Tag Archives: Czech Republic

The Quaint Town of Cesky Krumlov

4ck-townTRAVEL THERE: A TOWN IN A TIME WARP

Cesky Krumlov was lucky.  While it suffered a season of Communism, the Communists never had enough money to modernize the place.  So when they were kicked out in 1989, all Cesky Krumlov needed was a little TLC.  Tourists discovered it in the early 1990’s and the rest is history.

Entering the Time Warp

As I mentioned before, our wonderful guide was a native Krumlovite.  He grew up there and had an abiding love for his lovely little town.  We had disembarked our bus up in the castle gardens and seen a couple of lovely vistas from the castle grounds, but this charming blue, onion-domed church was our first taste of Krumlov proper.

 

City, town or village?

City, town or village?

The pace of our tour slowed down as the guide shared the highlights of his town, including his favorite places to eat and stories about his friends.  I’ve toured with guides that turned this dialog into an “ain’t-I-great” soliloquy, but the charming citizen of Krumlov did not fall into that trap.  His stories were all about the wonders in his favorite town.

By the way, while it is tempting to call it a village, rather than a town, it got a city charter somewhere along the way.  They would probably be insulted because that I was calling it a town instead of a city, but I want you to get the feel of the place, even if my terminology is not technically correct.

On Our Own

We wandered along quaint little streets until we reached the town square, where our guide released us to our own reconnaissance.  Our little group of cruise buddies hotfooted it back to our guide’s favorite restaurant and enjoyed a delightful lunch with generous quaffs of Czech beer.

Then we headed out for shopping.  EEEK!  The prices were astronomical. I strolled into a handbag store and hurried out with my tail between my legs.  While I’m not great at currency conversion, I do know enough to figure out when I’ve wandered into a triple digit zone.  The cheapest handbag I could find was very comfortably in that triple digit zone and while my friends are certainly worth that much, I can’t afford it.

There were dozens of establishments featuring souvenirs – you know the kind, t-shirts and tea towels emblazoned with screen-printed images – but that wasn’t what I was looking for.  Finally, I found a store with darling little gingerbread Christmas ornaments.  I almost bought them out and was thrilled with my find, but unfortunately I lost them somewhere along the way.  I was broken-hearted because they were hand-made and seriously darling.

Had I anticipated the expenditure, I would have bought up some amber jewelry.  Every other store on the winding streets is an amber jeweler and I loved most of their wares.  My bestie loves amber and I desperately wanted to find something for her, but in a town where a small cloth clutch costs about $200, you can imagine what the amber cost.  Still, the prices were not unreasonable, so if you go, budget for the amber and shop until you drop!

Safely back in the pack

Safely back in the pack

Suddenly It Was Time to Go

For the final half hour or so, we abandoned our cruise buddies, because I was still desperately on the hunt for gifts.  All of sudden we looked at our watch and realized we had to leave – right then.  That’s when we figured out we were lost and Cesky Krumlov no longer felt like a quaint village, but more like the city they prided themselves on being.  Our panic only lasted a short while, but that was long enough.  They’d warned us they would leave us if we weren’t on time.

We strolled back through the town, up a path around the castle and there our buses were waiting for us.  The drive back to the boat seemed longer than the trip to the Czech town, because we were hoping enough time would be left to check out Linz before dinner.

We did make it back early enough and I’ll share that with you next week, but for now, enjoy all these pictures from Cesky Krumlov.

 

 

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A Quick Stroll through Cesky Krumlov Castle

Castle Courtyard

Castle Courtyard

TRAVEL THERE: TAKE MORE TIME HERE THAN WE DID

Cesky Krumlov Castle is a treasure trove of history, architecture and decorative arts.  Let’s start with the history.

The Medieval Lords of Krumlov

There’s not much left from the Middle Ages, but this has been a castle since the 13th century.  The one remaining tidbit is the castle tower, left over from the days when the castle’s first job was defense.  According to Rick Steves, if you go up its 162 steps you’ll get a find view of the Czech countryside, but I wouldn’t know.

Moving on to the Renaissance

4ck-castle-30While the tower is Medieval, it’s decoration is not.  That’s all Renaissance, so let’s move up a few years.  When the Krumlovs died out, their cousins, the Rozmberks, moved in.  (Rozmberk is often rendered as Rosenberg, but let’s be Czech about this.)

The Krumlovs had been your basic local gentry, but their cousins were a whole different animal.  The Rosmberks went on a serious building campaign, but don’t let the pictures fool you.  Those walls in the courtyard are just plaster.  All the fancy stonework is merely painted on.  They weren’t being cheap, it was just the style.  In fact, they probably could have gotten the stonework cheaper than the painting, but they were all about the show.

Everything had to look modern and up-to-date for the Rozmberks.  They turned that practical, defensive tower into a folly of astrological signs and symbols.  I’m not sure who came up with the idea of a pastel yellow and baby pink as an acceptable color combination, but I would like to complain about it.  Pink and beige were often used together throughout this region, too.  Both color themes make me a little nauseous, but they were all the rage apparently, based on the frequency of their use.

While I didn’t approve of their color schemes, I have to admit they did do a great job out in the gardens.  The glorious Renaissance gardens in the French style, with a magnificent central fountain, were something to see.  It was a little early in the season for floral displays.

They symbol of the Rosenberg family can be found all over the castle.

They symbol of the Rozmberk family can be found all over the castle.

Visions of Grandeur

It wasn’t enough for the Rozmberks to have the best castle around, they wanted to climb even higher on the social ladder. So they decided they wanted to be kin to the the Orsinis, who were ruling the roost over in Italy.

Now there are a number of stories about their claim to Orsinism.  Some say they just added a fake limb to their family tree and were powerful enough to pull it off with aplomb.  Others claim they actually did have a legitimate claim.  My favorite story is they expressed their desire to be Orsinis to that family and for X amount of money, the Orsini’s adopted them.  That sounds about right from what I know of the Orsinis.

The Crest of the Orsini-Rosenbergs

The Crest of the Orsini-Rozmberks

Whichever story is true, the Rozmberks celebrated their promotion in a couple of ways.  They altered their family crest and added a bear to their moat, because as we all know, Orsini comes from the Italian word for bear.

When I titled this post as “a quick stroll” I’m referring to the way I saw the castle – almost at a dead run!  We were in and out of the castle environs almost before I could get out the camera for a few photos.  (Confession, we did not take the bear picture.  It’s off the Viking memory stick we purchased.  The bear hid from us during our quick stroll.)

cesky-krumlov-58What’s more, the tour was only outside and we didn’t get so much as a peek inside.  Museum Girl was about to have a fit.  Here she had a well-furnished Czech palace to check out and we’re ripping through the courtyards at a fast pace.  One of the reasons the castle is well-furnished is because once a Hapsburg-related family gained control of the place it fell out of favor and became a sort of over-sized attic.

Another reason you can enjoy the castle in its former furnished glory is because Czech curators share better than Americans.  They actually try to get the various bits and pieces they find to the appropriate castles.  Because Cesky Krumlov Castle spent so many years as a warehouse of out-of-fashion and damaged furnishings, there are still huge areas of the castle that are still cleaned out and cataloged.  When they find a piece that seems to belong to another castle, they send it along with their regards and curators at other castles do the same.  American curators seem to share a penchant for hoarding.  The bowels of their institutions hold tons of items the public never gets to see, because the museums hold on to every bit they get for dear life.  I liked the Czechs even better for this little tid-bit.

4ck-castle-24Once we’d checked out the bear pits we had a choice to make.  We could either head to the ticket office and go on one of the interior castle tours or we could head out to the picturesque town. The town is charming and I had a wonderful time with our cruise buddies, but Museum Girl was about to go into melt-down.

I’ll share a treat with you.  While I didn’t go through the castle, someone on the Viking crew did and they got some marvelous pictures, which I’ll include at the end along with more of my pictures of the exterior, but there’s one more bit of history you need to know about Cesky Krumlov.

The Baroque Theater

I chose to get a degree in Performance instead of Literature and I’m glad, because to get the degree you have to have a smattering of all the arts, including the performance arts.  One of my classes was the history of theater and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  (The professor was somewhat of a kook, but welcome to the university!)

We studied all the old playwrights and reviewed the various venues.  I reveled in the Renaissance era when cathedrals used to fly children through the air on wires as cherubs.  (No child labor laws to contend with.)  However, the Baroque period was also something.  Every castle worth its appellation had its own theater and each theater proprietor tried to outdo the other on special effects – only there was no digital CGI.  They used actual flames and fireworks to get their effects.  And that’s exactly why there are only two of them left in the world.  Cesky Krumlov is one of them!

It killed me to forego the pleasure of touring the theater.  If I ever get back to the Czech Republic, wild horses won’t keep me away from taking every tour offered in Cesky Krumlov.  Now enjoy the pictures and come back next week for a tour of the town.

 

 

 

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Chasing Castle Intell

cesky-krumlov-69TRAVEL THERE:  RESEARCHING CESKY KRUMLOV CASTLE

Our day in Cesky Krumlov was one I will long cherish, but Museum Girl was mad at me.  My faithful followers know me and they know that as much as I love to eat, I’m willing to miss a meal in order to visit a good museum (or castle or palace or abbey etc.)  I live for museums.  I have this ever-growing collection of historical and artistic items in my head and one of my main goals in life is to expand it.  On this particular day, I abandoned my prime directive and I’m glad I did, but Museum Girl is still a little miffed.

An Absence of Good Intell

Last week I complimented Viking on their ground game, but I was a little challenged by them on the planning end of things.  Because they know what they’re doing, they don’t spell everything out.  They know things happen when you’re traveling and they don’t want to spend their days making apologies to disgruntled passengers.

This lack of information is probably a blessing to most passengers.  My husband was completely content with the absence of logistical information, but I was a crazy person.  I’m driven by that museum in my head and I carefully curate what I’m going to see.  On this trip, to a certain extent, I had to just let go and follow the guy with red Viking sign.

So in Budapest, I had no clue what spa I’d be visiting until I got on the bus with my fluffy towel.  I’m convinced I was stuck on the castle AND walking tour in Bratislava because the walking-only tour was full.  (Yes, I should have spoken up, but didn’t.)  As I planned for my day in Vienna, discovering where we would dock was like searching for the Holy Grail and even when I got someone to tell me where they usually docked, they were careful to warn me things could change.

Finding out what we’d see of the castle in Krumlov was pretty much the same sort of thing.  The UNESCO website was great, but how Viking plugged into that opportunity was like diving down a black hole.

Bravo Senor Frog!

Bravo Senor Frog!

Kudos to Norwegian

Since I pretty much hated everything about my cruise on Norwegian Epic (except going with my bestie and the day we spent with Sunny Liston, which is still one of my best days EVER) I’m loathe to admit it, but I loved their website.  Well I didn’t love everything about it, because I had some navigation issues, but they did have a section of the site devoted to passengers sharing travel tips.  (Yes, I read them all.)

Norwegian disclaims in large letters these are experiences of past cruisers and things change on every cruise, but I gained great comfort from knowing what usually happened.  I’m well aware things can change (did I hear someone say Josay?), but I like to be ready for what is probably going to happen.  The internet allowed me to research everything about a destination, but Viking kept the details, of exactly what they’re going to show you, pretty close to their vest.

Come back next week and we’ll stroll through the castle grounds.

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Checking Out the Czech Republic

Good Morning Linz

Good Morning Linz

TRAVEL THERE: SHORE EXCURSION TO CESKY KRUMLOV

The city of Linz provided our starting point for a bus trip to the Czech Republic.  I woke up to this lovely landscape, complete with Ferris wheel – a pleasant surprise.  Breakfast was early, because the bus boarded at 8:30.  Our cruise buddies were assigned to the same bus as we were.  I think one of them had done the legwork to see that this happened and I appreciated it, because it make the excursion a very special day.

First Things First

If you’re headed to Cesky Krumlov, don’t call it Cesky.  Cesky means something like ‘bend in the river’ and apparently the Czech Republic has a lot of crooked rivers, because there are a lot of Cesky Thises and Cesky Thats.  Perfectly fine to shorten it to Krumlov, because that’s unique.

Our Czech Guide

Our Czech Guide

Next up, we loved our guide – a young hip guy who grew up in Cesky Krumlov and loves his little city.  We were half in love with it too before we even arrived.

A funny part of the bus trip was the stop at a service station.  I was never quite clear why we did it – something about changing money, but we just stretched our legs and took a stroll around the convenience store.  It reminded me of a roadside stop in the Bahamas with Josay, the worst tour guide we’ve ever had.  All the tour buses stopped there, but it was certainly no Buc-ee’s.

Sneaking in the Back Door

One thing you’ll discover if you sail with Viking – they’ve got this cruising thing down pat.  I’ve cruised with a number of different lines, both river and ocean, and I never have seen anybody who has the logistics of things figured out so completely.  They park their boats in the best places, their tour buses are just steps away from the gangplank each morning and their guides are without a doubt the best-dressed and most professional of any I saw.

Cesky Krumlov certainly qualifies as a tourist trap.  By the time we hit the castle proper, there was a deluge of folks standing around listening to a guide.  I can only imagine the parking nightmare somewhere around that town, but Viking had it’s own parking lot somewhere on the garden end of the castle grounds, away from the nightmare.

Because of  Viking, we stepped off the bus and into a Renaissance garden.  Fountains danced, the sun was shining and I was a happy camper.  Our guide allowed us a few Kodak moments and then led us down the hill and through a back gate to the castle proper.  There we were treated to some of the most charming vistas of the day.

The Castle Proper

Cesky Krumlov Castle is a UNESCO site and they do a pretty good job of attaching their name to the best places in the world.  You may never have heard of the Lords of Krumlovs, but their castle grew into an architectural history lesson.  Rather than rush you through it, the way my tour did, I’ll invite you to come back next week, but in the meantime, enjoy this video of our day in Cesky Krumlov.

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Cesky Krumlov and the Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

TRAVEL THERE: SOME PLACES SEEM FURTHER AWAY THAN THEY ACTUALLY ARE

“Go” is an important word in my vocabulary.  Whatever the destination, I want to go.  I want to go to Tucumcari and Timbuktu.  I want to go on safari and I want to go shopping.  I want to go on a boat and in a plane.  However, I confess, given the option, I’ll go for the exotic every time.  Maybe not the inconvenient and uncomfortable, but exotic?  I’m all over it.

That’s how I ended up on a cruise visiting Budapest, Bratislava and Cesky Krumlov.  These aren’t cities the majority of American travelers visit, so they were ever so much more interesting to me.  I was particularly interested in Cesky Krumlov.

I Remember Czechoslovakia

Though there is nothing new under the sun, this old world has changed a lot since I was a kid.  I grew up thinking of gray-suited Soviet bureaucrats, each with a finger on the nuclear red button, as the bad guys.  Nowadays the bad guys wear turbans and are more likely to have dirty bombs than an ICBM.  I also grew up with a country named Czechoslovakia being mentioned on the nightly news.  That’s back when a guy in Poland, named Lech Wałęsa, was causing a lot of headaches for those guys with the red button.

In my twenties I was a regular visitor to West TX on Labor Day.  This charming little town, which is actually in Central TX, has a festival that celebrates all things Czech – especially kolaches and polka music. I crushed on one of the local folk dancers, lived from year to year with dreams of potato pancakes with brats and thought Brave Combo was one of the coolest bands ever.  (I’m over my crush, but I still love Brave Combo.  I still love the kolaches, too, but rarely allow myself the indulgence.)

When I first read Viking’s Danube Waltz itinerary, the inclusion of the Czech Republic gave me pause.  The last time I checked, the Danube didn’t visit Czechoslovakia  the Czech Republic.  Closer inspection revealed Cesky Krumlov would be reached by a bus trip from the dock in Linz.  That made more sense.

3l-x-6Other Viking Options

Perhaps exotic is not your thing.  If so, Viking has you covered.  If bus trips don’t do it for you, then cruisers are welcome to enjoy a walking tour in Linz.  I must warn you however,  if you take the walking tour, someone could get a picture of you on this obnoxious yellow tram.  I think it’s important for you to realize this.  The memory stick of photos we purchased on the cruise included a series of these tram pictures, some of them with close-ups.  Tourists beware!

If bus trips aren’t your problem, but you’ve never wandered around Austria, then there’s a shore excursion touring  the countryside around Linz and I would heartily recommend it.  Austria is gorgeous, especially when you get away from the big cities and wander the verdant farmlands dotted with small towns and onion-domed churches.  Having had the opportunity to do that, I knew I had to hit Cesky Krumlov.  On the other hand, having wandered the verdant farmlands dotted with small towns and onion-domed churches, it was very tempting to enjoy it again.

Let me tell you about the third option which was enjoyed by a number of my fellow cruisers.  I think they are crazy, but perhaps you’ll like their option.  We were on the boat with people who never never disembarked between the embarkation in Budapest and the final destination.  One of them was a delightful lady in a wheelchair and I got her.  She had no desire to maneuver her very cool motorized wheelchair through the streets of Europe, but she was so happy for her husband to have the opportunity.  She was petted and cooed over by the staff, and it was apparent she was thoroughly enjoying herself.

Welcome to Aqauvit Terrace!

Welcome to Aqauvit Terrace!

But she wasn’t alone with the crew on the boat during the day and the rest of her tribe wasn’t wheelchair-bound.  They just didn’t like all that shore excursion stuff.  They were having the time of their lives.  They’d gaily wave adios to their disembarking traveling companions in the morning and I have no idea how they occupied themselves while we were gone, but come lunch time they had the best seats in the dining room all filled up.  If there were afternoon shore excursions, they’d repeat the fond farewell of the morning and when we came back in the evening, they staked out the Aquivit Terrace as their own.  Fat chance having a drink on the bow if you didn’t have friends among the these shore excursion dropouts.

So, let me urge you, if your significant other is just dying to go on a cruise and the thought of enduring days and days of shore excursions makes you a little crazy, so ahead and go on a cruise.  You can go on a cruise, never leave the boat, and still have a great time.  Your cruise-loving companion will love you for it.

Well, we didn’t quite get to Cesky Krumlov, so I guess you’ll just have to come back next week.  See you then!

 

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