Český Krumlov and Area
There's more to the south Bohemian town than its magnificent castle, as this affordable two-night trip proves
Well, not all maybe.
This past November 17th - luckily a Friday - we decided to hit the road and take a mini-break, before the weather turned the countryside into a white fairyland, sunless and frozen.
This time it was Český Krumlov - again.
It's become our default vacation place for many reasons - price, food, and proximity, among others.
Prague was starting to feel too stressful, and I needed the quietude of the forest and river, and to feel like I actually left the capital.
We'd intended to stop off in Austria for a day and visit Melk, but I know how fast I am usually in the morning and a 150-kilometer drive into a foreign country and back in one day would almost certainly have ended in disaster. So, we looked for closer places.
We arrived in Český Krumlov at about 3pm, and the sun was beginning to wane already. (Sakra!) We stayed in the Merlin again (pictured), a pension/hostel that's established itself as our favorite accommodation in the town.
The young girl with the lip-stud assured us that our lost reservation probably wouldn't be a problem, and that Merlin would be happy to give us their apartment suite for the same price - a remarkable 330 crowns per person per night. (This, however, is their off-season rate. Expect to pay a bit more between May and September).
The Merlin offers rooms in two locations.
One is their main building, with hostel-style multiple-bed rooms, a small, colorful dining nook, free internet, and a gorgeous view of the castle and castle tower.
The other - our preference - is above the town, looking straight out the window at the cathedral, which looms over the city with a not-cruel presence. At night, it simply glows.
Because of Merlin's mistake, we got a far superior flat, with two rooms, a huge shower, excellent heaters, a kitchenette with a fridge, a stove, utensils, and a sadly mismatched coffee maker incapable of brewing.
The interior was simple; almost austere when coupled with ceilings of rich, light wood and walls as white as a snowstorm's tuckus. But the view of the church from our window that we had enjoyed so much last time was now replaced with a view of a gray stone wall.
Between this wall and us was one of the town's main pedestrian walkways. The heads of early risers bobbed by our windows, occasionally blinded by my bare ass hanging over the edge of the bed. But it was nothing we couldn’t overlook.
Later that evening, after getting unpacked and going for a walk, we went to our favorite restaurant, Krčma v Šatlavské, but it was completely packed.
Luckily, across the cobblestones of Náměstí Svarnosti, Český Krumlov's pleasant little old town square, sat Maštal Restaurace, ready and waiting.
Attempting not to appear too much like an authentic 15th-century dungeon, Maštal (which means "stable", and indeed could have housed horses at one point) is brighter than its neighbor, and seats 80 people, but with slightly worse service.
With tri-lingual menus and Budvar on tap, they offer a selection of the best steaks I've had in this country. Their Brazilian, Argentinean, and Irish (?) Angus steaks start at 200 grams and only get bigger from there.
I ordered the 300-gram Brazilian steak (220 CZK) with whole baked potatoes and sour cream with garnish. The steak came out on a large cutting board and was perfectly pink and tender. After such a large dinner, we considered getting a taxi the short distance back to our room.
We awoke early and prepared a modest breakfast - coffee, juice, toast, a large omelet, avocado, apples, oranges, foie gras with a strawberry glaze, champagne, truffles, and marinated duck.
Then, because of Český Krumlov's proximity to some well-known tourist traps, we decided to see them for ourselves.
First, we went to Hluboká nad Vltavou, driving north for about 30 minutes. With only five other people there, we hiked up to the castle (pictured), which sits atop a hill overlooking the beautiful south Bohemian countryside. Luckily, we were blessed with good weather.
The castle itself is incredible; it reminds me of all the romantic visions of knights and maidens and kings my young mind conjured up when I was a dreamy little boy.
Multi-leveled, with a bridge and what was once probably a moat, the castle rests in its white magnificence, perched above the slightly disappointing town.
Built in the mid-12th century, it served many different rulers and dynasties over the years, and was refurbished in the mid-to-late 1800s to look like King Arthur’s lair.
The Alšova jihočeská art gallery is attached to the castle, housing permanent collections of Gothic Czech art and Dutch paintings from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
Adjacent to the gallery are a 200-year-old greenhouse, the king’s chapel (the clergyman on hand is always good for recanting sins at the last moment), and a long park with manicured hedges whose paths lead back to the village.
In the village there's a yellow, monolithic church, curiously unnamed, that towers over the center.
After a cheap cappuccino at the Lavazza café, on Hluboká nad Vltavou's "main" (and only) avenue, we left for Zlatá Koruna - a place Pension Merlin deemed worthy of sticking a torn postcard of onto their cork board.
A flattering picture of its famous monastery, looking noble and, hopefully, brimming with Franciscan monks with shaved craniums and brown robes, attracted me to this destination, in that pious, God-fearing kinda way.
Zlatá Koruna (Golden Crown), unfortunately, is anything but that. Its full name is Svatá Trnová Koruna (Crown of Holy Thorns). It may have been the hazy-but-sunny weather, but the place looked as good as I do when I unscrew a light bulb with my anus - slightly horrifying, but mostly just drab and ugly.
OK, I'm exaggerating. Zlatá Koruna's one redeeming sight that day was the monastery, which was closed and under heavy repairs.
The inner courtyard was decently pleasant, but dead empty and I think there were ghosts there too.
The church, which looked like one side of it was recently bombed, was built in 1263 by Přemsyl Otakar II, a famous Bohemian king, to appease whatever Pope was ruining people's lives at the time.
It was conquered by Hussites in 1420 and the famous Rožmberk family later took it back. It was deconsecrated in 1785 by Josef II, and has since been a school, a factory, and a laundry (not all at once). After 15 minutes of browsing, we promptly left.
Back in Český Krumlov, we rested briefly, and prepared for another night out.
We decided to walk through the dark, cobblestoned town to the base of the castle. As the rain began to fall, we ducked into the Zapa Bar for a refreshing beverage. Their prices were fairly cheap, given how nice and modern the place looked, and since we were making merry, we decided to splurge a little.
They were playing Simon and Garfunkel’s fantastic Greatest Hits album, so I began with Dewar's on the rock - at least they gave me one ice cube - and a bottle of Pilsner Urquell.
Then, we suddenly slipped into sharing cocktails. Now, I'm a person who generally avoids cocktails like they're cock-piercings, but I must admit that these were excellent.
That bartender was just aching to fix us drinks, spinning bottles behind his back like Tom Cruise in that really awful Tom Cruise movie.
First we tried the Mai Tai (150 CZK, but with basically three doses of booze), then a terribly girly Cosmopolitan (95 CZK - you can give me crap about this if you want, but it was good), and I was about to order another beer when I noticed that I was sliding off my barstool at this really slow rate, hanging by the last electrons of surface tension. My belly craved steak and big cutting boards, and I knew just where to go.
This time at Maštal, I decided to vary things by ordering the 300-gram Argentinean steak (280 CZK) but it wasn't any better than the cheaper Brazilian steak,
I basically made my wife order the salmon (200 CZK for two tasty pieces), because I wanted to mix it up with some of both. The night ended late - and fully. I could barely move again. I felt like I was back in America with these food portions.
The next morning, on the way back to Prague, the traffic was beginning to congeal in a hateful line of tempers and road-rage.
"Why can't I just stay here forever," I muttered to myself. Open up that little café - the one that would never make any money - and live in that nice, spacious place on the hill - the one I could never afford - and never worry about anything again.
I knew immediately that it was impossible - after all, if we were meant to live in the towns and villages that we enjoy visiting so much, then we probably wouldn't enjoy going there in the first place. (And I've never wanted to be a local living in a tourist trap in South Bohemia).
But I do still imagine living there, with a fantastic mountain bike and a pile of money and a personal library and a map room. Well, I thought, maybe Prague is another type of dreamland. Just watch out for poop on the streets.
I watched the obnoxious billboards as we cruised at 160 kilometers per hour up the highway, getting passed by Audis and Mercedes.
I could almost hear the sighs of the other travelers, patting their distended stomachs, remembering the good times that were coming to an end.
We must do this again soon, they may have been saying.
When's the next public holiday?
Phone: (+420) 606 256 145
Náměstí Svarnosti 2
Phone/Fax: (+420) 380 713 770
Official Český Krumlov Site
IDOS (Online Bus & Train Timetable)
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