Holiday in Europe: First Stop Prague and Cesky Krumlov

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September 10th 2013
Published: December 1st 2013
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Decisions, decisions. Where to go on holiday this year? My husband says Europe. There are still places in Europe we haven’t been and so many places that we loved and would like to revisit. But I am always looking East. My Asian love affair shows no sign of abating. But Europe is also wonderful. So where? Italy. We haven’t been for years. We’ve done all the big cities. What about the countryside? Tuscany? Dolomites? Amalfi Coast? Let’s go! But wait, the tickets are really expensive. OK, let’s check cheaper flight destinations. There are two choices: Croatia or the Czech Republic. Oh yes, Dubrovnik. I’ve been to the north of Croatia and had a fantastic holiday with day trips to Slovenia. Now I am itching to see the south of the country – Dobrovnik, a bit of island hopping, some day trips to Montenegro. Sounds good to me.

But that’s not where we go. We change plans and decide to go to Prague instead and hire a car from there. The price was right, the stars were aligned, I don’t know how, but from island hopping in the Adriatic, we ended up walking in the Alps. But we want to visit places we haven’t been before. We’ve been to Prague and are happy to revisit that lovely city but we decide that the rest of our destinations will be new. Prague is well located for Germany, Austria, Poland – all places we have only briefly visited. We ponder the map. There are so many possibilities and all quite close really – the map of central Europe resized on your computer is misleading.

We plan extravagant trips – we will start in Prague, drive down through Austria, continue to Verona in Italy and then drive back to Prague through Germany. But we don’t want to drive all the time. In fact, we want to drive as little as possible. So we scale it down – we have some long distance days but not many. We decide that we won’t visit Germany, and not Verona either. We will drive into Italy as far as the Dolomites and then we will travel back to Prague by the fastest route. We have our itinerary: Prague, Cesky Krumlov, Salzburg, Innsbruck and Bressanone – apart from Prague, all places that we haven’t visited before.

We are going for two weeks, quite a nice, long holiday. I am, unfortunately, the sort of person that never wants to go home. I always want to travel on. We get our route in place and we spend the next few months looking at photos and reading and we start getting excited – it all looks amazing. Most people spend a week or two travelling and are more than ready to go home, not me – a holiday would have to be nothing short of a disaster for me to feel like that. Well, I can tell you now that it wasn’t a disaster. It was wonderful and I found myself in Northern Italy, wishing we could head on south. So you can guess where I am dreaming about going next. But in the meantime, my head is still full of all the beautiful places we saw this time.

We arrived at Prague airport at 8 p.m. and immediately felt at home. We had spent five days in Prague a few years ago and at the time it seemed we had walked every inch of the city several times over. This was partly because we consistently got lost and as everywhere we walked was so nice we didn’t really mind. But after 10 hour days of solid walking and longing to get back to our hotel we would invariably get lost again and while we were dragging our sorry selves along we would always seem to pass the Ibis Hotel (sometimes several times). I vowed right then that if we should ever come back to Prague we will stay at the Ibis. And that is what we did.

It really is in the middle of everything. And we didn’t get lost even once. Just when we thought we might be lost, we would somehow find ourselves outside our hotel. So this was a great choice for us. The rooms are impossibly tiny but as we don’t spend much time in our hotels we only really care about the quality of sleep. The view from the window was of a back alley with garbage cans. But it was quiet and the bed was great. Really comfortable. The breakfast was good too. I liked staying there.

I liked not getting lost. Actually we did finally get quite familiar with the city and with the aid of a city map we didn’t spend so much time walking in circles. We decided that as we had seen most of Prague already we would do a few other things that we didn’t have time for last time. I wanted to go to a jazz club and visit the Mucha museum. As it happens – and this seems to be a regrettable pattern with us – we didn’t do either. The day we set aside for touring Cesky Krumlov’s castle was the day that it is closed. In Salzburg we were just about to go up to the Castle in the funicular and it started raining heavily. Same with the puppet show in the Mirabel Gardens – we were once again thwarted by the rain. And alas, we didn’t visit Otzi the iceman in Bolzano either – no time.

So we spent an enjoyable day in Prague, just wondering around and being charmed anew by this lovely city. The next morning we went to get our hire car which also was quite close to our hotel and we just wheeled our bags down to their offices and picked up the car. And so we set off … without a GPS. Now I really can’t explain why we hadn’t bought a SIM card. We decided for some reason that we would buy one in Austria when we crossed the border. So we set off on the highway out of Prague to Cesky Krumlov, armed only with a map (for God’s sake), we managed to miss every exit and get hopelessly lost.

In our defense, I can tell you that the road signs in the Czech Republic are terrible. I have since read that all the map companies are closing down because there is no demand for maps these days. Honestly, it felt like we had retreated to the stone age.

We eventually arrived in Cesky Krumlov in just over double the time that it should have taken us. But never mind – at the first sight of Cesky Krumlov we were immediately charmed. It is an entirely Medieval town, built around a very impressive 13th century castle. The Vltava River encircles the town. We spent a very pleasant few days touring the old cobbled-stone streets, admiring the buildings, sitting in cafes. We walked through the castle, up to the gardens and spent a good few hours wondering through the beautifully landscaped gardens with their flower beds and ancient trees and impressive working fountains. Behind the garden is a small forest and beyond that a large pond.

Cesky Krumlov is a very popular tourist destination and as it is quite small, is very crowded in the summer season. But when we were there in September it was very pleasant. It seems to be particularly popular with Chinese tour groups. Also Prague. The Czech Republic is very scenic, has welcoming people and is also quite cheap.

You don’t drive into the center of Cesky Krumlov. You park in a parking lot and walk into town along the river. We didn’t have a booking because all the places that I liked on the internet seemed to be booked. Also the prices were quite high. We found something we liked in the first place we asked at. It was a 550 year old building, in the center of town. The building has been lovingly restored and the furnishings are about 100 years old. It was so quaint, with its little double shuttered window, beams in the ceiling, original brickwork.

The owner’s son told me that his father bought the building at the end of communist rule. The building was a wreck, filled with mud and junk. He restored it together with his partners and it now has 10 unique rooms. After the fall of communism, many people burnt old wooden windows, doors and furniture to keep warm in the winter. He rescued furniture and fittings at the last moment from the fire and used them to furnish and restore his hotel rooms. The building was originally owned by seven generations of butchers.

The hotel has a restaurant/pub where we ate breakfast and sat in the evenings over a meal and drink. On Sunday nights, they have some singing accompanied by accordion or piano. When we were there, there was a man playing the accordion and they were singing Czech folk songs. There wasn’t a spare seat in the house, there was even some dancing between the tables. Both the accommodation and the restaurant were very reasonably priced. Needless to say, the beer was excellent (and very cheap). I loved it. I wished we could stay more than two nights. We decided that we would come back for another two nights on our return journey.

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3rd December 2013

I strongly disagree with certain passage of your article.
You wrote that "after the fall of communism, many people burnt old wooden windows, doors and furniture to keep warm in the winter". Sorry but this is absolute nonsense! I was born in the Czech republic, live here for the more than 28 years and I can assure you that Czech people never had to deal with such problems as how to keep warm in the winter. After all when you were in the Czech republic did you feel that we are some kind of poor third world country?!
6th December 2013

Sorry, I gave the wrong impression
That is what the owner's son told me. I may not have understood him. He actually said that a lot was being thrown out and burnt because people were getting rid of the symbols of the old regime and were finally able to buy new things. I am aware that the Czechs are educated, cultured people. Sorry if I caused offence.

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