Central Europe 2008: From The Czech Republic to Poland to Austria to Croatia to Slovenia to Italy
Day Six – Bohemian Rhapsody, Bear With Me, Is She Alive Or Is She Memorex, Where Is Everybody, The Restaurant At The Bottom Of The World And The Wedding Crashers
There was less than a hour left for us in Prague, but that did not deter me from one last goal; two chocolate-filled croissants down the street. Fortified by those incredible treats and a double espresso, I was ready for the drive to Český Krumlov. Although the apartments had been a little on the Spartan side, they were clean, the location was terrific and Pasquale (aka Steven) had been a great host. It had been a great five days!
Pasquale met us at the apartment, gave Tracy and Mary a little parting gift (boxes of chocolates) and we took to the streets of Prague, heading out of town. Thankfully, there were no mishaps, and driving out of Prague was quite easy. Lady G had been programmed, and she was on top of her game (except for the time she wanted me to make a sudden U-turn as I was barreling down the highway toward CK). I had toyed with the notion of stopping at one of the many castles that dot the landscape (Hrad Karlštejn, Konopiště, Orlik or Zvíkov), but decided that it would be best to get to CK and enjoy what had been touted as “one of Bohemia’s prettiest towns.”
The castles would have to wait for another trip. The Czech roads were great and, especially for a Southern Californian, the traffic was non-existent. In exactly two hours and twenty minutes we were driving over the bridge and parking in front of our home for the evening, the Hotel Konvice.
When I booked Hotel Konvice, the only space available was an apartment/suite with two bedrooms on the top floor. I had decided that since we would only be six days into the trip by the time we arrived, the four of us would still be on speaking terms, so I took a chance on it. When we got up to the room, there was one large bedroom and one small bedroom.
The larger room was appointed nicely and had a big bed with down comforters. The smaller room contained two single beds. Kim and Mary volunteered to be Rob and Laura Petrie for the evening and sleep in the single beds.
Our balcony looked out onto the Krumlovský Zámek (Krumlov Castle). The bathroom was new and large, even by U.S. standards. It had a shower with a separate tub, and much to Tracy’s pleasure, fluffy towels. It would be our best bathroom of the trip, for what that is worth. After depositing the luggage, we parked the car on the other side of town, but CK being a pretty small place, the walk back to the hotel was only about ten minutes. That walk confirmed what has been stated by so many; Český Krumlov is, to quote my friend Kim, “felony cute.”
The weather gods shone down upon us again this day, so we searched for a lunch spot outside and found a place by the name of U Dwau Marii. By coincidence (or perhaps fate), in English it translates to “At the Two Marys”! “Wow, how about that Kim, now you have three Marys?” I said. I don’t believe he answered.
We sat at an outdoor table along the riverbank looking up at the castle. You could not draw up a better scenario than what we were experiencing…and it would just keep getting better.
Our waiter, decked out in peasant attire, explained some of the more interesting dishes on the menu, and we were about ready to embark on our first of what was to be two great Český Krumlov meals (photo of restaurant from internet).
Our lunch would be a feast that featured traditional, Bohemian cuisine that was popular during the middle ages. Since we are all middle aged, we felt this would be perfect. Every dish was tasty from Kim’s trout to Mary and Tracy’s chicken with tarragon potatoes. Since the beginning of our trip, we had marked down “Wow” dishes, and I was the lucky recipient this time. I ordered the “Old Bohemian Feast.” As I watched the ducks swimming on the river and people canoeing under beautiful, blue skies, I devoured roasted chicken with a millet and ham casserole. I really wanted to try the Žahour (sweet dumplings in a blueberry sauce), but my stomach said “no.”
We shed some of those calories on our walk up to the castle, which was turned over to the state in 1949. It was in beautiful condition, as were the four of us by now, helped by all that walking in Prague.
As we headed into the castle area, down in the moat surrounding it was a sight that might enthrall some, but to me, was a sad sight. There, on a very warm day, were Katrina, Maria and Kov, the castle brown bears, munching on some unidentifiable foodstuff.
The only method to tour the castle is with a guide (about $17 each), so we bought our tickets and wandered the grounds for a while before it started. The tour lasts an hour, and, unfortunately, ours was lead by a young woman who came straight out of the movie “Invasion of The Body Snatchers.”
There was no emotion as she stated the facts about the castle and warned us not to touch anything. She constantly reminded us that if we took pictures we would be turned into huge pods (ok, I made the last part up). Her voice never changed pitch for the entire hour. In her defense, as it turned out, this was the only English she knew, because when someone asked her a question, she could only shrug her shoulders. Granted, she knows a lot more English than we know Czech, however I would think at a tourist sight like this, the castle could do a little better job in hiring. As we walked through the castle, there were ominous signs for the future of Katrina, Maria and Kov. In many of the rooms, the floors were partially covered by bearskin rugs. I wanted to warn the three bears on the way out, but figured they didn’t understand English.
After the tour, Tracy said, “Hey, they have gardens here, too.” I had created a monster. Tracy, Kim and Mary hiked up to the gardens, and after taking some photos for about ten minutes, I hiked up to meet them.
They were nowhere to be found. Six days into the trip, and they were already trying to ditch me. It turned out they had just left the gardens by another exit, so the team was still intact. I was the only fool to climb the 162 steps to the top of the tower (about $2).
For the rest of the afternoon, we just walked around Český Krumlov. Had we had just a little more time, it would have been fun to canoe, raft or kayak on the river that weaves itself throughout CK. It doesn’t take long to circumnavigate the entire town by foot, but even with all the stairs I had climbed, I needed to shed all those calories from our delicious lunch. I was also hoping for a delightful dinner, and it was now time to go searching for the entrance to our next meal nirvana.
Because of a post I had read on the Fodor’s Travel Board before we left, when we got to the main square I searched for a Chinese restaurant; not because I wanted to dine there, but because nearby was a set of stairs that would take us down into a “secret” place where I hoped we would have dinner later that evening. But could I find it?
Sure enough, as I walked closer, there was the sign for Pivna KataKomby, and the door was ajar. I told Tracy that I would be right back and started to descend the dark, spiral staircase that lead to, well I didn’t know where I was headed. At the bottom of the staircase there in front of me was another world. There was a beautiful bar with tables in one room and then I entered another room, and another, and another, all in a surreal, cave-like setting (the bears would have loved it).
In the back, there was a large wood-burning pit where the restaurant’s grilled specialties are cooked. As I neared the staircase to go back up, I heard a voice from above (no, not that one, it was Tracy). “Tom, are you ok?” she asked. I told her I was more than ‘ok’ and that I had found the spot where I wanted to have dinner. On the walk back to the hotel, we walked along the river for a bit we stopped by the Church of St. Vitus.
We decided on an early dinner, so Tracy and I made our way back to Pivní KataKomby a little before 7 p.m., with Kim and Mary joining us a short time later. We were seated next to the dumbwaiter, which for some might be vexing, but for us afforded the opportunity to get a closer glimpse of how a place like this functions. Our two waitresses spoke no English, which just gave a more authentic feel to the restaurant.
The grill was fired up in the back, and we were fired up to try some of the unique menu items. Now, we are no foodies by any stretch, but as the evening progressed, we all realized we had stumbled upon something very special. We shared an appetizer of crispy, fried bacon and onions that was delicious. It contained fried chunks of pork with white onions (al dente), seasoned with lots of black pepper. It was served with gherkins and salad. I had ordered goulash soup, but it didn’t come, so it was on to the main courses, and every dish was plated so nicely that Kim took pictures of each culinary delight (you’ll have to wait for the blog to see them) before we started eating. As spectacular as they looked, they were even more terrific to consume.
I had the grilled skewer of chicken, pork and beef with fresh peppers and salad. Tracy ordered a pork tenderloin served “English-style.’ It came with asparagus, artichokes and peppers. Mary had the specialty of the house, which was called a “Krumburger.” It was a huge hamburger patty that lay on a bed of fresh cole slaw. She also had a side dish of a baked potato with herbed crème fraîche.
Kim’s grilled lemon chicken on a bed of arugula, peppers, tomato relish and grilled garlic bread was good, but his side dish, “gratin au potatoes,” garnered the evening’s “Wow” award.
These potatoes were absolutely amazing, and we all know because we all tried them. We figured there had to be about 50 thin layers of potatoes, with a touch of garlic and Parmesan cheese. It had a golden, crunchy top.
After we finished, I said, “Thank God they forgot the goulash soup. I can’t eat another thing.” As if on cue, our waitresses showed up with, you guessed it, my goulash soup. Being the consummate guest and a glutton for punishment (not to mention just a plain, old glutton), I ate all the soup and some of the rye bread, too. All that food including five beers, one glass of red wine, two Campari, plus two bottles of 2005 Modry vino from Portugal (no driving tonight), came to 2,316 Kč., or about $150 plus tip. As we ended our meal, two couples from Canada who were on a two-month holiday (and we thought we were slackers) stopped by the table and we chatted for quite some time. There was an easier exit than the way we had entered, which was fortunate due to our expanded waistlines.
As we wandered Horní Street (just doesn’t sound right, does it?), we heard a band blaring from the terrace of the Hotel Ruze. “Let’s check it out,” Mary said. It seemed there was a wedding reception going on with free food and free booze for any interloper who stumbled in from out on the street. I looked at Kim. Kim looked at me, and we decided not to partake of the free goodies. Maturity does have its downside.
We could hear the band just as well from the bar located a short distance from the Ruze, so we made our way to the patio overlooking the river, and there were those friendly Canucks again. As you could tell by our dinner choices, one more cocktail was more than enough for all in our group. Back at the hotel, we opened the door to our balcony and there was a stunning view of the Český Castle, a perfect ending to what was a perfectly great day.
But there would be no rest for this weary group of travelers. Tomorrow we would once again hit the roads of the Czech countryside that would lead us to Olomouc and an ever-so-slight confrontation between a rental car and an immovable object.
Next: Day Seven – The Road Less Traveled, Watch Out For That Pole (And We’re Not Even In Poland), Magic Cream, Kim’s Departure Is Confirmed And The Dinner Shut Out