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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Next blog-Budweiser Brewery, Trebon and Slavonice