Cesky Krumlov: castles, floods & bears oh my!

TL;DR for our Cesky Krumlov Post:

  • Photos from Cesky Krumlov
  • Favorite Moments: Rafting the Vltava, discovering pork knuckle, wandering the town
  • Walked:
    in Krumlov: 256,975 steps / ~128 miles
    in Total: 1,015,624 steps / ~507 miles

Visiting Prague and the Czech Republic had been in our trip plans since the very beginning, but when we heard about the flooding 3 weeks before our scheduled arrival date (with a rarely booked flight in hand) we were a bit concerned. The mayor of Prague was asking visitors to stay away and initial damage estimates were $1.3 billion. We looked into other options for the time we’d planned for Czech Republic. We had wanted to visit both Prague and Cesky Krumlov (about 3 hours south of Prague).

Tony had been in touch with a Canadian ex-pat living in Cesky Krumlov who had blogged about the floods.

Scott’s outstanding blog had great play-by-play coverage including video.  As we got closer to our scheduled flight date things appeared to be pretty back to normal, so we decided to keep our plans–  and we’re glad we did.

Why Cesky Krumlov?
In reading about Prague and day trips in the area, we knew we wanted to visit both Cesky Krumlov and Kutna Hora.  The photos of Krumlov were amazing and after a whirlwind trip through Spain we were ready to slow down and plant ourselves for a week.  Sometimes the best place to do this is a picturesque town without 10 must see sights.  We were not disappointed!

The historic centre of Cesky Krumlov is a UNESCO world heritage site. “Situated on the banks of the Vltava river, the town was built around a 13th-century castle with Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque elements. It is an outstanding example of a small central European medieval town whose architectural heritage has remained intact.”

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Note the flood damage on the right where a construction bridge washed out.

Things to do in Cesky Krumlov
It was somewhat rainy (mostly sprinkles) in Krumlov and the cooler weather was welcome.  We spent many days just wandering the lovely historic streets and finding new vantage points to take photos of the castle.

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You can tour the inside of the castle which has a tower you can climb to the top of for some great views of the city.  Also, quite unexpected is a large outdoor enclosure housing two brown bears.  Apparently in 2005 a man attempting to escape the police climbed into their enclosure.  His body was removed later that day.

Our favorite adventure in Cesky Krumlov was paddling an inflatable canoe 10 miles down river to Zlata Koruna and then hiking 6 miles to the top of Klet which is the tallest point (3500 ft) in the area.  If you fancy doing this you can pick up a hiking map at the information center in the main Krumlov square or you can just bring along a device with Google maps (all of the trails are there for the most part).

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There is a restaurant up top and of course another tower to climb for good views of the towns below.  Apparently on a clear day you can see all the way to the Alps.  After a lunch of traditional garlic soup and goulash we hiked 7 miles back down to where we had started. This was a fantastic variant on the typical paddle downstream where you get picked up at the take out point.  It was also the place where we saw the most obvious damage and after effects from the flood with debris stuck 10 feet up in tree limbs and many trees along the side of the river toppled.

A few words of caution–listen carefully to the boat rental personnel.  There are not a lot of instructions given to you before you are allowed to hop in your boat and hit your first rapids about 60 seconds later.  “Go left for the first rapid and stay right for the second” and a few quick glances at some digital pics on a computer monitor was the extent of our instructions. At the last rapid before the take out (“stay right…”) it didn’t seem quite right to squeeze our boat through the boat-width concrete channel– but we were glad we did.  The alternative was a small waterfall which would clearly have been disastrous!

Hungry?  How about a Pig Knuckle?
mapIn addition to wandering the streets, walking along the river and visiting the castle we as always looked for interesting places to eat. Two of our traditional Czech food favorites were Rytirska Krcma Marketa (really hard to find, so here’s a map)  and Krcma v Satlavske (look for Satlavske street off the main square).  During a cool day a glass of svarak (hot spiced red wine) always hit the spot and everyone should really try a smoked pork knuckle (served with fresh horseradish, mustard and kraut) at least once!

Other traditional Czech food favorites were potato pancakes (always with onion, and other spices like garlic), garlic soup and deer goulash.  We were generally amazed by the incredibly flavorful soup broths no matter what soup we ordered.  Tony decided that the thick stew like gravy that made up the goulash was so good it should be used as a sauce on all other dishes.

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Early in our visit we had coffee with Scott (his feelings on local food: “anything but Czech food!”) who recommended the restaurant (not the cafe) at Hostel 99.  We really enjoyed the great salads and Tex Mex food there, which was a welcome change of pace from the  all-pork diet we were getting used to.

The People– Smiling on the Inside
At dinner one night with Scott and Alina (his lovely Polish wife), we got her take on a few noteworthy things about the Czech Republic:

1) The Czechs proudly boast the highest annual per capita beer consumption (132 litres) in the world beating out Germany (107 litres) by quite a bit.  The US isn’t even in the running at just 78 litres.  And in case you didn’t know… Pilsner originated in the city of Pilsen in the Czech Republic where it was first produced in 1842.  I can’t tell you how many times I looked around at a cafe stunned by the amount of beer people were drinking alongside their massive meals (oftentimes breakfast!).

2) The Czech Republic has a very high rate of atheism– more so than any former Eastern Bloc country.  We assumed that after communism these countries would have been free to go back to their religions, but according to Wikipedia in the 2011 census only 20.6 percent of Czechs identified as religious.  Salon lists the Czech Republic at the top of their “Best Countries to be an Atheist” list!

3 and 4) Czech marriage and birth rates are plunging.  The marriage rate has plummeted from 9.2 per 1,000 in 1970, to 4.3 in 2011. Over that period, the divorce rate has edged up from 2.2 per 1,000 to 2.7.  And women in the country are also having fewer and fewer children.  By comparison, the US has both higher marriage (6.8) and divorce (3.6) rates. To address what some see as a serious issue, Prague is providing subway cars specifically for singles.  And 2013 marked the 7th annual celebration of Marriage Week…  But the rates continue to fall.

5) “They are smiling on the inside.”  This is what Alina told us when we mentioned that, while the service wasn’t as cheerful as we have found elsewhere, it certainly didn’t seem as horrific as we had read.  For so many years the people here were taught not to show any emotion and this is truly something that is still visible in many common interactions.  I’ll never forget the most disingenuous smile and “Have a nice Day” I’ve experienced from a hotel worker.  He was clearly trying (probably trying to combat the common “rude Czech people” remarks online), but it clearly wasn’t natural.

Singled or married, genuine smiles or not, we’d highly recommend Cesky Krumlov. Whatever your interests–wandering picturesque streets, touring medieval castles or rafting down rivers there is a little something here for everyone.

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