As well as my first time in the Czech Republic, this trip gave out more than its fair share of firsts. Before we even entered the country I had my first shot at driving in a foreign country in a foreign car.
One of my favourite things about being in Vienna now is how easy it is to escape to somewhere new. I know for most people going to Vienna alone would be enough but I have been here eight times and I have ticked all the tourist boxes for Vienna itself (Saying that I have never actaully been on the Reisenrad). Now my poor Aunt is struggling to suggest new attractions so we have expanded our trips to outside the city as we like to take advantage of how you can get around so easily. Both my Aunt and I come from the Orkney Islands, a group of islands off the top of Scotland, and to escape the island you have to time it neatly with the ferry that runs only 3 days a week and is more than often cancelled. Therefore the idea of jumping in a car an ending up in a different country with in an hour is ludicrous! In the past we have visited Melk Abbey, Krems, Sopron in Hungary, Bratislava, Slovakia and this time was one I was particularly excited about: Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic. It was the one country left without a pin on my map but somewhere I have always been interested in. Before we got there though my Aunt had another personal adventure in store for me…
I knew she preferred to look out the window on our car trips and I had mentioned before I would love to try driving here, and before I knew it I was put behind the wheel. Somewhere between the town of Zwettl and the Czech border I was placed behind the wheel. I have only been driving for a year and a few months but I have been dying to drive abroad since I got my licence. However as you all probably know, it is one of those things I was dying to do but when I actually got offered the chance I was petrified! It felt like my first driving lesson all over again. Everything was out of the norm, obviously the main difference was the side of the road. My road positioning isn’t great at the best of times but when my aunt had to remind me what side I was driving on, I was glad my Aunt is as relaxed as she is. Of course I was also driving in the passenger seat and the combination of an automatic didn’t make life easier when I was slapping the window looking for the gear stick. I drive a Renault Clio and this thing was a bus in comparision and to help with the Czech signs I had the Sat-Nav, in German. By the time we crossed the border only to be struck with my first ever level crossing [I learnt to drive in the Orkney Islands, we don’t have trains and the rest of my driving experience has been driving between Aberdeen and Edinburgh], which wasn’t nearly as in your face as those in the UK.
After turning into a bus depot which didn’t allow cars we got to our hotel . From the drive I saw that the buildings of Czesky Krumlov were beautiful classically bohemian buildings. They weren’t quite as grand as the palaces of Vienna but the rough bit’s round the edges made them all the more quaint and charming. Our hotel was just off the main road, in Britain that conjures up images of budget hotels but here you turn into a picturesque little street with colourful buildings lost somewhere between colonial Dutch and Habsburg Palaces, this is not to say the hotel wasn’t cheap; it was about £30 a night and I got a double bed, TV, en-suite (with a bath) and a balcony. I’d like to see that off the M25, well maybe not as I wouldn’t have a view of a river and palace out of my balcony.
I don’t know what I expected from the Czech Republic, I had never really put much thought into what was there, I just wanted to see it. For me it seemed it was a point where the West and the East met, aptly fitting with the confluence of the Danube river where Prague is located. I had a rather old fashioned idea of gypsies and a very relaxed atmosphere from reading "A Time of Gifts" one too many times. I can definitely say that the atmosphere was relaxed, a great relief from Vienna. Don’t get me wrong I love Vienna but it seems so busy and the people are always busy. In Czesky Krumlov there was a relaxed air, no need to do anything done in a rush, and since everyone had this mindset it wasn’t causing a problem. That evening we aimlessly wandered the streets well past nightfall and only retired indoors when our stomachs wouldn’t let us do anything otherwise, well except for a short trip into the World of Mirrors...
On the way back from dinner we were incited inside the café across the road from the hotel. The Antré had dim lighting an bright walls, there was no sign of anyone at the bar and there was only a woman at her laptop and a group of men playing cards in the corner, could it get more cliché? We sat down at a table and looked at the menu, which had been drawn on my previous visitors and as we looked around we realised there were doodles everywhere; on the menus, on the walls and on the tables. The women at her laptop came over and took our order, I would have never have guessed she was working here; she seemed so relaxed! The relaxed atmosphere in this café was a nice example of the whole atmosphere I had felt in the town. After some chilli hot chocolate and honey cake, the relaxing air and dim light lead us back to our rooms where I spent an evening enjoying my double bed and realising there was free wifi! I went to bed early enough so I could get my £30’s worth and have a bath and a full buffet breakfast in the morning. Thank-you Czech Republic!
The next day we saw the sights the culminated in the large castle overlooking the town. It was a huge fortress-style castle and was very different to the baroque palaces in Vienna, it had that beautiful and unique rough around the edges feel. To add to it's rough and raw nature the castle was surrounded by a natural moat of the Vltava river so to make it even more secure, we found three bears (before you ask there was nobody called Goldilocks there!) in the moat by the castle called Kateřina Vok and Marie Terezie. The climax of the castle was a terrace that looked upon the town, you could imagine that if we had arrived in the peak of the summer season we wouldn't have been able to move up here as we would be too busy being sandwiched between eager picture taking tourists.
After a tour of the gardens and endless photo opportunities we headed down and went into a glass shop that my Aunt Var had been enchanted by on the way up, thanks to the informatvive shop owner who gave us the brief history of glass in ten minutes, and she bought two glasses as a souvenir.
After a crepe (or two) we headed back along the quaint streets towards the hotel and gazed upon the rust -tainted Egon Shiele rooftops for one last time before it was about time to hop in the car and head back to the whitewashed palaces of Vienna. I can see why Shiele escaped to here, it is an enchanting place that easy going revellers dream of. It can only make me hope I will come back some day and hopefully see much more of this wonderful country.