself. Milan leads us to the main town square where a large fountain, lit up in various colors, commands one’s attention. This area is bustling with people but I feel very comfortable here. Milan leaves the more popular areas to let us explore side streets where he relates the history of the various places we visit. One softly lit street gives us a striking night view of Bratislava Castle.

Fountain in the Old Town Square

Fountain in the Old Town Square

Night view of Bratislava Castle

Night view of Bratislava Castle.

Milan, with Jennifer listening intently, discussing this old building but I hate to admit that I don't remember what it was!

Milan, with Jennifer listening intently, discussing this old building but I hate to admit that I don’t remember what it was!

When our night tour of Bratislava is finished, Milan leaves us on our own to explore more of the city or return to the hotel. Mr. D and his wife C, Paul, Jennifer and I decide to find a café and have a light meal before retiring for the evening. We want to sit outside but what few empty tables there are around the cafes have reserved signs on them. We finally do find a place to sit. Those of us from Kansas just order appetizers while D & C have pizza with beer for all of us. The food is tasty; the beer is cold and the company is good. You can’t ask for much more than that but we get a bonus as fireworks are lighting up the skyline in the direction of the Danube. What a great ending to our day.

Next blog- exploring Bratislava in daylight plus a home visit

I loved this desk/chair that was in Lednice Castle

I loved this desk/chair that was in Lednice Castle

Ceiling shot in Lednice Castle.

Ceiling shot in Lednice Castle.

 

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Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 Part 6

Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 Part 6dscf6286

 

Before I begin relating the adventures of the day, I wanted to comment on the people in our group. I never asked to use any of our companion’s names in my writings, thus the vague reference using initials.  It only took a couple of days traveling together for us to know that we were with a great group of people. Everyone had a terrific sense of humor, we are all adventuresome, more than prompt :), laid back, and interested in everything. Of course, it helped to be led by a guide who was very passionate about the countries we were touring, patient, and also had a good sense of humor!

The breakfast buffet this morning has just about everything you could want and then some! Surely all this food isn’t just for us! The heck of it is I have vowed to stop eating so much as my pants are definitely fitting a bit tighter then when I left home. I do keep my vow and limit my intake of food this morning but it wasn’t easy to do. Everything I ate was really tasty which didn’t surprise me at all. Pavel and the two women that took care of us last night were on duty again this morning. I wonder if they are the only employees?

Turning Slavonice into a movie set

Turning Slavonice into a movie set

Two of the children that were part of the movie. Notice the lace in the back wheel of the bike.

Two of the children that were part of the movie. Notice the lace in the back wheel of the bike.

Last night, Pavel informed Milan that a movie was being filmed in Slavonice and if they were filming in the town square we would have to work around them. No photo bombing allowed! Some people in our group said that when they looked out their windows this morning it was a bit disconcerting to see the square full of German soldiers. In fact, when we walk out the hotel door for our village tour the square is full of movie equipment and props, movie actors and extras, and lots of people bustling around that work behind the scenes. They aren’t filming right now so we are free to take photos or just stare at the, soldiers and period dressed town’s people and children, who are standing around waiting for “action”!

Does this woman look the part or what!

Does this woman look the part or what!

There seemed to be a lot of standing around and waiting.

There seemed to be a lot of standing around and waiting.

Milan and one of the locals chosen to be extra's

Milan and one of the locals chosen to be an extra

Milan gets one of the local men that have been cast as an extra to come and talk to us. As Milan asks questions and then interprets the man’s answers to us, I notice a woman who is with the movie company sternly looking over at us.  Eventually the dark-haired lady calls out to Milan. It seems they are getting ready to shoot some of the movie and they need us to be quiet plus they need the man we are talking with to come back and do his part. We move away from the hubbub of the movie making and get our first look at ancient Slavonice.  The 13th century village is special because so many buildings still retain the sgraffito that has been painted over, (probably with those pretty pastels we have been admiring), in so many other villages.

Sgraffito on the façade of this building. Awesome!

Sgraffito on the façade of this building. Awesome!

A close up of one small section.

A close up of one small section.

As we wander around looking up at the awesome old artwork on the side of the buildings, you can’t help but be amazed at the intricacy of the work covering the entire facade of the structure. If I understand the technique that produces sgraffito correctly, a dark layer of plaster (?) is laid over the wall’s surface and then the artist scratches his work through that layer to reach the lighter color underneath to create these incredible scenes. Milan gives us info on Slavonice as we walk and gawk at our ancient surroundings. Milan greets a man who is standing on the sidewalk and says that this fellow is going to show us a special place in a building that he is caretaker for.

Loved the cat

Loved the cat

Milan and his friend standing by the door that leads into the secret room

Milan and caretaker standing by the door that leads into the secret room

Of course I have a photo of Paul unlocking the door!

Of course I have a photo of Paul unlocking the door!

The man takes us across the street and leads us through the big wooden doors of an old house, well; all the buildings are old here! There are many historical items on this floor but this isn’t what we are here to see. Milan and his friend take us upstairs and stand beside a door and tell us that it leads to a secret room where Protestants used to worship during the time when Catholics ruled and practicing another religion was prohibited. Paul has the honor of unlocking the door and we all file through into the spacious room. As there were downstairs, there are items any museum would love to have in the room but the main treasure is the original 16th or 17th century frescos that are painted along the top of three of the walls in the room. Milan talks about the frescos and then leads us to a faded painting where some people are being confronted by a big lizard wearing a huge hat. The theory is that the lizard represents the pope because it is wearing a pope’s mitre. I don’t think this painting was meant as a compliment to the pope in this era! Just imagine if these people’s secret had been discovered in those trying times!

16th or 17th Frescos in the secret room

16th or 17th Frescos in the secret room. The beams are impressive too.

The painting with the unflattering depiction of the pope as a lizard(that is the theory anyway).

The painting with the unflattering depiction of the pope as a lizard(that is the theory anyway).

Old barrels and hat molds

Old barrels and hat forms

When we leave the house with the clandestine room, Milan takes us to where part of the original rock wall that surrounded the town in the past still stands. As we are heading back to the hotel Paul and Ms. J find a funny sign posted in a window. Paul catches up with me and insists that I come back to see it. Hilarious, I hope that the photo of the sign will make you laugh as hard as we did.

Part of the rock wall that has survived

Part of the rock wall that has survived

The sign that made us laugh out loud.

The sign that made us laugh out loud. Under the donkey are the words E Pluribus Smart Assimas:).  I did wonder why there is an English language sign here though?

Ceramin shop

Ceramic shop

 

We dodge through the movie equipment and people to get to the hotel where we take a short break. We gather in the lobby, walk to the bus and drive to a small town where we are going to make a ceramic souvenir for ourselves at the local ceramic shop. The first protocol is to put on aprons and to see the three men in these garments is an added bonus to our activity. Since Paul and I have little room in our luggage we select a simple item to paint. The rest of our group chooses mugs or bowls except Ms. D who also selects the flat piece that I did, both of us thinking we could turn it into a cat. After instructions are given all of us get to work. My cat turns into a “UCO”, unidentified ceramic object; Paul paints dots and a smile on his hippo. I look at other’s projects of flowers or geometric designs that people are painstakingly painting on their projects and I am impressed.

Donning aprons

Donning aprons

Paul's spotted hippo:)

Paul’s spotted hippo:)

Leaving our friends to finish their master pieces, Paul and I take a walk through this tiny town which Milan told us is just starting to come back to life after being abandoned for years. Paul and I enjoy our exploration though it doesn’t take long because this really is a tiny place. As we return to the ceramic shop, Jennifer joins us and we hike in another direction and discover a lovely pond with a yellow house across the way. The house sits near the edge of the pond where its reflection is painted across the water’s surface. It is so peaceful here but we must return to the shop as it is nearly time to depart for Slavonice.

Pond and house we discovered exploring the small town.

Pond and house we discovered exploring the small town.

Milan has another surprise for us and instructs Waessik to drive down a very narrow, tree-lined road, intimating that perhaps buses aren’t supposed to drive this road but he muses if we don’t meet any police we will be o.k. Ha! We reach a highway and get out of the bus. There are two people sitting on a bench, (is this a bus stop?), who seem quite surprised to see a bunch of tourists disembark in the middle of nowhere. Milan leads us to a white cement post and shows us that we are in Czech Republic now but if we step to the other side of the pillar we will be in Austria. Cool! Of course, all of us walk across the “border” and visit Austria for a few minutes while snapping photos of one another.

Paul stepping over the Czech border into Austria

Paul stepping over the Czech border into Austria

Once we return to Slavonice, Milan has another fun suggestion for us before we have lunch. He will give each of us the Czech name of an ingredient that will be used in making an appetizer. We are to go to the grocery store, find and buy the ingredient, after which we will make the appetizer. Once we have the name of the item, pronounced by Milan but not spelled out, all of us walk to the grocery store which is just a short distance from the hotel. It is a great little store which is well stocked with a variety of food stuff and household needs. Paul and I try to find our food item, Hemernin, without help but as expected, we are at a complete loss. Milan comes along and tells us what section we need to be looking in. We still can’t find it so finally he just shows us where it is. Cheese! We go to the counter and pay for the cheese then return to the hotel.

Hard at work making the pickled cheese appetizer

Hard at work making the pickled cheese appetizer

All of us gather in a room next to the dining room to start putting together the appetizer. Wait a minute, where are Jennifer and Mr. D and his wife Ms. C? Milan heads back out the door and after several minutes have passed returns with our wayward friends. The trio missed the grocery store and I think Milan had to run them down and show them the way to the shop :). We get down to business and take turns doing various tasks to prepare the dish. Paul helps chop onions, others chop garlic, I add ingredients to the plastic container, a tough job but someone has to do it. Our effort results in a pickled cheese/onion/garlic appetizer; I can’t remember the real name. Even though this dish must be refrigerated for several days, surprise, surprise, we sit down at tables in the restaurant and Pavel and the young woman serve us the spicy appetizer! Lunch is on our own today and since we are already seated comfortably in the restaurant most of us just stay here for lunch. Paul, Jennifer and I don’t eat a big meal but what we order is really good. I tell Paul that I must go back to the grocery store and buy one of the many chocolate baked goods that were on display, (so much for my vow of eating less) and Paul wants ice cream from the shop we passed on our tour this morning. I have a terrible time deciding which chocolate goody to buy but finally decide on cake that has been dipped in chocolate. We then cross the street where Paul takes his time deciding on which flavor of ice cream to buy. As we savor our treats, we explore some more of the village. Upon our return to the hotel we get barked at by one of the movie people indicating we must get off the street. We are within a few feet of the hotel so I just wave towards it and keep walking. If you lived here, after a while this movie stuff could really become irritating!

Which chocolate goody do I want. They are all tempting

Which chocolate goody do I want. They are all tempting

World War II meets Mad Max

World War II meets Mad Max

I wonder if this elderly woman remembers the real occupation of the Nazi's?

I wonder if this elderly woman remembers the real thing?

We convene in the lobby at mid-afternoon to explore sites on the outskirts of Slavonice. Waessik drives us to Landstejn Fortress/Castle. Even though this place is a ruin it nevertheless is an impressive sight. Towering stone walls dominate from the hilltop and leave me in awe of the people who built such structures in the 13th century. Milan leads us up the pathway into the first “floor’ where we admire our surroundings. We continue onward and upward, looking in at a small room that was a chapel and then climb many steps to the top of the tower. From this height, we can see for miles which was one of the purposes of the Fortress, being able to see your enemies from a long way off. After enjoying the views, we leave Landstejn Fortress to continue exploring the countryside.

Landstejn Fortress

Landstejn Fortress

Looking down at the first floor of the castle

Road leading up to the entrance of the Fortress

Road leading up to the entrance of the Fortress

Milan tells us he would like to take us to a small segment of the Iron Curtain that is nearby if we would like to see it. Everyone is on board with this suggestion and soon we are driving down a dirt road where Waessik parks the bus next to a farmer’s field. The owner is kind enough to allow people to come see this sad reminder of Czech’s communist past and was wise enough to preserve a small portion of the Iron Curtain.

A small section of the Iron Curtain that fenced the Czech people in.

A small section of the Iron Curtain that fenced the Czech people in.

We walk over to the small section of the preserved Iron Curtain, which are just wooden posts strung with nasty barbed wire. Milan recounts the story of the day communism fell and how his parents went out with myriads of others to help tear the fence down. Milan emotionally relates how vividly he remembers as a child of nine (or 6?) when his folks returned crying with joy and carrying a piece of barbed wire from the Iron Curtain with them. What a feeling of elation that must have been, knowing that you were free to travel to neighboring Austria, or anywhere as far as that goes, that had been off-limits for decades.

Milan explaining what the sign says and relating the story of his parents when the iron curtain came down

Milan explaining what the sign says and relating the story of his parents when the iron curtain came down

Our last stop for the afternoon is to look at WWII bunkers in the National reserve known as Czech Canada. We walk down a rough country road to reach the forest where the bunkers are located. Upon entering the forest, we walk by the first camouflaged bunker, an innocuous round dome hunkering among the trees. I catch movement to my left and am startled to see a tow-headed boy gathering pine cones in a bucket. I look around but there doesn’t appear to be anyone else around. Weird. We pass two or three more bunkers before arriving at the “show” bunker and a man is waiting for us here. Ah, the mystery of the lone boy is solved as this is his father.  Milan talks about the work and cost of the bunkers the Czech government expended on the project meant to protect the Czech border from an invasion by the Germans. In the end, the government made the decision not to fight Germany. It is ironic that the bunkers were used during the cold war to keep Czech citizens from escaping to the West to freedom.

Gathering pine cones

Gathering pine cones

One of the bunkers in the forest

One of the bunkers in the forest, another can be seen in the distance

Milan introduces us to the fellow that is going to unlock the bunker so we can tour it and then we file into the concrete fortifications in groups of three. You understand why the bunkers are placed so closely together because the area that the two machine guns can cover is very limited. The bunker is cramped for space due to all the equipment that is stored in it but wow is it interesting.

A look inside the bunker and the man who unlocked the bunker for us

A look inside the bunker and the man who unlocked the bunker for us

After this fun and interesting afternoon, we return to the hotel where we have an hour before our next activity this evening! Good old Waessik, cheerful as ever, drives us to a nearby village where we are being hosted by a family who is cooking dinner for us. As we pull up to the house we are greeted by a pretty woman who takes us into a large back yard. My first reaction is that they have enough firewood here to last for two years! Hey, the drummer/singer from the band last night walks out to welcome us to their home and introduces a neighbor and her daughter who are helping prepare the meal. The first order of business is the welcome drink which is liquor made from the pears from their tree. Oh yikes, this sounds a lot like the horinka we were given in Romania. Once we all have some of the liquor in hand a toast is given and most people in group down the drink in one gulp. I take a sip of the burning liquid, sigh and figure I may as well get this over with and copy the example of my cohorts. It makes me gasp but at least I didn’t offend our hosts by not drinking it! The majority of our group, including Paul and Jennifer, think the pear liquor was quite good.

Our group filing through the door into the back yard of our hosts house.

Our group filing through the door into the back yard of our hosts house.

Welcoming us to their home with a drink of liquor made from their pear trees.

Welcoming us to their home with a drink of liquor made from their pear trees. There is a lot more wood around then what you are seeing in this photo!

Once the welcoming ceremony is finished we traipse into a large open room in the house where we sit on chairs and couches sitting around the perimeter of the room. The couple is going to demonstrate how to make one type of dumplings that we have been eating with so many of our meals. They work very well together as they show us the secret of cooking the perfect dumplings. The only hiccup in the cooking demonstration is when the woman remembers that she forgot to grease the mug, (yes they cook the dumplings in coffee mugs), after her husband had packed the dough in it. The good news is that she remembered her faux pas on the very first cup that her husband filled with dough.

Our hosts preparing to demonstrate how to make dumplings

Our hosts preparing to demonstrate how to make dumplings

There are two tables for us, one in the dining room and one in the kitchen. Paul, Jennifer, the three sisters and me occupy the table in the kitchen. Our personable hosts serve us a delicious potato soup to start the meal and honestly, the generous bowl of soup would have been enough for our meal. It is followed with two kinds of pork, roast and ham, dumplings and vegetables. It is all fabulous but the ham was my favorite part of the meal.

This soup was delicious.

This soup was delicious.

The main course. The ham was wonderful.

The main course. The ham was wonderful. The white round pieces are the dumplings

We have some drama after the meal, the first event being that one member of our group can’t get the bathroom door unlocked so Milan and our host must push in on the door and talk her through the trick to unlocking the door! When we leave our table, and join the others in the dining room there is a flurry of activity in the kitchen by our table. It seems that a napkin caught fire from one of the candles on our table! Holy Smokes that could have been bad. Once the napkin is extinguished, everyone in the group presents our host family with a gift we brought from the U.S. Paul and I let Jennifer present our gifts since she came up with the idea of a dish towel with sunflowers on it, which is the state flower of Kansas. We also give them a ball cap that Jennifer’s son who works for Kansas Wildlife and Parks donated to us for one of the gifts. Jennifer also used Google translate to write a card to our hosts, thanking them for hosting us and to explain the reasoning behind the gifts we brought. Milan went over what Jennifer had written yesterday before Jennifer wrote it in the card and made a few changes for her. Milan seemed pleased with this personalized touch of the card. Way to go Jennifer!

Paul has brought our photo book that we take on trips to show people photos of our ranch. After everyone has presented their gifts and we are preparing to leave, Paul takes the book over to our hosts and is explaining the photos in the book. Because some of our group is beginning to leave our hosts feel the need to escort us out and they place our book with the other gifts! Oops, Paul didn’t know how to explain that he wasn’t giving the book to them; he just wanted to share a little bit of Kansas with them. Oh well, no big deal but I bet our hosts wonder why we thought they would want a book of photos of a Kansas ranch from people they don’t even know!

Next blog, Leaving Czech Republic and going to Milan’s home country Slovakia

 A different angle of Landstejn Fortress

A different angle of Landstejn Fortress

Slavonice citizens watching the movie making from their window

Slavonice citizens watching the movie making from their window

Another cool door handle and door knocker

Another cool door handle and door knocker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 part 5

Today we traveled to stops

Today we traveled to stops 5, 6, & 7

Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 part 5

 

Our instructions from Milan were to have our luggage in front of our doors by 7:30 and be ready to leave this lovely village at 8:30. Paul and I appear to be one of the last of our group to go through the breakfast buffet and the food in many of the buffet bowls is nearly gone. The dining room is packed with tourists but Milan must have been given heads up on the crowd this morning because the tables along one wall have been reserved for our group. The staff is doing their best to replenish the food so Paul and I don’t go hungry, although as much as we have been eating it wouldn’t have hurt us to do without a meal!

One last look at Cesky Krumlov

One last look at Cesky Krumlov

The sky is overcast this morning and it is chilly as we leave The Old Inn Hotel to walk to the bus. I drink in the atmosphere of this enchanted city as we make our way to the bus and know that I will never forget Cesky Krumlov.dscf6079

Our first stop today is at the Budweiser Budvar Brewery in Ceske Budejovice. We are met in the lobby by a young woman who will guide us through the brewery. The unusual thing is that our guide has her kindergarten age daughter along too. Our guide begins by telling us some history of the plant which was founded in 1895 but beer was brewed in Ceske Budejovice back in the 13th century. The U.S. brewer took the name Budweiser in 1876 because the brand was known for top quality beer. There has been a huge brouhaha between these two companies over the rights to use the name Budweiser on their product causing them to end up in court at various times. In the lobby where the young woman is talking to us there is a large sign where it asks would you rather drink the beer of kings or the king of beers. I guess the feud continues :).

This is one side of the sign saying Beer Of Kings or King of Beers

This is one side of the sign saying Beer Of Kings or King of Beers

Our guide takes us outside and we walk by stacks of empty plastic beer crates that tower above our heads. We stop at a small plot of ground where some hops are growing which allows us to see what the plant and the grain look like. We also stop and look at the water holding tanks that are filled with the companies own spring water. The young lady escorts us into a building where we climb a few flights of stairs to a balcony and in the room below are several large copper stills. After we learn a little about the process taking place in this room we cross over to another building that is the bottling facility on one end and a recycling plant on the other end.

Enormous Copper stills

Enormous Copper stills

The first impression I have of the plant is that it is quite noisy and a big place. There are hardly any people working down here, most of the work is done by robots. Our guide confirms that the largest percentages of people employed at the company are in management and sales. Watching lines of green bottles snake down the conveyor belts is almost hypnotic. The machines that the recycled bottles pass through at lightning speed are detecting cracks or chips and the flawed bottles are kicked into tub sitting to the side of the machines, no humans could ever detect flaws at that speed! There are huge stainless steel vats that wash and remove labels from the recycled bottles. Gee, humans are pretty much obsolete in this plant.

Robots at work with one human overseeing this area

Robots at work with one human overseeing this area

This machine was one that detected flaws in the recycled bottles.

This machine was one that detected flaws in the recycled bottles.

We now make our way to where the beer is being fermented and are given a sample of beer to try. It is a bit early in the morning for me so I take one sip to be polite. We also are shown the different malt that is used to make different types of beer. I must comment on how well-behaved our guides little girl was throughout the entire tour. I’m not sure she ever said anything! When our tour is over we return to the lobby where several of us look through the gift shop. I pass on buying anything but I think several bottle openers will be coming back to the States.  I think it is while we are walking back to the bus that Paul quips that this OAT tour should be called “Brewers of Bohemia” instead of “Jewels of Bohemia “because of all the varieties of beers we have sampled and now the tour of the Budweiser Budvar plant. I thought that was darn funny. This seems a good place to mention that the people of the Czech Republic lead the world in beer consumption per capita!

Jennifer and Paul with their beer sample

Jennifer and Paul with their beer sample

This is the only photo that I got of our guides well behaved daughter and then only a portion of her!

This is the only photo that I got of our guides well-behaved daughter and then only a portion of her!

This is a monument to the carp industry in Trebon

This is a monument to the carp industry in Trebon

Our next stop is at the 12th century village of Trebon. Trebon’s claim to fame is the carp that are raised in numerous lakes/ponds that surround the village. Carp is the traditional dish for Czech’s on Christmas Eve and Trebon provides most of the fish for this traditional meal. Waessik drops us off by one of the fish ponds, which I would call a lake, and we walk the length of the dam. It is a popular place for bikers, walkers and we even meet a “train” that is carrying tourists. Hey, there is a nuthatch, one of my favorite birds, walking down the trunk of a tree head first. I spot another one of the comical birds in the next tree. As we near a dock, in addition to the mallards swimming nearby the concrete structure hoping for some bread crumbs, there are numerous carp that can be seen too.

Tourist train

Tourist train

The fish "pond" that we hiked along.

The fish “pond” that we hiked along.

Milan stops at a map that shows the village, ponds and the surrounding landscape. He explains how the water levels in the ponds are lowered so the carp can be netted and harvested. The natural marshes and wetlands can hold all the water that is released from the ponds although they only do one pond at a time. I can’t fathom the amount of water that would have to be drained to get the fish out! I didn’t ask or more likely didn’t hear how the ponds are filled back up though; surely they can’t depend on run off from rains!

Signboard showing Trebon and the surrounding landscape.

Signboard showing Trebon and the surrounding landscape. It is not a clear photo but still gives an idea of the town and surroundings

The route Milan takes us on passes by a portion of the old town fortification; there is a small roundish house that looks as though the seven dwarfs should start marching through the door on their way to work. We continue to a beautiful park that lies next to a sprawling white building. We are to eat lunch in a restaurant that lies underneath the building and guess what we are having for lunch? We make our way into the cellar like room where we are all seated at a long table.

The round house that my imagination took to be the dwelling of the seven dwarfs :)

The round house that my imagination decided that it could be the dwelling of the seven dwarfs 🙂

Waiting for our meal of carp. Paul's photo

Waiting for our meal of carp. Paul’s photo

Paul can’t have the carp due to his allergy to fish, and Mr. B declines the carp too. Well, the taste isn’t bad but I can’t deal with the tiny bones I find in my fish so I’m afraid I leave it on my plate. The side dishes were generous portions so there still was plenty to eat.  I think several people, due to the bones, left the fish uneaten. I think we all felt bad about that.

Another colorful town square

Another colorful town square

When we have finished our meal, we follow Milan into the center of the village where lovely pastel colored houses line the street. Milan stops and with a grin opens his magic bag and pulls out a box. I believe Milan said that this food item he is about to share with us was one of his favorite treats that his dad would buy for him when he was growing up. Milan then offers us one of the large round cookies. This thing is huge and is made of two super thin wafers with a cinnamon/sugar filling in the middle. This treat is called a spa wafer perhaps because Trebon is also known as a spa town. Not the beer spa we saw in Prague but a health spa famous for the peat moss that is supposed to cure a variety of ailments. I must add that the spa wafer was very tasty and many of our group went back to the store to buy a box of them to take home. Paul went back to buy a single wafer to eat on the spot.

Milan with a pleased smile on his face as he is ready to pull a treat from his magic bag!

Milan with a pleased smile on his face as he is ready to pull a treat from his magic bag!

Some of our group posing with their spa wafers.

Some of our group posing with their spa wafers.

We follow Milan through a portion of pretty Trebon on our way to the bus and we just enjoy the atmosphere of the village. Our next visit takes place in Jindrichuv Hradec, it is “only” a 13th century town so it is a century younger than Trebon. After disembarking from the bus, Milan leads us on a route that gives us a wonderful view of the gigantic Castle that sits near the edge of a pond. It is a beautiful setting although if the sun would have been shining the scene would have been stunning.

A wonderful view of the Castle in Jindrichuv Hradec even without sunshine.

A wonderful view of the Castle in Jindrichuv Hradec even without sunshine.

We walk on to the Castle museum which is famous for housing the largest working mechanical Nativity scene in the world. Although the biblical nativity scene is part of the sprawling set, there is a whole village depicting village life, (of Bethlehem I assume), with tiny people going about their daily routine. There are all kinds of different scenes such as musicians playing instruments, shepherds herding sheep, blacksmiths at work and much more. Many of these tiny figures move as they go about their work. The man who built this intricate nativity scene was Tomas Kryza who spent decades completing his project.

The band of muscians that actually moved as if playing their instruments.

The band of musicians that actually moved as if playing their instruments.

There were several pieces of inlaid wood furniture scattered around the museum. I love this type o furniture!

There were several pieces of inlaid wood furniture scattered around the museum. I love this type o furniture!

When the Nativity show is over we explore some other parts of the museum including a portion of the museum that is dedicated to Ema Destinova. Those of you who are opera aficionados might recognize the famous opera singer of the early 1900’s. This woman preformed at many of the biggest opera houses in the world including the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. I am not an opera fan and had no idea who she was but after looking through the rooms filled with her personal items, I did conclude that her taste in furniture was certainly unique.

Furniture of Ema Destinova

Furniture of Ema Destinova

We also visit the Gobelin Museum which is near the Castle Museum to see the tapestry collection. We first visit a woman who is busy repairing an old, worn tapestry. What tedious work though I suppose very fulfilling once you have finished the project. The woman answers a few questions from some of our group and then we move on to look through the very old tapestries on display. Since I have no photos of these works of art I assume that photos weren’t allowed which makes sense because I know many of the beautiful tapestries were on loan to the museum and very valuable.

A woman enjoying this small park we walked by.

A woman enjoying this small park we walked by.

Loading up on the bus

Loading up on the bus

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On our way to the bus we stroll through part of the Old Town with more eye-pleasing houses/buildings lining the square. I do love these town squares which invite people to sit down, relax and enjoy themselves. Our last stop of the day is Slavonice where we will spend two nights in this off the beaten path village. When we arrive in Slavonice, Waessik again drops us off on a main street since the bus won’t fit down the narrow street leading to the hotel. We are greeted by the owner/manager of the Dum U Ruze hotel and each of us are escorted to our rooms one at a time by Pavel the manager or by the young woman who is assisting him. Our group fills all the rooms of this charming hotel so of course, there are no other guests.

Pavel was a delightful man. Paul's photo

Pavel was a delightful man. Paul’s photo

We are given time to settle in our rooms before we are to meet in the lobby at a set time. Paul and I have a nice room the only drawback being that there is only one window and I must stand on my tiptoes to see the view of the town square.  One oddity, and our room in Cesky Krumlov was this way too, is that the toilet is by itself so you must walk a few steps down the hall to the shower room to wash your hands.

Once we are assembled on the ground floor, Milan tells us we are in for a treat and then lets the manager take over. Pavel takes us beneath the hotel into the 12th century wine cellar carved into the rugged rock. Pavel talks about the wine that is stored here, I think some of the oldest dated back to the 1950’s, then tells us a story about a wine pilferer that was using the tunnels that run under the town to sneak into the cellar and steal some of the most valuable wine. This was brought to a stop by installing some heavy-duty doors to block off the tunnel access. We then sample three kinds of white wine from the cellar. I am not a white wine person and I do not care for dry wine at all and these three wines fit both categories. One of the wines makes me involuntarily grimace and I happen to be looking at one of the sisters at that moment. Ms. L has the same expression on her face and it makes us both laugh. Most people in our group appreciate and like the wine so I know that in the wine connoisseur world these were quality wines.

Wine bottles stored in the ancient cellar

Wine bottles stored in the ancient cellar. Paul’s photo

We trudge back up the stairs, taking care here and there to duck our heads to avoid a low hanging rock. It is time for dinner and Milan has another surprise for us in that we will be entertained during dinner by a local band. The group called, Band Slavonice, is composed of four men, two playing guitars, one playing a bongo drum and one playing the violin. They are quite good and play a variety of songs including “Oh Susannah” and Country Roads by John Denver which we sing along with them on the chorus. They also play Czech music plus the violin player brings forth his inner Al Jolson on two songs where he sings solo, including the “Oh Yeah” while vigorously shaking his head at the same time, at the end of one of the songs. I loved it! We are sitting at the table nearest to the musicians and I become fascinated watching the finger and bow work of the violinist. Not having a single drop of musical talent, I can do nothing but admire and enjoy these four guys who are so talented.

Our evening entertainment, "Band Slavonice"

Our evening entertainment, “Band Slavonice”. Paul’s photo

Pavel presenting the wine we will drink with our meal. Pavel really was a showman, making everything entertaining

Pavel presenting the wine we will drink with our meal. Pavel really was a showman, making everything entertaining. Paul’s photo

To open the wine bottle, Pavel took a long sword and whacked the top off. It was quite impressive. Paul's photo

To open the wine bottle, Pavel took a long sword and whacked the top off. It was quite impressive. Paul’s photo

Band Slavonice takes a break and Milan asks us to play a game involving questions about the members of the band. The winners will win a signed cd from Band Slavonice. The questions I remember are, guess the age of each man, how many children do they have, and what is their profession. Paul sits back and lets Jennifer, Ms. J, and me come up with our answers. The three of us begin to get silly about the professions of the group and soon we are laughing so hard that I have tears running down my face. Fortunately, we come to our senses in the end and not wanting to offend anyone, we give typical answers, dentist, teacher, farmer, and hmm, I can’t remember the other one. The three sisters end up winning the contest, they were very close or right on the ages of the men and may have had one profession right too. We losers end up buying a cd from the group which they willingly sign for us. It was great fun but our evening isn’t over yet as Milan asks if any of us want to participate in making our dessert. No one is shy in our group so several come forward and volunteer to help the chef in preparing the dish, including Jennifer. We don’t have to wait for it to bake as the dessert magically appears shortly after the volunteers have completed preparing the dessert. The tasty dish was a fine finish to an interesting and varied day.

Jennifer lending a hand making our dessert. Paul's photo

Jennifer lending a hand making our dessert. Paul’s photo

The finished product

The finished product. Paul’s photo

Next blog, exploring Slavonice and the surrounding area

There were flowers everywhere and the window baskets were just gorgeous.

There were flowers everywhere and the window baskets were just gorgeous.

I found this sculpture disturbing. I have no idea what it symbolizes

I found this sculpture disturbing. I have no idea what it symbolizes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 part 4

Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 part 4

Early this morning I look out our window upon the town square that is devoid of human beings. If it weren’t for a few parked cars it would be easy to think you had been transported back in time. With a little imagination, one can see horses clip-clopping along pulling carts and people in medieval garb bustling across the cobblestone square.

The town square early Sunday morning. Taken from our hotel window

The town square early Sunday morning. Taken from our hotel window

The rich peal of church bells are a reminder that today is Sunday. Jennifer, Paul, and I manage to find our way down to the first floor, (getting around in The Old Inn Hotel is a bit like running a maze), where the breakfast buffet is. The buffet here is a definite down grade from the buffet in Prague but that being said we sure won’t go hungry.

Our instructions from Milan were to meet in the lobby at nine so Paul and I arrive fifteen minutes early. This is amazing, we aren’t the last ones to show up but we are close to it! This morning we will tour Cesky Krumlov with a local guide who introduces herself as Sharka. I doubt this is the correct spelling but I spelled her name the way it sounds.

Sharka and the map of Cesky Krumlov

Sharka and the map of Cesky Krumlov

Sharka relieves Milan of his guide duties and we traipse behind her to a small park with an amazing overview of Cesky Krumlov. Our blonde guide stops in front of a large sign board which depicts the layout of the village which also shows how the Vltava River meanders through the town, separating parts of the city. A few of us, including me, begin to drift towards the safety wall where the best vantage point to photograph the stunning view is. The postcard picture spread out below us shows off lovely red-tiled roofs with the stately Castle dominating the scene where it sits on the hilltop. The striking vista is accented by a deep blue sky which is streaked with ribbons of white clouds. Sharka is not putting up with defectors however and calls us back, telling her wayward flock that when she is finished speaking she will give us time to take photos. Fair enough.

Cesky Krumlov the fairytale city

Cesky Krumlov the fairytale city

Sharka runs through a brief history of Cesky Krumlov telling us the town was created around the castle in the 13th century by the Vilkovi family. The Rosenberg’s inherited the castle from the Vilkovi’s, (we will see the Rosenberg coat of arms, which is a five petaled rose, throughout our travels in Czech Republic). Cesky Krumlov, (Krumlov means crooked meadow in German), was at its most prosperous under the Rosenberg’s too. The Hapsburgs purchased the town in the early 17th century and transferred it to the Eggenbergs a couple of decades later. The Schwarzenberg’s inherited Cesky in the 18th century.  That is a long string of “Bergs” connected to the history of Cesky Krumlov! Our lesson continues and we learn that after World War II all Germans were expelled from the country, it didn’t matter that many had lived here for centuries. The city was more or less left to fall into decay after this. Fortunately, Cesky Krumlov was spared from war damage hence the many surviving historic buildings here. Restoration of Cesky began in 1989 after the Velvet Revolution, (expelling of communists), and by 1992 it was placed on the Unesco World Heritage list.

Group photo Sharka took with my camera

Group photo Sharka took with my camera

The prettiest part of the castle in my opinion

The prettiest part of the castle in my opinion

Sharka is true to her word and allows us to take photos of the picturesque village and even volunteers to use our various cameras to take group photos. Once the photo frenzy is over, Milan shows up, and Sharka continues to the next stop. Jennifer and I observed in Prague how Milan was with us one minute and then, poof, gone the next when we were touring the city with Adella. That same habit holds true throughout our tour this morning. Jennifer came up with the theory, (I’m pretty sure a correct one), that Milan leaves us so as to not interfere with the local guide and then pops up out of nowhere to make sure our local guide is sticking to the time schedule.

Part of the castle complex. This is where we walked the passageway. We were never actually inside the buildings rooms

Part of the castle complex where you can see how they utilized some of the rock for the wall( to the left).

Sharka makes several stops on this city tour including St. Vitus Cathedral where she informs us that about 3/4 of Czech’s aren’t followers of organized religion. We can’t go inside the cathedral today however because mass is being conducted.  Eventually we end up at the Castle complex and at this entrance there are two captive bears, one on each side, living in the moat. One of the bears is out in the open but I have no luck taking a photo of the brown beast as it cavorts in its private pool.

One of the walled courtyards. What are you looking at Jennifer?

One of the walled courtyards. What are you looking at Jennifer?

We stroll along the walkway that passes under some of the buildings of the Castle complex. The Castle complex includes forty buildings and palaces so it is huge! One of the most memorable parts for me is two separate courtyards (?) whose towering stone walls are decorated with paintings while the beautiful sky can be seen above us. When we emerge from the passageway we continue to the lookout that allows a bird’s-eye view of the town.  This is where we were taking photos last night but this morning we must join the crush of tourists, all who are vying for an open spot at the rail for a photo-op. The view looking down on Cesky Krumlov is lovely but I for one am out of that mass of people as soon as possible.

I did squeeze into the mass of tourists to snap a photo or two of the village

I did squeeze into the mass of tourists to snap a photo or two of the village

Sharka giving us an intro to the Castle museum after which we say our thanks and goodbyes to her

Sharka giving us an intro to the Castle museum after which we say our thanks and goodbyes to her

We end our tour with Sharka at the Castle Museum where she dispenses more information about what is on display here.  After thanking the energetic guide for her knowledge and time we continue into the museum to browse the artifacts on our own. Passing through different rooms we peruse a variety of items including chamber pots, old furniture, and beautiful dishes from the various “Bergs” eras. One item on exhibit that I find rather creepy is the bejeweled skeleton of St. Reparatus on display in a glass case.

St. Reparatus

St. Reparatus

This was close by the St. Reparatus exhibit. I wonder what the 7 swords in Mary's(?) breast symbolize? Anyone?

This was close by the St. Reparatus exhibit. I wonder what the 7 swords in Mary’s(?) breast symbolize? Anyone?

Once we have finished the museum tour, Milan hands out tickets to those of us who want to climb to the top of the watch tower. Paul decides to sit this one out due to his knees as does one other group member.  Jennifer and I join the rest of our party in climbing the steps through narrow passageways to the top. It is gorgeous up here although a bit crowded as other tourists are also checking out the views. When we get back to the entrance/exit to the tower I can’t find my ticket. Jennifer and C tell me they saw a ticket on one of the steps but had no idea it was mine. I must have pulled the piece of paper out of my pocket when I was getting a kleenex. Shoot! You need to insert the ticket into the machine for the barrier to drop in order to exit the tower. D comes to my rescue and when he activates the barrier I sneak out with him. Thank you Mr. D

One of the many gorgeous views from the tower

One of the many gorgeous views from the top of the tower

Jennifer starting back down the stairs through the narrow passages.

Jennifer starting back down the stairs through the narrow passages.

Restaurant sign where we had lunch

Restaurant sign where we had lunch

It’s time for lunch and with Milan in the lead we arrive at the restaurant where we have a small room to ourselves. The meal of turkey, polenta and vegetables is tasty but the coolest thing is the half dark/half light beer that many people order. How did the bartender do that?

Milan posing for us with the half and half beer

Milan posing for us with the half and half beer

We have some time on our own before our afternoon activity so Jennifer, Paul and I visit the monastery, well the grounds of the monastery in Cesky. The place as one might expect is neat as a pin with a nice garden still producing a variety of vegetables. The item that really catches my attention is the oversized chair made of tree limbs. Two sculptures are near the chair so I guess the rickety chair is supposed to be art.

The Monastery the three of us visited briefly

The Monastery the three of us visited briefly

Art?

Art?

This afternoon we are rafting down the Vltava River. Upon the advice of Milan I have made the painful decision to leave my camera in the hotel room. Paul has brought his small camera since it is easy to stick in a pocket for protection from splashing water. The afternoon is perfect for being on the river since it is overcast and cool. We must walk from the hotel to where the rafts cast off and after donning the bulky life vests, grabbing a paddle, dividing ourselves into two groups, we climb aboard and cast off. Both rafts have a sturdy young man in the back and although we are told to help them out by paddling, quite often we don’t, (at least in our raft), and I think the captain is just fine with that.

Our happy companions in the other raft

Our happy companions in the other raft. All photos on the rafting trip are Paul’s

Cool rounded door in the rock wall

Cool rounded door in the rock wall

Paul is kept busy taking photos as there are many photos ops as we float through the beautiful village. Being on the river, as it was in Prague, gives a different perspective of the historic city. Most of the raft ride on the river is tame although there are a couple of man-made “rapids” that we go through. The river trip proves to be quite peaceful as we float along on the tannin-browned water. There are people fishing from the river banks while others are just out relaxing on a Sunday afternoon. Many other people are rafting or kayaking too, but the river isn’t over-crowded with boats. Our raft does encounter one problem when we are floating over some shallow riffles and it becomes caught on a big rock! It takes a little work, enough to make our raftsman grunt a few times, but he maneuvers us off the obstacle and we continue on. When we approach a bridge and see Waessik waving down at us we know our rafting trip is about to end.

"Scary" man-made rapids!

“Scary” man-made rapids!

Fishing on a Sunday afternoon

Fishing on a Sunday afternoon

We got a "kick" out of this bench

We got a “kick” out of this bench

Once we are all back on shore Milan gathers us around saying he has a reward for us for surviving the rafting voyage on the Vltava. Milan pulls a bottle of booze from his black satchel, (Milan is never without his satchel), and pours a small amount of liquor into the plastic cups he has handed out to us. After a toast to our successful river ride, we take a sip of the liquor. Yow, that is too strong for me but I notice that most folks, including Paul and Jennifer, find the liquor quite tasty and down the burning liquid. What an enjoyable afternoon this was!

Time for the celebratory drink.

Time for the celebratory drink.

This evening, dinner is on our own but Milan has offered to take us to a restaurant that serves local beer and also to introduce us to the traditional snacks that the Czech people eat with their beer. “Count me in” is heard fourteen times. Once again our guide could have had an evening to himself but generously offers to introduce us to more of the local culture! Milan orders three favorite beer foods of the Czech people for us, potato pancakes, toast with blue cheese and pickled sausage. I can’t remember the name of the local beer but we Kansans liked it better than the Pilsner that is so popular. All of the snacks were good but the toast with blue cheese was my favorite. In fact we liked the appetizers so well that those at our table ordered another round of the snacks instead of opting for a meal. Milan insists on paying for the first batch of appetizers (not the beer) but we make up a little bit for his generosity by sharing the second go round with him that we paid for.

Enjoying the dessert Jennifer bought for our 40th

Enjoying the dessert Jennifer bought for our 40th

After this fun experience, Jennifer, Paul, and I walk to the river where Jennifer is treating Paul and I to dessert in order to celebrate our 40th anniversary. We kept this occasion under our hats because we didn’t want anyone making a fuss about it. We choose a restaurant that sits next to the river where we are seated at a riverside table. We enjoy our yummy dessert, (thanks Jennifer), as lovely music drifts through the night air. When we have finished eating we go stand on the bridge with several other folks and enjoy the young man and woman who were the source of the music that accompanied our dessert. Paul drops some money into the couples open violin case before we leave.  The three of us wander back to the town square and sit down to listen to a classical guitarist. After enjoying a portion of this young man’s solo concert, Jennifer drops a few coins in his tip box and we call it a night.

After breakfast we walk to the bus and as we climb aboard Waessik as usual cheerfully greets us. The curvy, tree-lined road we are on follows the river so I watch for birds along or in the river. I see a few ducks, two herons, small hawks that resemble our kestrel (I’ve seen these small hawks other places already) and two large hawks. Not bad for bird watching at sixty miles an hour!

A poor photo of the road we traveled but notice there are no middle lines.

A poor photo of the road we traveled but notice there are no middle lines.

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We arrive in Vyssi Brod, another beautiful village, where we are going to visit the monastery that dates back to the 13th century. Walking through the entrance we see in front of us a lovely church flanked by several other buildings. This monastery must be fairly large as there is a signpost directing people to the various sites. For some reason I found the signpost amusing, I guess it just seemed a bit out of place.

The Monastery

The Monastery

There is a young man who will accompany us on our tour of the monastery and our first stop is to tour the inside of the impressive white church that towers above the other buildings. As Milan is translating what our Czech speaking guide is telling us about the church, E and I are taking a few photos. Oops, Milan tells us that no photos are allowed in here. There was a “no photos” sign posted on the door but we missed seeing it. Well, I only snapped a few pictures and only a couple were decent (I kept them).

Milan translates for us that the monastery was founded by a member of the Rosenberg family in the 13th century. The legend goes that he fell into the river and he promised to build a monastery if someone would save him from death. A person, (or was it an angel?), did save him and he kept his promise by building this monastery in Vyssi Brod. The Rosenberg founder then invited Cistercian monks from Austria to run the monastery. The monastery was repressed under the Nazi’s and shut down under communism but now the Cistercian monks have reopened the monastery and are slowly restoring the buildings.

One forbidden photo of the altar

One forbidden photo taken inside the church

The inside of the church is extremely ornate with lots of gold plating, an incredible altar, beautiful inlaid wood pieces, and in the choir loft is a huge organ with 2,000 pipes! We follow our young guide to another building that is a small museum. What I remember the most is the numerous framed oil paintings on the walls of the museum, some of which seem a bit risqué for a monastery:).

We then walk from the museum to the library where even I see the sign which warns you not to touch the books as this action will set off an alarm. We walk through one aisle in the library where we are surrounded by old books sitting on shelves that reach far above our heads. There are 70,000 books in the Monastic Library, and 1200 manuscripts (we didn’t see any of these). Everyone treads softly not wanting to inadvertently trip the alarm as the vision of being rushed by brown-robed monks is not a pretty picture :). We end up in an airy room surrounded by more books that someone is in the process of cleaning up and also reorganizing the old books on the shelves. It really is a miracle that the books survived under the Nazi’s and communists. When we have finished the tour, Milan once again reaches inside his magic satchel and produces a bottle of mead to cap off our visit here. I think mead is often brewed by monks. I really like this drink!

Milan pouring mead for everyone

Milan pouring mead for everyone

We leave the monastery; climb back into the bus and Waessik drives us to our next stop for the morning. We are off to Lipno Lake, which was made by damming the Vltava River, for a hike. When we arrive at the resort, Milan gives us the choice of riding the bus to the top of the mountain or taking the ski lift. We all opt for the ski lift. I have only been on a ski lift once and I find that sitting down on a seat that is moving is a bit tricky. I voice my concerns about the difficulty once we are safely seated and moving along the cable. Jennifer points out that I should try getting into the seat with skis on. Yow, that would be a trick to master! We enjoy the fresh air, the pine forest below us, and pretty views on our way up the small mountain. Getting off the ski lift and out-of-the-way of the slow-moving seat is really hard but I manage to stay on my feet and run away from the slow-moving seat.

Some of our party heading up the mountain on the ski lift

Some of our party heading up the mountain on the ski lift

Our hike today is called the Treetop Walk and once Milan buys our tickets we are ready to go. We actually will be hiking on a wooden walkway that leads to the base of a 130 foot tower. The air is chilly and it is starting to look as though it could rain so Jennifer and I take off at a fast walk. The walkway gradually gains in height so by the time we reach the base of the circular tower the wind is quite brisk.  The wind becomes stronger with every circle we make while climbing higher on the tower.

Looking back on a portion of the walkway

Looking back on a portion of the walkway

On the last circuit before we reach the tower top, Jennifer and I stop to stare and laugh at a several pair of plastic human legs that are hanging above us. The lifelike legs are mechanically running in place and we wonder out loud what they symbolize. A man passing by, who is carrying his young son on his shoulders, stops and tells us in broken English that the legs represent the most famous Czech distance runner in the nation’s history. He informs us that this running phenom won three gold medals in the 1952 Olympics! Later, Milan gives us more info about Emil Zatopek who won gold medals in the 5,000 meter, 10,000 meter, and the marathon over a span of eight days. What an unbelievable achievement and Mr. Zatopek certainly deserves the honor of the running legs memorial. Plus you must admit that this is a very unique memorial!

Emil Zatopek memorial- one of several pairs of running legs

Emil Zatopek memorial- one of several pairs of running legs

Holy Smokes it is windy up here plus the clouds have rolled in so even though the views are wonderful if the sun were shining I think we could see for miles and miles. We don’t linger on this windswept deck and quickly wind our way back down to the boardwalk. At the bottom of the tower there is a metal tube that you can slide down which will deposit you near the entrance gate if you don’t want to walk back the length of the walkway. Jennifer, Paul, and a few more people from our group decide to throw caution to the wind and go for the shortcut. The problem is the man that sells the tickets for the dry toboggan ride has disappeared. No way am I sliding down that claustrophobic tube so I join N and we start back down the wooden trail. When we reach the entrance gate we don’t see any of the adventure seekers and we assume that they are still waiting for the ticket guy to show up. We continue to stand near the ride but there is no one being ejected from the white tube. I hear familiar voices behind me and turn to see a disappointed group coming our way; it seems the ticket man was a no-show so they had to walk down after all.

Lipno Lake

Lipno Lake. The rain clouds are rolling in

A different view from the tower

A different view from the tower

Jennifer and I had planned to hike through the forest rather than take the bus back down to the parking lot, but about the time the thwarted tube riders arrive; big fat raindrops are starting to fall. The drops turn into a hard shower so the good news is that waiting on the ticket man saved Jennifer and I from getting soaked on the forest trail! We all pile into the bus when it arrives except for D and C who began hiking through the forest before it started to rain, poor things. It seems the hiking couple was prepared for rain as they were carrying rain coats so they weren’t soaked through after all.

Another beautiful town on the river

Another beautiful town on the river

We drive to another picture perfect town along the Vltava River and stop at a nice restaurant to have lunch. Milan brings out two shot glasses of liquor and presents them to the heroes of the day, D and C, for hiking through the rain at Lipno Lake. The rest of us applaud the deserving couple as they laughingly accept their reward.

Enjoying the scenery after lunch

Enjoying the scenery after lunch

Upon our return to Cesky Krumlov, Jennifer decides to go shopping for gifts while Paul and I visit a museum that Milan had recommended which is dedicated to a local photographer named Joseph Seidel. The museum tour was self-guided and our recorded narrator explained what we were looking at in the various rooms as long as you pressed the right numbers! Once we got the hang of the electronic device we thoroughly enjoyed walking through the house of this excellent photographer. Paul and I agreed that Seidel’s work and the way he would go out of his way to get photos, (including strapping on snow skis to reach his subject if need be) reminded us of our own Wabaunsee county photographer Otto Kratzer. Both men took excellent black and white photos in the early 20th century and both photographers would go to great lengths to capture ordinary life around them. It was a great way to end our afternoon.

Joseph Seidel museum

Joseph Seidel museum, Paul’s photo

Tonight dinner is on our own so Jennifer, Paul, and I eat at Two Mary’s restaurant where we enjoy our delicious meal sitting at a table that overlooks the Vltava River. This is our last evening in Cesky which is a little sad for me.  I have so enjoyed this fairytale city and all the other sites we took in while staying here.

The last time we walked down this narrow street to our hotel.

Walking down to our hotel on this lovely street for the last time.

Next blog-Budweiser Brewery, Trebon and Slavonice

I love this photo of the couple sitting under the apple tree Paul took even if they are a bit blurred. We were on a moving raft after all.

I love this photo of the couple sitting under the apple tree Paul took even if they are a bit blurred. We were on a moving raft after all.

We passed by these hilarious chairs and I couldn't resist. Paul's photo

We passed by these hilarious chairs and I couldn’t resist. Paul’s photo

A different look from the tower

A different look from the tower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 part 3

Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 part 3

Today we traveled to stop two, three, and four.

Today we traveled to stop two, three, and four.

This morning we set our luggage outside our door at 7:30 and we go down for breakfast where I enjoy the yummy croissants for the last time.  Paul and I return to the room to gather our personal luggage and check to make sure we have not left anything behind. Everyone is in the lobby by 8:30 and we climb into the bus. Waessik, who is Polish, greets us with a big smile and a “good morning”.  Once we have all settled in our chosen seats we are ready to hit the road to explore some more of the Czech Republic. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Prague but the three of us agree that we are ready to move on.

Once we leave Prague, Waessik drives the comfortable bus down narrow, curvy roads that travel through farm country and villages. On occasion Milan will speak to us about various topics via his microphone as we are driving. I spy two deer grazing in a hay-field this morning, someone sitting behind comments on them too; we also see cattle, a few horses, crop ground, and lots of big round hay bales.

After driving an hour and a half we reach our first stop of the day, the Vojna Memorial, a camp first built to house German prisoners of war. Vojna then became a forced labor camp to mine uranium when Russia took control of Czechoslovakia from 49 to 51. The communists then used Vojna to house political prisoners until 1961. The political prisoners were mostly people who supported democracy.dscf5663

The first thing we see when we get out of the bus is a sign over the entrance gate and Milan tells us that it says “work will set you free”. Milan points out the irony of the statement since it is exactly what the sign over Auschwitz concentration camp declared. Our group walks through the gate and we look down the path between two barbed wire fences where the guards would patrol. There is a sculpture on the grounds showing a man at the top of a ladder while other prisoners are burrowing into the ground. The sculpture depicts how people tried to escape the misery of the camp to gain their freedom but rarely if ever did they succeed.

Patrol path with watch tower in the distance

Patrol path with watch tower in the distance

Notice the benches in the music room

Notice the benches in the music room

Milan leads us through the partially reconstructed camp relating grim and cruel stories as we go. There was a cultural building with a “library”, all communist material I’m sure, and a music room where the listeners had to sit on slat benches that were backless and rounded to make sure the prisoners couldn’t use the time to sleep. We walk through a small building that is a hospital which the inmates had to man themselves. Milan explains how much sickness there was among the inmates since the prisoners had no protective wear for the uranium mines they were forced to work in, plus they had to sleep in the same clothes. This left the men in constant exposure to the uranium which was obviously detrimental to their health. Many survivors suffered from cancer and leukemia in later years.

Milan has a "captured" audience. Seriously, Milan was a walking encyclopedia and his words brought the topic to life. Amazing guide.

Milan has a “captured” audience. Seriously, Milan was a walking encyclopedia and his words brought the many topics he covered to life. An amazing guide.

Paul taking it all in.

Paul taking it all in.

Surgery room for the prisoners

Surgery room for the prisoners

Milan leads us to the barracks where beds are crowded together in the small rooms and in tiers. There were also examples of solitary confinement cells making the crowded barracks look quite luxurious. Milan explains that the prisoners were paid a salary which allowed the communists to say that they were treating the prisoners fairly.  The rest of that story is that the prisoners were also charged for their food, lodging and clothes so the prisoners ended up with a pittance of their pay. Milan told us that the prisoners were put to work early in the morning with no breakfast and their lunch and dinner would be very inadequate, (an example is watered down soup), thus adding to the deterioration of their health.

Crowded barracks

Crowded barracks

Isolation cell

Isolation cell

In the building that housed the Camp commander there was a memorial in remembrance of all those that had suffered or died in Vojna under the Stalinist times. There was also a sign with the names of those that were executed at this depressing place. Milan has one more stop for us and that is the underground cell where prisoners were put for the ultimate punishment. After sticking our heads inside the cell, most of us take a deep breath and step into the concrete pit. The tall people in our group can’t stand up straight in here and at 5’6″ the top of my head is close to touching the ceiling. There are not any windows, or any place to go to the bathroom, places to sit or lay down. Once that door was shut there would be nothing but darkness. How in the world could any human stand these conditions for long?  It is time to move on down the road and although it is sobering and tough to visit places like Vojna it surely is important to do so to honor the victims of these atrocities.

Names of the political prisoners that were executed in Vojna

Names of the political prisoners that were executed in Vojna

The entrance into the underground cell

The entrance into the underground cell

After we have been driving for a while, Waessik pulls the bus off the road into a gas station area and brings it to a halt. Milan, with a quizzical smile, faces us and points to a small patch of green weeds across the road identifying the “weeds” as a marijuana field. Milan says he had our driver stop here because he has never seen this big of a field of marijuana. Milan informs us that the Czech Republic has recently decriminalized the drug and Milan says that they will have to wait and see what happens. Paul and I are more intrigued with the person that is stacking round bales of straw in the adjacent wheat field going up seven layers high! I also enjoy the colorful kites that are on display outside the gas station and think to myself that people can fly a kite while getting high as a kite:). Go ahead and groan that was bad.

Marijuana field. Men loading big round bales. Unfortunately the photo of the 7 layer stack was blurry.

Marijuana field and men loading big round bales. Unfortunately the photo of the 7 layer stack was blurry.

Colorful kites for sale

Colorful kites for sale

Our next stop today is Pisek, a town founded in the 13th century. Milan first takes us to the Parish Church but we won’t be going inside as there is a wedding taking place. Milan says that it is o.k. to peek in the open door if we are very quiet. The church is full of wedding goers but what is really intriguing to me is that there is a seat for the bride and groom to sit on. This must be some long ceremony! We all quietly laugh at the basket outside the door that contains a horse collar, a ball and chain, and a bolt cutter. It would be fun to see what the wedding couple does with these items.

Parish church in Pisek. I believe it is one if not the oldest churches in the country

Parish church in Pisek. I believe it is one of if not the oldest church in the country

I took a photo of the wedding in progress

I took a photo of the wedding in progress

This oddly colored cat was looking down at us from a window ledge

This oddly colored cat was looking down at us from a window ledge

We walk down cobblestone streets laid in artful patterns as we pass by brightly painted houses whose window planters are filled with colorful flowers. Most of the businesses are closed and few people are on the streets, maybe they are all at the wedding! Milan fills us in on the history of the town as we walk towards the restaurant where we are to eat lunch. Milan points out the sand sculptures across the Otava River which we will visit after lunch. On the way to the restaurant we pass by stands where people are selling food, candy, and beer. It seems there is a beer festival going on today perhaps another reason the old part of town was so quiet!

Listening intently to Milan in front of the Parish church.

Listening intently to Milan in front of the Parish church.

Colorful houses and beautiful flowers

Colorful houses, beautiful flowers and  marijuana for sale

I tried to show the artful pattern of the cobblestone street Jennifer is walking down. It is easier to see in real life!

I tried to show the artful pattern of the cobblestone street Jennifer is walking down. It is easier to see in real life! It made me a bit dizzy truthfully.

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As usual there are tables reserved for us in the restaurant which is quite crowded with customers. On the menu today is wild boar, hey this is why we travel, to experience new things in new places. The wild boar meat which is swimming in a tasty brown sauce isn’t too bad for someone like me who doesn’t care for wild game. I feel a little bad though as there is a wild boar head hanging on the wall right next to our table. When we have finished our meal, we go outside to a tent where beer on tap is being sold. Milan gathers us around him looking very pleased with himself as he tells us about the bartender in the restaurant where we ate. It seems this man is a master bartender who has won many medals in beer drawing competitions in the Czech Republic. He is so famous that bartenders from Prague and elsewhere come to learn from the man. Milan has spoken to the fellow who has agreed to demonstrate for our group the art of drawing a perfect beer. The bartender is supposed to put on the demo at this tent but the man is so busy that we have to return to the restaurant and crowd around the bar to watch the Master at work.

Paul and D eating the wild boar.

Paul and D eating the wild boar. Those are dumplings on the side

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We clog the area around the bar while the first thing the bartender explains via Milan is that the glasses must be washed and rinsed properly through three different tubs of water. The next thing he tells us is that you never draw beer into a dry glass, the glass must be wet. After that I am lost as he demonstrates different ways to draw beer to make a completely different tasting beer from the same tap. I didn’t get around to sampling what I think was called milk beer but those that did said it definitely was smoother than a normal beer. Anyway it was another one of those unexpected events that Milan often added throughout this tour to make our time here even more special. We thank the busy bartender and leave him and his real customers in peace.

The master bartender instructing the group on drawing the perfect beer

The master bartender instructing the group on drawing the perfect beer

Our group strolls back through the various food and beer stands and Milan stops at one place where dough is being wrapped around a rotating cylinder and then cooked over charcoal. Milan buys one of the wonderful smelling treats called Trdelnik (nope can’t pronounce it) and hands out a sample to all of us. Oh yum, that is so tasty, trdelnik is so good in fact that Paul goes back to buy another one which he shares with Jennifer and me and whoever wants a bite. We stop in front of another vendor’s tent where Milan explains some of the different candies that are for sale there. One of the sisters buys a fudge type candy and she is kind enough to have the proprietor cut it in enough pieces so all of us can sample the sweet treat. Mmm, that is really good too.

Making the delicious Trdelnik.

Making the delicious Trdelnik.

All kinds of candy for sale at this stand.

All kinds of candy for sale at this stand.

The bridge spanning the Otava River

The bridge spanning the Otava River

Milan takes us across the bridge to the sand sculptures which are standing near the river’s edge. The sculptures depict characters from Czech fairy tales and include a really cool, fire-breathing dragon, humans, and a donkey that looks a lot like the one in Winnie the Pooh. I love these sand sculptures! There is a cute little girl who walks up to the dragon and poses by it while her mom takes her photo (as do I). Then she turns around and appears to slightly curtsy to the beast now and then, it takes me a moment to realize she has seen her shadow and is moving slightly to make her shadow move. How cute is that!

Sand Sculptures, they were huge.

Sand Sculptures, they were huge.

Can you do this shadow?

Can you do this shadow?

Terrible light but hilarious Minion cookies

Terrible light but hilarious Minion cookies

Milan now takes us towards the small carnival where we pass by a booth that is selling cookies in various shapes such as hearts and minions! The minion cookies are hilarious and for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about they are characters from one of my favorite animated films, Despicable Me. What a hoot. Again one member of our group generously shares some of the licorice type candy she bought with all of us. The rides here are mostly for children but we see a father and son having fun in the bumper car ring which makes Milan reminisce how the bumper cars were his favorite thing at carnivals when he was a kid. I preferred the merry-go-round as a youngster myself:).  We reach the bus where our driver cheerily greets us and soon we are on our way to our final destination today, Cesky Krumlov.

Bumper cars that brought back good memories to Milan.

Bumper cars that brought back good memories for Milan.

We reach Cesky Krumlov by late afternoon and because the streets that lead to our hotel are so narrow, Waessik has to let us off at the bus stop where we walk to our hotel, carrying our personal luggage with us. The large suitcases will be delivered via a van to the hotel. As we near the old town the view is just breathtaking. I feel like we have been put down in the middle of a fairy tale as I gaze over the red-tiled roof tops and see the stunning castle on the hill overlooking the town. Wow just wow! We reach the main square and there is our hotel, The Old Inn Hotel, right on the square. It gets even better when Paul and I discover that our very comfortable, third-floor room looks out on the beautiful square. This is wonderful. Before dinner we Kansans wander around this lovely village discovering picturesque views around every corner.

One of our first views of Cesky Krumlov. I loved it at first sight!

One of our first views of Cesky Krumlov. I loved it at first sight!

Looking out our hotel room window.

Looking out our hotel room window at the town square.

We oohed and ahhed over this scene as we crossed the bridge.

We oohed and ahhed over this scene as we crossed the bridge.

After a tasty dinner, Paul, Jennifer and I decide to walk up to the castle since according to Milan the view of Cesky at night is not to be missed. The three of us bump into the California sisters and the couple from Michigan and together we search for a way to the top of the castle complex. Our impromptu group notice people coming down some unlit stairs and we figure what the heck. Sure enough the stairs lead to the complex walkway and we are rewarded with a dazzling view of Cesky after dark. We join others in snapping pictures of the twinkling town below us. All of us then stroll down this walk way which takes us through some open air parts of the dimly lit castle. We emerge at the opposite end of the complex where the part of the castle with the distinct pink turret stands. It was beautiful by daylight and it is stunning at night! It is a wonderful way to end our day.

Crossing the same bridge at night. Beautiful

Crossing the same bridge at night as we did this afternoon. Beautiful

The castle complex lit up.

Our climb to the top was rewarded with this view of the Castle complex bathed in light

The distinct turret taken from below as we exited.

The distinct turret seen from below after we exited the castle.

What a day we have had from the sobering Vojna Memorial to the festive town of Pisek and last but not least to the “Fairy Tale” city of Cesky Krumlov.

Next blog, Exploring Cesky Krumlov

Paul and Jennifer looking at the sand sculptures from the bridge.

Paul and Jennifer looking at the sand sculptures from the bridge.

Our hotel

Our hotel

I got a kick out of this photo as I thought the windows in the walkway walls looked like frogs eyes.

I got a kick out of this photo as I thought the windows in the walkway walls looked like frogs eyes.