Archive for May 2nd, 2012

Slavonice, Telc, Strmilov, Jindrichuv Hradec

Word count: 0 Step count: 9266

Awake 7:00. Very nice breakfast provided by hotel, table service with choice of Continental, British, American, French, and “Fitness” (muesli, yogurt, corn flakes, fruit). “Butter is ‘maslo’ and cream is ‘smetana’. What’s yogurt, ‘nietzsche’?” “Yogurt is ‘yogurt’ in every language. It’s a loan-food.” Huge disparity in size between teaspoons and tablespoons (all over Europe, but really noticeable here).

The overall flavor of Czech is not that dissimilar to German. I keep feeling at some level that if I just listened harder it would start to make sense.

Met Monika at 9:00; she presented us with a couple of prune kolachky (Danish), which were delicious. Drove off through pretty country on another gorgeous sunny day; stopped briefly for pix of a gorgeous castle over a river valley. Passed many lovely small villages and a line of bunkers built in the 1930s to defend against the Germans and/or Austrians — they were state-of-the-art and might have held, but the area was ceded to Hitler without a shot being fired.

Stopped in Slavonice, a Renaissance town with Baroque facades on all the buildings (a local noble had his castle re-done by an Italian architect and everyone with money in the region decided to copy him). The facades tend to be quite flat, with black-and-white graphics depicting either the facade of a much fancier building or biblical/mythological scenes (in one case, Genesis verses linked to the New Testament). Inside the tourist info office you can see some of the original wall frescoes. Passed Dacice, with not just one but three statues honoring the sugar cube, which was invented here (this is beet country, though due to EU regulations there is today no sugar production here). Saw maypoles in each town square we passed, each looking like a Christmas tree on a stick.

Came next to Telc, another Renaissance town, this one with porticoes like Bologna, and visited the castle there. It had an interesting little rococo sepulchral chapel, and many fairy-tale movies have been filmed here. Did a little shopping in downtown Telc; Kate bought an amber bracelet and earrings. We also looked at garnets (“Granat” in Czech) — Czech garnets are small, that and their color explains the name, which is clearly related to “pomegranate.”

For lunch, according to Google Translate, we had pizza with ketchup, floodplain, and ermine. No idea what the last two were in reality, but the tomato sauce was indeed very much like ketchup… pretty good though. (Later: niva (floodplain) and hermelin (ermine) are both cheeses.) I keep seeing the word “potreby” (necessities, gear, supplies) on signs and being reminded of “Potrzebie” (non-word from Mad Magazine). It turns out the words are, in fact, related (see Wikipedia for details).

Drove to Strmilov, an otherwise-unremarkable town which is the home of the only remaining weaving mill in the Czech Republic. Kate learned of its existence from someone’s blog and asked Monika to set up a tour. It’s a family-run mill with only 4 employees and equipment from the 1930s. We got a tour from Dad (5th generation) and son Philip (6th generation), all in Czech with Monika translating. Many of the Czech spinning and weaving terms were unfamiliar to her, but from context we could tell her the English terms. It was very similar to Pendleton and other mills we have visited, but smaller and a lot more old-fashioned. Also they roast their own coffee. We bought a lovely blanket for 980 CKR ($50).

As we drove to Jindrichuv Hradec, the largest town we’ve seen since Vienna, a light drizzle began to fall. Our hotel, “Penzion Na 15. poledniku” (“Pension at 15 degrees,” named for the latitude line a few dozen meters away) is a smallish guest house, our room tucked under the eaves on the 2nd (US 3rd) floor, with a great view of the church. We spotted a stork in a nest atop a chimney nearby.

TripAdvisor and other websites were very little help in locating food nearby, and there was not a lot of foot traffic downtown. One hotel restaurant looked good but was full with a Chinese tour group. We didn’t want pizza or Chinese. We finally found the White Lady hotel restaurant, which looked good. As seems to be fairly typical in these tourist towns, the waiter had a smattering of German and English (mostly German) and the menu was multilingual (Czech, German, English). Appetizer: potato pancakes with smoked meat inside, nummy. Main course: I ordered the “Devil’s Bite,” which was described as pork with spicy peppers wrapped in a potato pancake and served with shredded cabbage. What arrived was pork and mushrooms in a (curry?) cream sauce with caraway seeds, no potato, no vegetable. Perhaps I would have been better off if I had not tried to order in Czech? Weirdly, when we looked at the menu again (thinking it might be the thing next to what I’d pointed to) we could not identify anything on the menu that might have been what I got. It was tasty though, I’m satisfied, and dinner for two cost only 350 crowns ($17). Hey, what would be the point of travel if it didn’t include a few surprises? The whole production did take quite a while, we didn’t get back to the room until 9:00.

Welcome to the Czech Republic!

Word count: 0 Step count: 11,188

Awake 7:00. Yogurt for breakfast, finished packing, cleaned up apartment, whipped out a quick blog post (no time for photos though), locked up, downstairs right at 9:00 just as our Czech guide Monika (and Peter the driver) showed up.

Some adventures getting out of town through May Day parades and associated traffic. Passed Hundertwasser’s incinerator on the way out of town. Many windmills (of the modern, power-generating variety) and cute little dorfs in the Austrian countryside. Tchaikovsky and Strauss on the CD player, later pop (but NOT American pop for a change, unless you count a heavily-accented “Girl from Ipanema”). Czech border had a structure but no staff, we drove right through.

This is Lichtenstein country; the same wealthy family that now owns the country of that name originated and made their fortune here, largely by sucking up to the Habsburgs (and by being cunning financiers). First stop was a Lichtenstein colonnade with a view of the countryside below. This whole area was known as The Garden of Europe, lovingly managed by Lichtenstein gardeners since the 1300s and a major horticultural school. It was a Lichtenstein hunting range between the summer and winter palaces.

We then visited both palaces, one in the town of Valtice, the other in Lednice (on its own extensive grounds). At the former I entered the bathroom and was asked by the lady in the booth for 5 crowns (25c). The smallest thing I had was a 100-crown bill ($5) and she could not deal with it. Fortunately Monika (on the other side of the same booth!) could cover for me.

Our visit to the summer palace in Lednice began with the Baroque (!) stables, which were not kept up well by the Communists (who seized all the nobles’ property in 1945), then proceeded to the main house, in “English Gothic” style (looking rather like my college campus except that it was uniformly stuccoed in an unfortunate golden/peach color). We also saw the extensive gardens, greenhouse, decorative Oriental outbuilding, 19th-century faux Roman aqueduct, and faux Moorish minaret, and happened on a couple of very large birds (one a golden eagle) and a mob of about 20 very large dogs (Irish wolfhounds).

Lunch at “My Restaurant” (associated with “My Hotel” which seems to be a chain). With the help of an English menu, managed to order salad with grilled goat cheese, lamb with spinach, veal with peas and carrots; a little heavy (this will be par for the course, I think) but good. Standard operating procedure here seems to be that after you order you receive a plate with your napkins, forks, and knives. We had no idea how to tip until Monika appeared and told us it’s 5-7%.

After lunch we proceeded to Mikulov, a delightful old town with medieval and Renaissance elements, where we visited the castle and the old Jewish quarter and stopped for ice cream. All so very picturesque! I took over 200 photos and couldn’t bear to cut them down to less than 20 (below). It was a very sunny and warm day, but with a nice breeze that kept it from getting too hot. These little hill towns are reminiscent of our time in rural France.

In Znojmo (pronounced “znoymo”) we took an underground tour of the extensive crypts that were carved out under the town beginning in the middle ages, used for food storage and retreat from invaders. Today they are basically completely empty, so the tour has dressed up some rooms with skeletons, giant papier-mache bats, etc. Interesting combination of genuine historical interest with cheap tacky tourist trap.

After returning to the surface, we walked through mostly empty streets (due to the May Day holiday) up to St. Catherine’s Rotunda, a fortress and chapel dating from the 900s, with a fabulous view of the town (including unique town hall tower and two picturesque churches) and the river valley below. Then to our hotel, Althansky Palace, which shows every sign of having been an actual palace in the last century — a lovely hotel, with wifi and everything. Monika checked us in and then said goodbye until 9:00 tomorrow. I think we have enough Czech to get us through until then. Monika and Peter keep carrying our bags for us… I feel kind of weird about that.

Had a bit of a lie-down, then looked into dinner. TripAdvisor and others recommended Na Vecnosti, a vegetarian(!) restaurant nearby (the “(!)” is because Znojmo is not a large town by any means). We found it and it was open (despite the holiday — which, come to think of it, explains the shortage of staff we’ve been seeing). English menu, German-speaking waiter, our minimal Czech, it all worked out… though it took a while to figure out that the “special menu” card was not a set menu of five courses but the daily specials for the five weekdays. Anyway, we had an “Arab salad,” halubky (Czech gnocchi) with cheese and fried onions, and a couscous dish with tofu, stewed plums, and cashews. All quite tasty, though even at a vegetarian restaurant the side dishes on offer were all potatoes, bread, and rice with not a green vegetable in sight. Also, for future reference, one cider for the two of us would have sufficed.