Our destination for the next two nights was Ceske Budejovice, in the truly Grand Zvon Hotel on the town square. I think we were upgraded to the large room on the top floor, but I am not one to complain about double sinks and a separate sitting area. The hotel also had a car elevator to bring our car (and us) up to the first level garage, where the valet took our bags and escorted us to the lobby for check-in. Fancy, fancy.
The heat that had been strangling Central Europe finally broke on our drive from Plzen, delivering cool temperatures and light rain—and setting the stage for the Czech food we had been anticipating. After a walkabout the town with the hound, we freshened up and sat for dinner at the Pilsner Urquell Original Restaurant.
Cue the epicurean ecstasy. An entire menu devoted to locally available foods, complete with photos of the farms and diagrams of the animals that might appear on my plate. I agonized over the first course for a good twenty minutes while Tony withered away in hunger. The winner was duck pate wrapped in fried pork belly, served with salted butter and apple chutney. Tony selected South Bohemian goulash for his main course, while I ventured past my trout comfort zone with the fried Bohemian carp and housemade potato salad. There are no words.
After dinner we walked around the square as the lights were being turned on. A little Disney-esque and very pretty.
Saturday morning a minor miracle occurred. We slept in! Our eyes did not open until 06:29! A crisp and pleasant walkabout with Cletus to start the day, then it was to the breakfast room to avail ourselves of the bountiful buffet of yogurts, fruits, breads, meats, cheeses, and vegetables. Europe is awesome.
With over 400 castles and chateaus in Bohemia alone, the itinerary was trimmed to “just” Cesky Krumlov. We had visited the Renaissance fairy-tale castle in 2001 as a day trip from Prague, but on that visit the weather was chilly and we had time to tour only the castle. Plus, I was 7 months’ pregnant and mostly interested in eating and in the locations of the WC. A re-take seemed essential.
Thank goodness we are morning people. The parking lot adjacent to the castle was not full, we were not jostled on the narrow, cobblestoned lanes by tourists, and shopkeepers and gallery owners had time to talk to us, making our sightseeing, and purchases of art and pottery that much more memorable.
(Proof that I come out from behind the camera lens every once in a while.)
A lovely Czech bride. I read somewhere that it is tradition for the newlywed couple to record their marriage with the local magistrate’s office after the ceremony. The juxtaposition of the newly married couple and the Museum of Torture (in the background) made us chuckle.
Part of the enjoyment of being in a heavily-visited place is the pleasure of relaxing over a long lunch, watching tour group after tour group snap photo after photo, barely remembering what they are touring. That is exactly what we did, on the terrace of a restaurant overlooking the Vltava. This time the epicurean ecstasy was cued for Tony: a roast pork knee with pickled vegetables, mustard and horseradish served on a wooden carving board (with a basket of bread for balance. Hahahaha.)
The tourist-density started to reach alarming proportions by mid-afternoon. Time to leave! But where to go? I had collected some informational material from the Ceske Budejovice TI office, and the suggested outing to Hrad Hluboka nad Vltavoulooked interesting. Described as a “fairy-tale residence woven from a beautiful woman’s dream,” we were compelled to visit the castle, a short drive north of Ceske Budejovice.
Goodness, me! I want to have dreams like those of the beautiful woman. A small SchlossZug took us to the top of the hill from the town, where a frothy white, neo-Gothic castle surrounded by flowers and perched against a blue summer sky awaited us. Our SchlossZug operator, who moved the two of us and Cletus to the front seat of the train, made a curious comment about the busload of tourists who were also getting on the little train, “Damn Russian tourists. You don’t want to be jammed in with them.” Indeed, guidebooks to the castle and the area were predominately Czech and Russian, but we could find no clues on The Google as to why this destination is popular with Russian tourists.
Back in Ceske Budejovice in the late afternoon, we deposited the Tired Hound in the hotel room and went out for an afternoon cocktail. A creepy May-December couple at an adjacent table (no disrespect intended, but “Stockholm Syndrome” came to mind with these two) and a spilled beer on my camera by our server (that shudder in the Earth’s rotation last Saturday was due to my “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!,” but all is well with the camera.) ruined our private happy hour, so we retreated to the hotel to text and email the children and catch up on news before dinner.
The finale of our mini-Czech bacchanal was again at the Pilsner Urquell Original Restaurant. The menu was so varied that we had to return a second night. Once again I agonized over the starter, eventually choosing a Käseteller (cheese plate) that was so unexpectedly generous that we brought the leftovers to our room after dinner. Tony beat me to the order with his request for the lamb cutlets (‘tis a good thing that I love him), but I was quite impressed with beef medallions (“Dekuji!” to the cows from the village of Mysletin) with mushroom sauce over homemade tagliatelle.
Dobrou noc, Ceske Budejovice!