another incalculable upside to visiting Krumlov in late September? even in the absolutely perfect weather, I had the whole Vltava River to myself.
because of the town’s location in a crook of the Vltava river, water sports (along with all other manner of outdoor activity — I told you, the Czech enjoy the outdoors) are quite popular and several companies offer kayak and canoe rentals. both my guidebooks recommended getting out on the water, so on my (unanticipated) third day in Krumlov I tracked down one that rented single kayaks.
|looking back at the Vltava from the direction I came
I showed up just as the shop opened and, upon hearing that I — a single person — wanted to rent a single kayak received a dubious look that could have wilted fresh flowers. “You know,” the rental guy said, “it really is better to have someone to go with you, take a two-person kayak.” I am not generally one to get legitimately offended by anyone, but the incredulity with which this guy infused his words struck me. I have kayaked, I have canoed, I have dealt with mild rapids and know how to handle myself. so I told him as much and made it clear that I intended to go no matter what he might think.
so I did (though not until a couple of hours later, when they brought boats into town from the boathouse). I passed sites along the river that, during the high season, offer refreshment (beer) and camping; late September, though, they were all closed. the water was calm and mostly quite shallow. I encountered a few rough patches, had to portage around the weir in town and battled a tendency to turn myself backwards from overcompensating my strokes; but on the whole my biggest concern stemmed from the fact that neoprene does have a saturation point and, upon reaching that point, water leaked through the skirt and soaked through my pants. good thing I opted for my quick-drying pants rather than jeans and against taking the option to bike back to town from the pick-up point in Zlata Koruna.
Krumlov has much to recommend it, in spite of the tour bus groups that inundate the town and clog streets, bridges, and every nook of the old town. both the castle and the old town are UNESCO World Heritage sites and, because of the proximity to both Prague and Vienna, it is a highly popular day trip well into the fall. I can’t imagine what the town looks like mid-day in August! even in late September I had gaggles of pensioners, couples, and other tourists to contend with around every corner.
the town sits in a bend of the Vltava River; or rather, it straddles a switchback-like ‘S’ curve, with the Castle perched on a hill at one end overlooking the town center on a near-island below. this location made for an exceptional defensive position in the age of knights and castles, but not necessarily so great in the modern era when the town relies heavily on tourism that the vagaries of nature can disrupt. in August of 2002, the Vltava River flooded badly, submerging much of the historical section of town. (check out photos of the flooding here.) the Lazebnický most was completely submerged (the bridge in the picture), though the railings were removed in time to prevent worse damage from occurring. though the flooding certainly took its toll, the town seems to be doing just fine these days.
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|view of Klet’ and observatory from Křížat
my second hike took me in the opposite direction from my first, south of Český Krumlov, and up the road past my hostel. both the owner and managers of the Krumlov House urged me to hike up Křížat, a modest yet steep peak with a chapel on top and stations of the cross situated through the neighborhood and meadows leading up to it. the view of the sunset from the top, I was told, was quite remarkable.
despite feeling decently taxed by my kayak trip down the Vltava, the glowing recommendations swayed me to hike up Křížat. because she recommended it so highly, I invited Anna (on of the managers) to hike with me but a delay at dinner kept us from getting back to the Krumlov House at the appointed departure time. worried that I’d missed her, I took off up the hill in the hopes that I’d catch her up. as I’d come to learn even more thoroughly later, I found it somewhat difficult to determine precisely which trail to follow and which direction the markers were leading me. taking a left, I made it half-way up the hill, darting through a residential neighborhood before I lost the trail entirely and doubled-back down to my starting point to try the other trail markings.
in the end, I jogged most of the way up the hill and didn’t see Anna (she’d been out when we got back), but as promised, the sunset was spectacular and worth every ounce of effort it took to getting up the hill in time to see the sunset.
|view to the west over the mountains from Křížat
as I mentioned previously, I took advantage of the extensive hiking trails that cross the Czech Republic while I visited, but the only hike that I had on my list prior to departing was up Klet’, a peak of 1,084 metres (3,556 feet) located just a few kilometers outside of Český Krumlov. the hike itself was gorgeous, though the first several kilometers were along a standard country road — my first opportunity to put responsible hiking techniques to good use. there were a fair number of penzions along the route, though at this time of year none seemed too busy. because of it’s convenient proximity to Prague and the Austrian and German borders (and also because the town is well preserved and gorgeous), the town is extremely popular with tourists. but, as I said, late September is the end of the season and although the center of town was swamped by o.a.p.-filled tour buses, on this warm and sunny day I the road out of town to myself.
finally, and rather unexpectedly, the path took a turn to the left and dove right into the woods. the flora reminded me of the MMSD’s School Forest — deciduous trees with sparse undergrowth. there was some evidence of logging — oddly square clearings here and there, muddy tracks of trucks rumbling out from beneath the trees — but things were quiet during my hike. in fact, the entire way up I didn’t encounter a single person. (I must acknowledge, however, that my extraordinarily-well-rested self set out from town immediately after breakfast and was back in town by 1p.m.)
while I enjoyed the hike, the final stretch to the top of the peak tested me and I spent most of it convincing my legs to keep climbing. in addition to a viewing tower and snack-bar cafe, the peak is home to an observatory that tracks near-Earth objects, such as comets, asteroids, and “other unusual objects,” including planets. the observatory is the oldest in the country and on clear days you can see the Alps in the distance. of course, the terms “clear day” and “see the Alps” are more finicky than one might suspect and despite what one might think on a day like the one I scaled Klet’, I could not see the Alps. in fact, the viewing tower remains closed on Mondays and Tuesdays so I didn’t have the opportunity to determine whether another couple dozen vertical yards would make a difference. I encountered a fair number of people at the top, in spite of the closed tower and possibly-unstaffed cafe. it seemed apparent, however, that most of the other hikers came up the eastern slope of the peak, quite probably with the assistance of the ski lift that runs from a car park near Krásetín, to the summit.
despite my fatigue, under-hydration, and the closed nature of the tower, the hike up Klet’ was absolutely worth the effort. at the very least, it helped prepare me for my other hikes of the subsequent 10 days, hikes that I did not plan out as thoroughly and which took me unexpected places at unexpected paces.
after some consideration, I’ve settled on a unifying element of my trip to the Czech Republic: walking. my accidental 28km hike was just one of many foot-borne excursions I enjoyed during my travels. Czechs, I came to understand, enjoy their outdoor activities and hiking and biking trails snake everywhere across the countryside. before I left, I spotted tips in my guidebook for people looking to hike the length of either the Czech Republic or Slovakia and thought the idea absurd — what country has the hiking infrastructure to allow people to hike that far? to make an enjoyable vacation out of the activity?
the Czech Republic, I now know, for one. presumably Slovakia for another.
I went into a bookstore in Wenceslas Square in Prague looking for a standard, nationwide roadmap like the one I got in Ireland and there were nearly as many detailed local and regional ordinance survey recreational maps as there were for maps for the rest of the world. walks around Český Krumlov, around Prague, around Štramberk, around Olomouc, around Brno, around the Mikulov region … you name it, there was a recreation map to cover your needs. maybe two.
however, for those like me who don’t deem such detailed ordinance maps necessary, the trails are so adequately marked that you’ll do all right without them. as long as you know your destination, or the next town on your path, then the periodic signposts and painted markings on trees and farmhouse corners will lead you in the right direction. of course, you might be better off to have the hyper-detailed maps (or at least to consult them during a planning stage) so that you don’t end up hiking three times farther than you think you will hike and run most of the way back to town so as not to miss the last bus back to where you’re spending the night … but that adventure is for another post.
while I was in Český Krumlov, among many pleasant local establishments, the owner of the Krumlov House recommended a place called Dobrá čajovna for tea. it’s down a back alley near the entrance to the castle and, she advised, served its teas in the style of their place of origin. I checked it out and was not disappointed; in addition to living up to it’s name as a “good tea house”, it lacked all trace of that blight of gorgeous tourist towns — the o.a.p. tour group/herd. my visit to the Krumlov Dobrá čajovna fell into a euphoric phase of my travels and I spent an hour and a half waxing … euphoric about travel in my journal (at nine pages, unquestionably my longest entry of the trip). I enjoyed my tea, wrote, savored the Czech atmosphere, watched the kids of one of the employees explore the cafe, and headed out and on to dinner.
a week later, back in Prague, wandering around a packed Wenceslas Square, I spied the cafe’s distinctive sign pointing down another back alley. same decor, same menu, same good tea, but a more Prague than Czech atmosphere (i.e. expat and/or international — lots of English). enjoyed my tea, rested my feet after walking back from Vysehrad
, wrote a shorter entry in my journal, read my book, and headed off to find dinner.
a week later, back in Madison, heading up Gilman St to exchange my movies at Four Star
, I once again spied the cafe’s distinctive sign. and it clicked, why the sign and decor looked familiar when I was in Krumlov — I’d been inside a Dobrá čajovna before, though one called the Dobrá Cafe. I must confess to feeling somewhat dismayed that this great teahouse I’d found turned out to be a chain — do U.S. companies have to co-opt everything
except it’s a Czech chain! the tea room in Wenceslas Square
in Prague is the original. the Communist regime forbid the importation of tea, but a group of tea enthusiasts met anyway to sample various teas smuggled into the country. after the Velvet Revolution, they opened the location in Wenceslas Square and have since expanded to all over the Czech Republic, as well as to Budapest, Krakow, Bratlisalva, Burlington, VT, and Madison, WI
! if you enjoy tea, and find yourself in any of these cities with some time to spend at a tea house, check this one out.
(incidentally, I figured out it was a Czech chain because the package of tea I bought for a friend last week was in English and Czech. why the hell else would the packaging be in Czech?! it is not a language one slaps on merchandise without reason.)