Czech Check

I am sure I made for a very funny sight. All of 5 feet and 4 inches, carrying a backpack, a suitcase and another bag. Michal accompanied me till the train station on his way to work. It was time to say goodbye to my first couchsurfing hosts. Farhana and Michal were talking about visiting India and I hope they soon do.

Time to move on to the next destination. Cesky Krumlov.

Fairy tales coming true: Cesky Krumlov

This place was already on my list and after the high recommendations of my friend Swathi, I was eager to get there. There are trains every few hours from Prague to Cesky Budejovice which takes 2.5-3.5 hours. Cesky Krumlov is another 45 minutes from there. I had pre-booked train tickets with my window seats (Remember the harrowing experience at the Visa office?). When the ticket collector came in to check, he looked at my tickets and started rapidly talking in Czech. I didn’t understand a word, obviously. I just said, “Sorry. I don’t understand Czech.” The girl next to me explained that my ticket was a day old!!! Well, in all the hurry and confusion of booking the tickets while at the visa office, I had messed up the dates. I was getting ready to pay the fine but the TC was a lovely man and told me to just buy a fresh ticket from Cesky Budejovice to Cesky Krumlov. I was amazed at how nice people were. The girl across me helped me out at Cesky Budejovice. She was a university student and commuted everyday to go to college.

This ride is worth every second. I passed by some gorgeous countryside. The lush green fields with quaint little cottages in the middle. Jack rabbits hopping around. I even saw a deer standing by a brook. These were things out of a movie. Could not believe I was getting to see all this. Oceans of yellow flowers and I wanted to run around in them waving my dupatta. Wanted to be DDLJ’s Simran but without a Raj coming to ruin my time.

Oceans of yellow

My hostel had emailed directions which were on the spot. I died a thousand deaths though walking to it. The main city area is at a distance from the station. It’s a lovely walk if you don’t have luggage. Luggage which weigh almost as much as you do. My story. So, take a taxi if your story is anything like mine.

The view is splendid. Splattering of green, orange and purple. Spring time at its best. After trying to not tumble down a steep slope, I reached the city entrance. This is marked by a medieval gate. It was a funny sight to see modern cars passing through a medieval gate standing at the end of a bridge (unsuccessful attempts at trying to capture it). My hostel was right next to it.

I had to pay 20 Crowns as a deposit (I think) and I had only large denominations with me. The guy at the counter commented that I was rich. What did he know, that’s all I was left with. The room I was shown had 10 beds and only one was occupied. There were a pair of beds on top, secluded from everyone else. I was tempted to take it at first but then realized, I would be bloody lonely there. The hostel was great. Clean, with all the modern facilities. Motion sensor lights and all (fancy!). I quickly got ready and the guy at the counter helped me with my plan. I wanted to go on a short trek but he asked me to be careful of wolves and bears there (Later came to know that there were none and I should have done the trek). His name was Vojte. I forgot how to pronounce it. Not like I knew it in the first place. He must have told me a few times, but I could never get it right. I made do with “Hey” each time I came across him. Vojte requested me to take pictures if I see people rafting. He needed some, to put up on their website.

Cesky Krumlov is a tiny town. The main city square or the tourist locations are in an area which is smaller than my office limits. Half a day’s walk is enough to cover it all. My tour started with the Cesky Krumlov Castle. I could see the castle tower as I walked in. You have to cross a bridge with a moat where apparently a bear lives. Poor bear. Living a solitary miserable life for tourists. This time he refused to give in and did not come out of his hiding spot. You go Bear!

The castle grounds are fashioned in the medieval style. You can see a little corner with various weapons which is supposed to be the royal armory. There were flowering plants wherever your eyes turned. It was absolutely beautiful. The tickets have to be bought at the office situated in the base of the tower. The complete tour costs 130CZK inclusive of the audio guide and is totally worth it. I had read online that Cesky Krumlov was famous for its pencils. I wanted to pick up colour pencils for my son, nieces, nephews and some of my friend’s kids at the castle souvenir shop. But the price of one box of pencils could have bought me five back home. Nope. Not gonna happen.

The tour begins with the history of the various families who held power at the castle and the typical collection of a smattering of their belongings. Then it takes you up the tower. The view is spectacular. I was in complete awe of the beauty around me. As a friend rightly put, it looked like an image right out of a postcard. I could stand there all day looking at that beautiful sight. But, that meant blocking other tourists’paths. And as I am a very considerate person, I decided to move on.
Dine in style
Drink in style
Kill in style
View to die for

As I walked towards the castle gardens I came across quite a few tour groups with a guide. I stood around pretending to look at the structures while trying to eavesdrop and get details on the history of the place. Cheap-o. It had started drizzling again and I was cold as hell. The castle gardens were full of blooms, every direction you looked at. I went crazy photographing each and every corner of the garden. Don’t worry, I am not going to spam you with all those images. Or maybe I will. There were couples around, holding hands and taking in the beauty of their surroundings. And I was huddled in my jacket, hugging myself. How romantic!
Palace grounds

There is a pathway which takes you to a medieval time market and the horse riding school. Atleast that’s what the signboard said. I was tempted to go and check it out, but the drizzle turned into rain and everyone started rushing looking for shelter. We all huddled into a little balcony which surprisingly gave us a gorgeous view of the vista around us. Cesky Krumlov is a big favourite of South Asians. There were as always, big groups of them, with their cameras going paparazzi at every corner, at every monument, at every sight. This place is quite a hit for pre and post wedding photo shoots too. The castles, rivers, bridges make the perfect backdrops. I had a good time watching the couples pose. The guys snug and comfortable in their suits while the girls were freezing in their strapless gowns.

So, once the rain subsided, I continued on my castle grounds tour. They have a revolving auditorium which screens plays during summers. The rain, cold and missing all the major events. Not cool. The next time I head to Europe, it will be in summer. Promising myself this, I moved on to the next item on my checklist, the town square, where we have multiple museums, wax, torture, marionette and so and forth.

Revolving auditorium
I came across this old man singing classic rock on one of the bridges. It was sunny and warm and this music was the best thing I could have asked for. As I already mentioned, the place was filled with South Asians, and old ones at that. No one stopped to enjoy, for the moment I was his sole audience. I did a little window shopping (cause I couldn’t find anything I wanted to buy.) and went in search of Na Louzi, the recommended restaurant. In the process I found the famous town square fountain.

I decided to be a sheep in the herd and follow the Asians. And lo and behold!! I was at the St. Vitus church! Another one from my list. I sat down for the longest time relaxing. Smiling and nodding at all the locals. As it always happen, I was overcome with a sense of peace. Maybe I should reconsider my views on religion. Who am I kidding? I was tired and I finally got a place to sit down in peace.

Off to Na Louzi and to a solid lunch/dinner/only meal of the day. I was given a Czech menu and I had to request for an English menu. This made me wonder the diversity of this country. A question I would ask myself through the rest of the trip. My brown skin wasn’t stamped as a tourist, unlike during my last year’s trip to Germany.

I ordered a spicy pork mixture (not spicy at all, OBVIOUSLY for my Indian palette) with veggies and potatoes, with a shot of plum brandy on the side. I just attacked my meal and probably wasn’t even taking a break to breathe. It was absolutely yummylicious!! Soft, small pieces of meat, literally melting in your mouth, with fresh veggies to cut through. As, it always happens with me, I lost the interest in alcohol once I had had my meal. And because I had ordered it and it was something new, I took a small sip of the brandy and called it a day.

So, I thought. Until I came across a candy store…… And I lost my mind. I don’t even want to try and remember how much I spent there. Worst part, once back home to India, I ate all of it. It was heaven!! It made me think of a few friends who would have loved it. I decided to share some with them too. Maybe.
No. I didn’t.

I was done for the day and exhausted. I started on my way back home and clicked couple of not so great pictures of rafting for Vojte. In the morning, on my way out I had seen a Bata shop. Unlike the ones back home, these actually had stuff worth buying. To make sure I make through the rest of my trip alive, I bought couple of jackets. There were some great handbags and footwear. I literally needed blinkers to stop myself from splurging on them.

Once back at the hostel, Vojte offered me a beer as a thank you for the rafting pictures. I felt horrible as the pictures weren’t worth it. Telling myself to put some effort into it the next day, I sat down with him, each of us with a bottle of the ubiquitous Czech beer “Kozel” I could barely drink it as I was stuffed with the dinner I had just had. Vojte, like most people was very curious about Bollywood and started looking for it on Youtube. To my rotten luck, the top tracks coming up were the over the top dramatic Karishma Kapoor sad songs. I texted some of my Bollywood savvy girlfriends in India asking for recommendations. But, by then the damage was done. Vojte was in splits watching the videos. I let him be with his new found funny videos and went up to my room.

My only roommate Andrea came in after a while. She is a Slovakian and was on her way to Austria for her summer job. What a cool life! I wish I could do that. We spoke about various things, finally, as always coming down to India, how it treats her women and the life we live. Again, not starting the discussion here.

I was having a great time backpacking in Europe, but it was GOT time!! And I was missing all of it. Hotstar didn’t let me stream, citing ” You are not in the approved location” or some similar s*** like that. One of my good friends, frankly the only person I have met till date who has the exact same taste in Music and shows like me (a little sprinkling of EDM would have made it perfect) So, this friend, sent me the video for the latest episode and I spent rest of my evening, snuggled in my blanket, watching it.

I had covered most of the sights and the other attractions like the trek to Klet, was not possible anymore. So, the next morning, I went to the monastery first, which was shut, but I walked around it’s grounds enjoying the serenity. From there, I decided to just walk around and explore. I walked into random lanes, going deeper into the little town and came across some bizzare things. No wonder, movies like “Hostel” are based on this country.

Love hurts

After a while, I was right next to the river and I sat around taking some lovely pictures. I went for a walk and clicked away a million pictures of rafters and people kayaking, who were more than happy to pose for me. Another solo traveler requested me to take his picture and as a barter system, I made him take mine.

Now it was time to go berserk. I wanted to shop. Yesterday I had seen a lot of stuff I wanted to pick up, but they wouldn’t fit in the luggage I had now. So, I went shopping for a bag to help me shop further. (Hides her face) After I was satisfied enough and my cash balance was almost depleted, I knew it was time for lunch. The best meal I have ever had. This is a restaurant called Pod Radnici. I ordered Chicken in cream sauce with Camembert and cranberries with a local dark Lager. And did I mention strong? I have never savoured every bite as I did now. Foodgasm… this is what it was. The lager, blew my mind. Literally. The place had free WiFi and I sat making whatsapp calls to most of my friends in my very happy and high state. Thanks for sitting through and talking to me Niki. 😀

Sweet tooth!!
I am a cutie and I know it!

Once back at the Hostel, Andrea, I and Vojte started talking and I decided to cook them an Indian meal. Andrea and I went shopping to an Asian grocery store and bought some supplies. While I cooked, chicken curry, pulao and potatoes Andrea set the table with some cheese and veggies. We had a good time while Vojte had a mini cardiac arrest and a volcano explosion inside him with each bite. Andrea was extremely sweet and wrote down the must dos in Slovakia or me. Post dinner, I packed my bags, three now (#facepalm) and went to bed.

Next morning, it was time to go to my next destination, Olomouc. I should have called a taxi. But, no. Coz I am so independent and adventurous and broke, I decided to walk to the train station. It took forever with my luggage and the hilly inclines. Google map didn’t help and sent me in the wrong direction. By the time I huffed and puffed and reached the station, my train had left. I had to wait a whole hour and I felt I was going to die of exposure to cold.

Once in the train, it was a fiasco again. I had to go to Prague and then to Olomouc. I entered the first class by mistake and the TC was sweet about it and one of my co passenger even helped me move my luggage to the next compartment. And from there on, every passenger got up to help me further. All the TCs were letting me go. In India, this would have been a perfect opportunity to ask for a bribe.This made me wonder. Why the people here are so different to us back home? Why is there so much tolerance and love towards each other? Is it because of their rough history? But doesn’t that same scenario apply to us too? Why are we so greedy and so self absorbed? Not all of us, but unfortunately most.

I wasn’t a backpacker anymore. I was the urban poor. Wanted to do fancy shit like travel through Europe, but didn’t have the money to book taxis. My allergy was acting up. I don’t even know how to explain it. Apparently there is a plant virus I am allergic too. So, the more the beautiful nature and fresh air, the more my allergy worsens. My body demands concrete jungle and pollution. When have I ever given in to demands? But guess what? I was carrying all kinds of medication with me, except for my absolutely essential antihistamines. I prayed that it would get better.

Shopoholic alert!

With lots more confusions and funny, sweet, oldies trying to have a conversation with me in the train, I reached Olomouc. I wished for the translator chip I had seen online a few weeks ago. Wish I could have a conversation with them.

My couchsurfing host at Olomouc, Lenka was waiting at the station for me. She had even bought me a two day bus pass. So so sweet. Lenka and her partner Kuba stay in a studio apartment. My first experience with one. It was 11:30 and I hadn’t eaten a thing since morning, and I am somebody who needs to eat within half an hour of waking up, even if it is 4 in the morning. I was close to fainting. I took a quick shower and Lenka offered to show me around. She is a student and Kuba a physicist. She had taken these two days off to spend it with me. How wonderful is that?! Both of them are big comics fan and there house was full of comics, games and other paraphernalia. The new X-Men movie had just released and they had even booked a ticket for me!!!

The sculpture on top of Lenka’s building

Once I was ready. Lenka and me started on our little tour. I was ready with my list, and our first stop was of Lenka’s choice. And it wasn’t from my list. She showed me this pillar at a town square which is quite famous with the students. Every new joiner has to crawl through the space between which confirms his initiation into the student world.

Lenka took me to her old college and showed me around. For lunch, it was her favourite Italian place, where we could get customized Pasta and man, was it good!! We went to a park and sat eating and talking about our lives. Hearing the medical and maternity benefits women get in Czech, I wanted to move their immediately.

Everything was really close by and the next few minutes, we had seen the Arion fountain, the holy trinity column (so dark that you couldn’t see anything inside), and the Astronomical clock. Unlike the one in Prague, the clock here clearly showed the effect of the by gone communist era. Lenka told me how the communists had changed and modified the clock to glorify their cause and beliefs.

Holy Trinity Column
Arion Fountain
Astronomical Clock
Layout of Olomouc town

Next was the St.Moritz tower, with the largest pipe organ in central Europe and some gorgeous stained glass painting. We sat there for a while and Lenka spoke to the priest, who spoke about the various causes the church supports. He showed us a wooden replica of the church which, a blind school students use to study the church and it’s architecture. How wonderful is that?! You can climb up the tower for a beautiful view of the city. Lenka is petrified of spiral staircases (I don’t blame her) and I was touched that she fought that fear to give me company and climb up the tower with me. Once on the top, Lenka showed me the important landmarks of the town along with a bit of history.

Largest Pipe organ in Central Europe

Next was, the Chapel of St. John Sarkandar. Lenka was surprised as she had never seen this place or had a clue of it. It was a little place and not much to see or do. This was an erstwhile prison and was converted into a chapel, when one of it’s inmates Priest Sarkandar was martyred here. Really liked this very futuristic looking fountain outside.

My allergy had gotten really bad and we had to go to a medical shop. Without a prescription or insurance (as I wasn’t a citizen of the country) I had to pay a whooping 800 Rs for 10 tablets. I kicked myself for not bringing my regular drug. I had to pop multiple tablets to feel any relief as the dosage was quite low and was the only thing allowed as an over the counter drug. We went into the super market and picked up some grocery and supplies for the Indian meal I was cooking tonight.

Our last touristy stop was the St. Wenceslas Cathedral. I don’t even remember what I saw coz I was in a lot of pain and discomfort. We went to the local grocer’s (my heaven!!) and picked up some amazing veggies and fruits.

Lenka had spoken about the Slovakian national dish called Halusky, which was essentially potato dumplings with goat’s cheese and bacon. Her paternal side of the family is from Slovakia and she showed me the pictures of her parents’ home in northern Czech, a small town called Broumov, and shared her childhood stories of growing up on the countryside and swimming in lakes. Kuba and Lenka had been together for a while. They both loved travelling apart from sharing a lot of other common passions and interests. She even had an inkling of when and how he would propose to her. It sounded absolutely magical and I hope it comes true.

Once home, Lenka made me some Halusky. She was a bit apprehensive as the goat’s cheese is quite pungent and not really a flavour everyone likes. Being a true foodie, I loved it!! The crispy bits of bacon on top. Sigh!!

For dinner, I was cooking Indian and I got into prepping for it. Lenka was my sous chef and we cooked up a storm. Chicken curry, Dal, Potatoes, Pulao and rotis. They didn’t have rolling pin and so I used a bottle. What a hack!

Kuba is a quiet and reserved guy. We didn’t really interact much. Lenka kept apologizing for him, saying he was tired and hungry and so was not being very friendly. I didn’t mind actually. He reminded me of one of my good friends. They were really sweet to try and help me out with my next day’s itinerary. I wanted to go visit the Punkva Caves, an underground caves and rivers system. But, realized it was very far. I was extremely tired with all the hectic travelling in the last few days, and so I decided to cancel the trip to Brno and the Caves and just relax in Olomouc. Kuba suggested we go to the Zoo. Lenka suggested we watch Wolverine and so we settled post dinner to do the same. I passed out and slept. That is so unlike me. It was a sure sign that I was exhausted. We decided to call it a night.

Next morning, I just couldn’t wake up. I was still tired and missing home. Missing my son and was already looking forward to going home. I was only half way through my trip and still had a long way to go.

We had a quick and simple breakfast of bagels, fruits and yogurt and went on our way to the Zoo. After a picturesque bus ride, we alighted to walk a short distance to the Zoo. Really liked the layout of the Zoo. Most animals have a lot of space and privacy except for the Tiger, which was in a glass cabin. I had never seen a tiger this up close and was astounded by it’s size. It was heartbreaking to see this massive, gorgeous beast locked in a glass cabin.

We climbed up the tower for an incredible view of the city.

With the sweetest Lenka!

After a very satisfying, relaxing but tiring trip we headed back home. After a little rest, we were off for the movie in the night. On our walk back home, we all discussed about the various other movie franchises and our favourite super heroes.

I slept fitfully and was rested enough now to look forward to Slovakia. Lenka came to drop me at the station and I left Olomouc happy with a lot of memories and another new friend.

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