We were up at 8:00 and had had showers and packed up by 8:45 or so. We went to the restaurant to see about breakfast, which ran until 9:00. The man acted very put out but did oblige us. We ate very quickly (I made up some of my rolls "to go" and then we packed up the tent. We walked into town to catch the 9:40 bus, which we missed because it came at 9:20 and we'd mis-read the schedule. The next bus didn't go until 10:30, and our train to Plzen was at 11:00, which we felt was cutting it a bit close. I went into the Post Office across the street and did my little " Do you speak English? Sprechen Sie Deutsch?" routine, which got me nowhere. Then I mimed making a call and said, "Taxi." No problem. the woman smiled and nodded, then picked up the phone. Ah, but the phone was dead. the woman and another man who had just come in did some jiggling of the wires; I'm not sure whether it helped or not. In a couple of minutes the phone worked again. I tried to wave out the window at Paul to let him know it was okay, but he didn't look in my direction. But then the call was made, and presumably the taxi was coming soon. I tried hard to convey how grateful I was and went back to wait with Paul. While we were standing there, our minibus went by with my favorite driver in it. With gestures he tried to tell me the bus wasn't running right now. I smiled and waved him on. I don't know what I would have done if it had been running; I'd have felt guilty cheating the taxi and thwarting the kindness of the woman in the Post Office.
Our taxi finally came, in the form of a beat up old station wagon. The driver reminded me of Otto on The Simpsons. He asked where we were going. To tell the truth, we weren't sure, because there are two stations in Karlovy Vary, and we didn't know which one to go to in order to get the train to Plzen, the main station (horní nádrazi) or the other one (dolní nádrazi). I answered, "Train station. Plzen. Horní nádrazi?" and I hoped that if it was the wrong station he'd tell us. But he just said "She speak-a the Czech!" which was funny, but not very helpful. As it turned out, as usual, I was worrying too much. We had the right station. We had scads of time. We had some bread and jam and I accidentally dropped the bag containing the brand new jar of raspberry preserves. It broke. Ah well. We took the train West to Cheb and then switched trains (it was right there waiting for us on the opposite track) to Plzen. Plzen, or Pilsen, is the original of the Pilsner beer. They have been brewing here for over 700 years, and Pilsner Urquell, the quintessential pilsner, is brewed there. That why were were visiting. We wanted to see the town where it all started, go to the Brewery Museum, and take a tour of the Pilsner Urquell brewery. We figured we'd find a room in town instead of camp since we were only planning to spend on night there. We went out of the train station and got the tram into town. The Old Town is very small and laid out on a grid so it's easy to get your bearings. We walked to Pension Bárová at Solní 8, just off the main square. This was one of the places listed in the guide book that sounded good. They had a room free (they only have 3) and we were shown upstairs to our room. It wasn't beautiful by American B&B standards (but then we were only paying $43 a night), but we thought it was heaven. We had a foyer with a phone (Internet access!) and our own bathroom with a tub and a huge bedroom. Single beds pushed together to make a double, as is the norm all over Europe. We threw down our gear, spread the tent out over the bed so it would finish drying (it was raining again when we broke camp in KV) and headed out to Tourist Info to find out about tours of the brewery.
Tourist Information is a really nice modern office right in the Main Square. It's connected to a Japanese tea house that never seemed to have any customers but which looked quite nice. TI also had a computer for internet access, and presumably a faster connection than our pension. We stored that piece of information away for future use. Unfortunately, we were too late for the last tour at Pilsener Urquell. We'd have to stay another day and take the train the following morning, two days hence. We were pretty charmed by the town so we weren't too disappointed. We decided that we try and see the Brewery Museum and perhaps the Underground corridors (9 km of tunnels built as refuges against sieges) that afternoon, and the brewery tour the next day. But almost immediately I messed up our best-laid plans because I was hungry and had to eat. By now, Paul knows how grouchy I get if I don't eat on time, so hurried into a little pizza place and ordered food.
I'm not sure if the brewery museum would be interesting to someone who brew beer, but I sure enjoyed it. The museum is in a medieval malt house, and you can see how they used to roast and crush the malt, the tools they used, how casks were made, etc. Upstairs in the attic, there was a gallery with photos and drawings of old buildings in Plzen -- then and now. Our pension was among the old photos. We were very proud.
We were too late for the underground corridors when we came out of the museum, so we figured we'd just wander around town and explore. We walked all the way around the Main Square and then started branching out. We looked for an International Herald Tribune but couldn't find any. Paul resigned himself to the fact that, for a while at least, we would get no news. He did pick up a very thin international version of Time Magazine, which he found quite disappointing. Plzen has a street called Americká and another Rooseveltova and we wondered why. We walked along Americká until we came to the answer. There is a monument to the U.S., which liberated Plzen from the Nazis in 1945, hence the street name. We walked by a movie theater, where The Avengers was playing. We thought we might go check it out the next night. Not tonight though; we were planning to each have a nice, long soak in the bathtub. We turned back toward a supermarket we'd seen to get some drinks and snacks, and on the way, ran into a band with a woman singing Patsy Cline ("Crazy") in Czech. It was a bunch of old guys with horns and a couple of young ones playing drums, keyboards and guitars. Plus a couple of women who did a song or two, but mostly shook the tambourine and looked good. By the end, the band was really rocking and had drawn a big crowd. And they never even passed around a hat or anything. It was all just for fun.
We had breakfast downstairs at 9:00, the standard Czech breakfast again. I was given an entire carafe of coffee, an incredible treat. We asked our hostess if we might stay another night, but unfortunately, she was booked. So we had to find another place to stay. We ran around a bit and finally settled on the Hotel Slovan, which was fairly inexpensive for a room without a bath. We were paying more than the night before, though, for a smaller room and no bath. We moved our things in and a little while later, went to the Pilsener Urquell factory to have a tour. The front gates are famous and are shown on the Pilsener Urquell label. I was pretty excited about seeing the process and maybe getting a taste at the end. We paid for our tickets (80 Korun) and sat down to wait for the tour. It was really quite a slick operation. First the whole group (a couple of tour busses came in while we were waiting) was brought into an auditorium and we were shown a cute little promo. film about Pilsener Urquell. Mirrors on all sides produced a kaleidoscope effect. It was pretty hoky but very charming, and most importantly, managed to get across its message with no dialogue, so it didn't matter what language you spoke. Every once in a while, single words or phrases flashed across the screen in four languages, but it was clear anyway. Our guide very charmingly told the Americans to watch for the Marine Corp. band playing "Roll Out the Barrel". And he mentioned to the Germans that Pilsener Urquell's first brewmaster was from Bavaria. He was very sweet, and no diplomatic slouch either. After the film, our guide asked for a show of hands for representatives of various countries. Everyone got a chance to be proud of his or her nationality and the guide got a pretty good idea of how many separate language tours he needed to arrange. It was very clever. We went along with the English tour. Our new guide was a young Indian or Pakistani guy with long, curly hair in a ponytail. He was a bit hard to understand sometimes and couldn't really answer any questions outside of his script, but we got along okay.
I really got a lot out of the tour. From what I understand (some of this comes from the Brewery Museum), beer was brewed by the Celts who settled in the Czech Republic from around 300 A.D. (The Egyptians were the first to brew beer, by the way.) By 1000 A.D., the monasteries were allowed to brew beer, but the quality of the brew was far from consistent. King Gambrinus (1251-94) and King Jecinek in their turn were patrons of the beer brewers. In 1295, King Václav II of Bohemia bestowed certain privileges on the town of Plzen, among them the right to brew beer. Presumably, only towns with sufficient water supplies received the privilege. Plzen is situated at the confluence of four rivers. Just before the Thirty Years' War (17th century), there were 26 brewers in Plzen, each of whom was allowed to "brew in turn", i.e., once a day or about once a month. This was the case until 1786. I'm not sure why the right of individual brewers ceased to be, but presumably it was because of inconsistent quality. Germany had had its beer purification laws for at least 150 years at that point. (To this day, these laws are in effect, which is why Germany makes beer without preservatives in it. The Old Willow Brewery also follows this standard.) In 1839, the Pilsener Urquell was begun, as a means of ensuring consistent quality. It was finished in 1842. (The Pilsener Urquell gates were built in 1892, to celebrate 50 years of great brewing.) As mentioned before, Pilsener Urquell's first brewmaster was a Bavarian, named Josef Groll. I was told by our guide that he was a mean man, unless he was drunk, which he always was, presumably after everyone realized how much easier it was to work with him in that state. Then he could be quite friendly, and often gave out free drinks. Groll also gets the credit for inventing the "top-fermenting" process used to create the pilsener. Until that time, only light ales were being produced. The yeast used to ferment the beer was added to the bottom of the vat, which caused a continuous stirring up of the sediment that settled there. Consequently, beer always looked a little bit cloudy. Quite by accident (perhaps he was drunk?) Groll discovered that if the yeast were added to the top of the vat, the sediments wouldn't be agitated as much and the result was a lighter, clearer beer. this process, combined with yeasts that worked well in cooler temperatures than they had before, produced the pilsener beer. I can see where if you were never really sure what your next beer was going to be like, you'd be very excited about a clear, "clean-looking" brew.
There are actually three beers brewed at the Pilsener Urquell factory: Pilsener Urquell, Gambrinus, and Primus. There are three factories altogether, two in Plzen, and one in Karlovy Vary. One million hl of beer is produced, mainly for export. The top three customers are Slovakia, Germany and the U.S. (I'm not quite sure of the order because when our guide was asked to repeat the list, he recited them differently.) Pilsener Urquell is actually the German name for the beer. It actually means "Original Source". In Czech, it's Plzenská Prazdroj. Varna means brewhouse and Dej Buh Stesti means "Wish us Luck". Now if you ever run into a Pilsener Urquell keg, you'll be able to read it.
The kettles used to brew the beer each hold 200 hl. the factory has 14 boiler sets; they are copper outside and stainless steel inside. When we entered the kettle room, country music was playing. Beer is made of barley, hops, water and yeast. The ratio of hops to water is 300 g/100 l. The barley comes from Southern Moravia and the hops from Zatec and Klatov. (I wish I could be sure about the spelling of Klatov; I found out that after our guide spelled Zatec for me, he had it wrong.) Filtration of the brew is done with ground seashells, which I found interesting, since the Czech Republic is landlocked. Our guide didn't know where they came from, however.
Up until 20 years ago, the beer was still stored in huge wooden barrels. These were sealed with pitch. They had to be cleaned after each batch and if our guide is to be believed, a man was lowered head first into a tiny opening in the barrel to accomplish this. Maybe they got kids to do it. Each barrel could hold 25 - 40 hl of beer and weighed 500 kilos to 1 ton when full. They were stored in cellars built under the factory. There are 9 km of them (hm, the same as the Underground Corridors) and from 1839-1920, these cellars were dug by hand. Yikes. At their deepest point, the cellars are 12 M deep. They are also very cold, probably 52 degrees F or so. When I looked up into the ceiling, I figured it must be colder than that because I could see ice on the pipes. But our guide told us that those pipes are the ones carrying the coolant to the refrigerator room.
The real purpose of being in the cellars was to see the old fermentation process, before they got the shiny, high-tech system they have now. Fermentation took place in 28 hl wooden vats. The unfermented beer, called wort, took 120 days to mature. The vats are tilted, so that the sediment can be siphoned off the bottom. It smelled wonderful in the vat room. I could have stayed all day, listening to the cellarmaster tell us about the history of brewing. And to make it even better, we were given little plastic cups and the cellarmaster filled them with the old-style Pilsener Urquell, which tasted wonderful. I think the absence of wood and the pitch must change the taste of the modern beer, but our guide claimed it did not. However, he did confess that he thought the cellar beer tasted better than the bottled brew. Hm. I thought it imprudent to point out this obvious logic flaw since our guide seemed to have taken a liking to Paul and me and even offered us seconds of the beer.
And suddenly, it was all over. We were dumped back out on the street, feeling a little lonely and bereft. We had talked to another American on the tour, an older gentleman who told us that he also "brewed a little beer." He said it in that understated way that made me bet that he was a Texan who owned several microbreweries. We saw him outside the gates, and he recommended that we have lunch at U Salzmann, which is apparently the oldest restaurant in Plzen. The food was fine, although I have to admit that I'm tired of having few vegetarian options. And my chicken had ketchup on it, along with the advertised mushroom sauce. It seems to be like A1 steak sauce here. We had decided that we wanted to try to acquire some nice pilsener glasses while we were here, maybe something with a gold rim. We looked at quite a few crystal shops and couldn't find anything. Then we went back to the Brewery Museum and got six Pilsener Urquell glasses, very nice crystal ones with gold rims. The very nice man behind the counter wrapped each one in a sheet of paper and sold us Pilsener Urquell bag (8 korun) to carry them in. They didn't have a box or anything.
Paul said that he wanted to go back to the room and have a nap (we can do this; we're on vacation). When I came back from the WC however, Paul was deep in the computer. I prowled around for a while, wondering why this bothered me so much. I went out to check what time The Avengers was playing, just to get some fresh air. By the time I got back, I kind of realized that Paul probably needed some time alone but hadn't admitted it to himself yet. But it bothered me that he had just dropped out or switched off without giving me a little warning. I sewed a patch on my jeans as therapy and then we talked about it and were okay again. As a consequence of it though, I got kind of obsessed about the Pilsener Urquell glasses. I was afraid they'd get broken if we had to carry them around and wanted to mail them to Paul's Dad's house as soon as possible. So a little while later we walked to the Post Office. Our first mission was to locate someone who could speak English or German. For some reason, bus and train stations, and post offices, in Eastern Europe are almost totally devoid of people who speak foreign languages. But we did find one woman who spoke a little German and I explained our situation, that we wanted to send a package home but that we needed a box. The Post Office had boxes and I was being lulled into a false sense that this would all be really easy. I held up the glasses and all of a sudden, nothing was possible anymore. "Es geht nicht!" said the woman, loudly and with finality. Apparently, the problem was that the Post Office didn't have packing materials. So we left with our glasses still with us. Paul wanted to go to the internet place and try to upload a slew of pictures. I didn't want to sit around and wait so I offered to go out and seek some bubble wrap. But Paul seemed to want to come with me so I sat down to wait. I was feeling really frustrated. I turned all that frustration into stress abut the stores closing before we got the bubble wrap. Finally, at 5:45, I decided to go and get the stuff. The stores closed at 6:00 and we'd been at the internet place for an hour already. (The connection didn't turn out to be as fast as we had hoped.) So I set off in my frustrated state, feeling like acquiring this bubble wrap was at least twice as important as saving the world. The woman at Tourist Info had given me a coupe of places to try. The first one was right in the square. Naturally, no one spoke the two languages I have any facility with, so I began to mime mailing a package, throwing in a Czech word when I knew it, a Polish word when one of those came to mind, or a universal term like "plastic" to further specify me request. I was given first very thin sheets of paper, then very thin sheets of plastic. No good. I thanked the women and left. In the next store, the woman spoke a bit of German. We got as far as to identify the bubble wrap I was seeking (i found some in the lining of a padded envelope). The woman handed me the envelope and pointed upstairs. I ran up the steps two at a time, ready to purchase huge swaths of the stuff. I handed the envelope to another woman upstairs in a kind of a general store. She had a conversation with a colleague and then led me into a wall coverings shop next door. Another conversation ensued. Then the woman turned to me and shook her head. No, they didn't have any. It was unclear it they were just out at the moment or if they never had it at all. I was totally deflated - almost ready to cry. I don't know why it meant so much to me, but I went back to the Internet place, where Paul was still uploading pictures, feeling like a total failure. We finally got kicked out as they also closed at 6:00 and it was 6:10 or so, but they still had lots of tourists needing help, so they couldn't really go anywhere.
There's nothing like a good English-language movie to restore one's spirits. Unfortunately, The Avengers wasn't a good movie, though the language was English. It was a couple of hours of escapism though, and sometimes, that's all it takes to get over yourself.
We took the extremely comprehensive (i.e. it stopped at every village and sometimes in between villages) train to Ceské Budejovice and then switched to an even more local train (stopped every 2 km) to Cesky Krumlov. It took an hour to travel the last 24 km. We had to throw open the window and lean way out to see the name of the stop each time, because we had no idea ho many stops it was until our stop. It was a little nerve-wracking. When we arrived, we couldn't even begin to decipher the bus schedule, so we took a taxi to the campground. This was quite a start contrast to the way most people arrived, which was by canoe on the river. We felt terribly out of place there as we pulled our too bright and clean packs out of the trunk of the taxi and handed over a 1,000 crown note that was too big for the driver to make change for. The driver asked someone standing by to get change, so while we waited, we watched as a large group of Czechs, perhaps friends of the owner of the campground were all sitting around a fire grilling meat and sucking down beers. I think they found us as strange as we found them. Eventually we got change from the guy who was selling the beers, out the side window of a little hut that appeared to be closed from the front. We paid the taxi driver, and I picked up our gear out of the mud while Paul went to pay for a couple of nights stay. It cost a whopping $1.50 per night for the two of us and one tent. Lonely Planet had called the campground's setting "idyllic", but I sure didn't see it. Granted it was on the river, but there was hardly a blade of grass in sight and because of all the rain it was quite muddy. It looked like it might rain again, so we set the tent up near the top of the slope,, away from the water. It was the only place that was both level and had a bit of grass on it to hold the mud together. I whined a bit about how muddy my pack would get (the packs go on the "back porch" which is under the rain fly that extends behind the tent, but sitting directly on the ground). Maybe at the beginning of the summer the site had been idyllic, but it was rather less so now. After we'd made camp, we walked in to town without a map. It was about 2 km. The Old Town is quite small and is situated around a tight S-bend in the river. Krumlov is derived from the Old German meaning crooked-shaped meadow. Cesky means "Czech". Up until the end of WWII, there were always Germans and Czechs living there, and according to our guide book, it seems like there were usually more Germans than Czechs, and if you believe the book, they lived together peacefully. During the war, the area was heavily settled by the occupying Germans, and after the liberation by Allied forces, it was restored to Czechoslovakia and the Germans were all kicked out.
The castle sprawls high up on the left side of the river. It was begun sometime before 1250, which is presumably the date of the first written reference to the castle, by the Vitiate family, very powerful in the region at the time. Their symbol on their coat of arms was a 5-petaled red rose. That branch of the family died out in 1302, the Rozmberks inherited the castle, and kept it for 300 years until it had to be sold off to pay family debts. The Rozmberks conferred special privileges on the town, just as King Václav did in Plzen. The local guide book actually listed some of the privileges, a few of which are quite surprising and don't sound like privileges at all: the right to freely leave your property to anyone on your death, the right to take a dispute to court, the right to make a contribution to pay for a wedding in a Lord's family, the right to ensure that no Jews could live in town, and the right to be compelled to keep the streets clean. Sounds like a very mixed bag to me. Vílen and Peter Vok were the last two Rozmberks to rule Cesky Krumlov. Vílen was apparently quite a party animal and got himself deeply into debt because of the elaborate parties he hosted at the castle. After his death, Peter had to sell the castle to Emperor Rudolph II in order to pay the bills. In 1622, Emperor Ferdinand gave the castle to the Eggenberg family, who built a brewery in it. Eggenberg beer is still being produced today, although not from inside the castle. The Schwartzenberg family inherited the castle in 1719 and lived in it until the mid 1800's. Presumably it became too expensive to keep up, and the family ceased to live there. After WWII, it became the property of the Czech Republic.
We didn't hear any of this until the next day however. Our goal was to have a look around, maybe go into Tourist Information, and get some dinner, and not necessarily in that order, if I had anything to do with it. We kind of followed the river and walked right into a whole bunch of construction around the fortified walls. We walked by a Tourist Information place, or rather a glorified currency exchange place with a few guide books and post cards. We walked down a long flight of steps to a restaurant built into the old Barbican and we knew this was the place we must have dinner. It was just two little rooms with arched ceilings, a fireplace and big, rough wooden benches and tables. Coats of arms of previous rulers were painted on the curved walls and were slowly being obscured by smoke stains from fire place which looked like it had been in continuous use for the last several hundred years. In the arched doorway to the stone staircase stood a full suit or armor resting both gauntlets on the massive two-handed sword before it. The only light was from the candles on the tables and walls. The menu was wonderful, sort of Czech Nouveau, all the traditional dishes but a bit lighter & healthier, and a few vegetarian options. There was even dog food and biscuits so your dog could eat with you. We had an incredible lentil soup to start, with sausage and lovely spices, and then i had a mixed salad (corn, cabbage, and all the other "usual" salad items) drenched in a great dill dressing. Paul had an enormous kebab, which he managed to choke down. Even the lettuce it was presented on got eaten. We washed it all down with a drink called Korma, which is half beer, half mead, and very yummy.
From there, we wandered into the Old Town Square, did a quick inventory of the Tourist Info office there and then walked back home. To Paul's deep regret, we forgot to stop in at the biker bar with all the Harley Davidson motorcycles parked out front for a nightcap. But there was lots of action back at the campground. The group with the fire was still there, drinking and eating around an even larger bonfire. The music had gotten very loud and some people were dancing. We walked to the window at the side of the little building, where all the beers were coming from, and standing on a rock which had been placed there so you could reach in the window, and with the help of one of the revellers who spoke a bit of German, Paul managed to secure for us a pair of beers. They set us back 12 Kc apiece (40¢). This was living. We had a walk around the campground. Paul hoped someone would invite us over to talk, but no one seemed inclined to strike up a conversation. As we stood looking out at the river, we noticed three women trying to start a fire (this was the first campground we had been to that allowed fires) with a few old train tickets, a beer coaster, some sticks and a clump of sod. It wasn't going very well. Paul went over to ask if they needed help, and as we chatted, he somehow managed to get a fire started. The girls (who turned out to be Dutch) were very impressed and while we fed the fire what little fuel there was (excluding the sod) we chatted with them, and finished our beers. They were very nice, but were quite reserved, so the conversation fell a bit flat, so we excused ourselves and went back to our tent. When we went to bed, we discovered that our site was not quite as level as we had supposed. I couldn't get to sleep for a long time because the sound coming from the bonfire was not mixing well with the sound (I am purposefully avoiding the word music) of a guitar player and his little group singing. I really can't understand the Eastern European fascination with the song "Where Have all the Flowers Gone?"
I washed my hair in cold water (the only kind available at the campground) at the outdoor metal sinks and Paul did laundry. I met one of the Dutch women at the sinks and she told me that a group of Czech canoers near them had stayed up drinking and talking until 5:00 in the morning, and that the guys near them relieved themselves outside their tent instead of walking to the WCs. The Dutch women had intentionally made a lot of noise when they got up, but the Czechs slept through it, much to their disappointment. We hung up the laundry and headed into town. Almost immediately, it started raining. I confidently claimed that the rain wouldn't last and out of sheer spite, it began to pour. So we headed back again, to take in the laundry and get our jackets. On the way, we noticed that the little grocery story was only open until noon, since it was Sunday. So we picked up some bread and cheese and great little tarts called Linecki, which are very much like the ones my mother made when I was a kid. I loved them then, and proceeded to eat them every chance I could get until we left the Czech Republic, a very sad day.
We walked up to the castle the back way and stopped at a cafe for a drink (and Lineckis). We wandered around the many castle courtyards for a while, climbed the tower, and then had a look at the bears, which have been kept at the castle since the 16th century. I felt sorry for them because they live in a concrete enclosure that looks like it used to be a moat in the entrance to the second courtyard. It looked filthy. But the bears seemed happy enough. They were supposed to be "living proof" that the Rozmberk family, who lived in the castle at that time, was related to the great Italian Orsini family. The tenuous connection was that the Orsinis had bear in their coat of arms.
When we checked into tours, we learned that the English tour wasn't until 2:00, so we had a stroll through the beautiful gardens. One is formal, with straight paths and sculptured plants, and another is more natural with a huge pond at one end that has lotus flowers in it. It was very beautiful, but the whole time, I felt "enclosed". Had I lived there, I wouldn't have been satisfied if I couldn't leave once in a while. We still had some time to kill so we checked our email at the internet cafe just inside the castle walls. It was a very nice cybercafe with lots of computers, a white board, and tons of computer magazines.
At 2:00 we all gathered in the second courtyard for the tour. While our guide collected tickets, someone started pushing both Paul and me from behind, quite roughly. We'd gotten excellent training in Poland, and without even thinking about it, we both leaned in toward each other and backward. Thus thwarted, the man changed tactics and tried to push by me on the left. He never said, "Excuse me" in any language (he was Italian) so as far as I was concerned, he was budging, and doing it rudely. I put up my arm to block him. Then the man started yelling at me. Apparently because I was not letting him go up to his wife and the rest of his family where his ticket was. I rose to the call of righteous indignation everywhere and asked him how I was supposed to know his intent without any word from him. More ranting at me. I hotly replied that it was customary in all cultures to say "Excuse me" at least. The Italian said something else, but at the same time, Paul kindly reminded me that I didn't have to argue with this man, and we walked away. Good point. The adrenalin was still coursing up and down my veins halfway through the tour though. I probably was a knight who rode out on quests in another life.
The tour was boring after all that excitement at the entrance... just kidding. Actually, it was a real fairy tale castle. Unlike most of the castles we've been through, this one was still furnished just as it had been when the Schwartzenbergs lived there. Many of the rooms were outlandishly elegant, some bordered on the absurd. The Masquerade Hall was one of these. At one time, it was the scene of many lavish balls. The walls are covered in scenes from the Italian Comedie del Arte. Everyone depicted has on masks and looks strange and exaggerated. There is a scene up above the stage of a young woman cheating at cards. It's very strange. Because of all the people (and some animals) on the walls, the room seems full even when there is no one in it. All the family portraits hang in the gallery. There is an uncanny resemblance between all the family members that I think is due more to the artist attempting to flatter the subject than to excessive intermarrying, which was my first thought. The only item in the gallery is a huge, golden coach in the center. It was built by the Eggenbergs in 1638 when they were commissioned by Emperor Ferdinand III to deliver some gifts and a message to Pope Urban VIII. It was used only that one time. At one point, someone converted it into a bed. But later it was reassembled and put on display in the castle.
After the castle tour, we walked back to the campground to ask about canoeing on the Vltava. The LP book had said that the campground arranged rentals, and we'd seen signs advertising it at reception. But when we arrived back at 3:30, we were told to go into town to arrange the canoes. I was so disappointed. We'd been planning to leave the next day and now it seemed like we wouldn't be able to go canoeing. We sat down at the covered tables (four upright logs pounded into the ground and topped with a slab of wood) and had some lunch. It was 2 km back into town, which isn't a lot but after walking all day, knowing that you'd been right there, and that by the time you walked back in, it would be too late to arrange anything...
It took us quite a while to realize that we're not on a fixed schedule and that we could leave any time we wanted. If we really wanted to, we could stay another day, just to go canoeing. It's amazing how we limit ourselves with unnecessary barriers. In the meantime, we "stole" a bunch of wood from some canoers who'd already left, so we could have a nice fire that night, and read books for a while. At 6:30, we went back into town, to TI in the Main Square to ask about canoeing. Our plan was to see about getting a room in town as well, so that we wouldn't have to walk the 2 km in with the packs in the same morning that we had to figure out how to get back to the train station. TI gave us a couple of brochures for canoeing. While we were there, a South African woman was trying to get a room. She was having a hard time deciding, a hard time overall. Then her husband came in, accompanied by a policeman, who was holding the husband's passport. They had driven their car into town to look for a room, and claimed not to have known that Cesky Krumlov was a car-free city. The two women behind the counter maintained that there were international signs everywhere telling you. (I don't know how you couldn't notice the lack of cars on the roads.) After a little struggle, the couple finally paid the fine. You have very little bargaining power when the police have your passport. Then the couple wanted to know where to park and how to get there. They wanted the policeman to show them, but he didn't speak English and didn't understand. The women behind the counter weren't helping at all. They just kept saying that there was parking all over outside the city, and didn't bother to translate. No one wanted to get involved. Paul finally got sick of it and said, "Just show them on the map where the closest parking is!" It did seem strange that no one wanted to help them out. But I think it was just that the business people and police haven't yet learned to work together yet. Haven't learned that they could be helping each other out. There's probably still a health mistrust of police in the Czech Republic left over from the Communist days. Who can blame them?
We decided to stay at the Hotel Vltava, which was also the place where we could rent canoes the next day. After the disappointment of the afternoon, it was all turning out to be very easy.
Paul built a great fire back at the campground. we had gotten one bottle of each of the local beers, Eggenberg and Schwartzenberg, and sat around the fire sipping them. The Dutch women came by and chatted for a while. About 11:30, the couple next door to us came back with another couple, who set up their tent between ours and the other couple's. The two guys proceeded to spend a good portion of the night drinking beer and talking loudly to each other from their respective tents. The one guy could never hear what the other was saying, however, and constantly returned with "Sucham? Sucham? (What did you say?)" until I started seriously considering knocking him out with one of his beer bottles. Everything finally settled down though, and I slept.
At 1:00 we left on our long-awaited canoe trip. It was wonderful. We dropped into the water right behind the hotel in a quite heavy, orange plastic canoe, with lunch and our passports secured in a big plastic bottle that was lashed to the middle of the canoe. We planned to follow the Vltava river downstream, through the town and then down about 15 km to the next village, where we'd been told we'd find a campground. We were to get off there and someone would pick us and the canoe up and bring us back to the hotel.
Almost immediately, we had to get out of the boat and carry it over a small waterfall. We knew there'd be another one further downstream somewhere as well. The current was strong enough that we didn't have to work very hard. It's good to see the land you've been exploring from the water; it gives you a different perspective. We passed through Cesky Krumlov, then a little industrialized area (very small), and suddenly we were out in the country. It was beautiful. We passed a few fisherman wading in the water. We got caught on the rocks in a shallow bit near the first fisherman and probably ruined his catch for the rest of the day. After we passed two more fisherman, we stopped for lunch on a flat grassy spot with logs to sit on. There was also a very impressive meat spit built over the fire pit. It was obviously meant to roast large animals. Those rugged Czechs. We ate pretty quickly because we wanted to be back on the water again.
On the last stretch of the journey, the last 15 minutes or so, it began to rain, but not enough to take away our enjoyment of the day. We took our jackets out of the waterproof bottle and continued on our way. The water became quite calm, and we had to paddle strenuously for a while. Then we came to the second waterfall. I got out to have a look at it and see if we could ride over it. Maybe we could have but I was chicken. It looked very steep and fast. Besides there was a man fishing there whom we would have run down right after we ruined his fishing. We heaved the boat out of the water and slid/carried it across the grass, dropped it back in with a splash and set off again. We pulled into the campground at just 4:00, or pre-arranged meeting time. It immediately began to pour cats and dogs and we took cover with a drunk Czech man under a canopied area. He continued to talk to us even after we told him that we didn't speak Czech. I think he was trying to tell us that he couldn't understand why they were building a new bridge here when there was a perfectly good one a kilometer away, but I can't be sure. You kind of have to make it up when there's such a huge language barrier. I was feeling very uncomfortable with the man, so I was glad when the guy from the hotel showed up a couple of minutes later.
It was raining when we got back and it seemed like perfect weather for a nap. An hour and a half later, we finally roused ourselves enough to think about dinner. We'd seen a sign from the castle tower advertising a vegetarian restaurant and we went to investigate. It turned out to be a great place, with fairly creative and funky entrees by Czech standards. No Czechs actually ate there; everyone was German, British ("Don't sit by the door, there's a draft"), Australian (young and loud crowd) or American (us). Presumably a meatless meal is still too weird a concept for a Czech to contemplate.