Exploring Hrad Krumlov and the Šumava National Park
Evening blog fans! Hope you had a wonder Wednesday; we had another marvellous day here in Český Krumlov, enjoying the gorgeous autumn weather and exploring a bit more of the town and its surrounds. We also learnt today that the town’s name basically means “Czech town built at the bend in the river” (the word “Český” simply means Czech, and “Krumlov“ is derived from the Czech word for “crooked river”, referring to the bend in the Vltava River that encircles the town on 3 sides).
The day started with a hearty breakfast at the guesthouse we’re staying in (“hearty” meaning “meaty” in this context; I’m starting to think the people of this region are allergic to fruit and vegetables, excluding potatoes of course). From there we had a choice of either going on a bike ride through the nearby Šumava Forest, or having the morning to ourselves. Shane decided he was keen to tackle the woods on 2 wheels and I went in search of a hairdresser that spoke at least some English to get my hair done (nothing fancy – just a trim and a bit of a dye-job to cover up the encroaching grey).
My morning went brilliantly – the ONLY hairdresser in town spoke NO English (and I speak NO Czech), but we managed to use a mixture of sign language and gestures to come to an agreement regarding my haircut and colour. She did a great job, and for just 550CZK (about $30AUD), I got to sit and relax with my book and a cup of tea while she did her thing. Very relaxing. I’ll let you judge the success (or not) of my Czechian hairdo for yourselves…
Shane, on the other hand, had a somewhat more arduous morning than me; he came back from his bike ride all sweaty and stinky, but happy. Half the tour group went on the bike ride; they were dropped off by mini-van with bikes and helmets some 15km out of town in the middle of the Šumava Forest, and then rode back to town. The Šumava Forest is part of the larger Bohemian National Park, and apparently contains wolves, bears, lynxes, deer, wild boar, squirrels and lots of birds. Not that Shane got to see much wildlife – I think a squirrel was the largest animal spotted.
Once Shane had bathed away his acquired stench, we found ourselves a little local restauarnt for lunch and enjoyed more stodgy Czechian food. Think slow-roasted beef stew with a boiled potato dumpling the size of a canon ball, and chicken breast pan-fried in butter served with locally-collacted wild mushrooms, also cooked in butter. Awesomely tasty, but seriously intense for the palate and the stomach. We took a bit longer to recover from lunch than we had originally planned, but, as Shane discovered, a canon-ball sized dumpling to the stomach tends to slow you down. Once we’d recovered enough from lunch to haul ourselves out of our chairs, we decided to spend the rest of our afternoon exploring Hrda Krumlov (translation = Castle Krumlov), the huge edifice up on the hill behind the town.
This charming town experienced its greatest prosperity during the rule of Lords of Rožmberk (Rosenberg) from 1282 to 1602, who chose Český Krumlov to become the seat of their kingdom (at this time, Krumlov lay on the trade route between Czechia, Austria, Bavaria and Northern Italy). The Rosenbergs built Hrda Krumlov in the 13th century and added to it numerous times during the 300 years of their reign. When the lands passed to the Austrian Eggenberg family in 1602, the castle was further extended and renovated in a Baroque style. Then, when the Eggenbergs died out without successors in 1719, the new dynasty – the princely lineage of the Schwarzenbergs – inherited Krumlov. Duke Joseph Schwarzenberg was a deft and enterprising businessman as well as a passionate art lover, and commissioned significant reconstructions to the castle during the 19th century, including the construction of numerous Renaissance-styled buildings. In 1947, the Schwarzenberg property, including Český Krumlov, became the property of the Czechoslovak State and was turned into a museum.
There castle compound is spread over 18 acres and contains over 40 buildings, but only a few of them are open to the public. In the time we had we got to see the castle gardens, the Baroque Theatre, the Castle Tower, the former castle brewery and the Schwarzenberg apartments. The Castle Tower is a rounded 6-storey tower is situated on a narrow rocky promontory towering above the old town of Český Krumlov and the Vltava River. Originally built as a defensive structure in the 13th century the tower was renovated and decorated with mural paintings in 1594. Today it gives tourists like us a great view of the town and its surrounds.
The theatre was especially lovely; it was constructed in 1684 by Johann Christian von Eggenberg and has been beautifully restored. The theatre is one of the best preserved, and still functioning, Baroque theatres in Europe – it retains many of its original functional features, such as the stage, scenery, costumes and lighting.
The Schwarzenberg apartments are basically a few renovated rooms that used to be inhabited by the Schwarzenbergs, the castles last private owners. There were some interesting old photos from the early 20th century up around the place and a few interesting personal affects, but mostly it was like looking through your old great-aunt’s house.
The creepiest bit of the Schwarzenberg apartments was the chapel, were some of the family’s religious relics were on display. As mentioned in previous blogs, I find the thought of keeping some saint’s femur in a gold box a little creepy, but today’s exhibit totally takes the cake. They had the dessicated, mummified body (ENTIRE body) of St Reparat (a Christian martyr from the 4th century) on display. Really, really creepy.
Far less creepy was the former castle brewery, which was built in 1560 and is still today a functional brewery that brews a locally-sold beer called Eggenberg. At this point Shane has requested I point out that sampling beer in Czechia is actually responsible tourism as beer and brewing in general has been an important part of Czech culture for centuries. The famous pilsener style beer originated in the Bohemian town of České Budějovice, known as Budweis in German. The town lent its name to its beer, eventually known as Budweiser – you may have heard of it. Apparently the beer here is really good (I can’t say but luckily Shane has been practicing lots of “responsible beer tourism”), and REALLY cheap (less than $4AUD for 500mL). Interestingly all of this cheap beer means that the Czech Republic has the highest beer consumption per capita in the world.
As there was still much sightseeing to be done we left the brewery without sampling any of their brews (Note: a “sample” was 300mL!), and headed towards the Castle Gardens. On the way there we crossed the castle moat and saw the castle bears. That’s right: bears! The castle moat has BEARS in it, not water. The story goes that bears were kept in the Bear Moat at Český Krumlov Castle as living proof of a presumed relation between the Lords of Rosenberg and Italian family of Orsini (“orso” in Italian means “bear”). There have been bears kept in the moat area continuously since the 1300s. The bears seemed healthy enough, though personally I find caged animals a bit sad. Especially as they serve no purpose today except to pose for tourist photos. Centuries ago though I’m sure a moat full of bears would have been a good deterent for anyone wanting to attack the castle.
Our final stop for the day were the Castle Gardens. Created in the early 16th century, these once contained orchards, a vegetable garden and a herb garden. Now they’re purely decorative, though very pretty.
For our evening meal tonight went out with the group to a vegetarian restaurant (there are 3 vegetarians in the group and to be fair we thought they should eat at least one decent meal this fortight so we chose a vegetarian place for tonight; probably good for the rest of us to eat some veggies too really). The food was great and the company convivial, and as we left the restaurant, the sight of Český Krumlov all lit up at night was magical. It’s been a great couple of days and we’re a but sad to leaving tomorrow, but Prague beckons…