Crowd-Surfing in Central Europe
01.08.2007 - 27.08.2007 24 °C
Everyone seems to arrive in Prague in August. European summer is chock-a-block tourists, and we just wanted to duck under the crowds, find a little nook to hang out and watch the frenzy fly overhead. Unfortunately, Prague is too captivating to avoid the sights and, hence, the crowds. Usually, by mid-morning, the tour groups have descended and we would end up blindly following a surge of people worshipping a pink umbrella or a yellow streamer on a stick. To circumvent this, I had planned on doing the big stuff, like Charles Bridge, during early morning. A good idea, IF you can get Anouk out of bed, through her morning routines, then out on the road before eight - I wasn't able to manage it either! So here's a shot of Prague during peak time!
Another way to get away from the crush is to walk so far away from sights that everyone else wants to see, that no one else could be bothered, then get a nice perspective on the madness (and the beauty). This is a view of the bridges across the Vltava River from Letna Park.
After the mayhem of Prague, we entered the relaxed atmosphere of Marianske Lazne, a Czech Spa town renown for the curative properties of its natural springs. The whole town is a study in renaissance architecture, with classical spa hotels on every street. This is the one we couldn't afford to stay at (we holed up in the ex-communist concrete bunker across the road!).
In what I thought was a nice touch, the natural springs are made freely available to anyone with a cup and an interest in water - especially with bottled water being such an necessity for our sensitive stomachs. Not long after tasting one these miraculous curing springs, I realized that it wasn't such a generous touch. Some smelled and tasted like they were piped directly from the septic system of the nearest hotel.
Following our week-long sojourn of spa treatments, health food, and funny smelling water, we headed off to another medieval town called Cesky Krumlov, where we embarked on sincere efforts to undo all the good work we had achieved.
In what turned out to be one of our favourite Czech towns, Cesky Krumlov had all the wonderful attributes - chateau castles, cobblestone lanes, quaint restaurants, and a pretty painted tower!
Sight-seeing gets a bit dull after a while, so to ramp up the adventure level, Anouk and I embarked on a canoe trip down the Vltava River. Seemed straight forward - jump in, paddle downstream for 35km, jump out!? The only trouble - the rushing canoe ramps that fling you down the next level of the river like a short but very exciting rapid. Anouk and I hit our first one two minutes after starting out, and made it through... soaked, with a foot of water in the canoe, and a camera and shirt floating among the wreckage - we had no idea!
The thing I love about two person canoes...
Although I have an eternal fascination with ancient stone buildings, and can spend hours marvelling over the sheer effort and ingenuity required to construct them, the wilderness also holds a strong pull. The area below Cesky Krumlov contains a forested National Park that was once the no-go zone between the communist eastern bloc and the capitalist west, hence the fact that it wasn't turned into a pulp factory. And, would you believe it, there's still actually trees in it.
Hiking through the Sumava National Park involved a trek to the highest peak in this part of the Czech Republic. The interesting thing is, since this peak also forms the border with Austria, and due to my EU visa being expired, in the photo below my right leg is actually an illegal alien!
Oh no, not another self-portrait! This is the part of the Sumava National Park that isn't exactly what we'd call 'pristine'... Still, nice farmland though!
Enough of the Czech 'wilderness', there's more old stone buildings to marvel over. This is the Renaissance masterpiece of the main square of Telc, the place Anouk and I reacquainted ourselves with the extraordinary beauty of sunsets.
Release the Hounds! Telc is not only sunsets, one evening we were lucky enough to stumble across the calender event of the year - Dog racing! But not like the greyhounds, in this event, the owner has to run or cycle attached to the dog by a special leash and do a lap of the town, sort of like dog-sledding. The crowds whip the dogs into such an excited frenzy, many owners were practically dragged across the cobblestones on the go signal. Unfortunately, Anouk's favourite dog had an owner who was significantly overweight, so came last!
What can I write about this below!? Wow, an Auburn Beauty!
To round out our Czech travels, we returned to fairytale Prague, and once again tried to capture the essence of this Gothic city... when you aren't being trampled by tour groups.