After discovering the strength and bravery of the Czech people in Prague, we wanted to see more of the Czech countryside. It was a dreary morning, made more so by the mammoth SUV the rental company foisted on us. “…but we got no other car…maybe tomorrow?” (Mike had reserved and paid for a sedan 3 months earlier.)
I was driving with the parking lights on when a policeman motions us over. “No lights!” he said.
I got out and reached up my hand to reflect the parking light. He mumbles and walks around the car. “So K” he says “but need brighter”. I flicked on the brights. “So K, so K” he says and smacks the trunk. We learned afterwards that the police are poorly paid and compensate for it. Hence I carried money in my pocket and only had to use it once.
About an hour later we reached the Sternberg Castle loftily capping the hill and guarding the Sazava River valley. Perfect for coffee and a leg stretch. This 13th century Gothic castle was captured in 1467 and at the end of 15th century the original family regained and restored it. We got coffee from the heavily wooded bar and walked the windy river battlements and found a network of iron cages containing owls and eagles. The trainer was speaking to several kids and removed an owl from its cage and freed him. It flew up in growing circles until the trainer whistled him back to his arm. We were all enthralled.
On to Tabor.
It was beautiful and uncrowded. The Luznice river can be seen behind the rooftops. The village grew from a military camp of Hussite refugees escaping Prague in 1420. The maze of streets and narrow alleyways were beautifully built! This group were avid supporters of Jan Hus, one of the most important religious thinkers of the 1400’s. He fought against the Catholic Church’s corrupt practices and opulent life styles. The Papacy excommunicated Jan and then burned him at the stake. (Not much negotiating in the 14th century!)
On to Jindrichuv Hradec (even a linguist would have difficulty with this name).
Although this looks more like a “trout stream”, there were many round ones. Fresh fried trout decided our staying several days and exploring nearby sites.
The castle, towering over a trout farm, was built in the 13th century and Italian architects expanded it into a Renaissance palace in the 16th century. There were no English tours so we linked to a Norwegian group who graciously helped us understand the tour guide. Five floors but no Elevators. After several hours of climbing and descending, we cut to the castle wine bar.
Not often can one visit a Gothic Castle converted to a Renaissance Palace!
We had a wonderful trout dinner that evening and decided to see Ceske Krumlov tomorrow.
It was just an hour’s drive, the beautiful medieval Ceske Krumlov was across the river from Austria. (Saving that for another trip.) This village belonged to the Rozmberk dynasty from 1302 to 1611. In 1992, Unesco added it to its World Cultural Heritage Site. Just looking at the picture…..one can understand why! Additionally, the town center is closed to cars. Beyond that, Ceske Krumlov is noted for its Baroque Theater that is one of a kind. It offers a fascinating glimpse of 18th century theatrical life …including costumes, sets and stage machinery.
Back to Jindrichuv Hradec just in time to see a weather change.
Nothing like a pub and fireplace when the weather chills. The next day on to Znojmo and a few days at the Prestige Hotel’s outdoor patio where one can read and rest their feet.
Znojmo is one of Moravia’s oldest towns with a warren of narrow streets and surrounding river.
After a final cup of coffee on our hotel’s sunny patio, we are off on a side trip to Brno. Mike had arranged to meet with structural engineering Professor Strasky for an overview of his bridges.
I thought this was outstanding and wanted to run across…but then I’d have to come back.
Professor Strasky then took us to lunch. He and Mike had much in common and talked for hours about architecture and engineering.
We also stopped at Brno’s “Hall of Prayers”, the site of 9,000 Jewish tombstones.
The Jewish community raised the funds to put headstones on the unmarked sites. Meanwhile, the Church of the Holy Cross has mummified monks (dressed) in the crypt. These towns certainly preserve and honor their past….remarkable!
The next stop: Mikulov.
It offers a palette of wineries, naturally, a castle, and an intriguing cemetery. The town is beautiful especially with the ancient “foundations” protecting from the highest point. (The 13th century castle was destroyed by the Germans at the end of WW II.) But, you can see and smell the vaults where the remnants of the 2 centuries storage of locally-made wine still flowed.
The Jewish cemetery began in the 16th century.
That this was the seat of Moravia’s chief rabbi, 16th century, was not coincidental. Many of the headstones date back to 1618. In “Prague” (see blog on same), the Jewish ghetto ironically survived the destruction because although the Nazis’ destroyed ghettos elsewhere, Hitler wanted to preserve the “Prague collection” as a museum of the “Extinct Jewish race in Europe” after the Final Solution was achieved! Ha.
Continuing on, we drove into Trencin , Slovakia and were enthralled by the huge castle above and the modernity of the streets below.
The large building below is the Hotel Tatra and staying there was lovely and easy: out the door and you are in the central square.
The next day we drove toward Olomouc and Mike sighed when the first vineyard appeared.
Lush, green and magnetic. If there only was a tasteing-room…..
Driving into the city was a joy, the streets wide and parking easy. The Holy Trinity Column dominated the area, crowned by figures representing the Holy Trinity and surrounded by people sitting on the steps enjoying the weather and the view of this 7th century village.
Brateslava, Slovakia was our last site. It was difficult getting into this city of 600,000 people. What few street signs there were, we couldn’t read. After checking some hotels that were full we headed for the central plaza. The Carlton (Radisson) Hotel, with a parking lot beneath that turned the trick. We got a splendid room (123) on the first level with a big balcony over looking the pedestrian area.
The railing blocks a view of our room, but we had a splendid room and view. I asked the clerk how much for one night, for two nights, three nights… and bingo! Got down to 40% reduction for three nights. (Which we planned to do anyway)
We set off with our prearranged guide “Roman” at 2, going to taste wine at the castle cave. It was very good. That evening we had dinner at out hotel bar which was more lively and fun than the formal dinning room.
At 10 AM we met with our other guide, Susan, for a tour of the castle and part of the town. Perched on a hill above the Danube, the castle was first mentioned in 907. A strategic spot covering the trade routes and the old Amber route, it went through the usual transitions, rebuilt in 1950. The original huge castle cellar had been used for copper storage but evolved to wine storage, it certainly smelled better!
The next day I took time off from wine touring to explore the central square and narrow alley ways.
And what a joy it was! People everywhere small shops and vendor wagons crowded for space, and lots of smiles. I bypassed the wineries the second day and explored more. Found a church and started to enter late for the noon mass- a guard blocked the door “No tourist wondering through the church.” Remembering picture taking and talking tourists in European chruchs … I left.
We returned to Prague the next day for our departure the following morning. Only one area I wanted to revisit- the Jewish ghetto and burial site.
I gave my thanks to the unbelievable culture and courage of the Czech people.