18 Oct 2011
Český Krumlov is truly a magical place. Built in the late 13th century on a bend in the beautiful Vltava River in the Southern Bohemian region of the Czech Republic , it displays its history right out in the open.
I should say first, though, that the Czech Republic is a special place to me. It’s where some of my ancestors are from, and I still remember my grandmother teaching me the Czech words that her grandmother spoke to her. She taught me two of them, but I can only remember “Sednish!”, which means, “Sit down!” and seems a highly appropriate word for a grandmother to use! I don’t speak Czech, but the root and the ending correspond to the second-person singular form of the verb I know and love in Russian (Grammar Nerd Alert!)
By the time I made it to Český Krumlov, I had already been to Prague twice. The first time, it was sheer magic; the second time, I started to feel squeezed out by huge tourist groups. My sweet friend B and I were heading south from Prague, actually, and Český Krumlov was such an incredibly peaceful break from the hustle and bustle of the big city.
The old town is tiny, insanely gorgeous with its castle and rushing river and red rooves, and it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so it will not be sullied by McDonald’s and the like anytime soon (sigh of relief!)
One of the best parts of the trip was undoubtedly the sweet little hostel we stayed at, Krumlov House. We dragged our suitcases off the bus and trekked up an adorable cobblestone street to this beautiful little house, full of artful touches, like chandeliers made from sticks retrieved from the river. The dragon on the front door greeted us, and we settled into our room, with its gorgeous wood-framed windows.
Krumlov House was actually an abandoned and crumbling building until it was restored by Australian backpackers in 1996 (thanks, guys!). The people who work there are so (justifiably) proud of it, so kind, and so knowledgeable about the area. Being there really felt like being on some kind of special retreat.
Our meals in Český Krumlov were amazing, but none more so than dinner at U Dwau Maryi. They offer traditional Bohemian food and local specialties, like hot almond mead (!), which I loved. The restaurant is part-cave, part-terrace, and we ate outside at a little table attached to an old sewing machine, the river singing behind us, the castle rising above us. It was just breathtaking. Every now and again, I would hear what I thought was the rumble of thunder, but it was actually the sound of a car driving over the old wooden planks of the bridges. So lovely.
B and I ordered a whole feast, and this is how I described it in my journal: “a Bohemian feast with pheasant (never had pheasant in my life!) and buckwheat and millet and salad and cabbage and I don’t even know what else–how much did this feast cost me? $8.50. Insane.” I find it sort of hilarious that I waxed more poetic about the grains and vegetables than the meat, but I suppose some things never change!
Although we were there in late May, it turned cloudy and cold, and it even rained pretty hard (I remember seeing a few Italian women with plastic bags tied around their feet: not a bad idea!). I wore the only pair of pants I had brought, and I found this wool sweater with a perfect little hole in the elbow in the free box at Krumlov House, another perk!
We trudged around town all day, and then we stopped into the wonderful Cafe Van Gogh to warm up. The walls were painted vibrant colors, and there was art everywhere. There was a light tinge of smoke in the air, but it somehow seemed more authentic than off-putting.
B and I ordered some tea, and I broke out my trusty journal, scrawling half in English, half in Russian, trying to record everything about this little place. Although I hadn’t met Eric yet, and hadn’t even imagined that such a wonderful person could exist, much less love me, the funny thing is that I was thinking of him. I wrote about him in those days, missing him and wanting to share everything with him, and trusting that he must be out there somewhere. I used to call it “nostalgia for the future.” Looking back, those times before I knew him are just as sweet in my memory as the future I imagined but could not yet see.
B was always the kind of friend you could talk to about such things, and I am so thankful for our little duo trip to Český Krumlov. After we fortified ourselves with tea, we climbed up to the castle, which was just as lovely up close as afar.
I remember particularly well the climb up the sloping tunnels, the wood creaking under our feet. And I remember that we had dinner in a tiny restaurant, no bigger than my kitchen, and that when we both ordered ice cream and the waiter brought out these mountains of sweetness, the whole place was staring at us. I remember that B bought a Kundera novel at a little bookstore there, since one of the pleasures of traveling is reading the appropriate literature. 😉
But some of the things that stay with me the most about that trip are the least specific: being surrounded by an ocean of verdant green, dotted with red rooftops and poppies, the feeling of being in the place of my roots, the beauty of following the river’s rushing course on our way out of town. Český Krumlov is definitely a place that remains in my heart, a place I’d love to return to with Eric. Maybe I will take him to that little cafe where I was thinking of him, all those many months before I met him, at a little cafe in the rain, on the other side of the world.