Paddling in pea soup

Day 300 – something of a milestone and, as people keep helpfully telling us, we are down to our last couple of months. As yet we are still heading South so it really doesn’t feel anything like being on our way home yet, we expected to be out of the Czech Rep by now and into Austria.  The good weather together with our both very much liking it here resulted in our agreeing to stop for a few extra days for a ‘mini-break’ near Lake Lipno.

Before that we had our last hit on the culture scene, Cesky Krumlov. Yet another Unesco site, where as Budejovice had some listed buildings Krumlov old town is listed in its entirety.  Thinking it would be a few more old buildings we were both a little awestruck when we arrived, like something out of a fairy story with castles, turrets, steeples and cobbled streets galore.

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Wow just about covers it!

The town and castle were both built back in the late 13th century. Most of the architecture that still exists dates from the 14th – 17th centuries with a wealth of the usual Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance styles. The main part of the town is set within a keyhole bend in the River Vltava with the castle on the other side. It really is one of those places where you don’t know where to look first, our eyes were out on stalks trying to take it all in.

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The Eastern Bloc era wasn’t kind to the town and it fell into disrepair, you wouldn’t know it now. Since the 1989 Czech Velvet Revolution the town has had a radical makeover and been restored beautifully in most place, only the castle gardens are now an ongoing piece of work.

It is a major tourist destination, not a few tourists – there were thousands of them flooding off buses every few minutes. We arrived just after 9am and there were a fair few people around, by lunchtime it was bursting at the seams. Seeing how busy it was proved our theory that Prague would have been way to chaotic in August, as the morning wore on it was becoming difficult to see anything other than people!

It is a city that claims notability for many things, gingerbread being one, there is a history of gingerbread being produced in the town that dates back a few hundred years. In the ‘ye olde’ type gingerbread shop we loved that the gingerbread was labelled as edible but also guaranteed to keep for 100 years – if it only keep for 99 years make sure you take it back then?

Krumlov is also known for  puppetry, mainly due to a historical connection where puppet shows and theatres were common place forms of entertainment in the 18th century. There is a museum dedicated to puppets and theatres and there are numerous shops selling everything from old fashioned marionettes down to finger puppets.

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puppets everywhere

The most controversial aspect must be the bear moat at the castle. Records show bears have been kept in the moat since 1707 and on and off ever since.  It does seem cruel but there are arguments that it is no worse than a zoo and that there is a successful breeding programme.

The moat bears are a much-loved part of the community, they even have birthday and Christmas parties, where the local children bring gifts and exotic foods for them. We spied the bears for a few seconds, then they sat under the drawbridge where no one could see them – says how they feel about it then :).  Whilst its very probably very un-PC to admit it – I was thrilled to see the bears.

Once it got too hot we got going, off to Horni Plana, on the edge of the Sumava National Park. Situated in the Bohemian Forest the village is on the edge of Lipno Dam. We found a small campsite on the lake, complete with its own sandy beach, and booked on for a few days. Iain has had a hankering for a scooter, we have seen more and more adults on them in recent weeks, so as the the hire shop had some he was off out for a trial – verdict : great for the flat and downhills, too much like hardwork on the uphills. There was a brand new tarmac cycle path though, which we took advantage of to cycle down to the next town, you still can’t beat a bike.

Scooter man                                Man-made beaches at Lipno

We have been what can only be termed as fairly idle for the last three days. We have sat in the sun, then built shelters to keep out the sun (using string and sheets, all very Blue Peter).  I had a first and went out on a pedallo – never been on one before, a quick whizz around the lake but think I got on Iain’s nerves keep moaning about I didn’t have life saving equipment on-board!  Iain yet again found a kind site owner happy to loan him a canoe without charge. By this afternoon the water on the lake here was pea green, looked a bit like cabbage soup. Despite it being 35 degrees the green bloom put off all but one or two hardly souls from taking to the water.

Tomorrow we will move on,  Austria awaits.

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Sun-baking and cycling

We took to the back-roads on our way out from Kutna Hora, decent roads, not at all busy and lovely to be back off the beaten track for a while.  After the last few months of forest lined roads through Scandinavia and Poland it was a real change to see  open countryside, mile after mile or rolling farmland – pretty much all harvested.

The joy of the back-road without a map is we never quite know what is coming up next. Down through a village, turn a corner over the bridge and hey presto Cesky Sternberk.  An early Gothic Bohemian castle, the most impressive fact is that its still in the ownership of the family who built it in the mid 13th century.

Cesky Sternberk

Cesky Sternberk Castle

Onwards and downwards to our next stop at the city of Ceske Budejovice. Main reason for coming was that rain was forecast and we thought we might do a bit of shopping. On arrival it was cracking the flags, lucky for us a new swimming pool had just been opened at the motel site we were staying at. Not sure why but hardly any  of the Czech’s were in for a dip, everyone seemed a bit reticent – enter us and a very pleasant and cooling dip. We really hadn’t thought of this country as a summer destination but they seem very geared up to good weather with the pool at the site and another very large outdoor pool in town.

Ceske pool

Pre-dip

The drizzle came in on day two so we had a day in the city, a bit of sight-seeing and a wander around the shops. The old town is on a small island which is linked by several bridges. Much of the town was destroyed in bombing raids in WWII, that said there are still plenty of stunning of examples of  Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance buildings, mainly around Ottokar II Square.

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Ottokar II Square

Around the edge of the city runs a maze of Skoda trolleybus services, linking the several shopping centres and the suburbs. I managed a little bit of shopping the we went all ethnic and ate at the local McDonalds (at £3 for dinner and drinks for two we wont knock it). By mid afternoon the sky was clear again so we finished our retail therapy and went back to some sight seeing.  We found plenty to see and do on top of the architecture, several sculptures, a couple of parks, and some very impressive bridges crossing backwards and forwards over the rivers

“Rush hour” and “Restful” sculptures

A couple of the buildings are Unesco listed, but in the main its a working city and for us none the worse for that. Less of a museum setting and more a chance to see how the average Czech lives. Iain climbed the 16th century Black Tower and took some cracking ariel photos, whilst the square is the main attraction many of the side streets held better preserved buildings and for us were much more appealing.

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Ottokar II Square

Other than the war damage, architecture and a stack of ice hockey stadiums, the town is best known for beer production, so much so it was the imperial brewery of the Holy Roman Empire. As infamous is the legal wrangles between the local brewery, who produces Budweiser (and has the legal right to market its beer and name through most of Europe) and the American ‘Budweiser’. The US version is a different beer and a different company, who used the same name to imitate the successful Czech beer.  The American company has made many offers to buy out the Czech Budweiser to secure the rights to the name but the Czech government wont let the name go as a matter of national pride. So in some countries asking for a Budweiser gets you the American brew and in other the Czech brew.

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Our well earned Budweisers (Czech version of course)

We were moving on this morning but decided on an extra day by the pool.  Where we are staying is on the edge of the town park, acres and acres of grass and trees with a lake in the middle – just a good old fashioned park. We walked across to the local Kaufland to treat ourselves to some bits for lunch and then retired to the sun-loungers around the pool  to sun-bake (as they say here). By late afternoon it was cooling down so we took the bikes out for a quick mile or two around the park. From the park though we found a cycle path along the river so, as you do, we needed to follow that. And follow it we did for 6 or 7 miles down to the next village, brilliant wide tarmac path all the way.

park

The cycle path was incredibly busy but what shocked us most was for every cyclist there were at least two inline skaters. A few youngsters but in the main aged from mid 20’s up to mid 50’s, as many blokes as women and they can skate a hell of a lot faster than we can cycle.

The other big sport here is canoeing, at the end of the cycle path we came across a canoe slalom course, again full to over-flowing with people on the water. We sat and watched for a while, Iain pondering if he is buying a canoe (!) before heading back to camp for a quiet evening to work out where to next.

cesky budejovice slalom

This could be him soon!!