I had to start out this post with a photo. Cesky Krumlov was so unexpectedly beautiful. So quaint. So perfect after a hot, crowded day in Prague.
Cesky Krumlov is located about 160 kilometers south of Prague in the Czech Republic, not far from the Austrian border. When we did our reading about Prague, my good friend Rick Steves informed us via his book that close to 90% of visitors to the Czech Republic see only Prague and never venture out into the countryside. Wanting to break the "tourist mold," we got in our car and drove the two hours to see this village on the Vltava River in the rolling hills of the Czech Republic.
During our time in the Czech Republic, I kept slipping up and saying Czechoslovakia, a country that no longer exists. Czechoslovakia was a country that I learned about in high school. It's strange to travel Europe with the map of my childhood in my head, a map of areas that go by different names now.
Cesky Krumlov is known for being a picturesque town built on a bend in the Vltava River. The town also has a large castle, a fact that is unusual for a town as small as Cesky Krumlov. Cesky Krumlov has been settled since the late 13th century. It was an important stop in the trade routes of southern Bohemia.
I love history. When we go places like this, I love seeing the sights, but also knowing the "why" behind the sights. Why was this place special? What caused people to settle here? I was especially fascinated with the history of the Czech Republic and former Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia was formed from the remains of the fallen Austro-Hungarian Empire that collapsed at the end of WWI.
Cesky Krumlov (pronounced Ches-key Kroom-luv) was full of little cobblestone streets and alleys like this one. Even though it's a small town, we spent hours wandering its winding streets that climb towards the castle on the hill.
The exterior of the castle. The Cesky Krumlov castle is highly decorated with paintings and murals. Some of the exterior artwork is actually carved into the different layers of the stucco like cement that cover the castle.
Many people have remarked to me how lucky we are to travel and what a great experience this is for us and for my children. A fact that I won't dispute. In our pictures we are all usually smiling and happy and the sun is shining. That's because I don't usually take pictures of the bad moments. Take this photo here. At this exact moment we are all happy. But what you don't see is that about five minutes after this photo one of my children threw a major tantrum (read tired, hungry, and sick of waiting for the castle tour to start). To save this child embarrassment I won't name them, but this child was acting like a complete butthead (they were probably calling me some choice names in their head too) and I wanted them to go sit in the chairs off to the left to separate them and let them cool down. They didn't want to sit in the chairs and they let me know it. What followed was a scene where this child and I had a battle of wills. It was great fun. I was mad and the child thought I was "The meanest mom in the whole wide world." Which at that moment, may be true.
But then I started thinking. Would the meanest mom in the world take their child to such a beautiful place? I don't think so. I'm not saying that I'm not mean, but meanest in the world? I believe that's up for debate.
The castle tour is offered in Czech and English. For some reason the English tour is almost twice as much as the Czech tour. I guess English demands a higher rate because it's harder to speak or something. Rick Steves recommended if you take the tour, just take the Czech one and get the English brochure. So that is what we did. We met at the tour starting place and the tour guide started rattling facts off in Czech. After about three minutes the other family leaned over and asked "Excuse me, but do you guys speak Czech?"
"No," we answered. "But it's okay. We just want to see the inside of the castle."
"We don't speak Czech either!" She went on to convince our tour guide to give us the tour in English. So we got an English speaking tour for the price of a Czech tour. Not a bad deal. I felt bad for the guide though. His English was good, but you could tell he was extremely nervous speaking English to us. We kept reassuring him, "Your English is really good!" Really good may have been a stretch, but it was a heck of a lot better than our Czech.
Here Aidan is trying lift this stone sphere off of the wall. Good luck son.
View of Cesky Krumlov from the castle.
The willingness of our tour guide to give us our tour in English was just another example of the friendliness of the Czech people that I felt we experienced while we were here. Everywhere we went, from the apartment we rented in Prague to this little hilly town, we were impressed by their kindness.
The Czech people have always been a peaceful people it would seem. They rejoiced when the Nazis left in 1945 and had one day of their own government before a government influenced by communist Soviet Union came into power. They existed as a satellite state of the Soviet Union. On November 17, 1989 a student demonstration in Prague started what is known as the Velvet Revolution. With the collapse of other Warsaw Pact nations and increasing protests, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia announced that they would relinquish power. It was called the Velvet Revolution because it went so smoothly. So smoothly that not one Czechoslovakian died or was injured during the coop. Not even a broken window to speak of. I think that is just a testament to the attitudes of peace that the Czechoslovakian people have.
Outside the castle in the moat area, there are bears kept in pits. The bears are said to be directly descended from bears put there by the ruling families of ancient Bohemia.
Czechoslovakia split peacefully into the separate nations of the Czech Republic and Slovakia on January 1,1993. The Slovakian areas which had a different language (Slovak) and demographics than the rest of the country, felt that they would be better served and represented by their own government. The country divided itself along language and cultural lines.
The breezeway on the castle grounds.
We finished out our day by having a traditional Czech dinner in restaurant built in old catacombs under the town square.
They cooked the food right in front of us at this rustic little kitchen complete with open fire pit. It however wasn't complete with the bodies that used to be entombed here. I asked our server what was done with them, but my question was only met with nervous laughter and the word, "Yes." Having had my own foreign language struggles, I knew that he had no idea what I asked so I let it drop. I guess the missing body mystery will stay just that. A mystery.
The restaurant, called Katakomby, was clean and the food was great. Plus, there was the added benefit of wondering if a ghost would sit down next to us. We left disappointed that no non-earthly specters joined us, but not disappointed that we had spent our time in this unique and tasty restaurant.
The door down to the restaurant was tiny and led to a small, stone stair way leading down to the catacombs. Matt stands here showing how small it was.
It was starting to get dark when we drove out of Cesky Krumlov. But there was just enough twilight to enjoy the hills of the Czech Republic as we drove back to Prague. We had such a great time (except for the scene in the castle grounds) that this trip has been elevated to one of my favorites. If you have the chance, you should definitely Czech it out.
*Czech for good bye.