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A July Trip to Poland and the Czech Republic

A July Trip to Poland and the Czech Republic

Old Jul 5th, 2022, 02:51 PM
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When I was in Krakow, oszypek was sold by street vendors. Form a distance, it kind of looks like a small challah. It is made in smokehouses near Zakopane, a ski resort south of Krakow. Probably would not see it on the streets north of Krakow, but I can find it in a Polish market in Rockville, MD (no, it's not nearly as good).
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Old Jul 5th, 2022, 04:06 PM
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Tripplanner, thanks, am so enjoying the detailed descriptions of your time in Warsaw, Poland is most definitely on our travel plans in the next couple of years. An looking forward to the subsequent installments, especially Krakow…
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Old Jul 5th, 2022, 09:57 PM
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KarenWoo, the reconstructed Old Town really spoke to me. Handsome it sure is. But Poles seem to make two political statements with the reconstruction. On the one hand, it is in resolve against the sheer devastation the Nazis wrought. On the other, Poles chose to rebuild in the traditional Polish style, thumbing their noses at the Soviet overlords who constructed ugly buildings all around them. Not to mention the streets and squares were full of life.

Shelemm, thank you for the clarification.

Geetika, I shall oblige.
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Old Jul 6th, 2022, 10:28 PM
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A Royal Day Out

The first city in the world to be named an UNESCO World Heritage Site, Krakow was the capital of the Kingdom of Poland during its golden age. As such, Krakow was the city of kings and queens, of popes and bishops, and of wealthy traders and businessmen as well as workers and craftsmen. The heart of Krakow is its Main Market Square with its massive Cloth Hall and St. Mary's Basilica.

We began our day with a very disatisfying breakfast if we could call it that. Breakfast, included in the price of rooms, consisted of a sad few pieces of meats, cheeses, and sliced bread coming out of a package. We had some coffee and were out of there.

We greeted the morning with a look around Main Market Square drinking in the ornate buildings, people going about their business, and tourists happily snapping photos. We spent a good hour at the Square before making a loop north, to Florian's Gate and the Barbican. We helped ourselves to some obwarzanek or Polish-style bagels. The weather was cool with a gentle breeze - perfect for strolling.

At 10 we visited a museum dedicated to 19th century paintings by Polish artists on the second floor of the Cloth Hall. The museum is small but houses a nice collection of portraits, landscape paintings, and scenes from historic events. From here we went to the Rynek Underground Museum for a look at the history of the square and the predecessor Cloth Hall that occupied it before fire completely destroyed it.

Next up was St. Mary's Basilica, both the bugler's tower and the church itself. The tower offers incredible views of the Main Market Square although the trek up is exactly that - a trek. The key feature of the church itself is a multipanel alterpiece telling various stories from the Bible - simply magnificent.

It's time for lunch after all this sightseeing. We chose Milkbar Tomasza, featured on Andrew Zimmern's Delicious Destinations. Tomasza's decor is much more modern compared to traditional milkbars. The food was simple but good, especially the pierogis and carrot soup.

Fortified, we continued down the Royal Way, popping our heads into a couple of churches that line the way.

We arrived on Wawel Hill, home to Polish kings during Poland's golden age, at around 1:30. We visited Wawel Cathedral and the castle itself. Wawel is massive and filled with beautiful sacred art. The Cathedral is also the final resting place for most of Poland's leaders over the years, from Sigislaw to Casimir to the contemporary Kaczynski. We also climbed the bell tower for views looking all the way to St. Mary's Basilica. Wawel is one of the most impressive cathedrals we've visited.

The adjoining castle itself is open to visitors. One could tour the state rooms, the royal apartments, the treasury, and the armory among other things. The art collection inside the palace is not voluminous so it doesn't take long to tour it all. As far as castle's go, the interior of Wawel is underwhelming.We spent roughly a little over an hour touring and another hour enjoying coffee and snacks in a courtyard area. The full visit on Wawel Hill took about 4 to 5 hours.

Dinner tonight was at Pod Aniolami. We finally saw oszypek on the menu, ordered it, and so glad that we did - thank you Shelemm. A couple of us also tried the sour rye soup, which was very good. For mains, we had a mixed meat stew, blood sausages, and trout. The trout was better last night.

There are several festivals taking place in Krakow, one of which is the jazz festival. We attended a jazz concert at Piwnica pod Baranami in one of the buildings right on the main square. The evening of music was an excellent cap to a very full but rewarding day.
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Old Jul 7th, 2022, 08:19 PM
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Jewish Krakow

We slept in today, as we try to do once every few days. We started our day with breakfast at the Square, at E. Wedel Chocolate Lounge - who doesn't want to have chocolate for breakfast? The food and drinks could not get any better. The scrambled eggs were done just right and the croissants were delightful (this is coming from someone picky with their croissants). And the chocolate drinks, especially the dark chocolate with caramel sauce - heaven!

From the Main Market Square we made our way to Kazimierz, part of which used to be Krakow's Jewish quarter and the hub of Jewish life for the city. Sites in this area revolve around its numerous synagogues. We visited the following:

Tempel - Built as a great synagogue, it was the center of Jewish progressivism in Krakow. It was one of the few still functioning synagogues we saw.

Poppera - A former synagogue, it is now a bookstore.

Remuh - This is the oldest synagogue in Poland. The interior has all the components of a functioning synagogue although the exterior looks more like a regular building. There is an adjacent cemetery.

Old Synagogue - A museum of Jewish artifacts, it focuses on Jewish religious life and customs and important holidays. Well worth the time.

Isaak - Isaak was closed for restoration.

We also stopped in atmospheric Plac Nowy for some browsing and zapiekanki, delicious Polish-style French bread pizzas.

We wandered more of Kazimierz, admiring the elegant buildings on street after street. We briefly peeked into the Ethnographic Museum for its well-laid exhibits about Polish life before spending a good amount of time at the Galicia Jewish Museum. Galicia (the Austrian name for the province in Poland in which Krakow is located) Jewish tells compelling stories about the life of a man from Krakow who survived the Holocaust, emigrated to the United States, and raised a family. Woven among the stories are searches for new beginnings, efforts to forget the past yet a longing for home, and emphasis on assimilation.

Next on our stop was the New Jewish Cemetery. Home to many Jews from the area, the place is large and atmospheric. We wandered the place and looked at the various plaques and memorials. Weeds have overgrown the place, to the point that many of the tombstones are no longer visible; we only know it is there because of its shape.

Arriving in Kazimierz at 10:30, it was now 3:30. At this time we made our way across the Powstancow Slaskich Bridge to the Podgorze district, home to the Jewish Ghetto during Nazi occupation. We stopped at the Memorial to the Heroes of the Ghetto for some ice cream and a brief respite. It was only brief as time was ticking and we wanted to make sure we did not miss out on a visit to Schindler's Factory, made popular by the film Schindler's List. Home to a former tin ware and armaments manufacturing factory owned by a German intelligence officer who gave refuge to 1,200 Jewish people during Nazi occupation, Oskar Schindler, the museum does an outstanding job chronicalling the events during this time. It is one of the best museums I've visited on this trip, along with the Polin Museum. We spent more than two hours here, but this is the type of place to slow down a bit. I highly recommend the visit to anyone visiting Krakow.

After the museum, we made our way through the former ghetto, spotting some sites along the way before feasting eyes on St. Joseph's, an architectural delight, both inside and out. We had not expected the structure that we saw, which was as spectacular as it was glorifying. Highlights were several special alterpieces along the sides of the church, although my favorite is the Black Madonna of Czestochowa. Definitely include the stop if you could.

Dinner tonight was back on the other side of river in Kazimierz, at Michelin-starred Bottiglieria 1881. We try to include a couple fancier restaurants on our trips if we could, and this is one of them. The 15-course tasting menu was a journey of sight, smell, and taste. The food was spectacular, and one of the better ones as high-end restaurants go. The decor was also warm yet modern. The full experience took about 2.5 hours.

From here, it was back to our hotel and bed.

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Old Jul 8th, 2022, 04:36 AM
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What a meaningful day. You managed to experience a lot plus take your time, a neat trick to pull off. You had me searching for St Joseph, which I hadn't heard of before... what a great site. Are you saying that inside the church there are several altarpieces, one of which is a copy of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa?
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Old Jul 8th, 2022, 10:37 AM
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Great report. We loved Kraków. Can't believe how long it's been. Thanks for sharing.
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Old Jul 8th, 2022, 11:01 PM
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Triplanner, loved your visit to Lazienki Park. Those were my stomping grounds when I was a toddler. We lived a few blocks away from the park and my mom used to take me for our daily walks and to feed the ducks and the swans. I was in Warsaw four years ago. My old house was gone and so were the swans. The ducks were still around.
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Old Jul 9th, 2022, 01:14 AM
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Auschwitz

Breakfast was a quick fix of coffee and pastries at Charlotte down the block from our hotel. We then traveled via Uber (the app works in Poland) to Auschwitz. The journey took about an hour and 15 minutes at a cost of 275 Polish zlotys or 60 U.S. dollars. We received our tickets in advance so we're able to go right in. The first stop was a brief film before we met our guide for a 3-hour tour of Auschwitz and nearby Birkenau. We spent about 2 hours at Auschwitz and an hour at Birkenau. We visited the exhibits and went inside a few of the buildings. We knew where we were visiting, what transpired on these grounds, and were mentally prepared for the visit. Perhaps it is because of the preparation but the visit did not struck me as hard as I expected. Moving, yes. Somber, yes. Poignant, yes. But the visit left me in a similar state of mind as earlier in the week, especially touring the Polin Museum and the Warsaw Ghetto. It did serve as a warning for me - and to others - that repeated exposure could chip aware at our human sensitivities. It could also be that with the number of visitors it is becoming too commercial in a way that it starts to lose its purpose. From Auschwitz we travelled by public bus to the town of Oswiecim for some food before taxiing back to Krakow.

A good way to clear our heads after some of the heaviness of the past two days is a stroll around the Planty, a public park that encircles Krakow's old town. Along the way we glimpse some buildings that we had not seen before. This was followed by dinner at Goscinna Chata across from our hotel. The restaurant serves good traditional Polish food and offered good service.

We also enjoyed some performances from various artists associated with the Street Theater Festival this evening as well as the one prior. There were different forms of dance, accompanied by music and multimedia. The atmosphere was lively and fun.

Last edited by tripplanner001; Jul 9th, 2022 at 01:26 AM.
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Old Jul 9th, 2022, 05:21 AM
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Just getting caught up on your report. I remember being blown away by the altar in St. Mary's Basilica! It is stunning! We didn't go up the tower. I don't think we knew we could do that. We enjoyed wandering around Kazimierz but I think you did more research than I did. I don't remember seeing all the places you mention. We were in Krakow in 2003, so almost 20 years ago. And Auschwitz is very depressing, very heartbreaking, and very somber. I remember the day we visited was the only day on our trip that we had a light drizzle. All the other days were sunny and cheerful. I understand what you mean when you say that repeated exposure chips away at our sensitivities. Sadly, there is so much gun violence in the US today that I am not shocked any more when it happens.
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Old Jul 9th, 2022, 03:54 PM
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I'm just getting started on reading and already hooked. Bookmarking for later. Thanks for writing!
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Old Jul 9th, 2022, 11:11 PM
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KarenWoo, I am with you. The most important thing is that we learn and not repeat. At times, it feels like we are moving close to those days again.

Trophywife007, welcome.

Goodbye Poland, Hello Czech Republic

It was an early rise this morning as we leave Poland behind for the Czech Republic. We traveled by train from Krakow to Olomouc by way of Katowice. We left Krakow at around 6:30 and arrived in Katowice an hour later. Our train out of Katowice was late and the delays continued along the way. The time on the train allowed me to catch up on some business and we only arrived in Olomouc 30 minutes late.

After dropping our bags off at the Theresian Hotel (at noon, our rooms were not yet available), we explored the Czech city that formerly served as the capital of Moravia. As with most European cities and towns, one of the focal points is the main square. This is certainly true for Olomouc. At the main square are the Holy Trinity Column, built to celebrate overcoming the plague in the 1700s and as a prayer against new ones, and the Town Hall with an astronomical clock. The original clock was destroyed during World War II; today’s is rebuilt by the Soviet Union in socialist realist style. Also on and around the square are numerous beautiful water fountains, including one dedicated to Jupiter. My favorite is the more playful Turtle Fountain. Also near the square is St. Maurice Church; while the church was closed, we climbed its bell tower for a look around the city. A tower climb is available at the Town Hall as well, which we also did. Both are free. We also walked much of the town and visited St. Wenceslaus Cathedral towards the eastern end of the old town. Unfortunately most of the shops throughout town were closed; not sure if it is due to it being a Saturday or something else.

We enjoyed a pub-style dinner at Drapal, around the corner from our hotel. The restaurant serves Czech pub food. A couple of us ordered steak, which was very good. The pork knuckles were good too.
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Old Jul 10th, 2022, 10:04 AM
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Hey, Auschwitz was NICE. As you already know, it was not built as a concentration camp but as a Polish army base. Plus they wanted to keep it nice looking so a not to alarm their 'guests' upon arrival. The Final Solution had not been determined yet. Auschwitz II (Birkenau) was then built as a death and enslavement camp that the Nazis hastily dynamited to cover their tracks. Not much left of it. For anyone who doesn't know, the Nazis intended to preserve Poland as a slave state keeping Poles housed in places like Birkenau with factories built all around so they could cheaply produce goods.

As I live in the DC area, I have regular access to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, at which you can learn all the stories plus they have educational events. Yet, I found there is still something very special and eye-opening about the visit to Auschwitz. Like you, it wasn't as emotional for me. Learning about nearby Tarnow which was 45% Jewish, had more shock value and emotional scarring. It was easy for the Nazis to turn neighbor against neighbor. There are always people around looking for an opportunity to vent their hatred. And there is no bottom. It can always get worse.
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Old Jul 10th, 2022, 01:01 PM
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Shelemm, you are absolutely right. And about Nazis maintaining a slavery system with Poles as labor, I've read about it too but as it pertained to all Slavs.

In the Footsteps of Archbishops

Today we set up to explore more of Olomouc, which actually begins outside of the city. Following breakfast at our hotel, we travelled by taxi to Kromeriz (1,900 Czech crowns), about 45 minutes outside of Olomouc. Kromeriz is home to the main residence of the Archbishops of Olomouc and the reason for our day trip there today. Between Olomouc and Kromeriz are small towns, a couple of industrial facilities, and farmland. The farmscape and gentle, rolling hills in the background made for a very pleasant journey.

We began at the town square, visually surveyed the buildings around it, and snapped a few photos. The square is very appealing with the different pastel colors, designs on the buildings, and the floral displays.

Diagonal on the other side of the square from the Town Hall - no astronomical clock - is the Archbishop Chateau. While the bishops of Olomouc were powerful enough as religious leaders were in Europe back in the day, they were made even more so by Empress Maria Theresa of Austria when she conferred upon them the status of Princes of Moravia. We climbed the tower, toured the state rooms and the entertainment hall, and wandered the second-floor gallery. The gallery is filled with a worthwhile collection of Dutch and Flemish art as well as Italian art. In the galleries were a work by Titian and several by Rubens. The palace itself was also worthwhile. The hunter hall displays well over 200 animal trophies on display. And the great dining hall-cum-assembly hall was the site of the constitutional convention convenied by leaders of the Revolution of 1848 by the various nationalities within Austria-Hungary calling for electoral representation and violently disbanded by Archduke Franz Josef I. If you like Baroque and rococo, this is your type of palace. Between the guided tours and visiting ourselves, we spent about three hours at the chateau.

Also part of the complex are two gardens: the chateau gardens and the flower gardens. The chateau gardens are directly behind the building itself. Today it is a large public park with a few features from its earlier life. It's a perfect place for a nice stroll and some people watching. The flower gardens are just outside of town, about a 10-to-15-minute walk from the main square. The flower gardens are very pretty and even more pleasant to wander about. We spent about an hour at each garden.

Lunch was at Radnicni, just off the main square. The restaurant serves traditional Czech and Central European fare. We each were in the mood for schnitzels and were happy we ordered it. Other than restaurants, nothing else was really open so we didn't shop. Between the chateau and gardens and lunch, we spent a total of seven hours in Kromeriz, good for a day trip.

The return to Olomouc was via taxi as well. We could have taken the train but didn't feel like dealing with transfers for such a short trip. The cost was worth the convenience, especially considering there are four of us.

If yesterday was quiet in Olomouc, today is even more so. Almost no restaurants are open. No shops were open. Except for the shopping mall. So we took a short walk there from our hotel and ate a quick dinner there. The only other place I've experience this level of closure was in Geneva on a Sunday, but in Olomouc it seems like a Saturday and Sunday affair.

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Old Jul 10th, 2022, 01:21 PM
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Excellent report, thank you for continuing.
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Old Jul 10th, 2022, 02:48 PM
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Tripplanner, do you know if Olomouc is always this quiet on weekends, or is this because of the pandemic? Restaurants closed permanently. Not enough wait staff or store clerks, etc.
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Old Jul 10th, 2022, 04:35 PM
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I am impressed you got to Kromeriz. (IIRC, pronounced Kro-mee-yair-zheezh). When I was there, the the Archbishop's garden had an animal park with deer.
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Old Jul 11th, 2022, 09:49 PM
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Leely2, you're welcome. Appreciate you letting me know that you're onboard.

KarenWoo, good question although I don't know the answer. Judging between Saturday and Sunday, there were definitely more open on Saturday than on Sunday. It didn't look like anything was permanently closed based on appearances, but I could be wrong.

Shelemm, the animal park is still there though we mostly saw chicken and duck.

From Reality to Fantasy

Travel from Olomouc to Cesky Krumlov via any means of transport other than a car is not easy. Any train journey would involve multiple connections, which meant more time and moving luggage around between stations, trains, and platforms. For these reasons we opted to go via road. We reached our to CZ Shuttle to transport us from point A to point B. In the course of making arrangements, we discovered that the company also runs day tours, which is how we decided to make a day out of what would have otherwise been a straight taxi ride.

The drive from Olomouc to Trebic, a small town in Moravia, took us under two hours even though traffic was heavy in and around Brno. Trebic is well known for its historic Jewish quarter, even though none of the descendants of the former Jewish inhabitants live here today. The stroll around town and along the river made for a very pleasant morning.

From Trebic it was a half-hour drive to Telc, a town on the border where Moravia meets Bohemia. Telc has a very atmospheric square, one of the largest if not the largest square in the Czech Republic. We admired the beautiful buildings around the square and browsed several shops. We also enjoyed a quick lunch of pizzas at Amigo Restaurant on the main square.

After lunch we proceeded to our final destination of Cesky Krumlov, another two hours away. Overall the journey was easy and comfortable. The scenery along the way is mostly made up of gentle farmland, small towns, and forests (at least when we were in Bohemia, not Moravia). We arrived in Cesky Krumlov at 3:30 and checked into our hotel - Ruze.

We freshened up in our beautiful, spacious, and well-appointed rooms lifted straight out of a medieval castle setting. Our rooms look out over town and straight onto the magnificent Cesky Krumlov Castle. I have a feeling we're going to have a fun two nights here.

As it was only 4:30 we decided to take advantage of the quieter hours when most day trippers have departed to take a stroll in the town. The impressive castle that seems to be viewable from almost everywhere. The cobbled streets. The pastel-colored buildings with sgraffito and art. There is a certain whimsy in the air. Wandering about and visiting the various shops were a joy, especially given that we were unable to do that in Olomouc in the past couple of days. I could pretend I'm a character in a fairy tale. Could you tell we are falling in love with this place?

Dinner tonight was at Krcma Satlava around the corner from our hotel. The restaurant specializes in Czech-style grilled meats, which we thoroughly enjoyed. Especially good were the grilled pork and the grilled chicken wings. Also a standout was the honey cake for dessert. Everything was good though, so it's hard to go wrong.
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Old Jul 12th, 2022, 05:34 AM
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We spent 2 nights in Cesky Krumlov, too, and fell in love with it. I think people who visit CK as a daytrip from Prague are missing out on a lot.

We spent a night in Telc and fell in love with Telc, too! It was so much prettier than we expected with the pastel colored buildings in the square and the ponds just outside of the main square. We enjoyed visiting the castle, too.

Reading your report makes me want to return! But we've been to Czech Republic twice and need to visit countries we haven't seen yet.
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Old Jul 12th, 2022, 12:28 PM
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KarenWoo, I'm with you on the challenges balancing returning to destinations we've enjoyed in the past with exploring new ones. What I've tried to do on recent trips to balance the two tensions. For example, on this trip, we chose an old favorite - Prague - but added other destinations in the Czech Republic that were new to us - Olomouc and Cesky Krumlov - as well as a new country - Poland.

Fairy-Tale Dream

We awoke to a fairy-tale setting, inside rooms that would look appropriate out of the Middle Ages with the castle just outside our window. Following breakfast at our hotel, we slowly made our way to the castle, walking through town and up stairs on a side of the hill to the castle grounds. Cesky Krumlov Castle is massive and takes proper time to explore. We spent four hours and it was perfect.

Greeting us at the entrance to the castle, down at the moat, are two beautiful black bears enjoying the morning sun. Bears have been brought to the castle since early in the castle's existence in the 16th century, as the owners, the Rosenbergs, believed they were descendants of an older family in Italy whose last name means bear. Right at the entrance to the castle itself the access point for the bell tower and museum. We were there at opening and headed straight up the bell tower. The views of the castle and the surrounding town are incredible. Also worthwhile is the museum on the ground floor that chronicles the story of the castle's former inhabitants - the Rosenbergs, the Eggenbergs, and the Schwarzbergs.

From here we made our way through the rest of the castle courtyards, admiring the sgraffito and artwork adoring the exterior walls of the building. We proceeded to the Baroque-style castle theater, where we pre-purchase tickets for a guided tour of the oldest Baroque theater in Europe. The theater is beautiful and unique. The set is original. We were also able to go below the stage and take a look at the mechanisms responsible for making a show a show with all the stage and sound effects.

Our joy in touring the theater extended to the official and residential quarters of the castle itself. I love the mix of styles, from Renaissance to Baroque. The rooms were large and filled with interesting art and artifacts accumulated over more than 800 years.

Outside of the castle is the adjoining gardens. It was sunny and warm, so perfect for a stroll. Except there was not too much to see in the gardens. There is one interesting water fountain to admire but little in the way of plant and flowers. The grounds offer great views of the castle itself, although I would say some of the best viewpoints are at the bridge connecting the castle to the theater.

After we had our fill of the fairy-tale wonderland we walked back towards town and the river. We went for a short river stroll, hoping to find we we could catch one of the wooden boats for a cruise down the Vltava River. Boating docks for the boats were nowhere to be found. Floats and kayaks, yes. Boats, no. We continued on the riverside path but now turning our attention to food. We came upon a couple of riverside restaurants, and chose one that was relatively busy but had room for us. The food was standard Czech fare. While fine, we wish there is more menu variation. Between our two days in Olomouc and our day in Cesky Krumlov, it seems as if every restaurant served the exact same items with the exact same preparations.

Stomachs satisfied, we walked back through the old town, doing some more browsing and shopping. We really like checking out the Czech-style wooden toy shops that seem to be everywhere. In the old town, we passed by the tourist information center and decided to pop in asking about you know what - the wooden boats. Alas, tickets were available and the TI agent helped us book. Our cruise was set for 6:00.

Boat tickets taken care of, we walked back to our hotel to drop off our purchases, freshen up, and went to the dock which turned out to be feet from our hotel. The 50-minute ride around town was most enjoyable. It was fun to pass buildings that we saw on our walks and identify a few new ones. And was the perfect evening to be on the water.

Dinner tonight was at Pizzeria Nonna Gina just off of the main drag not far from the entrance to the castle. The pizzeria features a simple menu of pizzas and pastas but it was a nice break from the Czech meat dishes served at every restaurant.
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