Let me preface this post by explaining how I’m traveling around for the next couple of weeks. I’m on Busabout, which is a hop on/hop off bus service across Europe. They also offer organised tours, but I think the hop on/hop off is the best and most unique part of their offerings. So I picked up Busabout from Berlin to Prague on Tuesday. Some people got on or off midway through the day in Dresden, though most continued to Prague.
Admittedly I was somewhat dreading this first Busabout day. We left Berlin at 8am and were due to arrive in Prague at 4pm. A day spent on a bus didn’t hold all that much appeal at the outset. But it just flew by! We stopped plenty, I met lots of friendly people, and our guide was full of interesting tidbits along the way. As much as I prefer train travel, I was immediately taken with the Busabout format.
Given I’ve been to Prague before, I opted to stay just one night. There is a Busabout bus coming through every two days, so you can stay as long as you want. It’s great for travellers who haven’t planned their trip down to the last detail (unlike myself), and want a bit of flexibility. So I left Prague the following morning bound for Cesky Krumlov.
What in the world is a Cesky Krumlov, you ask. As I discovered, it’s one of the most marvellous places on this earth. Located in the south Bohemian region of the Czech Republic, a couple of hours from Prague, it’s a super old town set around a river and amidst lush, green hills. To give you an idea, the whole place has a UNESCO world heritage listing. It’s not huge, and there isn’t an enormous amount to do, but walking through the cobble stoned streets I was simply in awe. Whether it was another beautiful building, or the vista of a mountain top shrouded in cloud, or the sound of birds happily singing, or the smell of freshly baked trdelnik. This place captured my heart before I’d been there an hour.
My new friend Jess and I decided to do a walking tour on the first afternoon. Our guide was wonderful and gave us a great insight into the history of the city. To be honest, though, I was so completely floored by what I was seeing that some of the information went in one ear and out the other.
A typical street in Cesky Krumlov.
Despite some very patch weather, we thoroughly enjoyed our 48 hours in Cesky Krumlov. We sat by the river and drank cheap Czech beer. We wandered the streets. We scoped out cute little hole-in-the-wall shops and markets for one of a kind souvenirs. Oh, and we stayed in the most delightful little hostel, which felt more like staying at someone’s house than in a hostel. They are always the best ones.
This is the aforementioned trdelnik. It’s a delicious traditional Czech baked good (and also makes a fun telescope – who knew?!)
Although our exploring wasn’t fast-paced, we did tick off most of the main attractions. A highlight of the city is the Cesky Krumlov Castle. Built in the 13th century, the castle has Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque elements. It’s really quite amazing. We climbed up a very narrow staircase to reach the top of the tower, where we had beautiful panoramic views of the city. There are also gardens which we wandered through.
While it was no surprise to be able to visit a church, I was fascinated to discover there is a synagogue in Cesky Krumlov. There are few to no Jews in Cesky Krumlov today, and it doesn’t run services. But as we learnt from the small exhibition there, before the Holocaust, there was indeed a Jewish population in Cesky Krumlov. Although precious decorations were confiscated from the shul, it was spared from destruction during World War II, and converted into a Hitler’s Youth Club. After the war, the synagogue was used as a church, and later a storage room for theatre sets. Today, it comes under the auspices of the Prague Jewish Community, which oversees its operation and upkeep. Given no services take place, the synagogue has been restored as a cultural venue (not Jewish-specific). At the time of our visit there was a photographic exhibition there.
Cesky Krumlov is a big destination for art in the Czech Republic. Everywhere we went, we saw art students sketching. Well, they have plenty of material, that’s for sure. We got our fix at the art gallery, where we visited an exhibition on Czech artist Egon Schiele. He was somewhat ostracised during his time in the early 20th century. His works were often nudes – way out there – and critics today say he was ahead of his time. We also saw a few other artists’ work at the gallery.
Yesterday evening we did a ghost tour. I’m not sure that I buy into all the stories… If I did I probably wouldn’t have slept last night. But stories of spirits and vampires are a fairly commonplace aspect of Cesky Krumlov’s narrative, so it was cool to hear about. If nothing else, seeing the city at night was glorious.
Today, we’re on the bus to Vienna.* This Austrian countryside rolling past me through the windows is absolutely beautiful. The Czech countryside, too, was fabulous. Oh Europe, how you make my heart sing. Anyway, I will write again soon about the land of Mozart and sacher tortes and schnitzels and The Sound of Music…
Catch you soon.