We flew into Hungary, spent some time in Austria, crossed into Germany, and eventually looped up and back around to the Czech border. We had spent 11 days together with Ray’s parents, but they were booked to sail the Danube. So we dropped them off in a little town in the middle of nowhere, and headed (with Josh and Vanessa) to a place that was high on my bucket list – Český Krumlov. Český Krumlov is the Czech Republic’s answer to Rothenburg, but with a lot less tourists, and being a lot harder to get to.
Now, google said 2 hours. Google knows nothing. Up until now, google had gotten us everywhere. But once we crossed into country #4, we were in a whole new world. At our first intersection google told us to take a right. So we did. Except, to our surprise, there was a sign on the road saying “do not follow GPS.” Apparently we were not the first that google had guided this way. So we turned around back to the main road, and kept on driving. Google didn’t agree – asked us to turn. But we thought we would just take the next major road, and it would connect on through. Next intersection had a sign with Český Krumlov on it. But it was crossed out. Same with the sign after it. Finally we saw a sign that said Český Krumlov with an arrow to the right, next to some traffic cones. Seemed good enough. Turn right. Then another sign. Turn left. Okay. On the path – back to google. So we drive another 20 km. Google says go right. Nope. Czech sign says go left. Road closed. Sign says to follow road 5 km. Another sign. Another google redirection. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. For almost 3.5 hours of the 2 hour drive to Český Krumlov, ever turn, road sign, pylon and street direction seemed to disagree with google’s assessment. We drove through random small downs, on narrow streets, through valleys, forests and mountains. And then, we saw the town. HALLELUJAH. But the adventure wasn’t over. Because the directions took us down narrow pedestrian only streets that say “no cars”, that are just barely wide enough for our “giant” vehicle, until we found our little boutique hotel. (Then, it turns out, we need to park the car across the one way bridge – thanks to Ray for taking care of that). We arrived 30 minutes past check in, and just as the manager was about to leave for the night. Everything about the drive was quintessential Czech. Poorly organized and communicated, but charming and beautiful. Equally expected and unexpected all at once.
Our accommodations were adorable. They were in the perfect location to see everything on foot. Just outside the door were narrow cobblestone streets – headed to the town square in one direction – and the river and castle in the other. There is on main foot bridge to connect the two sides of town, crossing over the Vltava River. If you just follow the signs you can get everywhere in town. Google maps not needed (thankfully!)
But here’s the thing: it exceed expectations. The whole town felt like the scene from a fairytale. Castle on the hill, with it’s street lined with trdelnik stands, crepes and cute artisans selling soap and crystal. Tree lined river banks with restaurant seating, castle tower the colour of cotton candy. And when night walls, blue hour is the most magical of all – with street lamps lighting up down the alleys and along the water. It was Sunday evening and the town was quiet. We wandered up and down the street, in awe of how beautiful it was, and shocked by how quiet it was, despite being told that this was their “busy” tourist season.
The following morning we set out to enjoy the “free” walking tours. Most European towns offer some sort of free tour – free meaning that the guide works for tips, but no mandatory fee. Often these tours end up being excellent. For a guide to get paid, he needs to be knowledgeable, funny, personable, and find a unique way to bring the town to life. Over 2 hours we learned a lot about the town, and saw many of it’s best sites. I won’t sit here and give you a history lesson (because I can’t remember anything I was told – sometimes I get a little too engulfed with taking photos – and I count on Vanessa to remember all the details for me. She remembers EVERYTHING. I seem to only remember useless things – like airport codes, the mass of the earth, and song lyrics from The Little Mermaid).
Following the tour we crossed the river and worked our way up to the the castle and English garden at the top of the hill. From here there are beautiful views of the the river and the town. Rafting down the river is a popular summer hobby, but we were one day short of being able to enjoy the experience ourselves. There are so many extraordinary viewpoints on the way up the hill, I was spoiled for choice. Český Krumlov as a town is actually a UNESCO heritage site. The entirety of the town is preserved due to its beauty and history. It’s easy to stay that way because it isn’t super close to any other major city. The train lines don’t run into the town, the river cruises don’t come down the Vltava, and a we learned, it isn’t exactly connected to any major highway. So while a tourist town by Czech standards, a quiet little haven by others. The colourful buildings with their signature red roofs compliment the castle tower, which is often referred to as a birthday cake, with it’s signature pastel coloured tiers. The castle gardens at the top include a revolving auditorium, manicured gardens and a signature fountain.
There are some countries that are known for their culinary delights – the Czech Republic is not necessarily one of them. For lunch, Ray enjoyed the traditional goulash, and for dinner we found a place that was willing to make us crepes just before closing – which I ended up spilling all over myself and the sidewalk. The one thing the Czech Republic does have going for it is tank beer. Or so the beer lovers tell me.
The boys checked out the local brewery in the late afternoon while Vanessa and I investigated the local shops. Vanessa and I fully embraced coordinating ensembles (the first and only time I have done this… thus far) – one of the local shop owners come to refer to us as “the green ladies.” Apparently our ensembles were memorable. We also took our camera to the river later in the day, taking advantage of the perfect light to capture the beauty of the town.
So in summary – this town is beautiful, and you should go. Just don’t trust google to get you there.