Castles, Beer and Music

We’ve returned from a nice weekend around the Czech Republic. On the way we toured the Hops Museum in Zatec (pronounced zha•tets). In case you don’t know, hops is one of the main ingredients for beer. This town makes the top hops (haaa) in the world. They make them into hop pellets and ship them all over the world. This phenom is known as Zatecky Chmel. Afterward we went to lunch and Cameron and Carson sat at an all boys table with Dennis’ students.

I'll Drink To That


All Boys Table


Then we went by the Plzen brewery where Pilsner Beer first came and was named for the town. When pilsner beers first began to get a great reputation, many places tried to imitate the beer, so the brewery in Plzen named their beer Pilsner Urquell which means “original source”. Then no one could copy them. Interesting fact: Czechs drink more beer per capita that any country in the world. Germany is a distant second. Czechs are very proud of this dubious honor. As a result though, they have pretty strict drinking and driving laws too.

Unpasteurized Beer, Plzen


Brewery Tour, Plzen



Our final stop of the day, and where we would spend the next two nights was Cesky Krumlov (pronounced “ches•key    croom•luv”). This was our 3rd trip there out of 5 years coming to Prague. Krumlov, for short, is a lovely small town in the southern Czech Republic with the Vltava River zigzagging through the middle of it. Incidentally, the Vltava is the same river that runs through Prague. Its stunning castle, built upon the rock/mountain above the town, looks down over the town. The town has the feel of a teeny, tiny Venice. It has become quite the tourist spot especially at this time of year.

Krumlov Bird's Eye

Cesky Krumlov at Dusk


Dennis' Students Walking Through Cesky Krumlov

Every year we tour the castle in Krumlov and every year we love it. The entire castle has over 300 rooms, but we only saw about 20. They had bedrooms galore. Ones that they slept in usually, and ones that they used when they had “company”, wink, wink nudge, nudge. It is, hands down, one of the best preserved castles from the Baroque period in existence in the world. One of the reasons it is still in existence, our guide told us, is that the Nazis, during WW II, felt like this area of Europe was part of their German history, so they were not so destructive here. The castle has been owned by several different families over the centuries. It was known as the House of Rozenberg in the 1300’s, then Emporor Rudolph II owned it in the 1600’s. His son, Emperor Ferdinand II inherited it and later gave it to the Eggenberg’s  who had it until the 1700’s. Then it became The House of Schwarzenberg until 1945. Note: the kids loved the Schwarzenberg family shield. It has a raven pecking out the eye of a Turk. This was  because Schwarzenberg himself had battled the Turks and won. He then put the head of a Turk on the end of his sword (nice) as he rode through the carnage. A raven landed on the head and began to peck the eye out of the Turk’s head, or at least that’s how the legend goes, giving him the idea to add it to his family shield.

Raven On Turk

When the Czech Republic was given to the communists after WWII, the town was pretty much ignored which was also good because some of the older restoration processes would have done more damage than good in actually preserving the castle.

3 Darlings At Cesky Krumlov Castle


Darling Boy Bikers

One of the most marvelous Krumlov Castle sights was the theater. It was designed just like the Viennese ones of the day, but this one, built as a gift, was only used a couple of times and then left to sit. This turns out to be a blessing because well-used theaters of the day usually burned down. Why? In an effort to magically make scene changes without notice to the audience, they regularly set off fireworks inside these theaters to distract the viewers and maintain their suspension of disbelief. Needless to say, there are few theaters in existence from this time period since indoor fireworks is as dangerous as it sounds. In the event of a fire many of the patrons were killed, not good for business you could say. This theater was about 60 meters deep, but with a perspective that made it look far, far deeper. Midgets or children riding miniature horses pulling carriages across the very back of the stage appeared as adults. The performers/actors were set at the very front edge of the stage so they didn’t look like giants. It had side balcony box seating, but the most impressive was the box at the back of the room for the Lord of the manor. It had curtains for privacy in the event he wanted a more “intimate” type of entertainment. He could also come and go from the performance from his box seat which was a must since these opera performances would typically last 6 to 8 hours.

Cesky Krumlov Castle Theater

We also went white water rafting, and I use the term very loosely as the river moves quite slow, down the Vltava right through town. We first did this last year and almost went down the wrong shoot at one point which not have been good. It was not marked at all which shoot out of three rafters should go down. This year the signage on the river is much better and they clearly block off the ways they don’t want you to go. We had a successful and fun ride. It was cooler this year, so the only one who went in the water was Carson who doesn’t mind a brisk dip. There was a couple of drunk Czech guys who came out of who knows where and jumped into the raft of a group of our students. One stood with his foot on the bow like George Washington motioning ahead with one arm. It was pretty funny. The other guy was a bit more obnoxious and tried to throw one of the students overboard. We all watched in stunned confusion trying to decide what to do. Finally he slipped off the boat and we all paddled as quickly as we could to get some distance from that group.

Oh here’s a treat. We really love to eat these cinnamon sugar pastries here in the Czech Republic too. We ate a lot of them in Cesky Krumlov, but they’re typically Czech pastries.. They’re called Trdelnik (pronounced trrr•del•neek). They are hollow bready things rolled ion cinnamon sugar. Here they are bring made:

Trdelnik Delight

The next day we made a pass by a castle called Hluboka (pronounced hlu•bo•kah, the Czechs pronounce every single letter in a word). Hluboka Chateau is regarded as one of the most beautiful stately homes in Bohemia. It is a monumental Romantic chateau – originally a Gothic castle – remodeled in the Baroque style in 18th century. Later it underwent a significant transformation in the 19th century when it was transformed into the English Windsor-style Gothic and became the official seat of the Schwarzenberg dynasty. Recognize the name? Think raven pecking out the eye of a Turk. Yep. The Schwarzenberg family also owned Cesky Krumlov castle for a while remember, but they never really got attached to Krumlov Castle, probably since it was a gift. Wish someone would give me a castle. What I was given was a chance to play this very old piano once played by this guy named Mozart. Seriously. They asked if anyone in our tour group could play, so I raised my hand. Yep, Mama, the lessons finally paid off. I’m now a legend in my own mind. I played For Elise by Beethoven.

Helen On Piano At Hluboka

We also saw a couple of photography galleries over the weekend too. We returned to Prague Sunday night and immediately headed off to our family favorite restaurant, St. Norbert’s Strahov Monastic Brewery. They have this beer that the monks brew there every June. It’s a summer beer called Weissen which many of you may have heard of, but you’ve never tasted it like this. It’s a wheat beer like we’ve never tasted. Even the kids and I like this beer. They have brewed it since the 13th century. Carson and I had my favorite Czech dish, svickova (pronounced   sfeets•ko•va   with the accent on the last syllable). Yummy! It’s a beef dish with a tan gravy that has a slight orange taste to it. It is served with Czech dumplings, which are like round slices of dense bread, and a spoon full of cranberry compote on top of a spoon full of whipped cream. Delicious! It’s almost reminiscent of Thanksgiving.

Now let me tell you that taking 18 students, plus a prof and his family on a whole weekend, chartering a bus, booking all those hotel rooms, dinners and arranging the schedule is quite a complicated dance done by Jarka (prounounced yar•kah), our CET point person. CET is the compnay that facilitates all our needs while we’re here in the Czech Republic. She has been working with Dennis for a few years now. We think she’s awesome! She speaks very good English, she’s young and hip, gets all our American humor and she is very efficient. Who could ask for more? Thank you, Jarka!!! Here she is on our trip wearing Denis’ coat and Cameron’s hat.

Jarka in Krumlov

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One Comment

  • lesstressrx says:

    Thanks for the pictures and all the information. Great shots. You and the boys are sooo good.
    It is like taking the journey with you. Hi to Dennis.

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