I was fully prepared to be scared out of my wits, but it was surprisingly easy to run down the steep hill and straight into the air. After that, it was a half-hour of non-stop giddiness. Being along for the ride was great, especially when the pilot started doing stalls, dives, and wing drops, but the moment when I was truly hooked was when I took the controls for a few minutes. Texas needs to sprout some fresh mountains, quick, or else I'm going to have to move somewhere else.
Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
It took me 24 hours of trains and busses to make my way here from Switzerland. Then an hour of wandering twisted medieval streets in the wrong direction because the guidebook map was inaccurate. Being here was entirely worth the whole ordeal, though. CK is listed second to Venice on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites, and with good reason. To continue the Hayao Miyazaki comparison's, Krumlov is like the mountain towns seen in the beginning of Castle In The Sky, only here the castle isn't in the sky, it's atop a hill right in the middle of town. It's a beautiful agglomeration of ancient buildings surrounding a massive chateau complex of 40-plus buildings, all tightly embraced in a winding S-curve of the Vltava (Moldau) River.
Let no one tell you that the Czech Republic is not cheap anymore....it may be more expensive than it once was, but when I can have 2.5 liters of beer, an appetizer, an entree, and an absinthe for a grand one-night total of $19, it is plenty cheap here.
The hostel I had in Krumlov is - if such a thing is possible - even more awesome than the one in Antwerp was. This one - called Krunlov House - was lovingly renovated with handbuilt furniture and staircases by a bunch of Australian backpackers, and it's quite possibly the most perfect place to stay in this town. Yes, there are stunningly beautiful posh hotels here, but if you want to live, eat and socialize like a local this is the place to be. The party people stay at Hostel 99, but the travellers with a capital T will be far happier at Krumlov House.
A few highlights:
River-rafting on the Vltava.
Walking through the stunning multi-period castle by day.
The local Eggenberg beer, from a brewery that "modernized" in the 19th century by installing steam machinery.
Horor Bar, a warren of arched cellars that may be the most perfect goth bar ever - the bartenders were both cute girls in a casual, everyday sort of goth dress, however the music was not "goth" but a variety of alternative music ranging from Iggy Pop to The Fall, and the patrons were just there for the atmosphere, not to be "blacker and lacier than thou".
Rambling conversation with a couple of local Czech guys at the self-same Horor bar.
Sneaking into the castle with one of them after dark.
The small but beautiful collection of Egon Schiele paintings at the Centrum Egon Schiele, especially his townscapes of Cesky Krumlov.
The Keith Haring exhibition at the Centrum which featured most pominently his illustration work for texts by William S. Burroughs, as opposed to the usual Haring stuff you always see everywhere, (Unfortunately, no photos were allowed or I would have photographed some of the best ones for Karin).
And now a stuffy three-hour bus ride has brought me to Prague...
I loved CK so much it's hard to imagine I'll like it here nearly as much. The hostel is very new and very modern in its design, but it doesn't have any real character. It's all style, and no "Hey, a big group from the hostel are going to see the live band at Gypsy Bar tonight". I'm sure Prague will be of massive interest anyway, but if not for this place requiring an unusual 48 hours notice for cancellations I might well have stayed in CK until the last night of my trip.
More to come.
Love and Bohemian Bonhomie,