Having never been to any part of Europe prior to this trip, the only exposure I’ve had to castles in person were with ones made of sand. Those ones sucked. But when hearing something described as a “small castle town” over in these parts, my ears perk up. That’s exactly what happened when our friends Emily and Jake suggested we look into a short side trip to Cesky Krumlov from Prague, and after some quick research we decided it was worth the 3-hour bus ride.
Cesky Krumlov has been around since the 14th century, and the castle has been the center of the town since day 1.
Interestingly, the castle – second largest in the Czech Republic behind Hradcany Castle in Prague – is surrounded by a moat that to this day still doubles as a home to brown bears. Early occupants of the castle took up bear keeping as a hobby because why not? so they could use the imposing animals to discourage potential intruders. These bad boys have been relegated to the moat since 1707. There are four bears kept in the moat these days to ward off all the intruders attract tourists closer to the castle to pay admission for tours.
These days the castle and the rest of Old Cesky Krumlov has been designated a World Heritage Site by the friendly folks at UNESCO. While it attracts plenty of visitors, it’s far from congested. The crowds are just manageable enough for the town to maintain its Bohemian charm. The heart of the city is outlined and criss-crossed by the meandering Vitava River. And it comes complete with street musicians, delicious restaurants and local watering holes serving the same cheap and delicious cold beverages we grew to love in Prague.
Because we booked this two-night side trip so last minute (a theme that rang true for much of August), we arrived without a ton of background knowledge on this little town. So we started to familiarize ourselves by doing what we do best – getting outside to aimlessly walk around exploring until we find something worth stopping at.
That something happened to be a restaurant overlooking the river which we stumbled upon just as some afternoon showers started to come down. Delicious food, another giant beer on a river with a castle in the background and an oversized umbrella overhead? Don’t mindifwedo. We capped the night off at Two Mary’s with a bohemian feast. Chicken drumsticks, Czech dumplings, sauerkraut, some veggies and a few other items we’re not sure about filled the platter and then our stomachs and day 1 was a wrap.
We kicked off day two by booking a brewery tour at Eggenberg Brewery, a local outfit that has been brewing the same beers since the 16th century. Sounded intriguing enough, but the tour took an unexpected turn as we got started. And by unexpected turn, I mean our tour guide was either high, drunk or both, and for being designated as an English tour guide, his handle on the language left a lot to be desired. Noelle was at her wit’s end early on during the tour, but I was loving every second (EDITOR’S NOTE: Seriously? I paid money for you to wander off midsentence on more than one occasion, leave us stranded in the brewery room when we stopped for photos and act as if anyone who didn’t have intimate knowledge on the brewing process already was a waste of your breath? That’s what a BREWERY TOUR GUIDE DOES, buddy.).
Imagine a Czech version of Seth Rogan, but with longer hair, not even a hint of deodorant and the awkwardness of Chris Farley from his Chris Farley Show sketches on Saturday Night Live. Now take that guy, let a week pass without showering and throw him in front of 20 English speaking tourists, and there you have it. Time for a brewery tour.
A few fun facts he shared – the building is falling apart (which he finds hilarious), he lives on the premises but only brews the beer two days a week (don’t want to infringe on his “extracurriculars”), and they brew an “employee batch” so that he and his buddies can constantly be drinking while on the job. But other than that, it was a super informative tour and totally worth the expense.
The one saving grace was that our admission tickets got us two free beers at the end in the brew pub. While enjoying our cold beers, we chatted up the couple across the table from us who we found out was from Malta.
Like we had done a handful of times before, we ended up sticking around to get to know our new friends for about an hour longer than we had planned to stay, and exchanged contact info so we now have free accommodations if/when we make it to Malta. A nice end to a confusing morning.
We chased our beers with a quick walk through the castle grounds to take in some views of the city from above, and even caught a glimpse of one of the brown bears in the moat. If you think seeing bears at the zoo can be somewhat depressing since they’re so far outside their natural habitat, imagine one that sits alone in an empty concrete moat all day for the viewing pleasure of people like yours truly. A rough way to live, but we weren’t gonna not take pictures…
Before we said farewell to this country we came to love so quickly, there was one last bit of local fare we had to try – pork knuckle.
We found a local restaurant named Krcma v Satlavske (try saying that 10 times fast) that supposedly had some of the best in town and we spent the afternoon salivating. Or at least I did. This giant crispy-skinned chunk of meat is as salty as they come, and once you get through thick layer of fat and have some of the savory meat and crispy skin, you realize that it’s some pretty tasty stuff. Pair it with some sauerkraut and a cold mug of beer and you’re scratching me right where I itch.
With full stomachs and livers begging for a break, we rose before sunshine the next day to begin the trek south to coastal Croatia.