Friday, June 1, 2012

Cesky Krumlov

Unlike most first-time visitors to the Czech Republic, our czech destination was not Prague, but rather a little town of about 14,000 people in the southern state of Bohemia called Cesky Krumlov. We picked it because I was looking for a smaller destination to break up all the cities we would be visiting, wanted to see somewhere in the Czech Republic, and because I saw pictures of it on Trip Advisor and loved it.

It ended up being possibly one of our favourite places. We spent three nights there, and on our first full day had a lazy start (hooray for sleep ins!) before spending most of the day exploring the castle that towers over the old city. There is actually more to Cesky Krumlov than the old city, but it's a bit further away.

The castle doesn't really look like a castle, possibly because it's passed through a few owners who have added their own touches and because it was never a defensive fortress of any sort, but more of a palace. There are several entry fees, depending which parts of the castle you want to see. We bought the Cesky Krumlov card which ended up being a waste of money for us because we didn't go to enough of the attractions on it to make it worth the price, but we ended up only being 50 crowns down each, or about $2.50. But the card got us into the castle tower and museum free. The museum was interesting, but we didn't spend a lot of time in there because we had to catch another tour. The tower gave a good view over the old town and river so was a good opportunity for photos.

We also took two tours of the castle (neither of which the card covered)- a general tour and a tour of the baroque theatre. The theatre was the most expensive tour but also the shortest and you saw less than in the general tour. However, the theatre is special because it is one of only two baroque theatres in the world which still operate with their original sets and stage machinery. The other is in Sweden. Despite not getting to see a lot, we did get to go beneath the stage and see the timber machinery that moved the sets around, and some of the sound-effect equipment. While most of it is original, it has all been pulled apart, cleaned and repaired as necessary, then reassembled.

The general tour was also quite interesting, and as there was only André and me and two others, it was nearly a private tour. We saw bedrooms, dining rooms, sitting rooms, formal audience rooms where the royalty would have held audiences with people, and an elaborately painted mask ball ballroom. The walls are covered in paintings of people dressed for a masked ball, and the painter has specifically arranged each person to be looking at someone or something else in the room. So there are some interesting little stories between some of the painted characters around the room.

We had a very late small lunch after we came out of the castle- just a small burger to hold off the hunger until dinner! As we walked through the town, we stopped at a bakery to watch something being cooked that smelled amazing. We asked what it was and were told trdelnik. It was only 50 crowns so we decided to try one. The best comparison to something Australian I can think of is donuts. It's a dough that is rolled into a long log, then wrapped around a metal log and baked over heat so it forms a tunnel. So it's breadier than donuts, and baked, not deep fried. They can be served with a few different toppings, but most commonly it's sugar and cinnamon. Very tasty!

For tea we went to a 'hospoda' that I read about before we arrived (basically a cheap restaurant), Hospoda 99. The food was excellent, and cheap. André had chicken in a mustard sauce with potato dumplings (Daniel told us dumplings are a traditional Czech food) while I had a chicken and bacon salad, and we had a side of garlic bread. We both got dessert too- André had pancakes with raspberries and 'warm vanilla cream' (custard) and I had homemade sesame ice cream with chocolate sauce and 'caramel chips' (shards of toffee on top). The sesame flavour was a little odd to associate with ice cream at first, but I got used to it and it ended up being quite good. I also had hot chocolate which was excellent, and nearly as good as the one we got in Florence! André had a Czech beer and locally made liquer which had a very strong cinnamon flavour. And it all totalled less than $30! We returned to our pension very content that night.

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