It was time to escape the concrete, urban sprawl for a few nights and breath in fresh, country air. Though I have been enjoying Europe’s capital cities, I usually prefer to spend my time in small villages where the ever present Starbucks cease to exist and I can cross a street without a blinky green man guiding my path. And I wanted to see some stars too! So, from the beautiful and romantic city of Prague, I headed to the enchanting village of Cesky Krumlov, a delightful, medieval town along the Vltava River. I wished Prague farewell and hopped aboard a “Student Agency” bus where, for $6, I had a movie, free cappuccino, and an English newspaper to occupy my three hour ride through the countryside.
And Cesky Krumlov surpassed my expectations: cute, fun, and extremely laid back. My hostel for three nights, Krumlov House, was especially enjoyable (i.e heated kitchen floors, powerful showers, and a full spice rack for self catering). Though not a large village (one can walk through in about twenty minutes), Cesky features many unique shops for exploring, a blooming countryside for tramping, and ambling riverside paths suitable for running.
Plus, I didn’t feel rushed or overwhelmed to see all of the city’s sights in two or three days…because there wasn’t really much to see after the Old Town and Castle Town. This left me plenty of extra hours for snooping in alleys, traipsing down country lanes, and star gazing atop the steep Cross Hill.
Centuries ago, the town was originally named “Krumme Aue” meaning “crooked meadow” to describe its location along a sharp bend in the Vltava River. The orientation of the small city itself is easy to navigate. High above the Old Town sits the striking Round Tower of Castle Town while the main square, Namesti Svornosti, marks the town’s center.
The paint job on the Round Tower is spectacular and looks like it should be sitting atop Barbie’s birthday cake. Visitors can climb the 162 steps to the top if so inclined. I felt a bit like Rapunzel while gazing up at the tower and half expected a knight on a white stallion to appear by my side…or at least a few swordsmen battling it out on the riverbanks below. No such luck!
The Cloak Bridge, one of Cesky’s most recognizable symbols is indeed a monumental structure, and it ironically holds the award for highest number of suicide jumps. Originally, it was a wooden bridge that connected the castle’s interior with the nearby Baroque gardens. Along the bridge’s arcade are statues of Saints, including St. Vaclav and St. Jan Nepomucky. Just three weeks into my trip and I am still befuddled by the amount of centuries-old, gorgeous carvings and statues perched on bridge railings and park piazzas – truly remarkable.
The Czech forests are simply awesome places to hike, and I was surprised at how nicely the paths were maintained. Cesky’s nearby woodlands and privately owned farmlands are laced with hundreds of miles of interconnected and well-marked paths.
There is a very low chance of getting lost (even for me…which says heaps) because each path is marked every 100 meters or so with a matching signpost: three stripes, two stripes, red square, etc. Arrows also help mark the way. I pulled a Robert Frost one afternoon by off-roading for a bit, and I still didn’t get lost in the dense pine forest.
The next afternoon, I chose a different hiking path, this time picking a blue/yellow/white signpost meandering just outside of Castle Town. A gentle gravel path led me past the old stables and castle gardens and out into the hills beyond Cesky. The path eventually lead me to an amazing viewpoint high on the hill where I enjoyed my thermos of tea and packed lunch.
Several hostel dwellers and I hiked up the “Cross Hill” viewpoint each evening for sunset *and star gazing. The milky way was stunning from this viewpoint.
I am told that Czechs love the outdoors, sports, and water activities. Though it was the low season for tourists, I can imagine that the Vltava River is popular with local rafters.The Czech phenomenon called “vodactvi” is a combination of beer, rafting, good friends, and sunshine (with some singing thrown in too). To be precise, “vodactvi” means to float gently down the river on anything that floats. As cold as it was in Cesky, nobody was out on the river just yet, but give it a few more weeks and I am sure the river will be full with merriment.
Each morning, I ran along the river towards Nove Spoli or the “paddle slum”. Closed this winter, this camp is usually a lively place full of tents stuffed with paddlers who make the river trip in canoes, rafts or kayaks every summer. My trail took me outside of Cesky, through the move “lived in” area of town and eventually just through hills, highlands, and forests. I had downloaded NPR’s “Ask Me Another” and spent the time catching up on podcasts.
Three days in Cesky was an ideal time to unwind. spend quality time blogging and journaling, and to sample several of the local Czech wine bars. Now it is back to the bigger cities with a quick stop in Vienna and on to Slovakia!