Vítejte v České!
That is: welcome to Czechia (i.e. the Czech Republic)! Another day, another country… and what a wonderful country it is so far!
The origins of modern-day Czechia can be traced back to the 9th century, when the Kingdom of Bohemia, a small kingdom centred around Prague, liberated itself from the powerful Moravian Empire and began to acquire further territories. Under the rule of the Přemyslid Dynasty the Bohemian Kingdom continued to grow in size and influence, and was formally recognised as part of the Holy Roman Empire in 1002. It was part of the Holy Roman Empire from 1002 until 1806, and reached its peak in the 14th century when the Czech king, Charles IV, became Holy Roman Emperor. The years of his reign as Emperor in the mid-1300s is considered the “Golden Age” of Czech history (which is why everything in Prague is named “Charles This” and Charles That” – more on that when we get to Prague later this week though). From the early 1500s however, the Kingdom of Bohemia came increasingly under Habsburg control and after the fall of the Holy Roman Empire, Bohemia became part of the Austrian Empire and later the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Czechia (aka: Bohemia) never regained the power or wealth it had during the 14th and 15th centuries, and after WWI, was forced into a union with nearby Slovakia. After WWII Czechoslovakia then became a Communist state; this period in the nation’s history is marked by economic and social stagnation that the nation has been working to shake off since becoming The Czech Republic 20 years ago (the Czechoslovakian union lasted until 1993 when Czechia and Slovakia went their seperate ways in a very peaceful dissolution dubbed “The Velvet Divorce” due to its peaceful nature). Today Czechia is Eastern Europe’s most prosperous state and one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations. We, like the 6 million other visitors that flock here every year from around the world, are pretty excited about seeing some of the regions natural wonders and historical sights. We’re also pretty excited about tasting some traditional Czech cuisine – though we have been warned it’s mainly potatoes, dumplings, cabbage, meat and beer. Sounds very filling!
We arrived in Czechia around lunchtime today with our tour group after a 4 hour bus journey that took us through the Czech countryside on narrow country roads, past farms, villages and golden autumnal forests. We drove from Slovakia back through Austria, across the Bohemian Mountains* and into Southern Bohemia, one of the Czech Republic’s 14 electorate regions.
*The Bohemian Mountains are a fairly low mountain range here in Central Europe, densely forested and still relatively untamed compared to the forests on the German and Austrian side of the border. Geographically the mountains create a natural border between the Czech Republic, and Germany and Austria.
We’re staying for a couple of days in the tiny medieval town of Český Krumlov, one of Southern Bohemia’s star attractions. This tiny town of just 14,000 people has one of the oldest and best preserved old towns in Czechia. The town itself was built in the 13th century along the banks of the Vltava River, which was an important in trade river at the time. Cesky Krumlov Castle was then built in 1302 by the rulling Rosenburg family. The Rosenberg family is said to have been the most significant and influential Bohemian noble families at the time, second only to the ruling Přemyslid Dynasty; they played an important role in Czech medieval history and held posts at the Prague royal (and later imperial) court and were called “the real lords of the kingdom”. Their emblem, the 5 petalled rose, is everywhere here in Český Krumlov. So far we are loving this little town – it is just to cute!
When the Kingdom of Bohemia came under Haspburg rule, the Rosenbergs fell from somewhat grace and Cesky Krumlov and its surrounds were given first to the House of Eggenberg (1621 to 1718), and then to the House of Schwarzenberg (1719 to 1945) – both Austrian noble families. So this town was under Germanic rule for over 300 years, which gives it and interesting dichotomous feel; for example, many of the really old shops (like the old Royal Apothecary) have their names engraved over the shop front in both German and Czech. The old town itself is tiny – just a few hundred metres is diameter. It is also VERY cute – all cobbled streets and narrow laneways. The town was not bombed during WWII at all and most of the buildings date from the 14th century. The core of the old town is within a horseshoe bend of the Vltava River, with the castle perched high on a hill on the other side of the river.
We had a local guide take us on a walk through the old town, showing us historical landmarks and pointing out key sites for us to visit on our free day tomorrow. The orientation walk she took us on was great and the guide herself was hilarious – she had a great sense of humour and a rather quirky personality and a very “Bohemian*” sense of style.
*The term “Bohemian” is used to refer to people who practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often with few permanent ties, involving musical, artistic, or literary pursuits. In this context, Bohemians may be wanderers, adventurers, or vagabonds. Seeing as we’re in Bohemia I wanted to see what this had to do with Bohemia. Apparently the term emerged in France in the early 19th century when impoverished artists, writers, journalists, musicians and actors began to concentrate in the low rent, lower class, “gypsy” neighbourhoods of Paris. And since “bohémien” was a common term for the Romani people of France who had reached Western Europe via Bohemia, the term was then used in reference to all the non-traditionalist, non-conformists. Nothing to do with Bohemia really!
The walking tour Ollie*, our guide, took us on ended at Český Krumlov Castle. The castle provides a marvelous vantage point from which to enjoy views of the old town, the river and the surrounding woods. Český Krumlov Castle is unusually large for a town of this size; it consists of 40 separate buildings with numerous courtyards and gardens, and sprawls over 18 acres of land. In fact, Český Krumlov Castle is second in size only to the Hradčany Castle complex of Prague! By the time we finished our walking tour at 5:00pm the castle was closing up for the day so we’ve put that on our list of things to explore tomorrow.
*Not her real name – that’s the Anglicised version for non-Czech speaking plebs like us!
After the walking tour we took ourselves around the old town again, poking our noses (and camera lenses) into a few previously unexplored corners. One of the best discoveries we made on our own was a trdelník stand. Trdelníks are like Czech doughnuts, only MUCH tastier than regular doughnuts. They’re made from rolled dough that is wrapped around a thick metal rod, then grilled and topped with sugar, cinnamon and walnuts. Seriously good. Especially for 50CZK* (about $2.50AUD)!
*CZK = Czeck Koruna ($1AUD = 18CZK)
On a final note, I just have to share with you a few photos of our accommodation here in Český Krumlov. It’s a small, 10-room, family run guesthouse right in the heart of the old town. The building itself is from the 15th century and the rooms are lovely; again, pretty basic but functional (i.e. warm and comfy bed, clean private bathroom, and there’s lots of hot water). Like the rest of this town though, the guesthouse IS JUST SO CUTE! A good start to the Czech leg of our adventure for sure…
Categories: Czech Republic