Trip Start Jun 12, 2006
Trip End Nov 28, 2006

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Friday, October 13, 2006

She Said:

I knew Chad still wasn't feeling well when he turned to me in the Prague train station and suggested we stay at a "splurge" hotel in Cesky Krumlov. We were waiting to take the train to this little, medieval town in the Czech Republic about three hours south of Prague, and I began to feel his head for a fever. It really had been months since we splurged on accommodations, but if ever a time, this small, cheap town was it. Chad purchased a phone card and called the first place with three dollar signs next to it in Rick Steves'. They only had one night available, so we took it in the hopes that, once we got there, another room would open up for the second night. I didn't really care; it was a splurge, and we had a reservation!

Cesky Krumlov, meaning "Czech Bend in the River", is one of the most beautiful and enchanting places I have ever seen. The short walk from the train station to the Old Town included windy roads and cobblestone paths. Many leaves had fallen already, but most were still falling as we walked through the town. Just when I was really craving a smaller city void of clothing chains and fast food joints, we crossed the bridge into the Old Town where I felt like I was in the promise land. The buildings were medieval-looking and close together. Since it was getting dark, I didn't initially notice that the facades were all painted in Trompe L'Oiel style (3-D). The streets were cobblestone and filled with shops, restaurants (no chains), and inns. There was a river running through the whole town (it reminded me a lot of the town in Provence I loved). On top of the hill was an immense castle, the town's main attraction, lit up so beautifully. It almost demanded further exploration (and I am not really one for castles as some may recall). The air was crisp with the distinct smell of firewood coming from the surrounding inns, and I took a deep breath.

Our hotel was right in the center of the Old Town, and when we arrived, we were greeted by the cutest little dog in the arms of a very friendly woman. The place had that wintry log cabin feel to it with a fire burning in the lounge surrounding the reception area. They both showed us to our room, the snail room, and we settled in for a while to enjoy our "amenities". The heat was on, there were soaps and shampoo on the bed, the sheets were terry cloth with a down comforter, there was a hair dryer in the bathroom (I haven't used one in over four months), and our view was of the castle tower. Although the bathroom still flooded when we showered, it was a comfortable and clean room that didn't require a sleep sac!

We headed to a recommended local restaurant for some traditional Czech food, although, the place ended up to be sort of a mixed bag of people. We sat on benches with locals, behind us were picture-happy Asian tourists, next to them were loud talking Americans from Georgia (we heard almost every word of their conversation), and in the table to our right sat a German man, a Czech man, and a Polish man (all speaking English, which for some reason I found to be fascinating). The décor was woodsy with old advertisement plaques from the 1930's. The food was good, hot, and cheap. We walked back to the hotel with full bellies and shrugged off the obviously present nightlife (apparently this place attracts young Bohemian tourists and there were tons of bars). Since we still weren't feeling well, and really wanted to enjoy our well-heated splurge hotel, we opted for hot tea in the comforts of our room and enjoyed each other's company.

The next morning we left our bags under the watchful eye of the puppy and went to find a new place to stay, as no rooms had opened up. We found out that there was a radiologist's convention in town, and that is why our place was booked mid-week (my old colleagues will appreciate the fact that I almost stopped one of the international doctors to ask if s/he knew what a Videofluoroscopy was!). As much as we liked the first place, we immediately found a better place with a balcony, right on the river, for less money...and they brought breakfast to the room in the morning! We grabbed our stuff and said goodbye to the dog.

After settling into the new room, we set out to explore the town before heading up to the castle. The town center isn't very big, but it's lined with Baroque and Renaissance style buildings. There is an old, red pharmacy on one corner that has been there since 1620, and can proudly say it has turned McDonald's away all three times they made an offer. There's a small town hall, only recognizable by the town and Czech flags waving out front. There are restaurants and inns offering traditional meals and local medovina wine (hot honey wine). What I found most interesting was the plague monument in the center of the square. It was placed there in 1715 as a gesture of gratitude towards God for not killing all of Cesky Krumlov's citizens with the plague, as is said to have happened in a town nearby. Unfortunately, though, as we read the history, we also discovered that Hitler stood on that very spot in 1938 to celebrate the annexation of the Sudetenland. And in 1968, Russian tanks drove through that spot, threatening all those who tried to demand freedom. In ten minutes, we stood on and learned about a spot of major historical significance that fascinated me much more than any museum.

As we made our way up to the castle, the first thing I noticed was the beautifully painted tower. This is what we saw from our hotel window and can basically be seen from almost anywhere in the town for that matter. The next site was a surprise for me: a bear pit with a real live bear. This tradition was started in the 16th century to symbolize a long and noble family lineage, and we got to witness this big guy eating a huge lunch of raw vegetables! We took a mandatory tour of the interior, which didn't really have anything redeeming that I can recall. What made it even more dull was a terrible tour guide who wasn't really proficient in English and kept repeating whole sentences if she thought she made a mistake (she was also quite possibly a stutterer, so without knowing, I decided to give her a break and some serious credit for giving tours). But, she really was way too scripted and basically laughed the hardest at her own jokes. After the tour, we had some hot soup at a restaurant on the river and enjoyed the peacefulness of the town.

When we woke up the next morning, breakfast was delivered with a note from the TI (tourist information) that the transportation we inquired about to Frankfurt was all set up. We opened the door to the balcony and breathed in the crisp morning air while sipping coffee and eating breakfast. I was sad to leave, as this was a place I could hang out for a week or so and just do nothing. The woman at the inn suggested we come back for the winter, as the town sparkles when it snows. That's definitely something I look forward to doing!

He Said:

Cesky Krumlov is one of those towns where every flake of peeling paint, each patch of overgrown grass, and even the shoe-catching cobblestones that impede pathways seem perfectly placed and almost fake. It's a real life Fantasyland.

Cesky (pronounced "chess key") Krumlov is also fairly inexpensive. So when I looked through the book and found out that the listed "splurges" were less than the budget options in 99 percent of the other places we've visited, I called ahead and reserved a room. We stayed in the "Snail Room" of an old, Gothic manor.

That night we went to dinner in a quaint but popular restaurant that was filled with locals, tourists, and conference-going doctors. Unfortunately because I still wasn't feeling too great, I didn't get to sample the town's local beer. But we did enjoy a great dinner as Alli eavesdropped on some radiology speak and the whole restaurant was forced to listen to a table full of loud-mouthed Atlantans talk about how, amongst other things, only French people are ruder than New Yorkers. After we were done, we slinked out of the restaurant as quietly as we could, me overcoming my desire to curse them out in French, Alli overcoming her desire to smack the girl upside the head, and both of us overcoming the urge to tell everyone in the tiny restaurant that not all Americans are blatant idiots.

Back in the Snail Room over green tea, we began to talk about the when-we-returns, and more specifically, the what-is-Chad-going-to-do-with-his-life-when-we-returns. Maybe it was that night's encounter with idiocy that got me to thinking, or maybe it was already on my mind since the shit and wish incident on the Charles Bridge, but that night in the Snail Room I came to the conclusion that I just might go back to school when we return to the States. I've missed writing and might even enjoy teaching others how to do it. And who knows how long we might stay in Colorado, but getting another degree seems like an efficient use of time.

For a long time now, even going back to when I was still in school, I've thought about teaching it. I had some amazing writing teachers at the University of Florida, but one always said things that stuck with me more than any other. Mr. Christopher had been a crime beat reporter for a New York City newspaper and was going through the masters program at UF when he taught my class. He encouraged me to stick with writing if I had any desire to continue, because one day I'd regret it if I didn't. He also said that when you teach, no matter what the subject, you are also teaching someone how to live. How in my right mind, then, could I have ever gone straight into teaching? How could I have taught someone how to live without going out there and living on my own? Maybe the last seven years as a member of the workforce followed by this trip through Europe means that I've finally graduated from the real world.

The next morning we awoke to blue skies and the massive Round Tower from Krumlov Castle out the window. Unfortunately we could only get one night in the Snail Room because of the radiology convention, so we packed up and quickly found an even better place along the river that actually brings breakfast to the room. We dropped our bags and headed out to explore this tiny town, which as it turns out, was used for the filming of a large portion of Mission Impossible.

The Main Square, and in fact the whole town, is filled with charming buildings that haven't changed much in hundreds of years. McDonalds has apparently tried over and over again to relocate the town's pharmacy, but to this day it's in the same place it's been since 1620. In fact, we didn't see one single western chain in the entire city. It was quite refreshing, though there is something to be said for finding a place for a quick bite to eat after 10 p.m.

The town expands out from the Main Square and is wrapped on three sides by the horseshoeing Vltava River, the same river that flows through Prague to the north. Climbing up and out of the river's hairpin turn leads to some of the best views we've seen in the last four months. Outside of the river's bend sits the Krumlov Castle and its always-visible Round Tower. Like many other buildings in town, the castle's exterior details are all painted in a Trompe L'Oiel style. Trompe L'Oiel is basically a tricking of the eye that makes things appear to be real that are actually only painted. In Cesky Krumlov, bricks aren't always bricks, stone blocks aren't always stone blocks, ledges aren't always ledges, statues aren't always statues, and porches aren't always porches - especially on the entirely-painted-but-totally-real-looking Round Tower.

Almost immediately upon arrival, Cesky Krumlov reminded both Alli and I of Vail Villiage in Colorado, which I guess is fitting since we both can sort of feel this trip beginning to wind to a close. Oktoberfest really knocked the wind out of us, and it was nice to have a few days to relax and unwind in such a beautiful place. It was also nice to think about what might be to come once we return to the States. Who knows what will happen, but if we settle in Colorado for a while, I realized there's a good chance I'll go back to school. If I go back to school, there's a good chance it will be at Naropa in Boulder. Naropa in Boulder has a semester abroad program in Prague. If I go to Naropa in Boulder, there's always the possibility of a semester abroad in Prague. And if I take a semester abroad in Prague, there's a real good chance of a return to Cesky Krumlov, which we'd both take any day of the week.
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