After a slow start we left Vienna around noon. Eddie had been parked in the Heiligenkreuzerhof next door and was loaded up. We managed our way through Vienna’s streets, across the side arm of the Danube, turning left and along the north side of the Donaukanal, passing through some smart areas away from the immediate centre, with examples of more modern urban architecture and offices, and then out into the Austrian countryside.
The land was agricultural, green and pleasant, rather flat but with undulating hills further off. This area is the weinviertel, the “wine farthing”. As we headed north we climbed onto a region of higher land, commanding good views back towards the south over the open land. We stopped for a break and lunch at a gasthof, a large tidy quiet place with a panoramic terrace at the back, but we concurred with the waitress that it was too windy out there. It felt as is the winds blew across the plain and then buffeted into the hills as they rise up them, or that’s what we figured. We had a very tasty small dish of goulasch. An elderly couple sat at the table next to us and wordlessly ate their soup and read the paper.
This was the other side of Austria, far removed from the Viennese cafés and smart suits. Still smart and well to-do but in a quiet country fashion. We passed through some tiny villages with signs here and there for heurigen, the typical Austrian wine bars, usually basic family-run affairs. Across the border and into Czechia.
What a contrast. Due to a bit of misnavigation on my part, we ended up on a tiny little road through Czech border villages and countryside. At the time we were certain that this was the major road and we found it stunning how in the distance of a couple of kilometres we had moved from the fast west to the undeveloped east. We crawled along the little road which took us off the beaten track into the relatively forgotten world of tractors, ramshackle farm buildings, sleeping dogs, fields. Big oak trees lined the curving road, and we also passed through extensive forests, lovely peaceful scenery, as well as lumber villages with knackered Soviet-era lumber stations and paper mills.
Eventually we rejoined a main road, having done a detour along these little roads, and were on the right way to Český Krumlov, our first destination in Czechia. We entered tiny Český Krumlov and it was soon clear what a “chocolate box” picturesque, as well as intensely touristic, place this was. We had called ahead to book a hotel and made our way across a narrow stone bridge into the staré město, the old town centre, to the Náměsti Svornosti, the main square where our hotel was, the wonderfully named Zlatý Anděl (“Golden Angel”). We could not have picked a better spot, right on the main square. We checked in and Eddie was parked at a garage a short distance away. Český Krumlov is a tiny town, with the main part of town on the lower part around which the river snakes, and with the ornate palace stretched across the high rocks on the opposite side of the river.
Rough Guide describes it better: “Rose-brown houses tumble down steep slopes to the blue-green river below, creating a magical effect whose beauty has barely changed in the last three hundred years … The old town is divided into two separate quarters by the twisting snake of the river Vltava: the circular staré město on the right bank and the Latrán quarter on the hillier left bank.” Anyway, from our room we had a superb view over the square, the town centre and the elaborate sgraffito’d castle tower.
We headed over to tourist information on the main square and then, as it was by now late afternoon/early evening, went to a café on a street just off the main square, at our hotel’s corner. The streets meandered around, narrow little cobbled streets in a layout governed by the river and the small amount of land available. Many tourists. In fact, apart from the owners of the many shops geared towards tourists, the population seemed to consist exclusively of tourists, from groups of Germans, Americans and Japanese to younger backpackers. We found a convivial little café/bar, sat on the terrace in front of the highly decorated house, with red flowers, sgraffito or some other decoration. Český Krumlov’s houses, from the small modest ones to the grand merchant houses, are highly decorated in various sgraffito styles, frescoes and all sorts of other renaissance styles and flourishes. This was a result of the patronage of the ruling Rožmberk (“Rozenberg”) family, whose offspring brought Italian craftsmen and architects with them.
For now we were happy to just enjoy the view from where we sat, had a beer or two, and played a game of cards. Across the road was a welcoming and very traditional looking Czech eatery with the main room a wood-panelled bar, and we were lucky to get a table. It was full of wood, wooden wall panels, old plaques and adverts spread across the walls and, apart from some genuine Czech customers, felt like a convivial traditional “noshery.” All that was missing was some decent foul weather outside to make it complete. We had a halting conversation with a foursome of older Aussies at the table next to us, and tucked into our Bohemian food.
After the meal we strolled around some of Český Krumlov’s streets, down towards one of the bridges across the Vltava, where we saw the Aussies again – they were trying to find a place with gypsy music. We stood on the bridge for a few minutes, with the fast-flowing river below us. We saw some late night kayakers and rafters – it looked like fun – as they navigated in the dark, and over one of the weirs in the river. Then we continued back into the streets around the main square and we stopped at another café, with a tiny wooden decking “terrace”, just big enough for a little table for two, where we had a coffee and schnapps (slivovice? becherovka?) and another game of cards. By now the streets were pretty quiet, just the occasional tourist or backpacker. Back to our hotel, we climbed the steep flights of stairs and headed for bed!