Sunday I joined up with a tour company called Northern Hikes to do a 10 mile hike through the Bohemian Switzerland National Park. The park is on the northern border between the Czech Republic and Germany.
The tour company takes up to 8 people and when I checked the day before it was full, but come Sunday morning it was just me and the tour guide, a 31 year old Czech guy named Vojta, and so began a sometimes awkward but mostly pleasant 10 hour hike/first date.
The park was only just made into a national park in 2000 in order to better preserve the natural attractions and trails, so it is still relatively unknown to those outside of the Czech Republic and Southern Germany. So even though I could have taken a couple of busses to the park and walked it myself for much cheaper than my all day personal tour guide, I was glad I did what I did as all trail signs, cafes, etc. are only in Czech and German, and it took a lot of pressure off my day (aside from trying to make small talk with one person for 10 hours).
There are really two main attractions, the natural arch and the gorge. I don’t know how impressive this is but it’s Europe’s largest sandstone arch (is there even a second sandstone arch in Europe? I’m not sure). But it is impressive and beautiful and can be seen in the Narnia movies. No, you aren’t allowed to walk on it, and they estimate it will collapse in about 10,000 years.
At one point in the gorge there is nowhere for a trail so you take a 20 minute boat ride powered by a man with a long stick who pushes you along while making witty remarks (in Czech and German only, Vojta was kind enough to translate). “Over here you see a shark coming out of the rocks”, “over there you see King Kong falling off a rock”, “if you put your face very close to the water you’ll see an even bigger monkey” (then he starts rocking the boat), “if women drink the water dripping from this rock you’ll be 2 years younger, if men drink it they’ll be 6 years younger, that is how I’ve come to be 125 years old”, etc. It was almost as entertaining as it was beautiful.
The drive to the national park also took us through some interesting towns. A number of the towns in Northern Czech Republic were heavily occupied by native German speakers prior to World War II. After the war, all native German speakers were required to leave the Czech Republic, and many of those towns were left abandoned and never fully re-populated afterwards.
Because we finished the hike pretty quickly (with just the two of us…), Vojta took me up to a viewpoint over the town of Děčín, which showed a really interesting mix of traditional Czech architecture and really ugly communist buildings which have been painted over in pastel colors (you can see a lot of this throughout the country).
Just to reiterate how amazing my Prague hostel was, when I returned that night the staff had prepared an Indian curry dinner per my request because it was my last night at the hostel. I already miss that place!
The next day I took a 3 hour bus south to a town called Český Krumlov, the second most visited city in Czech Republic. I came for a couple of reasons: the pictures make it look like it is out of a fairytale, and there’s not much to do and I needed a couple of days off (turns out 4 days of partying in Prague leaves you with a sore throat and a cough).
I’ll start with some pictures:
Much of Český Krumlov is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site which explains why it is the second most visited city in the Czech Republic. At first it was a bit annoying how many tourists were here, it was honestly hard to walk down many streets because of the number of selfie sticks blocking the way, 99% of the shops in town are either restaurants or souvenir shops, and it felt a bit like I was being herded through a Czech Disneyland. But once I embraced it, and realized that everyone is here because this place is beyond beautiful, I was able to enjoy it much more (and I found a couple of places that were much less crowded, like the palace gardens).
I won’t bore you with the historic details but the city was lucky enough to survive World World II and the Communist era relatively unscathed, which is why the town’s 14th to 17th century architecture is so well preserved. Many buildings are a mix of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles which makes for a really interesting look. I also found a sundial clock! (If you don’t know why this is significant to my blog, read my About page).
Because the city is such a big tourist destination, there are TONS of restaurants, and I enjoyed some really good food (left to right, top to bottom: cabbage soup (traditional Czech dish with cabbage, potatoes, and sausage), vegetable pie, a combo Indian/Mexican plate (I’m not sure this place knew what it was, but it was delicious), salami pizza, and another trdelnik!):
Some other musings from the last few days:
- I keep getting put next to tables of Americans at restaurants and it’s more often than not embarrassing to overhear their conversations…they tend to be pretty loud and are always talking about how this place was overrated and that place had bad service, etc. I wish they would take a breath and enjoy the fact that they are eating a delicious meal along a river in what has to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
- It is interesting being in a country where history of major conflict is so recent. And as I write that it sounds odd because you could say America is currently in a constant state of major conflict, but it doesn’t feel the same. For example, my walking tour guide in Prague talked about how her dad took part in the Velvet Revolution, and I talked with Vojta about what it was like going to elementary school in the years immediately following the fall of communism. I guess some day in the future I could see people asking me what it was like living in America while Trump was president…
- You all know I’m a huge sports fan. People told me I wouldn’t care as much about sports while I’m travelling and I scoffed at them. Well, as happy as I am that both the Raiders and my Huskies are undefeated, I’m really not that interested! We’ll see what happens when the Warriors season starts…
Tomorrow afternoon I take another 3 hour bus to Vienna, where I’ll be for a while (I think!). Don’t worry dad, my bus arrives around 5 pm and it’s just a 5 minute walk to my hostel from there 🙂