Wednesday, November 21, 2018

in which Cecilia finds a real "tebby" bear {The Great European Road Trip Day 3: Konopiště Castle and Český Krumlov, Czech Republic to Vienna, Austria}

Day 1
Day 2

there's nothing quite like waking up to see a place by daylight which you could previously only see by the wan light of a phone flashlight. the power had come back on for good at some point in the middle of the night. our apartments at the guesthouse in Kasanice were somehow both snug and spacious, despite the creaking wooden floors which had Greta convinced that we were going to plummet through them at any moment. we peeked out the window to see chickens and roosters, and made our way downstairs to find a traditional Czech breakfast laid out for us. i picked up a 2 liter bottle with a mango juice label on it to pour some for Greta when Chris informed me that it was actually fresh milk from the farm's cow! in addition to the traditional cold cuts, the owner's wife had cooked up traditional savory pancakes with marmalade. they were very good! we weren't quite as thrilled by the instant coffee (we all thought longingly of that vat at the Eichstätt Abbey while stirring the granules into hot water), but coffee is coffee.

as we were packing up the van, the owner's wife took the girls to see the sheep in the meadow across the stream, much to their delight. and then we bid our adieus and were on our way!

the Czech countryside is absolutely beautiful. this area used to belong to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and we were driving through the western part of the country which is still considered Bohemia.

just a random castle by the side of the road

our first stop was the stunning Konopiště Castle, which belonged to Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg. as you may recall from your history class, their assassination in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, set into motion the events that would cause World War I.

peacocks crossing the road leading up to the castle!

the castle itself dates back to the thirteenth century, and it was occupied by several different families (including a period of occupation by the Swedes in the 1600s). in 1887, Archduke Franz Ferdinand purchased the castle and preferred to live there rather than in the official imperial residence in Vienna.

looking out over the lake

interior of the castle courtyard

our tour guide was a jovial fellow named Tony, who was born here but lived in the States for years before moving back here. he was a wealth of information and he was great with the girls (giving clear instructions about what they could and could not touch, then grinning at Cece whenever she came close). photographs are not permitted inside the castle, but he made an exception for us as we were walking down the long halls lined with Franz Ferdinand's hunting trophies. these include three tigers, numerous eagles, countless deer, a bison, and other animals from all over the world. Cecilia spotted a baby bear at the end of the hall and sprinted for it, shouting "tebby bear! tebby bear!" Tony let her touch its paw and pose for a picture. yes, i have conflicting feelings about my baby posing with a stuffed baby bear that has been made up to look snarling and fierce, but in the moment, i was just grateful the girls weren't throwing themselves on the ground.

photo credit: Angel

photo credit: Angel

photo credit: Angel

we then continued on to the rest of the castle, including the formal sitting room, dining room, bedroom, and then the most impressive room of all: the armory. this huge rooms contains suits of armor (including a set of chain mail in a child's size, for play), guns, knives and other weapons, including a pistol that belonged to Napoleon. the castle museum has the exact bullet that killed Franz Ferdinand, although we didn't have time to visit the museum.

just before exiting the castle we spotted the original elevator, which was powered by water pistons. the elevator was furnished with an ornate Victorian couch. now that's traveling in style!

with many thanks to Tony, we headed out into the courtyard and around the castle, passing an enclosure with an actual bear.

cutest little train that runs around the castle grounds
up next, a two hour drive south to the Czech town of Český Krumlov. the historic center of the town is deemed a UNESCO World Heritage sight. this charming little town was definitely one of the highlights of the trip! we had booked a tour of the castle here as well. 

true to form, we pulled into the parking lot just as the tour was supposed to begin. in our timing calculations, we sort of forgot to account for the inevitable 5-10 minutes (at least!) that it takes to find where to park, how to get to the ticket office, and use the bathroom. so Father Aron and Angel leapt out of the van as soon as we parked and charged up the hill to the castle to hold our spots for the tour while we got the girls situated (diaper bag, Ergo, stroller, snacks, socks and shoes for one particular toddler who always managed to take them off the minute before we arrived somewhere). 

it's just impossible to keep walking in beast-mode when you come across a view like this! the castle and town date from 1253, at which time they were referred to as Chrumbenowe (from the Middle High German krumbe ouwe, meaning "crooked meadow" since the river makes a bend here). the first use of the word Krumlov is documented in 1259.

we finally managed to find our way up to the castle entrance and meet up with Father and Angel. we were to join up with the tour inside the Baroque theater, which is one of only two surviving theaters in the world. to get there, we walked along the wall we had previously gone under (see the first picture above of our group walking with the stroller). and we were rewarded with even more stunning views:

the tour guide took us inside the theater building. again, we were not allowed to take photos inside, but thanks to Wikipedia i can show you a little of what we saw. the theater was built in 1680-1682 and then renovated in 1765. it still uses all the original stage machinery, scenery and props. the scenes are painted using illusions of perspective so that the stage appears much deeper than it really is -- creating a more impressive experience for the audience, but forcing the actors to modify their movements so as not to misjudge their actual place on the floor. underneath the stage, you can see all the wooden winches and ropes used for scenery changes and special effects (such as lowering actors through trapdoors). 

photo credit here
twice a year, the theater is still used to stage productions using the original costumes and musicians playing period instruments (with music stands illuminated by candles). as part of the tour, we watched a video that showed some highlights of these performances. it's truly fascinating! 

the girls by this point were completely over tours of any sort. taking a leisurely walk around the town was exactly what we all needed. but first, of course we needed to have a little photo shoot on the (very windy) walkway overlooking the city! 

the wind was out of control! Carly had the right idea with her topknot

photo credit: Angel

photo credit: Angel (thanks for capturing that orb, friend!)
we wandered around the castle grounds a bit. the castle's last owner was a member of the Schwarzenburg family, the same family who commissioned the building of the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora. the castle was seized by Nazis during World War II and then reclaimed by the Czech government in 1947. 

photo credit: Angel

photo credit: Angel

photo credit: Angel

Rylee has some serious photog skills!

then we had an absolutely delightful ramble through the old town itself. the town was settled predominantly by German-speaking Austrians and Bavarians in the fourteenth century, with a minority of Jews and Czechs comprising the remainder of the population. gold was discovered here in the fifteenth century, and the town flourished. in fact, the town became the property of the Habsburg emperor Rudolf the II in the early 1600s. the town passed from the Habsburgs to the noble House of Eggenberg in 1620. Eggenberg Brewery is still located in the town (although we didn't have a chance to try its libations!). 

we had to try the traditional Czech chimney cake -- a sweet bread baked in the shape of a hollow cylinder. Greta had vanilla cake with vanilla cream, while Rylee tried the cinnamon version. delicious!

we continued across the bridge, passing this statue of Saint John of Nepomuk. i had never heard of him, but Father recognized him immediately. he was the confessor of the queen of Bohemia. when Wenceslaus, King of Bohemia, asked him what his wife had confessed, Saint John refused to tell him. King Wenceslaus therefore had him drowned in the Vltava River (above which this bridge stands). Saint John of Nepomuk is considered the first martyr of the Seal of the Confessional, and is a patron against floods and drowning. 

also, every town has one of these troubadours

we couldn't help but have another little photo shoot on the bridge. and as we snapped away, i realized a bride and groom were having their own photo shoot on a little peninsula in the river! what a setting.

so gorgeous!

photo credit: Angel
we crossed the main square and went into St. Vitus Church, a beautiful Gothic structure which was consecrated in 1439.

most unique holy water "font" i've ever seen

reluctantly, we made our way back to the van. we had a three-hour drive to Vienna ahead of us!

goodbye, Český Krumlov

we crossed the border into Austria without fanfare. rather than paying a toll at the border, the Central European countries have a system where you buy a registration sticker at a gas station near the border that is valid for each country you visit. it's essentially an honor system: there's no specific checkpoint to make sure you have a sticker, but if the police pull you over for some reason and discover that you don't have the appropriate sticker, you'll be fined. we accumulated quite a few of these windshield stickers during our travels and never once had to show them to anyone, but better safe than sorry!

we arrived at Benediktushaus, the guesthouse of the Schottenstift monastery in Vienna, and then walked through the town to arrive at the restaurant we'd booked for dinner. after the quaint medieval town of Český Krumlov, the streets of Vienna seemed impossibly wide.

first glimpse of the Basilica of St. Stephen
dinner at the restauranPürstner did not disappoint. this restaurant specializes in traditional Austrian dishes. Nick ordered a wienerschnitzel the size of a small child, while i had pork medallions with spinach spaetzle in a blue cheese sauce, all washed down with excellent beer. i ordered a pork chop with vegetables and french fries for the girls to share, and the waiter wrapped up their leftovers in a foil swan! Greta in particular was starstruck. 

we felt like we were in Franz Ferdinand's castle all over again

Italy has all kinds of stinky cheese, but blue cheese is not one of them! i was in heaven!

creepy mannequin holding the sheet with the daily specials on it

we walked back to the hotel, spending a little more time admiring St. Stephen's. the church was founded in 1137 (!). the main doorway is called the Giant's Door, named for the thighbone of a mastodon that was placed over the doorway after being discovered in the ground nearby in 1443. the roof is famous for its mosaic with the double-headed eagle, the symbol of the Habsburg empire. the cathedral has twenty-three bells, including the largest bell in Austria (weighing in at 44,380 lb). it was while watching these very bells that Beethoven realized how profoundly deaf he was: he could see the birds flying out of the belfry to escape the sound as they tolled, but could not hear the bells himself. 

statues, fountains, and haute couture

just happened to spot this house where Hans Christian Andersen lived! 
then it was time for bed. the next day would take us across the border yet again, this time into Hungary!