Saturday, August 8, 2009

From Python to Prague!

Oh, what was I thinking last night - red wine with dinner and then champers after??? The pain hit my legs in the wee hours and if there is to be any sightseeing today, it will be with the assistance of my drugs - the first time in months that I have had to resort to them. Stupid, stupid, stupid. And while we are on the subject - whose idea was it to give Michael Garlic Soup last night? For those who know him, that statement will speak volumes! Mind you, he said that it was delicious - it had lots of chunks of sweet, roasted garlic in a beef broth.

The Hotel Dvořák is a four star hotel right on the Barber Bridge across the Vltava River connecting the Český Krumlov old town with the Castle and the suburb around it called Latrán. The building while not as old as some in the city has a sense of quiet elegance and the interior is decorated beautifully. Our room is stunning - both in the view and in the layout and accommodation. The most comfortable we have had for a while! And the bathroom is all marble - nice and cool this morning.

Last night the view from our window was breath-taking. The castle is lit at night from a number of angles meaning that it shines in the night no matter from where you look. I mean, how special is this place? And how could we not have had some idea of how beautiful it is before we got here? I had heard that it was so, but really, knew nothing about it. Hmm - there goes the statement of a few days ago about doing some pre-planning!

Breakfast this morning is delicious - but oh, how we wish that they would provide real orange juice and not Tang. There is a selection of cereals, yoghurts, breads and rolls, cheeses, cold cuts, salad veges, hot dishes, apple strudel, coffee and tea. Enough to give anyone a great start to the day. And as I sit here writing this little bit before we check out, there are already heaps of people canoeing on the Vltava River outside our window - and why not, it is a beautiful Saturday morning.

There is a sense of the zany humour of the Monty Python crew at work here. The is the monastery of the Order of the Knights of the Cross with the Red Star. And then there is the Convent of the Godly
Women. And the former church of St Jošt which, when secularised under the reforms of Josef II, was sold to a local burgher on the condition that he retain the spire because the local towns people thought that it added character to the town! Wow, there are church spires everywhere, but not too many places have the other buildings and their unique decorations! Anyway, the church itself was converted to flats and shops, but the spire remains - home now to a marionette museum. Oh, and the statue in the foreground is of St John of Nepomuk - patron saint of the bridge (what the?)!

So where do we start with our journey of discovery today? A map of where we walked maybe!

And while it was not really not very far to walk, it is all up and down steep streets with cobbled paths. Not exactly my idea of a good time!

We trace part of the path of the former city wall. Nothing new there, seen lots of those. But the buildings that we encounter are like nothing else we have seen - especially when seen all together. The exterior walls are all covered in sgraffito - and before you get horrified and think how could they, I am referring to the amazing artworks of the medieval years and before.

We have seen some examples of this earlier in our trip, but nothing like the volume or the quality of these works. I mean there are streets full of them, house after house after house. The streets wind around the banks of the river in a couple of rows in decreasing lengths as they wind up to the Church of St Vitas. And so do we! Trouble is, once we get up to the church we find it closed to the public as there is a wedding taking place. "Another 20 minutes" the young man guarding the door tells Michael. So we walk along the ridge to a small terrace park opposite the five-star Hotel Růže (Rose Hotel) that was the former Jesuit hostel.

This terrace looks across the rooftops of the old town (Staré město) and across the Vltava to the castle and the chateau with its amazing tower, and the surrounding suburb know as Latrán. And there are not so many people up here, so maybe it is one of those hidden little gems!

So after a few minutes there, we wander back to the church and get there a few minutes before the bride and groom emerge, preceeded by a band that plays raucously as they leave. I don't think sure if the bride was expecting the large crowd that had gathered to see her off! (a tour group had just arrived!!) So we finally can get in to see the church. It is a quiet place and I am talking figuratively. Yes, there are decorations and the altars are somewhat ornate, but not in a loud or overdone way. And despite the signs asking for silence, the two groups that have been waiting outside are now in with us, and they could not be quiet if they tried.

Church done, we head down the street that runs off to one side straight down to the main square - The Square of Concord (Náměstí Svornosti). As we get there, here comes another bridal cavalcade, horns blaring. Gosh, it must be hard getting married here in the summer with all us blasted tourists around! The groom must be a fire fighter because there is an engine parked in front of the Town Hall and after alittle while the sirens sound - reverberating right through the square! This area looks so different today, not just because it is daylight, but there are hundreds and hundreds of people crammed in between loads of cars (and that wedding party is just adding a whole heap more). And the Plague Column is just as impressive by day.

Our purpose for coming back this way was to call in to the Information Centre because I want one of those '3D' maps that show individual buildings in a stylised fashion (I have seen lots of people with them), and so we can visit the Museum of Torture. Now, there are lots and lots of gruesome examples of the deviant thinking of man over time, but for me, perhaps the greatest torture is going up and down narrow, steep and high steps that lead us into the bowels of rock under the building and then back up again!

We contemplate having a lunch break but when we see the number of people still around here, decide to push on and get something a little further on. So back down to the Barber Bridge and through the streets of Latrán we go. Around to the castle, entering through the Red Gate into Courtyard I and then up a steep cobbled path past the bear pits (but where are the bears?) and then up an even steeper timber floor through a covered and walled in walkway into Courtyard II and then through more covered walkways right up to Courtyard V. Now, these walkways were constructed so that people could move through the various buildings of the castle without getting wet. From start to finish, they are just under 1 km in length.

The courtyards of the Castle complex too are amazing - the walls are all painted with frescoes. They are cool places - like little oases in the trip through the complex. You can go in to some of the rooms filled with Renaissance and Baroque furnishings, but today we do not have time to wait until there is an available space - the numbers of tourists here is huge! It's a bit of a pity because we would have liked to see the Baroque Theatre - described as the most precious monument of the castle. It contains the original workings from the 1700s, inclding 300+ pieces of set scenery and more than 600 costume pieces and their accessories, and an archive full of documents and repertoires. The theatre was first constructed in 1682 and modernised in the ealy 1700s to provide for scenery changes - a feat all mechanically controlled that still astounds theatregoers - oh well, maybe next time!

At this point, I need to sit for a few minutes so Michael takes a walk down to the castle gardens that are filled with manicured lawns and clipped hedges with baroque styled flower beds.

And now it is definitely time for some lunch. Its well after 1 pm when we sit down at the Restaurant „U Krále Jiřího” in the castle outer walls. Their menu looks great as we choose:
Pečené vepřové koleno, hořčice, křen (Roasted pork shank, mustard, horseradish) Michael
Vepřovy řízek na žambionech, krokety (Pork schnitzel with mushrooms and potato croquettes) Maria
Sounds like a mouthful - it was and very delicious at that too!

Once we have finished our lunch we head back down out of the castle complex. We are on track to get away around 3pm for the drive to Prague which is great. A crowd has gathered at one path junction where a marionette performer has a singing, dancing skeleton playing the piano and singing! He is really very very good. Katarina and Maria Theresa (the Krumlov bears in the bear pit) have re-appeared. Bears have been bred here continuously for 400 years. And likeme, my namesake is eating - not sure whether sheis the one who is eating carrots off a ledge stone without even bothering to pick them up, or if she is the one, who havng eaten what looks like coffee scrolls,is taking a breather and having a micro nap!

Back through the last few streets of Latrán to the car and then out through the Budějovice Gate and we are off on our 3 hour trip to Prague.
Through the countryside, past lots of castles and convents and beautiful towns off on the side - for yes today we are on the motorway, if that is what you can call it! The roads are still attrocious and even though the limit is 90 kph, there are plenty of people who are sitting on 80 odd, not willing to risk their car suspension or worse to the road! Oh how I wish we had more time here in the Czech Republic to follow some of those little roads that branch off with signposts to unpronounceable places!

And so tonight finds us in Prague - often called the Paris of the East. We got here about 6:30 pm and again entered into the pedestrianised zone to get to our hotel, the Residence U černého orla or in English, the Residence of the Black Eagle. It is quite literally 30 m from the Old Town Tower at the entrance to the Charles Bridge! We have to park the car at another hotel's garage, so while Michael does that I unpack. We are here for three days.

About 8:45 pm we set out for our first walk across the bridge - the twilight is amazing and does wonders for the amazing architecture. And you could not imagine how many people there are! So very different to our first couple of months in Europe where there were almost no other people around - there and thousands upon thousands. You can't move without elbowing, or being elbowed by, other people, total strangers getting up close and personal!

Michael took a climb up the Old Town Tower, but I won't go on too much for now - I'll leave that for tomorrow. Suffice to say, our eyes (and necks) ache from the sights here already! We got back over this side of the bridge, pretty hungry by now just before 10 pm and go in search of somewhere to eat. Down towards the riverbank we go, and then we hear fireworks - but can't see them! One restaurant is too hot, another turns us away and eventually we find a table at the Restaurant Pod Věží.
Served by the delightful young Karim, we opt for lighter dishes at this time of the night:
Domácí ravioli plněné třemi druhy sýrů (home made ravioli filled with three kinds of cheese with a sauce of fresh tomato, basil and parmesan) Michael
Gratinovaný kuřecí steak se špenátem a Parmázanem, raté brambory s rozmarýnem (gratinated chicken steak with spinach and parmesan, ratte potatoes with rosemary) Maria along with a fresh mint tea - so nice!

Karim tells us that he has been working since 9 am this morning and will finish when the people stop sitting down for meals - but no later than 1 am! We ask him for his secret places that he would suggest away from the main tourist traffic. He laughs, "how many days are you here?" When we tell him 3 nights and 2 days he suggests two places - Straheuske Hádvoří high above the castle for amazing views over Prague (take the tram 22 to Pohořelec stop) and then also Vysehrad Park (which I had heard of) on the underground Red line C. We chat between his customers and when we leave, we tell him that his tip is to go toward his Australian trip some day!!

By the time we saw hello to Amanda and Izabella it is 1:30 am and I am exhausted. I am amazed at how well my legs and feet have coped with all the walking today (thank God for codeine!). Its off to bed and I'll finish putting the photos on the blog and post it in the morning. Night all!

No comments: