Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Saturday
July
12th
2008
12:02 am

Visit to Cesky Krumlov

I finally visited Český Krumlov after putting it off several times. While it’s possible to visit as a day trip out of Prague, it takes about three hours to get there, and the prospect of spending a total of six hours in one day sitting on a bus was not appealing. So instead, I took the Student Agency bus down for an overnight trip.

The seal of Český Krumlov:

And the sight for which it is perhaps best known, the Little Castle and Tower:

Touring the Castle and Grounds

The castle complex is the second largest in the Czech Republic, Prague Castle being the largest. It has some 40 buildings spread out over a kilometer of a hillside overlooking the Vltava River. Just crossing from the Red Gate, the main entrance near the town, up to the gardens took about half an hour.

The former Mint is now the ticket office and main gift shop:

Across the second courtyard from the Mint is the New Burgrave:

Those aren’t really stones joined with mortar, nor are there niches with statuary. That trompe-l’œil effect is created with sgraffito. There’s a lot of sgraffito and frescos decorating the castle exteriors.

Looking back to the Little Castle and Tower from the path to the gardens:

The Gardens

The gardens alone cover 11 hectares (ca. 27 acres). There’s a fountain, of course:

And looking at the fountain from behind:

I think it very thoughtful of them to provide a little step ladder, the better to get a good view of the garden:

Although, even with the stepladder’s help, I couldn’t get a really good perspective of the garden:

The gardens are also home to a Revolving Theater. While the theater itself didn’t yield any interesting shots, I liked seeing these set bits lying on the grass:

The Castle Bears

According to the castle website, bears have been kept in the moat of the castle since the 16th century, during the era of the Rožmberk family. The family claimed descent from the Italian Orsini family, whose emblem was the bear, and so the Rožmberks kept bears to emphasize the relationship.

The moat is divided in two by the bridge, with Kateřina and Vok to the left and their daughter Marie Terezie to the right.

Marie Terezie takes her duties as guard bear seriously:

I can’t tell if this is Kateřina or Vok, but it appears that Marie Terezie’s parents are less serious about protecting the castle:

I like the way in which they politely discourage people from feeding the bears:

And keeping watch over the bears, we have St. Joseph (on Marie Terezie’s side):

While Our Lady keeps watch on Kateřina and Vok’s side:

The Tours

There are three guided tours of the castle, of which I managed to complete only two (leaving a tour of the theater for another visit, I guess). We heard the stories of the various families who owned the castle, starting with the Rožmbrks (1302-1602), followed by the Eggenbergs (1622-1719), until it was passed on to the Schwarzenbergs (1719-1947). It was nationalized in 1950 by the Communists. Following the Velvet Revolution, it was offered back to the Schwarzenbergs, but conditional upon their assuming responsibility for restoring it. They declined the offer.

As do so many castles, this one has a “White Lady”. Here, it’s Perchta of Rožmberk. Perchta was unhappily married to a much older, abusive husband, Jan of Lichtenstein. On his deathbed, Jan repented of his many cruelties and asked Perchta’s forgiveness. When Perchta refused, he cursed her instead. As a result, she now haunts the former Rožmbrk residences, especially this one. If she appears wearing white gloves, good news is in the offing. However, if she’s wearing black gloves, it’s a death omen. The tour guide claimed that one of her colleagues had recently reported a sighting of the White Lady. However, she went on to say, he was drunk that night, so no one believes.

There are lots of bearskins rugs in the castle: while I vaguely noticed this, I didn’t really pay it any mind until the tour guide brought it to our attention. “These are the bears from the moat”, she told us. For some reason, that really creeps me out.

Besides the Castle, There’s the Town…

In addition to visiting the castle, I took the audio guided self-tour of the town.

The Marian Plague Column in the Main Town Square is under renovation:

Krčín House is notable mainly for its sgrafitto and frescos:

And round the corner…

If I remember correctly, this was the house of Sheriff Slatinský:

Farewell

And a last look on my way back to the bus stop:

I’ve put some additional photos into this slideshow.

Monday
May
12th
2008
10:10 am

Holiday weekend in Olomouc

May 8 is a holiday in the Czech Republic (as it is in France and elsewhere) celebrating the Day of Liberation (the end of the 2nd World War). Since it fell on a Thursday, I persuaded (without great difficulty) my Friday classes to forego their lessons on the 9th, and visited Olomouc for a long weekend.

Why Olomouc?

Much as I like Prague, I’d really like to try living elsewhere in the Czech Republic. When I started asking around for alternate places to live, Olomouc was one of the names that cropped up most often. The second largest city in the Czech Republic, Brno, was usually dismissed as an unattractive industrial city that I would find boring. Olomouc, on the other hand, is a university town (of its population of 100,000, an estimated 20,000 are students). Olomouc’s main claim to fame these days is the Holy Trinity Column, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Holy Trinity Column, Olomouc
Historically, Olomouc was the capital of Moravia (although Brno now claims that distinction). It is also where Václav III, the last of the Přemyslid kings, was assasinated on his way to Poland to claim the Polish crown.

Sightseeing

Besides the Holy Trinity Column, Olomouc’s other main claim to fame is the Astrological Clock at City Hall:
Olomouc astrological clock
The clock itself is centuries old, although the mosaics surrounding it date from the Communist era. Olomouc has suffered the mosaics to remain because, despite the political implications, it really is quite stunning art work.

Olomouc is also noted for its fountains. There’s the Cæsar fountain:
Olomouc Caesar fountain
It’s not as unlikely as it seems: the ancient tradition is that Olomouc was founded by Julius Caesar and indeed the name of the city is a corruption of "Julius’s Mont". And archaeological findings under what is now sv. Michael’s church in fact confirm a Roman presence.

The relatively recent Arion fountain is a great favorite, especially because of the turtle sculpture that adjoins it:
Olomouc Arion fountain

The Hercules fountain shares plaza space with the Holy Trinity Column:
Olomouc Hercules fountain

Besides the Holy Trinity Column, there’s a Marian plague column, erected by plague survivors to celebrate their survival:
Olomouc plague column

There’s a little bit of the former Yugoslavia just outside the old city walls:
Yugoslav crypt in Olomouc
It was built to provide a resting space for Yugoslav soldiers killed during World War I, and, much like an embassy, the government gave the land to the government of Yugoslavia. The remains of the soldiers were subsequently repatriated sometime when Tito was on the outs with the Czechoslovak government, and the crypt fell into disrepair. The Olomouc city officials have recently persuaded one of the new countries that was formed by the dissolution of Yugoslavia to take responsibility for the (now empty) crypt, so with luck it will be spruced up soon.

The Church

The cathedral in Olomouc is sv. Václav:
St. Vaclav, Olomouc cathedral
The chapter house of the cathedral is where Václav III was assassinated:
Vaclav III plaque

I was in Olomouc over Pentecost, so I attended Mass at the cathedral on Sunday. Fittingly enough, they were celebrating Confirmation that weekend: about two dozen adults were confirmed. I noticed that those attending Mass were rather more formally dressed than I’ve been accustomed to in churches here, but maybe that was just because it was the cathedral or because of the Confirmations. The area immediately adjacent to the main altar is mostly kept locked if there isn’t a service, so there’s a chapel off the outer nave where the Sacrament is reserved. I also noticed that people stopped to genuflect in front of that chapel as they were entering and leaving the main altar area.

The Archdiocesan Museum adjoins the cathedral:
Grounds of the Archdiocesan Museum, Olomouc

Grounds of the Archdiocesan Museum, Olomouc
It’s a little surprising to me that, after 40 years of Communist suppression, the Church still has any treasures left. And actually, it does sometimes seem to me that the "jewels" in monstrances and the like are only cut glass (although that could be a security measure).

I also visited the Basilica of the Visitation on Holy Hill, a major (well, major for the Czech Republic) pilgrimage destination:
Basilica of the Visitation, Holy Hill, Olomouc
While the main entrance has been repainted, they haven’t (yet anyway) attended to the back or sides:

It put me in mind of an old Peanuts cartoon: Linus is showing off his newly shined shoes to Lucy, and as he turns to go, Lucy points out that he has only shined the fronts of his shoes, and not the backs. Linus replies that he cares what people think about him only when he’s arriving, not when he’s going.

St. John Sarkander

The closest thing that Olomouc has to a home grown saint is John Sarkander, who is venerated as a "martyr of the confessional". He was accused of treason by Protestant leaders and tortured partially due to his refusal to divulge what was said in confession. He died as a result of the torture, and the prison where he was held has since been converted into a chapel in his honor:
Chapel of St. John Sarkander
There’s also an altar with his relics in the cathedral. Although he died in 1620 and a cause for his canonization was started soon afterwards, he wasn’t beatified until 1860, and he was canonized only in 1995 by Pope John Paul II.

Dance

The Moravian Theater is the home for ballet and opera as well as drama. While I was there, the ballet was performing The Beatles and Queen, which sounded like an intriguing combination, especially for a ballet.

The music was presented (more or less) chronologically and the dance mimed the history of each group. It was very lively and went over well with the audience.

Haná Cuisine

I don’t really know enough about Czech cuisine to speak authoritatively on the differences between Bohemian and Moravian cooking, but I did notice a few little differences. Garlic soup, for example, is much heartier in Moravia; it includes ham and poached egg. And I was surprised by the "Chicken à la Duck": yes, the menu said it would be accompanied by sweet and sour cabbage, but I was expecting red cabbage, whereas this was white cabbage. And generally, white cabbage was more popular here than the red, whereas in Prague, it always seems to be red cabbage.

Olomouc’s Cafe 87 also has the only chocolate dessert that I’ve found worth eating in the Czech Republic: a bittersweet chocolate pie. The other chocolate desserts I’ve encountered in the Czech Republic have seemingly been based on milk chocolate and poor quality milk chocolate at that. Most baked goods also seem stale, or maybe Czechs just like their pastries on the dry side, but they’re not to my taste.
Cafe 87, Olomouc

I also tried (I think!) the famed Olomouc stinky cheese, but I was seriously disappointed. The aroma was very mild and not particularly unpleasant; the flavor was unremarkable; and the texture was very waxy. In fact, after the first bite, I took another look to make sure that I hadn’t overlooked a rind or wax covering that I was supposed to remove first! I tried asking the waitress if there had been a mistake, but unfortunately, neither her English nor my Czech was up to the task. So I don’t know if I was (inadvertently perhaps) cheated or if Olomouc stinky cheese really does not live up to its reputation.

The Joys of Czech Trains

I was seriously unprepared for the business of traveling by train over a holiday weekend. There are several trains a day between Prague and Olomouc, so I didn’t figure that, even for a holiday weekend, I would need to book in advance, and buying a ticket on Thursday was no problem. When I got on the train, though, not only was every seat taken, but the aisles and vestibules were also crowded. I was "lucky" enough to be able to claim a stairwell in the vestibule, but mostly I stood for the three-hour trip to Olomouc.

I wasn’t in a mood to repeat that for the return trip, so I made a seat reservation. The return train, though, had originated in Kraków and passed through Ostrava before getting to Olomouc so it was already standing room only. There was such a crush of people boarding I couldn’t stop to look for my seat until we were already underway, at which point, I found that I was at the opposite end of the car (fortunately I was at least in the right car!). Looking at the mass of people and luggage crowding the aisle, I was going to give up. However, the two very nice Czech ladies who were trying to get me oriented weren’t having any of that and handed me over to the conductor. The conductor went off with my ticket, leaving me no choice but to follow, stepping over my fellow passengers with many an apology.

When we located my seat it was, of course, occupied, and by a woman with a child sleeping in her lap. Fortunately, the man in the seat opposite chivalrously gave up his seat (and stood for 90 minutes to Pardubice) so that I wasn’t in the awkward position of having to oust a mother and child from my place.

Moral of the story: next time I travel on a summer weekend, I’m not only booking my seat in advance, I’m also going first class!

What Else?

I took way more pictures, but they don’t really fit into the narrative, so there’s a supplemental slideshow.

And it really is true that once you get outside of Prague, people don’t speak as much English. German is popular, which makes sense since the Czech Republic is bordered half-way around by German-speaking countries, and in Olomouc, Polish is reasonably popular, which again makes sense. But not a lot of English.

Monday
December
24th
2007
8:15 am

Trip to Vienna and comparative Advent markets

I’ve heard a lot about Austrian Advent markets, and I was curious to make the comparison with the Prague markets. One of my students told me that she thinks that the Salzburg markets are much better than the ones in Vienna, so I was thinking about going there. However, it’s 5 hours by train to Salzburg, and there’s only one direct train per day from Prague, and it arrives in Salzburg after midnight. So I went to Vienna instead. Since my camera is on the blink, I bought a disposable camera, but I haven’t yet had it developed (or even used it all up), so pictures will have to wait.

Vienna itself is a pretty city, although I found it somewhat shabbier in feel than Prague. A lot of it could use, at the very least, a fresh coat of paint!

On Saturday, I visited the main market, in front of the City Hall. Like the markets in Prague, the most heavily trafficked stalls were those selling food and drink. In Prague markets, though, the non-food stalls mainly sell the usual touristy junk that you find in the souvenir shops around, for example, Old Town Square. The Viennese market, on the other hand, actually had stalls where you might reasonably buy genuine (non-souvenir) gifts.

One of the things that the Viennese markets do that I really like is when you buy a drink (coffee or hot wine or hot punch), instead of giving it to you in a paper cup, they give it to you in a mug, for which you pay a 2€ deposit. When you return the mug, you get your deposit back. Alternately, you can choose to keep your 2€ souvenir mug. However, the information booths also sell (clean) souvenir mugs for the same 2€ fee, so why put the dirty mug in your purse or bag? It put me in mind of Grandma’s adage, "Never steal a dirty ashtray".

"Never steal a dirty ashtray"

The story that Mom always told in illustration of Grandma’s adage goes like this: once she and Auntie Jo were out having lunch somewhere with Grandma, and Grandma took a liking to the ashtray. However, since all three were smokers, by the end of their meal, the ashtray was thoroughly dirty. So, when it came time to pay the bill and leave, Grandma handed the ashtray to the nice young waiter, explaining that she didn’t care to put the dirty ashtray in her purse and asking him to please bring her a clean one. The nice young waiter dutifully went away and returned shortly with a properly cleaned ashtray, which Grandma promptly stowed in her purse. Mom never said, but I do hope that they gave that waiter a healthy tip!

Since I was downtown for the market, I took advantage of the proximity to visit the Hofburg Palace as well and saw the Imperial Apartments, Sisi Museum (the museum dedicated to Empress Elizabeth) and Imperial Silver Collection. I also wandered in the gardens while it snowed picturesquely on me. I think it would be lovely to visit in the Spring.

Sunday, I went to visit the Schloss Schönbrunn, which I liked even better than the Hofburg. The grounds are more expansive than the Hofburg’s, and again, would be well worth a Spring visit. When I bought my ticket to tour the palace, I hadn’t realized that there would be about a two-hour delay between the purchase and the time I would actually be allowed to enter (the tickets are stamped with the admission time). Fortunately, there was a little Advent market in front, so it wasn’t too painful to while away the time.

BTW, this posting (from another, food-specific, blog) describes the food at Prague advent markets very well. Plus, there are pictures of the market at Old Town Square.

Wednesday
November
28th
2007
1:21 am

NY Times article on Mariánské Lázne

I’m not the only person who has recently traveled to Mariánské Lázně: this article recently appeared in the New York Times travel section. The author’s experience was very similar to mine.

Friday
November
23rd
2007
1:34 pm

Day Trip to Dresden

In September, it had been three months since I arrived in Prague, so I needed to leave the country to "reboot" my tourist visa, and I took a little day trip to Dresden.

This is a sufficiently common trip that there are five trains a day between Prague and Dresden. After the Czech Republic joins the Schengen agreement at the end of December, I expect the popularity of trips to Dresden will fall off, since a trip to Germany will no longer suffice for non-EU citizens to restart the clock on their visas.

I found it interesting that, on the Czech side of the border, all announcements on the train were made in Czech, German and English, while on the German side of the border, announcements were made only in German and English!

Dresden is a very pretty city, although I think I’ve been jaded by Prague! Nothing really struck me as all that noteworthy. I did visit the (Lutheran) Frauenkirche:

There was a mime out front entertaining tourists waiting to enter the church:

There’s also a statue of Martin Luther in the square:

The Opera House is striking:

I also liked the Zwinger: unfortunately, since it was just a day trip, I didn’t have time to actually go inside and look at the collections:

Mostly, though, I just wandered around kind of aimlessly, taking in the sights:


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