I thought I was going to love this place, really I did. The efforts of the Czechs, after the Velvet Revolution, to restore this amazing place (a majority German town until World War II) to its historic and architectural glories were truly astonishing. The UNESCO folks say, “Situated on the banks of the Vltava river, the town was built around a 13th-century castle with Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque elements. It is an outstanding example of a small central European medieval town whose architectural heritage has remained intact thanks to its peaceful evolution over more than five centuries.”
True, absolutely true, and I have the photos (see below) to prove it. So why aren’t I happy?
Because somehow, sadly, this place isn’t real anymore. It’s a Czech version of Disneyland, or maybe Freeport, Maine. The town itself is not longer alive in an organic way – it’s inhabited solely by tourists and those who are kind and patient enough to serve us. No ‘there there,’ as they say. The souvenir shops close up sharply at 18:00 and then we mostly sit, as I am sitting, in hotel bars and cunningly rustic restaurants, accompanied by the obligatory staff, patiently checking their smart phones as they wait for us to ask for the check. Alternatively, those in couples stroll slowly about the lit streets, one more turn before turning in.
So not many words tonight, perhaps, but some great shots. First is the castle tower in daylight:
One always needs an orienting graphic for a castle district, so here you go:
A few more steps through a few more gates and we get the incredible view:
I didn’t do the museum castle thing today – partly just the need to stretch my legs after all the transport yesterday, and party just because…I was grumpy. So I wandered back down to the little center you see on the right, and here’s the now predictable Carla shot of a gorgeous square:
Today was a day for window shopping and checking out the places that DIDN’T sell amber and moldavite (more about that in a moment). I was trying to find the fun and the funk in this town, and that was harder that usual. I did manage to find the Army store (?) and here’s proof:
…and just to prove I’m alive and that this blog is not being written by a bot, here’s the obligatory photog selfie, trying to figure out what the heck this dude has in his window (and it ain’t pretty):
I continued my tradition of looking in antique stores – I’m always trolling for fountain pens — but all I found today was a real beater, no nib even, that my friends at pen shows would sell for parts at five bucks. These guys wanted nearly a hundred, so I tried not to giggle. They did have some beautiful examples of Czech glass:
Since this area of the world is known for its cosmetics, I thought I might try to find me some magic goop to keep the wrinkles at bay. I was unsuccessful at that specific goal but did dig up the following regional specialty:
About then I encountered the Torture Museum and since I had been baptized in the fire of the Buda Castle Labyrinth, I thought I would give it a go. Maybe I’ll subtitle this trip “The Subterranean Tour of Central Europe.”
Accompanied by truly creepy music and appropriate sound effects (I’ll let you figure out what those might be), I walked through a series of chambers with life-size dioramas of witches being burned at the stake; the executioner watching the victim in his final prayers; a priest overseeing the use of a rack, and lots of grisly instruments. Here’s just one small example of something used to motivate appropriate behavior:
…and eventually, a reminder of what happened to those who managed to find themselves on the wrong side of the civil or ecclesiastical authorities:
So enough already with the creepy. Back up into the bright light of day. By this time I was ready for a little nosh (wouldn’t you guess?) and I had been directed to a little spot called U dwau Maryi
The concept here is actually pretty interesting. The founders of this restaurant in 1990 decided to try to revive the culinary traditions of Old Bohemia. They restored this site using recycled materials from other buildings being renovated at the same time. So, for example, the tables and benches are made from a Baroque ceiling that was removed from another building – they are old and thick and smooth and just wonderful. The food tries to use ingredients that have fallen out of favor in the 19th and 20th century, things like buckwheat and millet. Their idea is to give diners an idea of what it must have been like to eat in a place like Cesky Krumlov three or four or five hundred years ago. Here’s a shot of the interior:
I chose the Bohemian platter, which included chicken in a sauce, ham, a dumpling, potatoes, and then some interesting millet and buckwheat things that I can’t really describe but which were rather tasty, all garnished with some yummy sour cream thing. Both of those grains mentioned, apparently, are really really healthy, but they’ve been pushed aside in recent centuries in favor of wheat and barley. I also learned that herbs traditionally were used in peasant homes, since they were easily growable and also used for medicinal purposes, and spices were only in the kitchens of the wealthy, since there were, for the most part, expensive and came from great distances.
One last shot – moldavite – who knew? I learned at the museum that it was formed from the impact of meteors slamming into the earth and randomly striking and melting glass-type material, thus shooting it up into the air where it re-formed before hitting the ground and then usually being washed over by water and pushed down into the earth again (I’m really condensing a lot here). Anyhoo, it’s the local gem and its dark and green and beautiful and I almost (almost) was inspired to buy a pair of overpriced earrings, but I didn’t. Dearest EBD, this shot’s for you:
So that’s it – your meteoric (as it were) fly-by of Cesky Krumlov. I’ll hit a couple more spots tomorrow before heading up to Prague on the bus and train and back to the land of smooth sidewalks and large coffees. It has indeed been a great experience to see this place first-hand, even with my reservations – now I know where Cinderella and the Prince made their home.