THE LES GUIDE
Australian journalist and author, Les Thompson, provides free travel guides & journalistic reviews for selected destinations.
Český Krumlov – A GENUINE TIME-WARP EXPERIENCE
Since travellers began discovering PRAGUE after the communists were booted out of the Czech Republic the word has spread that the country has other gems to discover. And one of the biggest is Český Krumlov – the Castle, Chateau & Old Town alongside the Vltava river in South Bohemia. Here’s my complete guide to all that Český Krumlov has to reveal:
How overwhelmed I was feeling when I first stepped foot on the cobble-stoned streets of this small town in the South-West of the Czech Republic. It was 1994 and I had never seen any place quite like it; I was walking through the historic village of Český Krumlov.
Seeing this amazing town was like a dream-like awakening inside a mystical landscape. First there was the sound of gentle slapping of leather on stone. I was making it, as I walked through the narrow streets of the Old Town.
Wandering through its authentic castle dating back to the early 13th century there were enough original elements preserved so that I could visualise the lavish coach arrival of nobles and their vast entourages. This was not a ‘dollied-up’ property designed for tourists alone. Český Krumlov castle & chateau had earned their place on the UNESCO World Heritage List as had the village that sat so elegantly on the banks of the Vltava river below.
My usual entry point is the Budějovická Gate at the north-east corner of Český Krumlov. The gate itself is a carefully preserved Italian masterpiece of a 16th century fortification—a surviving town gate. The moment you stroll through it you know that you’ve stepped out of your normal 21st century existence. The narrow, cobblestone street leads you past small shops and local homes to a corner, where if you turn left it’s just a short stroll down Pivovarska street to the historic Eggenberg brewery.
If it’s not lunch time or if you’re not a beer drinker anyway, keep walking along Latrán—from the latin word meaning lateral or in this case, alongside the Castle (Zámek). Fairly soon you’ll walk beneath a covered archway—a connection corridor to the Castle grounds. A few steps more and you’ll see on your right a Red Gate that leads into the first courtyard of the Zámek.
Once you have inspected the castle complex, you will be able to return here to exit back on to Latrán which is the name of the local area as well as being the street name. It’s a handy starting point for your later exploration of the Old Town. After proceeding through the Red Gate there are several buildings of note, including the Old Burgrave’s house where the castle clerk was kept busy. As the top administrative boss his duty was to keep a tight lid on all official matters, as the governor of castle affairs. Other buildings in this courtyard include stables, a coach house, the blacksmith’s building, the old salt house, a former hospital and pharmacies. There’s also a former brewery, obviously helpful when patients needed something stronger for their Medieval maladies.
If you keep walking on to the 2nd Courtyard, marked by the impressive cylindrical, colourful tower standing above the palace of the Hrádek (Lower Castle), you will follow a pathway that leads across a small stone bridge. The tourists looking over the edge at each side are checking to see whether the bears that are being kept in a former moat below are making an appearance.
Bears have been kept at the castle since the 16th century, supposedly because the Rosenbergs felt bears reminded them of their claim to be linked to the Italian Orsini family who gave the world three popes, a few dozen cardinals, many other priestly types and bears which featured as the Orsini heraldic symbol. I wonder if the Rosenbergs, gadding about in their heavily-starched, white pleated collars (Ruffs) and being so impressed with lineage, bothered to check the pedigree of the animals that they brought here from the bear kingdom. The bears all seem to be faring well, although they are very likely a little weary of looking up at hordes of tourists every day.
Once inside the 2nd courtyard take a glance around you. Archaeologists took more than that here back in the 1990s. They made the area a virtual sandbox, digging deep in the centre of courtyard and around the Mint building as they shovelled their way down to find traces of the 13th century fortifications. But apart from getting excited over bits of ceramic pots and hunks of broken stone walls they also discovered a metallurgical workplace. Imagine the unbridled screams of joy as they unearthed the remains of a silver smelting furnace. It certainly deserved to be ‘breaking news’ in the Archaeology Press that day. The hard-working relic hunters did find pottery fragments from an earlier period, pointing to Bronze Age and Iron Age settlements. But a stone axe uncovered by accident during World War II in the 1st courtyard near the side stairway remains the oldest link to an ancient settlement.
Facing the 2nd courtyard ramp leading to the interior of the massive Upper Castle, on the right you’ll see what they call the New Burgrave’s house. Don’t expect to spot any council aldermen. The building was new a long time ago, back in the late 16th century when it was plonked on the castle fortifications that kept out any riff-raff in the town beyond the drawbridge across the moat. A castle library containing part of the vast archives is located inside this building, but it’s not accessible to the public. Maybe there are still some medieval secrets yet to be declassified.
Now for the fun part. You walk upwards through the arched stone corridor leading to the inner courtyards. Now you’ve made it inside a medieval wonderland! Hanging lamps help to light the carriageway ramp to the 3rd courtyard where coachloads of noble families, dressed in their colourful Renaissance robes and gowns, would disembark to be escorted to one of the myriad of chambers aloft.
The 3rd Courtyard will prompt many heads to be turned upwards to admire the Italian wall paintings and the optical illusion of the Sgraffito style of painting, formed by layers of contrasting coloured plaster. The effect was very much favoured by the Rosenbergs. The dazzling work of Italian craftsmen is found throughout the Castle, Chateau and Town in Český Krumlov. This is the courtyard from which ticketholders begin their 60-minute tour of the castle rooms, including the enchanting Masquerade Hall.
The 4th courtyard also has walls that are richly decorated, and most visitors are again intrigued by the architectural style. This courtyard is also remarkable due to the heraldic mural on the stately oriel window.
A stroll across the 17th century ‘cloak bridge’, a three-storied construction sturdily supported by stone pillars, is a fascinating experience as you head for the 5th courtyard. The bridge hovers above another original moat with that space now providing a walkway from the parking area as another entrance to the Old Town.
From the castle ramparts you look down on a heart-stopping, picturesque panorama of a perfect medieval village, with crooked streets, pastel houses with red-tiled roofs and several white buildings in odd shapes and sizes, as well as water wheels that once supported the manufacture of many different products.
Impressive bridges provide safe crossings across the curved waterway and the bridge near the weir is a handy viewing platform from which to watch a few daring canoeists and kayakers avoid going over the spillway by steering their craft unsteadily through churning white-water down a stone chute at the side of the weir to continue their journey along the river. The sight of determined canoeing enthusiasts scrambling to right their craft amid constant splashing always draws a bemused crowd.
The town takes its name from the old German language and it means ‘crooked or rugged meadow’. The view from the ramparts quickly confirms that the river had to carve out its own crooked course around the curved, rugged, village landscape, adding to its untamed look.
Glancing down from the castle to the left of the bridge, alongside a steeply sloped roof over-lapping an older warehouse-sized riverside pub-restaurant, you’ll notice that there’s a stretch of pebbly beach that seems to act as a beachhead for canoe & raft adventurers wanting to make their advance on the pub. The landing handily provides a look inside their boats that are packed with all kinds of important gear. One that I spotted included essential items for survival such as yellow plastic raincoats, rubber boots, thick Czech sausages and a beer keg!
After looking down on this lively scene from the top I like to swing around to the right and walk towards the top gate and the castle gardens. That path usually takes me past a group of foreign tourists arguing over whether the sundial on the wall of the white ‘Renaissance House’ is accurately depicting the time of day. It’s a spot where ‘very old school’ technology meets new methods of timekeeping. I’ve seen people take out their mobile phones to check their digital time against the shadow position on the historic sundial.
I’ve had to explain to some that they should be looking to the spot where the shadow of the gnomon (a tapered, black metal rod) is cast on the flat surface of the sundial. As the sundial must align with the earth’s rotation it follows the sun’s apparent position in the sky, so the tip of the gnomon—the tapered edge called the style—creates a slow shadowy sweep across the Arabic numbers displayed on its face. Roman numerals are also painted on the lower surface.
Where the sundial is mounted governs where the sun’s shadow will be cast. In Český Krumlov, there are several sundials but the one on the ramparts catches the attention of all visitors who pass by it. It’s a fascinating sight in sunny weather and like the building on which it sits, the year of construction is not known. Renaissance House itself, which is now a castle museum, was once part of the Gothic fortifications and was mentioned in the official records from the late 16th century.
This is what Český Krumlov is all about—going back in time. For history buffs, there are days or weeks of discovery to be had. Just tracing the settlement and the castle owners through the centuries is a mammoth task.
First settlement of the region dates back to the Stone Age while Celtic settlement has been confirmed from the 1st century BC followed by the infiltration of Germanic tribes through to the Slavs taking control between the 6th & 8th centuries AD. Historians, pouring through archaeological finds as well as preserved documents, have also confirmed the existence of the Boii tribe—a gallic tribe after whom much of the Czechlands has been named as Bohemia.
The Boii tribe can be traced back to momentous clashes with the Romans well before they unified with the Slavs who by that time had accepted Christianity in the 10th century. Then there’s the fun of sorting out rulers such as the Czech nobles, starting with the powerful Přemyslids who gave the nod to Vitek to take charge of Krumlov. He was followed by his descendants, the Rosenbergs and the Eggenbergs who went bust and were replaced by their heirs, the Schwarzenbergs. It’s generally considered that the three families did a good job of developing trade, expanding crafts and grabbing important royal privileges such as mining and the right to brew their own beer. Hence much is made of the Eggenberg beers in Český Krumlov today. Fair enough, they’ve been brewing the stuff since the 16th century and they should have it about right by now.
Royal privileges didn’t come easily though. The arrogant Přemysl King Otakar II wanted South Bohemian territory to match his gains in Austria and he was not happy with the Rosenberg family’s developments on what had now become important trade routes. To curtail the Rosenberg influence, Otakar created royal privileges for the nearby town of České Budějovice (where the Budvar/Budweisser brewery opened in 1245) and he founded the Cistercian Monastery at Zlatá Koruna. He later overstepped the mark by going into battle against Rudolf of Habsburg and Otakar II died in that territory dispute in 1278. Otherwise, the Viennese would be speaking Czech, not German!
As for the Rosenbergs, Peter I von Rosenberg created much of the Český Krumlov that we see today; he was amazingly progressive for a 14th century noble.
He founded the St. Vitus church and a castle chapel and brought the Franciscan religious order into the town while employing Jewish chamberlains to control his finances. As a result, the town and his family flourished until the beginning of the 17th century when Peter Wok von Rosenberg fell so heavily into debt that he had to sell the estate.
It was then owned for a short period by the Habsburg Emperor, Rudolf II. The result was that Rudolf’s illegitimate son, Don Julius, moved from Austria into the castle and, according to the Rosenberg chronicles, brutalised and murdered the daughter of a local barber there in 1608.
The next owners were the Eggenbergs who passed the estate to their heirs, the Schwarzenberg family, in the 18th century.
The building legacy of these rulers—architectural styles from Gothic to Renaissance, Mannerism and Baroque—is displayed along with period furniture and art inside the many chambers of the castle. The Upper Castle complex, supported by solid granite as its foundation rock, is an unforgettable, formidable sight from below and from various viewing locations in different parts of the Old Town. As for the Castle’s interior features, my favourite room is the 18th century rococo Masquerade Hall. It has realistic, humorous paintings of nobles enthusiastically enjoying themselves as theatre patrons in box seats. They’re featured on each wall of this lavishly decorated hall.
A lasting memory for me is when we took a group of delighted classical music lovers to hear a Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra performance in this room as part of an annual summer concert program. Fortunately, our group members were better behaved than the nobles depicted in the paintings.
So, let’s return to that top gate on the castle ramparts in the 5th Courtyard. Visitors sometimes miss the castle gardens and it’s a pity because they have more to offer than just wonderful fountains and sculptures!
The 18th Century Cascade Fountain appropriately adorned with beautiful cascades is striking enough itself as the entrance to the gardens. Later restoration produced a masterpiece of ponds, statues & magnificent staircase balustrades
But for theatre buffs, walk on and you’ll find a little gem of a performance venue as you catch sight of the outdoor theatre where spectators can be seated in a revolving auditorium to watch performances of grand operas and stage classics at the front of the colourful Summer House Bellarie that dates from the beginning of the 18th century. The castle itself has its famous Baroque Theatre but the garden setting for summer productions is also stunning. The summer house building hides some famous rococo gems such as cleverly decorated, arched cave rooms as well as the exquisite stairways and terraces that are featured on its exterior. On several occasions while showing people around the gardens, I’ve entered the performance space outside the summer house and burst into the first notes of Puccini’s ‘Turandot’ aria, Nessun Dorma, much to the amusement or was it bemusement of other visitors.
I was probably inspired by a duet that I once performed on my morning program on Sydney radio station 2GB with TV presenter and author Clive James who joined me in an impromptu rendition of the aria to express our joint envy of famous tenors such as the late master, Signor Pavarotti. Now, whenever I enter a Roman round theatre or arena such as those found in France, Italy or Spain, I display the same compulsive behaviour disorder, but always stopping abruptly before approaching any high Cs or even high Bs of this famous aria.
For music lovers, as you continue walking West away from the castle along the neat central path of the gardens, look to the right and you’ll see a small wooden musical pavilion, surrounded by oak trees. It dates from 1752 and has undergone restoration so hopefully you may get to see the ceiling fresco displaying rococo-period impressions of the four seasons.
Finally, at the end of the garden area is a very large pond in another romantic setting where more than once I’ve noticed young couples holding hands and looking very pleased that they slipped away from the crowds for a while to contemplate such a beautiful pond with water lily pads, gliding ducks, bordering tall trees and above all, peace and quiet.
After a few moments’ meditation it’s probably time to inspect the Old Town. First, find the long path at the southern side of the gardens and walk Eastwards back towards the gate where you left the castle precincts. On the way, near a small car parking area, off to the right there is another path leading down to the Old Town. This would be convenient for serious photographers to get more shots of the Castle, the Vltava and the Old Town.
An option for those staying outside the town and deciding to spend another day in one of the many penzions surrounding it, instead of entering back through the castle gate you could descend at the left to the main carpark to exit.
But for most visitors, if you’ve strolled enough and want to head to the Old Town for a meal break or return to your accommodation inside the town, you will get a chance to see the courtyard paintings from a new perspective on the return stroll. As you walk through the castle interior and leave the 3rd Courtyard, at the right there is another viewing balcony for a final high shot of the village below.
Back at the Red Gate you’ll re-join Latrán and then either head for your accommodation or re-energise with a meal break somewhere close or at one of the many restaurants in the Old Town Square or the restaurants by the river, offering a close-up view of the imposing castle across the water.
Let me sketch a few glimpses of what you are likely to see when you set out on a walking tour of the Old Town. To me, walking through the narrow twists and turns of the village streets is very much like time travel but instead of boarding a weird contraption as described in the 1895 book by H.G. Wells, ‘The Time Machine’, you remain conscious of the present-day wonders of our own world. Blue sky or snow-clad roadways, an icy river or summer canoes remain in our vision to remind us that we are walking through an open-air museum to show us what it was like to live at another time. The experience is often enhanced by some live theatre aids, such as colourfully-costumed, historical processions and a few depictions of the many arts and crafts that once flourished here. The difference is that we can absorb the alluring atmosphere of the 16th century in authentic buildings from the past, even enjoy some typical meals from that period and then as our ‘takeaway’ we can raise our device and capture it all as a photograph.
There are several buildings on Latrán that hold intriguing histories of their own; they have now become the focus of a special guided tour.
Amid modern day enterprises such as restaurants, bistros, cafes, antique shops and ice cream parlours there are visible reminders of the past in the old buildings. It’s no wonder that Hollywood came here to capture that authenticity to help bring to life a famous fairytale in the 1996 film, The Adventures of Pinocchio, starring Martin Landau. It was a ready-made set for them as it is for today’s video enthusiasts in capturing some memorable village moments.
As much as I’m pleased to see the leap in tourism here over the years following the fall of the Communist regime, I haven’t been blind to the number of tourist shops that gradually forced many residents to leave this wonderful Old Town. To be fair, there are some speciality shops that don’t detract from the atmosphere of this otherwise preserved village setting.
However, there are a few tacky souvenir shops that are so out of place on the streets here that I’ve had to avert my eyes so as not to be annoyed by their sheer ugliness.
That said, you can pop into commercial properties that have retained the historical aspects of the building in which they’re housed such as an Italian restaurant at the gateway to the Minorite Monastery in Klášterní Dvůr (Monastic Courtyard) or the enterprising shop that is part museum/part souvenir shop that displays replicas of advertising signs from past eras as well as linen products and decorated cups.
The signs are mainly from the days when the Austrian Habsburgs occupied the country as well as the period of the Czech cultural revival during the Czechoslovakian era and these items must be very nostalgic for some older Czechs. They include rustic advertising signs for Pilsner beer with the unique logos created by the talented graphic designers from that period. I discovered the shop while walking up from the Lazebnický most (Barber’s bridge) in Radniční ulice towards the Old Town Hall (Stará Radnice).
Starting from the Castle’s Red Gate exit, the stroll down towards the bridge has some eye-pleasing buildings and interesting façade paintings as you pass hotels, penzions, jewellery shops and the grey and white St. Jošt church that now houses the Marionette Museum. A gate stood at the bridge until the mid-19th century to separate the Latrán township from the Old Town (Staré Město).
Tour group members were always curious about the name of this bridge— Lazebnický. Several guides have answered the question by suggesting that it is called Barber’s Bridge because barbers lived at the first house in Latrán No. 1 for many decades. In a pedantic moment I asked one guide privately why, if there had been more than one barber resident, the plural, Barbers’ Bridge, wasn’t given to the crossing. She responded with a nervous laugh and confused me even more by explaining that they were actually barber-surgeons as well as bathkeepers because the building was also a bathhouse. Suitably baffled, I reverted to describing the long line of residents as cutters, adding that they also encouraged washing.
Not amusing is the fact that one of those barbers who lived there tragically lost his daughter Markéta Pichlerová who was murdered by the illegitimate, demented Habsburg offspring, Julius, in the 16th century as I have previously mentioned.
Today, the wooden planked bridge is a perfect viewing platform for visitors to use to capture the majesty of the castle, the river and the entrance to the Old Town. A sombre sight on the bridge itself are depictions of the Crucifixion on one side and, on the other, John of Nepomuk, the Queen’s Confessor who was thrown from the Charles Bridge in Prague in the late 14th century, supposedly because he wouldn’t break the confidentiality of the confessional. But there’s more to his assassination that I’ll reveal when we get to Prague.
A more pleasant landmark sits on the bank of the river as we leave the bridge—the Hotel Dvořák. If you then climb along Radniční ulice, quaint lanes run off to the left and right and some very pleasant pubs and food venues can be found in these back-street areas. It was on this stretch that a group member told me he had lost a roll of film as he was replacing it in his camera. It’s such an easy thing to do when you see so many beautiful façades to photograph. He was convinced that there was zero chance of finding it.
I told him that his pessimistic view of recovering his photo memories was well-founded, but I added that from my experience of rare good Samaritans in the crowd is that they usually left such items in high places where they would be easily visible to an owner desperately retracing his or her footsteps. He was inspired enough to give it a try and, after a short walk, he spotted his lost film roll on a window ledge above where he had changed his film. He told me he thought I had psychic ability, which I definitely do not.
Quite a variety of stores can be found in Dlouhá (Long) Lane. If you have the time, all those side streets are worth exploring if you wish to absorb the flavour of this village.
Getting back to the main route to the 16th century Town Hall, by continuing uphill the vista of náměstí Svornosti will soon appear. This Old Town Square is worthy of inspection. Take a seat and look at what’s around you. There’s a plague column. If that makes you feel uncomfortable just keep in mind that like many others in European towns and cities, it’s there as a kind of ‘thank you, God’ message for the passing of the plague. Now, look at the magnificent Renaissance style of the Town Hall.
The building has a fascinating history of its own and last time that I checked I was further intrigued by the official listing of services that the Town Hall was housing—Český Krumlov Municipal Authority, Municipal police, Newsagent, Museum of Torture. Had it not been for the inclusion of the humble newsagent, I would have thought the services had been listed in perfect chronological order.
You may start to feel a little warm sitting in the sunshine on this vast open space, but there is always a chance to cool off with a cold České pivo (Czech Beer) at The Old Inn which was our favourite accommodation choice for our Český Krumlov group visits.
The building was originally Gothic when it was the most admired property on the square. It is no longer a stand-alone establishment; subsequent renovations joined it to the neighbouring property to accommodate hotel guests. Yet it still has an imposing presence.
So, with or without a cooling beverage and before you descend back down towards the river, there are a few more ‘must see’ options. Well, there is really no such place as a ‘must see’ destination in my travels, I’m saying it just comes ‘highly recommended’ to you.
There’s one street that obviously heads upwards and out of town into the hillside where many of the ‘real’ people live. These are the locals, including those who deserted the town as it was given over to tourism. It has the appropriate name of Horní ulice (Upper Street) and that’s precisely what it is to all who want to see what’s above the Old Town.
It’s a slither of a street at the beginning, but you will only get a few metres before you stop to admire the bay window of the house at Horni 159. It’s the Chaplains’ House from 1520 and the window protrudes above the laneway that leads to the steps into the architectural masterpiece of St. Vitus Church. Construction of the church (kostel) began as far back as the early 14th century but Peter I Rosenberg decided to enlarge the small church and reconstruction work followed, resulting in features such as the web-like ceiling resembling those of the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague. The frescoes are outstanding and give the interior a definite neo-Gothic appearance. Even non-religious members of our groups have emerged to comment that it is ‘a beautiful church’.
Further up the street is a monastery converted into a luxury hotel. It became known as the upmarket boutique Hotel Růže (Hotel Rose) in 1999. Prior to that transformation it had a colourful history as a religious property established in the 16th century, a military barracks from the 18th century, a small hotel at the close of the 19th century before eventually being shut down by the Nazis during the Second World War and then standing idle until the collapse of Communism. It’s worth a visit.
Across the road from Hotel Růže is my favourite spot for viewing and photographing the Castle. It’s a small garden which has now been discovered by many other visitors but from here you will still get your moment to create a lasting memory of this beautiful time-warp spectacle.
When you’ve collected enough photos, you can leave the garden and by turning right back on Horní ulice you’ll be walking down to the Square again. Now, if you head along the narrow laneway beyond the plague column at the left of The Old Inn, Český Krumlov still has a few more visual treats for you to enjoy. Within a few moments you will join Soukenická ulice where you turn left sharply at Hotel Leonardo before twirling to the right into a small open space called Na Louži. Here you briefly join Kájovská ulice to enjoy more wonders of the historical Renaissance district.
The building on the left is a 21st century wax museum (Muzeum Voskových Figuríny)—inside a reconstructed Renaissance house. What will capture your attention immediately is the captivatingly decorated building on the right. This is where I always feel that we gain a real insight into how vibrant a town Český Krumlov was in the Middle Ages. This building has such an enchanting history of the early crafts practiced by the residents inside the two houses joined together at this street corner. The first façade that appears to us features colourful action scenes and other static figures perched on pedestals. Then as you move around the corner where the path widens to become a centuries-old marketplace called Široká ulice (Broad street), you may feel that you are being watched. You are!
This property dates back to the Gothic period but has undergone extensive reconstructions to accommodate its many uses from the Renaissance era onwards. It has housed stables, a malt and a brewery. So, look at the façade and you’ll see that painted figures are definitely checking you out as you walk by. The most memorable figure is probably ‘the nun’ on the lower Gothic window. She has never seemed approving of my presence in her midst.
Picking up the pace, we come across the Egon Schiele Art Centrum. The building itself, in the early 17th century, was—yes, you probably guessed—a brewery. But not just any brewery, it was the all-important Municipal Brewery. It’s hard to know whether an avant-garde artist such as Egon Schiele would approve of the setting, but the exhibition is appreciated today by his admirers as it contains many of his artworks as well as details of his time in Český Krumlov where his mother, Marie Soukupová, was born.
Schiele was very much influenced by fellow Austrian artist, Gustav Klimt, the first president of the Secession art movement. Egon Schiele as a figurative painter was living in Austria with one of his models and had caused an uproar with some of his nude studies with sexual intensity, when they decided to take a break with his mother in Český Krumlov. Soon local gossip about his use of young girls as models became a serious matter and he had to leave town.
I’ll leave the rest for art lovers to learn from the Schiele museum. I still prefer the French Impressionists myself.
As you continue down Široká ulice towards the bridge across the Vltava the colourful façades surrounding the marketplace will make it a pleasant end to your walking tour. Then there’s a chance to see the weir up close, to visit a pub or just sit on the other side of the river before either proceeding under the arched pillars of the ‘Cloak Bridge’ through to the carpark or returning to your accommodation in the Old Town. You’ll be able to take a shortcut along Dlouhá Lane back to the Barber’s Bridge.
Even if you see only half of what I’ve described, I hope that by the end of your visit, you’ll fully understand why Český Krumlov is so obviously one of my favourite places..
Book 1: THE CZECH REPUBLIC
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VIDEO TRAVEL SERIES – Favourite Places
Another favourite destination – SALZBURG, Austria:
WESTHEAD LOOKOUT – Sydney. Australia
The main attraction is a panoramic view overlooking Broken Bay, Pittwater and Sydney’s Northern Peninsula.
Sydney, being my hometown, contains several of my favourite places. However, this is the place where, over several decades, I have taken international visitors for a glimpse of the Australian bush and a spectacular view of Sydney’s northern beaches and waterways.
The lookout is located at the end of a sealed road that passes many National Park walking trails where parents take their families to be enthralled by the natural wonders of the Aussie bushland. I once did the same thing, making several visits with my young children to give them a sense of life beyond the bustling city, which, in reality, is only about an hour’s drive away!
If you’re fit enough you can even descend through the thick scrub to a scenic Pittwater beach called The Basin. It’s a fair hike, so be prepared. But above all that a leisurely drive to the lookout at the end of West Head Road will have you smiling in wonder at how lucky Sydney is to have such a magnificent viewing platform, as you gaze past the lion-shaped island crouched at the Broken Bay opening to the Pacific Ocean. It’s as if the lion is guarding the mouth of the Hawkesbury river that flows inland from its tail. Northwards is the bountiful Central Coast and more beaches such as Pearl Beach, Umina and Ettalong, alongside Brisbane Water.
After parking your vehicle thoughtfully wherever the car queue ends, it’s important to also be aware of other cars just arriving as drivers look for a spare space.
Then it’s just a short walk to the path leading to the lookout where your eyes will likely be met by all kinds of sailing craft gliding into Pittwater below. Across this broad body of water you can even pick out the dirt fire trail winding its way up towards the historic Barrenjoey lighthouse and the thin slither of shrub-covered sand dunes linking the Barrenjoey headland with the city’s most Northern beach, Palm Beach.
Be well prepared if you intend to walk the trails in the national park. No pets are allowed and there is a vehicle entry fee.
The park is closed during high fire danger periods and is open only from sunrise to sunset.
The NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service is responsible for the upkeep and management of the park. For the best times to visit, directions to West Head Road and any other advice, you will find all that you need to know on this website:
MUNICH, The Capital of Bavaria, Germany
TIP: I always stay just outside of Munich at UNTER HACHING, a pretty, green outer suburb – a short train ride south of the city. If you want to avoid the city traffic congestion and parking fees, accommodation close to the train station allows you to take a short journey to Marienplatz on the S3 link. Avoid morning & evening peaks for the most comfortable ride. Fare concessions for seniors are available.
Across Central Europe, the celebrations of ADVENT herald the arrival of CHRISTMAS. Traditionally the four Sundays mark this joyful period and in many cities and small towns the period is celebrated with colourful stalls, a Christmas Tree being lit and a special concert. This video is a snippet from the 1st Sunday of Advent concert in a small Moravian town in the Czech Republic. It includes local schoolchildren singing my favourite traditional Czech carol, Půjdem spolu do Betléma (Let’s go to Bethlehem together).
Mountain holiday location in the Czech Republic:
A pleasant PENZION getaway in Moravia’s scenic Beskydy Mountains is the SILVERADO RANCH!
This is a penzion, not a hotel, and it provides exactly what a penzion should provide……an authentic home-stay style of accommodation. Just like a family home some rooms are large, while some are small. Book what you need. Marek & Iva operate this U.S. western-themed penzion, with friendly, efficient service along with an appealing rustic atmosphere. It also prides itself as a steak-house and a pizza place.
Across the road is a hospoda (pub) if you’re seeking an alternative pivo (beer) choice.
A pleasant and adequate breakfast is included in your booking and guests with children will find a convenient playground, including swings and a trampoline, for them to enjoy.
From his business training in the U.S., Marek takes care of the business, but still takes time out to mix with the guests. Iva was born to be in hospitality! Nothing is too much trouble for her if it enhances the travel experience of her guests. She’s a travel industry gem. The location is perfect for travellers wanting to explore the scenic surrounding countryside.
There are two ways to get to this penzion by road, but due to the absence of signposts it is probably best to drive to the Horní Bečva Reservoir and turn off highway E442/35 near the southern end of the reservoir where the Hotel Duo sign is displayed and follow the Google map below across a small bridge up past turnoffs to Hotel Cherry and Hotel Duo. Continue straight ahead on the same road upwards for less than half-a-kilometre and you will find Penzion Silverado Ranch on the left-hand side.
Map data ©2015 Google
As usual, I recommend booking.com to find more information and if you wish to book on-line.
Or you can ‘phone the Silverado Penzion on +420 608 056 567 to check on availability.
AUSTRALIA: The Joy & Pain of rail travel between Australian Capital cities:
SYDNEY to BRISBANE by Rail
I love the Australian bush and my adventurous friend, Mario, had often spoken about taking a train journey, watching the country towns on the vast Australian landscape flash by as we relaxed in our seats, with a buffet car ready to serve food and refreshments as we rolled along to our destination.
We had already taken short country journeys by rail and enjoyed them. So it was time to test the benefit of the Senior concessions which allow older Australians to travel for a fraction of the cost of air travel between capital cities. We didn’t find the idea of just upgrading to First Class too daunting and thought it was probably good enough for restful napping through the night once we got closer to the Queensland border. DON’T DO IT!
Before dusk, the coastal scenery met our expectations and the dinner service was good as train staff took our orders and a short time later we collected our fresh chicken & vegetable dinners which were as good as any served on any respectable airline. But First Class proved to be not very different from Economy. The complaint is that the same noisy passengers ignoring others trying to sleep after the lights went off were to be found also in First Class and the very similar seats would make it impossible to doze off in even the quietest carriage. It’s a LONG journey….If you are determined to do it, pay the extra for a sleeper…..you’ll arrive a lot fresher.
BRISBANE’s EARLY MORNING RUSH
The overnight rail journey from Sydney to Brisbane’s Roma Street station had taken 15 hours in cramped seats, which even though they were located in First Class, had made it impossible to sleep. So knowing it would still be at least 2 hours before we could take our country link to the Hinterland, it was time to take a glimpse of Brisbane people waking up and rushing to work.
Once we had waited a few hours in Brisbane, we could take our country train to Cooroy in the Noosa Hinterland where we would ride by car to the coast…and that trip took us past the Majestic GlassHouse Mountains.
But once you get across to the beautiful Sunshine Coast…..Holiday or visiting with friends in Noosa, one of the Sunshine Coast’s best-known travel destinations provides many options for sunny activities and different styles of accommodation. I prefer quieter, affordable holidays so I booked into the Australis lakeside villas site, within walking distance of a modern marina and the historic township of Tewantin. This choice gave me the opportunity to meet the locals and saved me from jostling with the crowds in the fashionable Hastings Street in Noosa – jostling is something I can do anytime back in the streets of my hometown, Sydney. That’s not said to criticise the other tourist options of hotels, apartments and resorts that I have enjoyed on many earlier visits. It’s just nice to get out and enjoy the tranquility of several spots along the Noosa River before they disappear. To travel to Noosa Beach, it’s only a short road trip or a leisurely and entertaining ride by ferry.
SUMMER IN SOUTH BOHEMIA
For many years I have sung the praises of Český Krumlov in the Czech Republic’s incredibly scenic South Bohemia (jihočeský kraj), close to the border with Austria and settled as a medieval time-warp wonder below the Šumava mountains. But away from Krumlov itself, there are many summer resorts that offer some wonderful holiday experiences. In an historic place called Zlatá Koruna there are summer attractions such as the camp (Kemp) with varying scales of family accommodation types, a wonderful summertime only restaurant high on the town’s village terrace, as well as the Cistercian Monastery dating from the 13th century, but like the monastery Church, rebuilt after two major fires. There are apartments & hotels on offer if the campsite bungalows don’t suit. Take a look on Booking.com.
MOUNTAIN JOURNEY – driving through the scenic Velke Fatra & Beskdy mountains of Central Europe.
This segment was filmed on Sony Action Cam and edited on Wondershare Filmora Video Editor.
‘Wait It Out’ – Phantom Sun
Traditional Folk Music:
‘ V Zarazicách krajní dům’ – In Extreme Zarazicách House
‘Tece Voda Tece’ – Water Flows
‘Lásko, bože lásko’ – Love, God, Love
This segment was filmed on Sony Action Cam and edited on Wondershare Filmora Video Editor.
If you are arriving by car the access is easy; but you will need to factor in a small daily parking cost.
Plus don’t think that the hotel is located at Sliac, it isn’t. It’s on the other side of the Motorway alongside the village of Sielnica.
Fortunately,the hotel now provides a map and contact page: http://www.hotelkaskady.sk/en/46-map-contact
Because I’m a firm, but independent, supporter of this hotel, I suggest that you can find out more details with other reviews at Booking.com.
Or contact the front desk at Hotel Kaskady – yes, they speak English.
All staff are friendly, but some have limited English. Included breakfast is a standard buffet breakfast. In the past few years, the selection of Breakfast items has narrowed somewhat, but it’s equal to most good hotel buffets.
There are changes to restaurant opening times in different seasons. So if you prefer à la carte, in summer you might need to dine at the Kolibah. They narrow your choices for à la carte dining by urging you to eat by 6pm on their summer grill. Don’t blame the staff…Management policy.
Also, a few years ago a weird decision was made to install a revolving front door to this hotel. Don’t try to get your luggage through it. On the right side of the revolving people trap there is a normal door and if you press the button the reception people will open it immediately.
Having said all that...the standard of all facilities and accommodation at this hotel are very high. Plus the Slovak manners of all the staff that I have encountered are exemplary.
Below is a video guide to several WINTER HIGHLIGHTS to be discovered in the colder months on the Island of Majorca:
AROUND PALMA 8.5mins:
HISTORY OF PALMA 12.5mins:
FOOD, FESTIVALS & FAITH 10.5mins
MAJORCAN HOTELS & RESTAURANTS: It’s always about what you are prepared to spend, but in places such as Majorca you need to research security issues if you are travelling to summer resorts around Magaluf. If you are going there in winter, it can be windy at times and there are only a few wintertime restaurants open, although I would certainly recommend the Florida family restaurant across the road from the Son Matias beachfront. Good food and friendly service.
Food in Palma: For affordable Spanish cuisine and wine and a great atmosphere a little removed from the tourist path, I would happily recommend Meson Don Caracol close to Plaça d’Espanya at Avenida Conde De Sallent, 6. Weekends can be very busy at this restaurant.
HOTELS: For a wonderful view of Palma’s harbour and the plethora of seacraft moored there, there are several hotel choices along Paseo Marítimo. I would have recommended Hotel Mirador but they need to change their erratic policies. Although they had advertised free Wi Fi for their guests, without notice on the 2nd day of our stay they changed their policy which meant they cut off the Wi Fi and when phoning reception, they explained that guests had to go down to reception and get a new code for a 2-hour Wi Fi period each time they needed to use it. As a result of receiving no notice of this change, an email from my relatives in Australia to inform me that my sister had died, was late in reaching me.
The AUDIO Les Guides can be downloaded on to your smart phone or computer if you are soon to travel to the destination being described and then may be used while you stroll through that city.
The Les Guide AUDIO CLIP: CLICK on left side of audio panel to start; adjust volume on the right side. DOWNLOAD guide with a right click and using the ‘SAVE” option.
PRAGUE HOTELS: It’s all about what you are prepared to spend, as the Czech Capital hotels now have prices to equal that of other major European cities.
However, for a very pleasant boutique hotel experience right on Wenceslas Square, the main tourist boulevard with direct access to the Old Market Square, you’ll find that the 4-star Hotel Adria is ideal. Competitive prices for such a central location and professional service under the direction of the Manager, Roman Talman. Phone: +420.221 081 291. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are arriving by taxi the access is easy; if by car you will need to factor in parking costs at a nearby site, as the area is restricted for entry & for parking. Check with the hotel first.
If you want to escape the busy tourist paths, there is a family-run, small 4-star boutique hotel – Hotel 16 – which has great charm & very competitive prices plus friendly, professional service under the direction of its manager, Michael +420 224 920 636 Email: email@example.com
Access to the tourist areas is easily reached by tram or by the metro. system – it’s a 10 minute walk to the Karlovo náměstí (Charles Square) metro. station and then a 2 station-train ride to the Můstek station next to Wenceslas Square.
Alternatively, I walked to Wenceslas Square from Hotel 16 within just 15 minutes.
If you are arriving by taxi the access is easy; if by car, check with the hotel regarding parking.
Who is Les Thompson?
In brief, I’m an Australian journalist, broadcaster, travel lecturer, author and travel group leader.
The full story is told in my book about broadcasting, Hello Ego!. My career in radio, television & print spanned the years between 1965 and 2000.
Ebook for USD 9.99!
HELLO EGO! by Les Thompson
All Rights Reserved
What the Sydney Morning Herald said about the first edition of this book:
More information on the 2013 UPDATED eBook edition at the special price USD9.99 is now available from AMAZON.COM
This book delves deeply into the world of broadcasting and the many egos that fuel its engine room. Les Thompson tells of his personal journey through radio and television in Australia & New Zealand with no-holds-barred impressions of the media. The author, who handled journalistic investigations and who for 5 years hosted Sydney’s highest-rating, ‘reality radio’ program called Night Watch, chronicles the societal changes that he witnessed, as well as their effects on his own family, as he carved out a successful career in broadcasting and journalism. He describes the people with whom he worked, including megastars, managers and the people behind the broadcasters. This is a roller coaster ride through a ratings-driven industry; a career that can breed personal wealth, along with grave insecurity, satisfying accomplishments, and inflated egos for performers and managers alike. This is the updated and expanded version which includes photos and fresh appraisals of his 35 years in mainstream media.
ECHOES OF 2UE NIGHTWATCH!
I hosted the 2UE ‘Nightwatch’ program for 5 years (1971-1976)—the longest period of any reporter who covered Sydney each Saturday night. My determination to add news investigations and human interest stories to the program’s mainstay of police rounds coverage paid off with record audience numbers of 255,000 for a program reaching just one market. It was the peak of the program’s ratings results.
On the NightWatch rounds 1970s.
Nightwatch Investigation into Sydney’s Illegal Casinos
Excerpt from my book, ‘Hello Ego”:
I really have Nightwatch to thank most for my journey into journalistic probes. It was as early as March 1973 that the thought came to me that someone needed to expose the blatant lies of both the Premier, Bob Askin, and the Police Commissioner, Norm Allen. Both were insisting that illegal gambling dens in Sydney did not exist.
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