There had been noise late last night and early into the morning, and then again from very early this morning. Somehow the sounds from the square just carried into our room, bounced around by the stone buildings. Last night it was the sound of “revellers”, some very drunk, others just in high spirits, and the sounds of glass breaking or falling. This morning, early, before any cars, it was a Chinese or Japanese tour group, yabbering away. At breakfast there were lots of retired Americans.
We crossed Náměsti Svornosti, the main square, with its ornate plague column and a little fountain or drinking well, and went into tourist information. Very helpful and totally geared up for visitors. They even had audio-guides for a self-guided walking tour of the town, so we opted for two of these and spent most of the day strolling around with these, listening to the commentary at each stop – and there were many, forty or fifty! We started at the Náměsti Svornosti and plonked on a bench in the square as we listened to the history of the town, descriptions of the various buildings and some features. Many commentaries were interspersed with little anecdotes, local folklore, ghost stories and “urban myths” which lifted the narrative off the page, even if the narrator was a little dull-monotoned.
Before we left the main square we stopped to watch several weddings in progress. Couples and their entourage came to the town hall, some keeping it simple, others going for more elaborate proceedings with musicians and film crew. The Japanese couldn’t resist this and tried to get pictures of themselves with the bride and groom, and the effect was very comical. From here the tour took us up and down Horní, the narrow cobbled main street along the centre of the “neck” (best refer to a town centre map!), with some beautiful sgraffitoed buildings, such as the former sixteenth century Jesuit college, now a luxury hotel, and others. There was a perfect viewing platform over the river and towards the castle. This was where the wedding parties caught up with us for their perfect pictures of their perfect day.
The route then took us back down and into the church of sv Vít, which rose vertically above the ramshackle rooftops, with more stones and histories of the Rožmberks, among them Vílem of Rožmberk the most illustrious one. “Gabriel de Blonde” was another name that kept coming up. He was a Dutch/Flemish artist who had carried out many of the building decorations. Anyway, we pleasantly carried on following the route between the narrow and picturesque streets, following the curving wide cobbled street which led round towards a wooden bridge at the northern end of the staré město. Here we made a stop for a coffee and I had a disappointing “sausage salad”, and then we crossed the bridge, with kayakers going along the fast-flowing Vltava, and into the other part of town, Latrán, the bit with the castle on the rocks higher up.
Along the way we had a few more audio-guide stories and commentaries on the decorative houses, besides the ubiquitous tourist-tat shops. The castle took us a bit by surprise as we had only paid attention to the tower so far and I had assumed that the town houses continued along the ridge of the rocky hill, but in fact the whole thing was part of the castle, an elongated affair that stretched all the way up the rocky ridge and culminated in formal castle gardens with theatre at the very top.
In between, the castle consisted of five separate courtyards in different styles and sizes. At the first one there was a “moat” around the next part of the castle, with two big brown bears. At the next courtyard we could go up the ornate castle tower. It was crowded at the top and I made my excuses and disappeared back down, not feeling very comfortable at the top. We continued through the next two courtyards, which were much smaller and inside the castle proper, but we didn’t go into the castle itself and preferred to just walk through to the other side where we stood on the arched bridge. This was another spectacular spot, a three-storey high narrow cobbled bridge, with the enclosed top storey, above us, which enabled castle guests to proceed in privacy and comfort to the theatre which lay at the other end.
This brought us to the fifth and final courtyard from where we walked on towards the castle gardens and the Zámecké divadlo, the Rococo theatre, which lay a little higher still. At various points we had splendid views looking over the picturesque town centre. We made our way back and first dropped off our audio-guides at tourist information, not getting charged for the extra time over the limit of three hours, and bought some Czech music CD’s, to add to the folkloristic music collection! By the river, by the wooden bridge from last night, we now went for a beer and some cheese at a café by a watermill channel, another picturesque spot, with the steep rocks topped by the castle opposite us. We returned to the hotel.
In the evening we had quite a full-on night out. Most of the time it’s just been a quiet meal and then back, but tonight we ended up staying out quite late, until 2am! Not planned, we were just in the mood. We started with dinner at a small restaurant with a convivial mood, young backpacker-types as well as “normal” tourists, and tasty Czech Bohemian fare. Our Aussie friends strolled by and one poked his head in to enquire whether there would be gypsy music here later on.
Following dinner we strolled around the little streets. Because of the layout you never strayed far from the main square, and we found another cosy bar with a cellar-like curved ceiling and a Uruguayan-style fire/barbecue on the go. It was already late by now but after a couple of coffees and slivovices/becherovkas we were still in the mood, and also somewhat intrigued to try a bit of the local loopy juice, absinth, which I had always thought was a French drink but which is in fact Czech.
Anyhow, rather than head for our hotel we couldn’t resist a quick visit to swanky(ish) cocktail bar La Bohème. I had an excellent absinth mojito, Ness had a less impressive strawberry thing. And finally we tried out the Travellers Hostel, passing the lively studenty bar from which music and revelry emanated. By far the most lively place and a big contrast to all the tourist places. We somehow felt “entitled” to be here – after all, we’re travellers now, real ones and no longer “green”, and it was also a reminder of the Asian and South American backpackers scene. We plonked at one of the tables, the music was lively and people were dancing. We both felt at ease and in a familiar environment, whilst at the same time aware that this was basically a student/gap-year scene, which we have left behind (many) years ago. Still, we had several beers, and played cards. It was just like being in a student bar from that point of view. Then we finally toddled back and crashed out.