Genovia lives, and the band is playing bluegrass!
05.30.2009 - 06.01.2009 48 °F
My Daughter Anna Kate loves the movie The Princess Diaries. In the film, an American teenager finds out that she is, in fact, royalty, and moves to the tiny fictional European kingdom of Genovia to assume her role in the idyllic life of the castle with her Grandmother, played by Julie Andrews. We have enjoyed this movie more times than I can count, but I have told her to remember that places such as fairy tale kingdoms only exist in books, movies, and (maybe) at Disney World. After spending three days in Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic, however, I may owe her an apology.
I woke up early and showered, quietly getting ready while all of my friends at Hostel Elf slept late after the big hostel party the night before. While having breakfast on the terrace, I got a chance to chat with Matt from New Jersey. Matt is first generation U.S., and has relatives in Poland he visits as often as he can. His Grandmother lives in Warsaw and stocks milk when he comes, because she knows Matt loves the cheese and dairy products of Eastern Europe much better than those in the United States. He says they are less processed. He agrees that hostels are the best places to meet new people while traveling due to the great energy of their residents.
I then walked to the bus stop and bought a ticket to Cesky Krumlov, three and a half hours away. While waiting for the bus I met Peter, Tina and Frank!
Peter is from South Korea, and Tina and Frank are from Shanghai. Frank currently works for Intel in Ireland. Tina worked for a Chinese law firm in Shanghai, but left to go to Ireland with Frank. They are taking the opportunity to do some traveling while in Europe. Good luck guys and have fun!
The bus was packed, and after I threw my bags underneath and climbed on, I ended up standing most of the way next to Irena, originally from Tabor, Czech Republic. She was going back to see her family there for the weekend. Irena is an architect currently living in Hamburg, Germany.
Irena's first big project as an architect was helping redesign an historical indoor swimming facility from the 1950's. The challenge, she said, is to preserve the old while still modernizing it. She looks forward to the facility being finished in the Fall of 2009 so she can go for a swim in a project she actually helped to create! Irena spent a year as an exchange student at Kansas State University, and especially enjoyed her travels while there to Chicago and to Death Valley, California. She said that she wants to return to the U.S. to visit South Dakota, due to her interest in the culture of the Native American tribes there. She enjoys dancing and music festivals, and her favorite band is the Dave Matthews band, although she is disappointed that they do not tour in Europe more often. We stood on the bus chatting together for 2 hours, and we said goodbye when she finally got off when the bus stopped at Tabor. Good luck Irena, and I hope you make it to South Dakota one day!
When I finally arrived In Cesky Krumlov the bus driver dropped me off at the wrong stop across town, so I had to walk in the pouring rain and cold wind along the road to find my lodgings for the next two nights, Hostel 99.
Hostel 99 has loads of character. It is in a very old house with huge exposed beams going through the walls and floors. Here is the staircase to the second floor.
Here is the main room where my bed was located. I slept up the second ladder in the loft under the eaves of the house!
My bed below is the one on the right. This is the last time I saw my roommate's bed unoccupied. When I came back from looking around the house he was in bed asleep, never to rise again. I spent 3 days there, and every single time I went back to the loft, be it 8 am, 2pm, or 2am, my roommate was in his bed, snoring away. At one point I wondered if he was still alive at all and started looking around for a stick to poke him with, but he then turned over and pulled the covers back up over his head. I began to wonder if the Czech Republic had been infested by a swarm of Slavic tsetse flies!
Hostel 99 was a co-ed hostel like Hostel Elf and most others in Europe, meaning that they put guys and girls wherever there is a bed available (although smaller private rooms are available for individual groups like families). I have yet to see an abuse of this arrangement in Europe. No one blinks an eye, and it works fine. The thinking is that if you give young people greater responsibility they will take greater responsibility. This is another good shot of the big room under my loft.
This hostel did surprise me in one aspect, however. The next morning when I was looking for a shower, I discovered that the bathrooms and showers are co-ed too! The showers are like the ones at the YMCA, where you have a little door to close to dress/undress before you get in the shower, so there is no nothing to worry about, but I have to admit that it was a bit intimidating at first. After toweling off and getting dressed carefully in the small room so as not to knock the door open with my otherwise exposed butt, I ended up brushing my teeth in my t-shirt and blue penguin boxers while sharing a sink with a strange lady who was laughing loudly and talking - in very animated Italian, toothbrush flying - to her female travel partner who was lathering up in the steamy shower directly to her right! I dodged her flying toothpaste, kept my head down, and just kept brushing....
The first thing I did was take a night walking tour of the city. Cesky Krumlov roughly means Czech bend in the river. It was originally settled due to its fine defensive position, with the river nearly completely surrounding it, forming a natural moat. In 1992 the town was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list. This map shows you the town's layout.
The town gate near the hostel.
An interesting manhole cover.
The fairy tale tower of Krumlov Castle, covered with fancy astrological signs. You can see the tower from all over town.
According to Rick Steves, one of the original ruling families of Cesky Krumlov, the Rozmberks, added bears to their coat of arms in the 16th century to demonstrate their (fake) blood relation to the distinguished Italian family of Orsini, which means "bear-like." To further demonstrate this alleged connection, the Rozmberks began to keep bears in a pit beneath the drawbridge, a tradition which continues to this day. Meet Mama Bear and Papa Bear Rozmberk.
The narrow cobblestone streets of the town. I kept expecting to see Julie Andrews ride by in a carriage, or at least Goofy and Donald Duck walking up the street waving to tourists!
Right then a wedding let out of the church and the wedding party began to walk down the street. Notice the bride's non-traditional short white dress.
The groom hamming it up for the camera!
The Rozmberk family ran Cesky Krumlov from 1302 to 1602, and their family symbol, the five-petaled rose, can still be seen all over town. It struck me as particularly fitting that a beautiful rose would symbolize this picture-postcard town, risen up from the particularly thorny history the Czechs have endured.
This is me at one of the town's overlooks. Castle Krumlov is on the hill in the background.
Sunset over Cesky Krumlov.
A graveyard was moved from near the church to make way for a town park many years ago. My guide told me that the deeply superstitious Czech people still avoid the park due to the "bad feelings" there. Some of the headstones were incorporated into the walls of the church and the nearby rectory.
Frescoes adorn many of the houses in town. It is quite romantic and inspiring.
Krumlov Castle tower at night reflected in the water.
The castle living quarters at night.
A walkway built to connect the castle to the Baroque theater and Castle gardens beyond.
Castle Krumlov and tower at night.
I woke up the next morning, looked out of the window and couldn't believe it. After days of cold wind and rain, it was...*gasp*...THE SUN!!! Never waste a sunny day in Eastern Europe. I showered and got out as quickly as I could, grabbing a chocolate muffin at the 99 Cafe for breakfast. This is an arch on the walk into the town square.
A beautiful green tower, visible from most parts of town.
The town from across the river.
This is probably my favorite picture of the castle, taken from the wooden Barber's Bridge.
Visit the Horor Bar and have a Czech beer with the undead!
A creepy character opening the door. Definitely not Mickey.
The baroque plague column was erected by the town to thank God for sparing (about half) of the population from the plague, which swept through Europe at that time. There is also a fountain at the base of the column.
Another view of the castle tower.
A sunny view over the city.
Knights with the five-petalled rose crest, defending the honor of Cesky Krumlov!
The church of St. Vitus, built in the 15th century. A legend about the church says that one afternoon the priest fell asleep inside. When he awoke later that night, he was shocked to see communion being given - by the ghosts from the displaced graveyard next door!
The interior of St. Vitus Church. I slipped in the back of a mass being given that morning, and afterwards enjoyed the beautiful organ fill this inspiring place. The music slowly faded away at the end, leaving behind an awed, silent reverence.
This is the Cesky Krumlov Old Town Square, lined with the baroque and renaissance homes of burghers, built on 12th century foundations. Three different times McDonald's tried to get a spot here for a restaurant, and were refused each time!
The history this square has seen is amazing. According to Rick Steves, in the 1620's Catholic Europe was threatened by the rising tide of Lutheran Protestantism. Since Cesky Krumlov was a seat of Jesuit Power and learning, intellectuals of the Catholic church burned books on the square. Later, when there was a bad harvest, residents blamed witches and burned them here too. In 1938 Hitler himself stood here in the square with giant Nazi banners to celebrate the the annexation of the Sudetenland. Finally, in 1968, Russian tanks rolled through the square to intimidate the Czechs during their uprising!
This was a cool Art Cafe I found in town.
Walking back across Barber's Bridge, I noticed our old friend St. John of Nepomuk. He was last seen on the Charles Bridge in Prague. Why is he hanging out on all of these bridges? Has he been depressed lately? Is he planning on trying out for the Olympic diving team? It turns out that one of his responsibilities is to be a protector from floods. Makes sense, but he must have been overwhelmed by the horrible August 2002 floods here which completely submerged the bridge. The bridge was saved, however, thanks to the removable handrails, which minimized the damage.
The Vltava river around the town (the same one that later flows through Prague) is a big draw for kayakers and rafters. They were even out paddling in the 48 degree F weather!
Another view of the city streets. You'd swear that if you went around the corner and over the bridge, you'd end up in Adventureland.
Two dogs, one fire hydrant. I'm just waiting for the sparks to fly.
June 1st here is celebrated as Children's Day. Since June 1 this year fell on a Monday, and everything is closed on Monday, they decided to hold it the day before, on Sunday. It was held on the grounds of the Eggenberg Brewery, which has been making beer here for something like 400 years. I heard the music from across town and decided to investigate. There were lots of games for the kids, and everybody was having fun. It looks like something just got this little girl's attention to her left.
This little boy with the blue Spider Man cap was precious.
How do you say "Moo" in Czech?
Toadstools or umbrellas? You decide.
Czech Vikings? How did I end up back in Sweden?
The goal of this game was to knock the heads off of the ghosts with a big hockey stick. "OK ghosts, you won't be serving communion in this town again anytime soon!"
One of the teen volunteers. Purple hair is very rare among native Czechs.
A policeman and his police dog, at children's day to show the kids that they have nothing to fear from the authorities. This guy practically looks like he should have his own children's T.V. show....
Look at this little girl's smile!
Oh no, the Czech witches have returned! Get the torches!
Spider Man was back, this time galloping around on one of the witches' brooms.
The kielbasa man had the grill going. When I first smelled them, I instinctively turned around looking for John Madden.
The best $1.50 I ever spent!
The music I had heard from across town that attracted me to the celebration was Johnny's Cash's Folsom Prison Blues. I listened for awhile, singing along as I walked the city streets, until I noticed something a little different. The band playing it was doing it in a country bluegrass style (very well, I might add), and they were singing it...in Czech?? Yes, Folsom Prison Blues in Czech! The band at the celebration turned out to be called Patrola (website http://www.patrola.cz). Check them out! Patrola in action!
During their break I went up and talked to Marcel and Vladimir from the band. I explained to them that I had once lived in West Virginia, and that their bluegrass playing was great! Marcel told me that American bluegrass and country music is quite popular in the Czech Republic, and that they travel all around the area playing it for crowds. The night before, in fact, they had a gig where they played from 10am until 3am!! That's a lot of work for anyone!
They then got up after talking with me during the break and played "Country Roads," dedicating it to me! I couldn't believe it! Patrola were terrific guys who very obviously loved what they did. Thanks, Patrola, and good luck with your music!!
I had to leave early for a 1pm tour of Krumlov Castle and the Baroque Theater there. On the way up to the castle, I checked in on the Bear family again. It looked like Mr. Bear had had a big night out with Patrola and was still sleeping it off....
Rick Steves writes that there were once many Baroque theatres across Europe, but due to the fact that they used candles for lighting and fireworks for special effects, all but two have burned down. One is in Stockholm and one is at Krumlov Castle in Cesky Krumlov. Photos were not allowed inside, but here is a photo of the main theater door....
and this is the huge lock on the front!
We got to go in and sit on the wooden benches while we learned about Baroque theater. We then were allowed to go under the stage to see the original stage machinery which was used to raise and lower things to and from the stage, and even produce sound effects! We saw (and heard) a thunder machine, rain machine, and wind machine! It was really quite interesting. Because the theater is so fragile, only five English language tours are allowed each day, and they are limited to 25 people each. Only one performance is given each year in the theater currently, and attendance is limited to Baroque theater enthusiasts.
The castle tour was next, and once again no cameras were allowed. The castle was where the Royal families of Cesky Krumlov lived until as recently as 1947, when it was nationalized by the government. I hope they paid the owners for it! The inside is compact and picture-perfect, from the entry through the castle chapel through to the ballroom, where concerts were occasionally given. The walkway to the theater leads from the ballroom directly to the theater, and then out to the gardens, where fireworks were sometimes set off as the ending to the evening! What would you give for just one evening like that?
Two castle windows.
A view of the town and the river from the castle.
One of the castle's many courtyards.
Shots I took of the castle gardens. No, this is not the hedge maze from The Shining....
Beautiful manicured lawns.
The garden fountain.
The garden fountain from the rear. For some reason I found this interesting.
The menu at the garden cafe!
A figure in the garden that caught my eye.
The castle walkway to the garden.
A cool sundial on the castle wall.
A diet of gas station sandwiches was beginning to catch up with me, so I decided to treat myself to a decent meal at the Tavern of Two Marys. And what a meal it was! I got the Chicken Feast - medieval Bohemian dining at its finest, right by the river, no less! The meal, garlic soup, and a beverage altogether was $11 - my largest meal expense so far, but very much worth it! The chicken came with potatoes, potato dumplings, millet, ham, and cabbage.
While eating alone, I had an unexpected dinner companion! I looked down and he seemed hungry, so I threw him a bite of ham.
As I was leaving I looked up the bank of the river and saw that my companion was not homeless at all, but was merely bored with his owners and was working the restaurant tables! I had been had!!
I was up early the next morning and packed up my things for the trip back up to Prague and then to Olomouc, in the eastern region of the Czech Republic called Moravia. I made my way down my loft ladder for the last time and bid farewell to my roommate, who was - you guessed it - still asleep! Goodbye Sleepy, and tell Snow White I said "Hello!"
Coming next: Olomouc, Czech Republic