Sunday, June 22, 2008

Cesky Krumlov and Salzburg

After all the previous cities I'd been in one after the other, I needed a small-town break, and got one in Cesky Krumlov. Listed as one of the prettiest Czech towns, I think they were right. Halfway between Prague and Salzburg, it made an ideal overnight stop. It's a nice small town (I was even able to walk from the train station to my hotel) yet it had a good-sized castle with a beautiful tower, and even bear pits. Bears seem to be the town symbol, so for centuries they've kept some right outside the castle in two large pits. I wasn't happy to see them, but they're not quite as bad as they sound; at least the larger pit has trees and bushes and even a little waterfall. I think there were two in there; it was easy for them to hide in all the shrubbery. The smaller pit, however, was pretty barren and a separated bear in there paced restlessly out of boredom. Wondering if any local animal welfare people were pushing to realease them, I asked a girl at a nearby shop if there was talk of ending the practice, but she had'n't heard of any, and in fact seemed almost disgusted that I would ask such a question.
But it was a beautiflul town and a beautiful day (I'm still incredibly lucky with the weather), so I enjoyed exploring the little town's lanes and shops. I had dinner at a wonderful riverside vegetarian restaurant whose food made me reaffirm my culinary choices. The chef must have sprinkled a little pixie dust on the food-- it was magic, what she could do with a meatless menu. If the place moved to somewhere in the U.S., I think I'd have to move there too!
There's also a great little bookstore called Shakespeare & Sons which not only trades books but has a fantastic selection of English books; I went back the next morning to trade some but unfortunately they didn't open til after my train left. So I gave my copies Musn't Grumble and Rick Steve's Prague to the keeper of my next abode, the Gasthof Hunterbruhl, in nearby Salzburg, Austria.
Just getting to Salzburg was an ordeal. Due to railroad track reconstruction, everyone had to get off the train and schlep to hot, crowded buses to another station and find their trains. The train was full of young Czech backpackers going on a canoe trip; luckily the group leader, Gerta, spoke great English and went out of her way to help me get on the right bus. Some of us got on a slower one and found out later after a conductor finally came around and told us that we could either stay on this train, or switch at the next station to another one which would get us to Salzburg an hour faster. Such are the joys of travel.
But Salzburg itself is a joy. Like a miniature Vienna, it has pretty churches and a nice, compact, easily walkable old town, as well as one of the finest castles I've seen, a huge fortress towering over the town with a great museum inside. Before that, though, I went to the abbey where Maria was a nun in The Sound of Music. I don't think it was open for visitors (I found no signs) but I overheard a bit about it from a private guide giving a tour of the outside. It had a rather unremarkable exterior but the views were terrific. The only thing higher up was the castle, which I next went to. The only thing I liked better than the castle itself were the pretty girls touring it, so I kind of followed them, feigning interest in the exhibits whenever they looked my way. I finally took the funicular down (which I should have taken up, but was already half-way there anyway at the abbey) and checked out the Mirabelle Gardens. These are the pride of Salzburg and were also in The Sound of Music. Speaking of the movie, there's all kinds of tours you can go on and see other sights from it but as they cost around fifty bucks I declined on them.
Other than that I just did the usual, peeking inside old churches, sniffing musty old furniture and stuff in museums, and trying to avoid the other tourists. The only problem was the usual blocked-off historic area with the usual giant screens and blasting music... it was kinda fun to watch until I went to bed and soccer fans kept streaming by my window singing, yelling and blowing horns...until 3:00 a.m.! I couldn't even close the windows because the little room quickly became stuffy, and when I had asked the caretaker if he had any electric fans he just kind of chuckled a "nein". The gashof (guesthouse) also didn't have internet so I found a little (expensive) internet place where the guy kindly told me that since I had my own laptop, he knew of a hotspot where I could get it free. I thanked him profusely and henceforth did my emailing sitting on some steps in front of Mozart's house. I wonder what the composer would have thought of that? And I hear he didn't even like this place and couldn't wait to leave. Pity, it's really a rather nice place.
Next: Munich-- where the REAL beer drinking takes place!

No comments: