Central Europe for Sexagenarians – Day 9

Posted by admin on July 8th, 2013 filed in batman, bicycles, photography, travel

Friday, July 5th, 2013
Pátek 5. červenec, 2013 (approximate Google translation)

We had spent three nights in Prague in a comfortable apartment, so leaving was hard. But we packed up early and were out before 10. Martin was a wonderful host and helped me retrieve the car from the tiny parking lot with it’s narrow dual-door entrance. Can’t recommend his apartments enough!

He informed me that it was a national holiday – which explained the nearly empty streets. On the way to get the car, a big pack of mountain bikers passed us, climbing up to the park, but that was the most traffic we saw.

Laura navigated us out of the city and set us on a course toward Hrad Karlštejn, the city with a castle of the same name. One route took us to a closed road, so we had to back track but eventually found our way there.

The town is composed of a few streets lined on either side with a single layer of buildings (homes and shops) that meander up a few narrow valleys before arriving at the castle grounds. A ticket for a self-guided tour is offered for about $2 per person, but we think it’s only for the external grounds – not anything inside the castle, so we bought the short tour which got us into the first building, but not the second (the taller tower).

While waiting for the tour to start, we viewed the Well Tower – the first part of the castle built. I’ve included a picture of what the inside of the well looks like, but the picture just looks like my hand in front of a grate with a pinhole of light in the center. In real life, it’s daunting. The sign above the well states that it’s 78 meters deep, but I guess that’s what happens when you build on a mountainside.

While waiting for the tour, we also saw a really cute Boston-mix puppy. After taking several pictures from afar, I walked up and asked if I could take a picture and though the girl tried to get the dog to face the camera and pose respectably, all the dog could do was seek her attention and scratch an itch. All very cute. =)

No pictures were permitted on the tour (inside the castle buildings) and each room is locked between tours (guide unlocks door, tourists pass through, guide locks door and moves on to unlock next). Again, after Albrechtsburg, this was a very restricted tour and not nearly as informative. There is no written/posted information; only that which the guide imparts.

After the tour, we descended back into town and stopped for lunch (sausage for Mom and Laura, fries and coffee for me!) then walked back to the car, passing several mountain bikers (soloists, groups and obvious families making their way up). The whole area appears to have numerous bike trails and would make a very cool bike trip, itself.

We drove on to the highlight of the day: ÄŒeský Krumlov! – a world heritage site, bohemian, medieval and VERY active.

The town is built into the bend of the river Vltava and the castle, as usual, takes the high ground. Driving into town, we saw lots of rafters, kayakers and canoers in the river, and upon leaving the town later, we saw a riverside campground PACKED with tents, so it appears to be a neat destination for outdoor adventures.

We found parking down by the river at the foot of the town and castle hill, and, more importantly, found that the parking lot offered FREE BATHROOMS! We checked out the gate house, then walked up toward the castle courtyard (passing a Renault vehicle named “Trafic” on the way). Just before the courtyard, we saw two women with three French bulldogs (we ran into the five-some several times along our tour and I took pictures of the dogs each time – I think the ladies may have been getting annoyed with me by the end of our stay). There was also a bridge crossing a bear pit. It’s an odd choice for a moat, but effective, nonetheless.

We didn’t go into the castle, but walked all around the grounds and gardens, taking tons of pictures along the way (again, Mom and Laura were very patient with me). I even got pictures of some kids sticking their face in a cannon (Corey can appreciate that. They were figuring it out.) There was a neat underground exhibit that we peeked into but didn’t tour, a cute bridge, several beautiful look-out points (from which we saw a guy in a Speedo dragging himself behind his canoe), a looooooong covered walkway connecting the bedrooms directly to the gardens. And ooooh, the gardens – they are cool.

They extend quite a ways back in a long rectangle southwest of the castle area, ending in a square lake. We were too tired to go all the way back, so we hung out in the manicured area with the hedges and fountains, just before the big revolving theater. We snacked and took some pictures of each other and with Batman, then began our return to the castle, passing some deliciously fragrant, multicolored honeysuckle (covered in BIG bumble bees) on the way.

From the castle, we crossed a little wooden bridge where two guys playing a guitar and a clarinet performed several great swingable tunes. Mom agreed to do a little triple stepping with me, which I really enjoyed. =D

In town, I stopped to buy postcards and stamps, and while I filled them out to be mailed, Mom and Laura grabbed some ice cream, then we returned to the castle and eventually the car – after stopping at the free restrooms once again.

Then it was on to Vienna through the VERY narrow, VERY windy roads leading toward the border.

We blew the rest of our koruna (Czech currency) at a gas station near the border, then stopped on the other side to buy a vignette for Austrian highways (…and to use the bathroom – gotta use the free ones whenever you can!)

It was obvious we had crossed the border when the lanes widened and the two-lane road suddenly had markings on it (in the CR there was no middle stripe – dotted or solid – and in the mountains with cars coming at you on a narrow, shoulderless road, it’s amazing how much a little visual guide eases the mind. Also, the Czech Republic is purported to be very strict about their speed limits, but Austria is a little more lenient, so once we hit the Autobahn, I finally got the car up to 160kph. My guy friends who regularly drive over 100mph will laugh at that, but it was a benchmark for me! =D

On the way to Vienna, we hit rain and the storm clouds brought the darkness sooner than I would have liked, which all made the Autobahn much less fun, but we eventually arrived in Vienna and Laura and Mom checked into the hostel – the Red Carpet Inn – while I snoozed and kept the car running in a no parking zone (it had been a very long day). Luckily, Mom & Laura found out that street parking is free during the weekend, so we parked in the first spot we found, then hauled everything up to our room.

I was ready to sleep, but still hungry – we hadn’t eaten in a while. Luckily, the front desk guys knew of a 24hr convenience market in the nearby underground station. We found it, bought some potatoes, zucchini and eggs and returned to the hostel. I passed out, but Mom was kind enough to cook me some food in the hostel’s kitchen and bring it up to me to eat before passing out again. Thanks Ma. =)


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