Unchecked in the Czech Republic

I know, enough already with the alliterations.P1150918

After three days of nursing a gimpy knee (see previous post, dates May 28, for backstory), I was ready to hike. For the next two days we hiked through thick, dark forests, alongside agate-blue lakes and golden fields of blooming rapeseed, under clear skies dotted with puffy clouds. This is not a wild, dramatic landscape of wilderness and steep mountains and gorges, but a peaceful, deeply soothing countryside of vineyards, farms, and gently rolling hills.P1160146P1160024P1150931P1150949P1150951P1150975P1160018P1160020P1160142The peacefulness of the area belies its history as a border region rife with tension, conflict and intrigue. As a small country, Czech has avoided direct conflict with larger, more powerful and aggressive countries like Germany and Russia but was occupied by both, one after the other, for almost 50 years. Before that it was ongoing conflict with Austria as they fought over the border between the two countries. This history, coupled with the ongoing competition between the dukes for control of land, led to palace intrigue, conflict, assassination and an unfortunate history of ethnic persecution.

We got a look at some of this history up close . On day 4 the trail followed a line of bunkers near the border with Austria which were built to help defend the country against the Nazis. After British Prime Minister Chamberlain and other European powers abandoned the Czechs in Munich in 1938, they withdrew from the region rather than get wiped out by the Germans, and the bunkers were never used in actual battle.P1160006The dark history did not detract from our enjoyment, but only added complexity and context to our quiet, serene hikes in almost perfect solitude.

On the third and fourth days, the first days of hiking for me, we hiked for 3-4 miles in the morning on mostly flat trails, ending in a short climb to a castle on a hill. Before diving into a picnic spread of cheese, meat, salad, chips, beer, bread, fruit, and cake, we would climb up the castle tower for 360 degree views of the duke’s domain.P1150934P1150948P1150938P1160001P1150978P1150979P1150982P1150991P1150998After lunch we would hike another 3-4 miles to a village (first Telc, then Trebon), straight from a post card, of medieval squares lined with houses dating back centuries. The houses displayed classic renaissance architecture and graffito, which are decorative etchings and drawings on the houses commissioned by the original owners, not graffiti and way more artistic than the crap tagged on walls in my Venice Beach neighborhood.

The villages are so picture perfect they could be attractions in Disney Land or a set for a Czech remake of the Sound of Music.

The most picture perfect village of all was the UNESCO World Heritage site of Cesky (pronounced Chesky) Krumlove (pronounced Krumlove), the locale for days 5 and 6 of our trip. More a town than a village, Cesky Krumlove is the second most popular tourist destination in the Czech Republic after Prague. What makes the town so picturesque are the huge castle complex and cathedral on a hill in the middle of the town and a fast flowing river that goosenecks around it through the town, affording views of the castle complex and cathedral from the river banks and views of the scenic river from the hill.P1160115P1160113P1160112P1160099P1160098P1160093P1160090P1160077P1160075P1160061P1160058P1160053P1160051P1160137One of the highlights of our almost 2 days in Cesky Krumlove was a visit to the beautifully restored Baroque Theater on the grounds of the castle, one of only two in the world with most of its original sets, props, and wardrobes.

Our hiking trip ended on day 7 with a demanding 3 hour, 7.5 mile hike to the well-preserved traditional village of Holasovice. The first few miles involved a steep climb up a forest trail, then a steep descent to the end. My knee did OK on both sections – as did my other knee (the “good” one?), my lungs and most of my other body parts.P1160150P1160166(from left to right at the end of our hike, Tomas, Katherine, Stan, Madeline, and the Adventure Geezer. In case you’re curious there is Czech bubbly in those cups.)

Thanks to good advice from my doctor, the flexibility of the REI Adventures itinerary, the competence and the not-too-solicitous attention of our guide, Tomas, and the the miracle of modern medicine, prescription and over-the-counter, the potential disaster turned into a great trip and my knee has held up for several days of walking through Prague and Budapest (coming soon to this blog).

But I’m going to get that knee operation anyway. It’s not going to be fun, but I’m glad I have the option.

(Note 1 – we were hosted on this trip by REI Adventures)

(Note 2 – in true blogger fashion, I am writing this post several days later from Budapest in a spacious, modern apartment in the Adina Apartment Hotel in a section of Budapest similar to the upper west side of Manhattan. I’ll be posting about Budapest as soon as I catch up. My next post will be about our four days in Prague).

(Note 3 — I will add a special post on recommended hotels and restaurants for the entire trip, from Vienna to Budapest, after I catch up)

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