We (my Fulbright partners-in-crime and I) stopped at so many places for treats and drinks. Here for a pivo, there for a slice of dort (cake). There for a vino, here for a káva. Finally a meal where it is hard to eat traditional Czech food as a vegetarian, but I managed to find sauerkraut, Olomouc cheese, potatoes, and knedliky (dumplings). The nice thing about Europe is that you can linger as long as you like at a restaurant and there is no pressure to get you to leave. One waiter stood with us for a long time teaching us how to say various things in Czech, even though we’d only ordered a beer over a couple hours. We tried to get him to sit and join us, but to no avail.
Our accommodations in an Airbnb (featured below) made us time-travel back nearly 700 years. We stayed up late into the night sitting on benches at the table under a single light, listening to the river, drinking gin and tonics, and sharing life stories.
The next morning we got the only English castle tour of the day. No photos allowed, sadly, but I loved our tour guide who was only 21 but very knowledgeable. He slipped in a little politics too. Mentioned the hard-won freedom and democracy in 1989 yet noted with chagrin the fact that they still have the Communist party represented in their parliament. Daylight made the scary scenes of my first night (see Part 1) signs of beauty when we went back to those sites.
En route to the castle we saw a sign for an “underground city.” Naturally we had to detour. It was actually an exhibit for a single, very angsty artist, Miroslav Pirál, who specialized in bronze sculptures. The creepy setting was perfect for his morbid art. But the descriptions, thankfully available in English, were very clear and meaningful. He spoke of learning about “empty suitcases” left behind from murdered Jews, of how Czech people turned inward to their TV’s, alcohol, and cabins in the woods to deny to themselves the oppression of Soviet rule. And he shared about the horrors of free reign, post-Communism including the advancement of the sex industry and loss of job security – among other things – when the Soviets left. It was truly moving.
I’d really wanted to see a marionette museum. I’ve tried several times at other locations in the country, always thwarted by one reason or another (usually relating to them not letting me in). Here, the same thing. We arrived 2 hours before the posted closing time, only to be told they closed in a half hour. We asked if we could pay to just go in for a half hour. “No.” This is so familiar here. So many times we entered a restaurant were asked to leave because there were no free tables, literally as people were putting on coats and leaving their tables. Not like the U.S. where they will do anything to get your money. But unfortunate in this case.
We asked about the next open hours the following day and made a point of arriving in time only to find the place dark and shuttered. But as karma would have it, we were in a dark cave-like gift shop when Michelle saw that there was a marionette museum upstairs for a nominal fee. The man hobbled over to a thick wooden door with stone winding stairs into darkness. He flicked on a light and told us to enjoy ourselves and to go ahead and make our way up the 2nd set of winding stairs to the attic – that is, if we dared face the ghost, since everyone knows that in these 400+ year old homes, there are always ghosts.
This was possibly the best part of the whole adventure. There were marionettes of everything imaginable. From brides and grooms to lady bugs to bloody Stalins, St. George and the Dragon, the devil, the Seven Dwarves…you name it, it was there. There was even a puppet theatre ala Sound of Music, where you could play with some of them. And many, many puppets of leprechauns. Now if only I’d listened more carefully to my Czech language teacher back in the U.S., Blanka, because I do recall something about a leprechaun living in a pond and he was not necessarily a nice creature. Blanka, if you read this, please explain!
I had the great fortune of celebrating in Česky Krumlov an important 100-year anniversary of Czechoslovakia, the end of the rule by the Austro-Hungarian empire and election of their first president. For American rubes like myself, I should add here that no, there is no longer any such thing as Czechoslovakia. As of 1993 after the Velvet Revolution and end of Soviet rule, they are now two separate countries (Czech Rep. and Slovakia, that is). And yes, the Czech Republic lost its democracy of 1918 to Communist control and had a new first democratic president in 1993. But this is still an important date because those Hapsburgs…oy vey…story for another time. One of our last activities was eating breakfast Sunday morning, on the 100-year anniversary and watching the soldiers march by with the flag. Cannons exploding nearly gave us multiple heart-attacks, but we appreciated the joy of the moment. What a magical trip this was.