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01 May 2012 @ 10:28 pm
Welcome to the Czech Republic!  
Word count: 0 Step count: 11,188

Awake 7:00. Yogurt for breakfast, finished packing, cleaned up apartment, whipped out a quick blog post (no time for photos though), locked up, downstairs right at 9:00 just as our Czech guide Monika (and Peter the driver) showed up.

Some adventures getting out of town through May Day parades and associated traffic. Passed Hundertwasser's incinerator on the way out of town. Many windmills (of the modern, power-generating variety) and cute little dorfs in the Austrian countryside. Tchaikovsky and Strauss on the CD player, later pop (but NOT American pop for a change, unless you count a heavily-accented "Girl from Ipanema"). Czech border had a structure but no staff, we drove right through.

This is Lichtenstein country; the same wealthy family that now owns the country of that name originated and made their fortune here, largely by sucking up to the Habsburgs (and by being cunning financiers). First stop was a Lichtenstein colonnade with a view of the countryside below. This whole area was known as The Garden of Europe, lovingly managed by Lichtenstein gardeners since the 1300s and a major horticultural school. It was a Lichtenstein hunting range between the summer and winter palaces.

We then visited both palaces, one in the town of Valtice, the other in Lednice (on its own extensive grounds). At the former I entered the bathroom and was asked by the lady in the booth for 5 crowns (25c). The smallest thing I had was a 100-crown bill ($5) and she could not deal with it. Fortunately Monika (on the other side of the same booth!) could cover for me.

Our visit to the summer palace in Lednice began with the Baroque (!) stables, which were not kept up well by the Communists (who seized all the nobles' property in 1945), then proceeded to the main house, in "English Gothic" style (looking rather like my college campus except that it was uniformly stuccoed in an unfortunate golden/peach color). We also saw the extensive gardens, greenhouse, decorative Oriental outbuilding, 19th-century faux Roman aqueduct, and faux Moorish minaret, and happened on a couple of very large birds (one a golden eagle) and a mob of about 20 very large dogs (Irish wolfhounds).

Lunch at "My Restaurant" (associated with "My Hotel" which seems to be a chain). With the help of an English menu, managed to order salad with grilled goat cheese, lamb with spinach, veal with peas and carrots; a little heavy (this will be par for the course, I think) but good. Standard operating procedure here seems to be that after you order you receive a plate with your napkins, forks, and knives. We had no idea how to tip until Monika appeared and told us it's 5-7%.

After lunch we proceeded to Mikulov, a delightful old town with medieval and Renaissance elements, where we visited the castle and the old Jewish quarter and stopped for ice cream. All so very picturesque! I took over 200 photos and couldn't bear to cut them down to less than 20 (below). It was a very sunny and warm day, but with a nice breeze that kept it from getting too hot. These little hill towns are reminiscent of our time in rural France.

In Znojmo (pronounced "znoymo") we took an underground tour of the extensive crypts that were carved out under the town beginning in the middle ages, used for food storage and retreat from invaders. Today they are basically completely empty, so the tour has dressed up some rooms with skeletons, giant papier-mache bats, etc. Interesting combination of genuine historical interest with cheap tacky tourist trap.

After returning to the surface, we walked through mostly empty streets (due to the May Day holiday) up to St. Catherine's Rotunda, a fortress and chapel dating from the 900s, with a fabulous view of the town (including unique town hall tower and two picturesque churches) and the river valley below. Then to our hotel, Althansky Palace, which shows every sign of having been an actual palace in the last century -- a lovely hotel, with wifi and everything. Monika checked us in and then said goodbye until 9:00 tomorrow. I think we have enough Czech to get us through until then. Monika and Peter keep carrying our bags for us... I feel kind of weird about that.

Had a bit of a lie-down, then looked into dinner. TripAdvisor and others recommended Na Vecnosti, a vegetarian(!) restaurant nearby (the "(!)" is because Znojmo is not a large town by any means). We found it and it was open (despite the holiday -- which, come to think of it, explains the shortage of staff we've been seeing). English menu, German-speaking waiter, our minimal Czech, it all worked out... though it took a while to figure out that the "special menu" card was not a set menu of five courses but the daily specials for the five weekdays. Anyway, we had an "Arab salad," halubky (Czech gnocchi) with cheese and fried onions, and a couscous dish with tofu, stewed plums, and cashews. All quite tasty, though even at a vegetarian restaurant the side dishes on offer were all potatoes, bread, and rice with not a green vegetable in sight. Also, for future reference, one cider for the two of us would have sufficed.

 
 
 
Wendy S. Delmatersafewrite on May 1st, 2012 09:40 pm (UTC)
The shot of the golden eagle with the handler made my day.
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KMSvgqn on May 2nd, 2012 03:36 pm (UTC)
Fascinating! I particularly remember all of the yellow churches, although one finds them throughout the Austro-Hungarian empire. But those gorgeously detailed buildings, like the 5th from the bottom, I associate particularly with the Czech republic. Wow.