Trip Start Oct 20, 2003
Trip End Dec 22, 2004

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Friday, July 23, 2004

Telc(h), 22 - 25 July, 2004

July is a warm month with long days, so we decided to take advantage of it. We made a four-day, long weekend journey to the small, 16th century town of Telc, south east of Prague and about 20 miles north of the Austrian border. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We decided to take the bus, as that is the best way to get there. The tickets were amazingly cheap. Return tickets for the two of us were 488kc (about $19.50). The two and one-half hour bus ride was really very nice and it was a beautiful day. The first 90 minutes were on expressway, but the last hour was over narrow, winding roads in hilly terrain. The countryside is really quite pretty. We passed many fields that looked similar to the ones in Wisconsin, but we also passed many fields of white poppies. (We don't know what these are grown for but they certainly make a dramatic picture.)

The bus station in Telc is away from the center of the town, and we were unsure of how to reach it. Our limited knowledge of Czech was sufficient to get us there but we had a few anxious moments. We travel without luggage, so that means we carry everything on our backs. We didn't relish getting lost on a hot afternoon. Finding the square is interesting because the entry isn't obvious. We were walking along and knew that it should be near it but we couldn't see it. Finally Fred said, "Let's go here." We went through a gateway and up a small rise and then he saw the tops of the buildings around the square.

Our hotel was a remodeled 16th century town house about 30feet from the square. The hotel wasn't located on a street but on a walkway from the square out to the main road. Many people used it. We were on the second floor directly above the front entry, maybe ten feet above the walkway. There was a building about 20 feet directly across the way, so sound got channeled up. It wasn't bad during the day, but during the night it was quite noisy with lots of revelers going home at all hours. I never thought I would tire of hearing church bells, but I did that weekend. There were three bell towers in the city. Each one rang its bell once for each quarter-hour and, at the hour, four times plus the number of the hour. They went all night and in the stillness were amazingly loud.

Telc is a rebuilt city. Although it was founded around the 10th century, it burned down several times because the buildings were of wood. After the last major fire in 1530, the king, Zacharias of Hradec, took responsibility for rebuilding. His wealth came from the silver mines in the area. He was schooled in Italy. When the town burned down, he decided to rebuild it in Italian Renaissance style. The result is striking. The town is not built on a square as such because the marshes and streams around it control its layout. Rather, the main "square" is an elongated funnel. It originally had only two gates, one at each end of the funnel for the main highways that ran through it. Since most of the walls have been removed, there are now two additional ways to walk into the square. What were once moats and marshes surrounding the town have been turned into carp ponds.

Three storey Renaissance style houses and some four storey public buildings almost entirely border the square on three sides. Ground level arcades with shops and restaurants run most of the way around the three sides. The owners lived above the shops. All the houses have a specified width of about 36 feet. Some of the public buildings have double width lots and thus are 72 feet across the front. Most lots are 90 feet deep. Right now all the houses are very brightly colored. We are not sure if they were originally painted in these bright colors. The tops of the buildings all have different decorations so it isn't a monotonous sight. The castle and two churches make up the fourth side of the square. The castle didn't burn because it was made of stone, but Zacharias remodeled much of it in the Renaissance style.

The square has two fountains, a pump, and a plague column, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, at one end. Most of the square is pedestrian space, but a roadway does run through it. The only way you can tell it's a road is that the cobblestones are different. The "middle line" is actually black cobblestones set at different angles. There are walkways laid out next to the road, on the same level, but with yet a different cobblestone design. Red geraniums are the flower of choice and they are everywhere.

We spent a great deal of time in this square sitting at cafés and watching the people pass by. Although it doesn't strike one is being real "touristy," there are lots of tourists and tour groups. While we were having supper one evening a tour group came walking by. Busses are not allowed on the square, so the tour group had to walk in. Their luggage was delivered by a small van. That same night we were finishing dinner and we heard the town band practicing in the house across the way. One night about sunset, 22:30, we were sitting on the square having an ice cream and we happened to look at the top floor of the house across from us. A young boy was sitting in the window. We are sure that he had been sent up to bed, but instead he was watching what was going on below. We can understand why, because the next day was a big fair. We also saw adults leaning out of their windows watching. Earlier that day while we were sitting at a café we saw a group of people doing strange things in the square. Every three feet they were hammering nails though bottle caps into spaces between the cobblestones. Someone was coming behind them stringing cloth string between the nails. It turns out they were marking off lanes and setting up spaces for booths and the stage and its viewing area for the Saturday fair.

Starting about daylight, 04:00 on Saturday morning, the noise started. We could hear pipes banging. People were coming into town to set up their booths. By the time we went out in the morning, all the booths were set up and going. After a walk we came back to the square and the entertainment had started. It ran all day until about 19:00 (7:00pm). There were handicrafts of all kinds and lots of food. We did some shopping and sat on the benches for one of the shows. It was a Dixieland band that was quite good. A female singer sang several songs in Czech and English. One was "When you're smiling." We enjoyed the group so much that we stayed for almost the whole performance. After the entertainment ended, the booths came down and the nails came up so that by late evening you would never have known there had been a fair.

We did lots of walking around the carp ponds. (These are some of the ponds that raise carp for Christmas dinners around the Czech Republic.) One walk went completely around the largest pond. It passed through an area of Telc that was almost like a small village with an interesting church and cemetery then on through a forested area. We enjoyed this walk very much. It's interesting how many local people ride their bikes on the pathways around the ponds. One of the other ponds had a footbridge across it that went to the center of town. The castle gardens were at the far end of this pond. We spent some time on the footbridge watching the carp jump for insects. We also watched them feeding in schools beneath the bridge. We were surprised that with all the standing water there were no mosquitoes.

We took a very interesting tour of the castle. Luckily we arrived at opening time. When we went to buy tickets we asked about an English tour. One was just starting. It turns out that the group was a group of American hikers who were staying at our hotel and with whom we had become acquainted. The castle still has some of the original gothic rooms, but mostly it was rebuilt in Renaissance style. The rooms have their original furnishings, so it was a very interesting tour. We were also impressed with the beautiful design work and paintings in the ceilings of the Renaissance rooms.

As it turned out, our favorite restaurant wasn't in the center of town. It was in a small hotel. The restaurant was on the lower level and looked out on one of the streams. The food was excellent and very cheap. One day we had lunch and a beer for less than $3.00 each. One evening meal we had chicken noodle soup, pork schnitzel, boiled potatoes and two beers each for less than $8.00 total.

We thought that prices for food and goods were less than in Prague. Many of the store operators in town were Oriental. This surprised us.

Our bus trip home on Sunday afternoon was something else. The bus driver, we guess, didn't want to be working on Sunday. He drove the bus like a sports car. He was a smoker. When he smoked, he opened the window next to him. This screwed up the air conditioning. It was hot, about 85 degrees. When he finally closed the window, it took some time for the bus to cool down. Because he was smoking he had to drink water. This meant that he had to take his hands off the wheel to open the bottle. He also spent much time looking in the mirror eyeing the girls in the back of the bus. We were "white knuckle" passengers. Most of the passengers seemed oblivious to his antics.
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