This is the 12th in a series of blog posts about our recent epic trip to Germany and the Czech Republic in search of food, castles, and of course beer. My travel companions included my wife Sarajo (Sj for short), as well as Jim and Lori Stroner. Jim is a seasoned beer geek (and part owner of Tin Whisker’s Brewing in St. Paul) as well as a great photographer. He did most of the organizational work for the trip, so he gets extra kudos! Our hero’s journey continues now with day 12…
Taking off early from our hotel, we arrived early in the morning at Krivoklat, a small town about 20 minutes from Raknovik. Paid parking was a short hike from the castle and we were there before they opened. This was a very pretty castle but had a fair amount of reconstruction going on so our pictures were not quite as perfect as we would have liked. Still it was a castle from the 1200’s!
After taking pictures outside, the castle opened up and we were able to get inside. Some areas were open to the public but others were only with paid tours. Since there were no English tours until quite a bit later we opted to just wander the courtyard and ramparts for a bit. Yep, more stairs up to high places that terrify me!
As we were exploring like excited school children, we noted a serious looking fellow setting up targets in the courtyard below. Jim and I both ended up paying him to fire crossbows and regular bows at the targets and it was incredibly gratifying when I got a bullseye! Ah, still teenage boys at heart!
Strahov Monastery Library
From here we had a somewhat long-cut into Prague scheduled for a special tour of the Strahov Monastery Library with Jan, the curator of the collection. Jan met us at the front gate of the monastery and proceeded to give us one of the most interesting and thorough tours I have ever had in my life! The man gave us a history of the monastery (and the library of course) from its founding in the 1100’s through the current age and put everything into historical context. Snippets of AP European history came nudging back up into my brain as I tried to comprehend the wealth of data. Jan is a true historian, a curator, a fan of craft beer, and more.
We got to enter areas not open to the general public, including getting to enter a secret passage–disguised as a bookshelf!!!!–to the second floor balconies of the larger room of the library.
Jan then let us look at a couple of books he had specifically pulled out of the collection for us to peruse. For me he had found a couple of old medical texts including macabre illustrations derived from illegal graverobbing by the author. For Jim he pulled out a very early multi-colored copper plate botanical text with amazing hops pictures. And we also got to look at some brewing texts from the 16-1700’s! This was an amazing tour and opportunity for us. I could tell Sj (a librarian by trade) was in awe for the whole time…until we made her run out to the car to refill the meter while Jim and I finished photographing.
From our foray into Prague we had a pretty long drive ahead of us with a deadline: we had a pre-booked English tour of Karlstejn Castle. With a time limit we really had to hustle to get there, with Jim driving our Ford Immensity SUV around tiny one-lane roads and blind curves like he was a getaway driver in a ’70’s action flick. Throwing the handbrake around turns, Tokyo-drifting, weaving mercilessly around wide-eyed bikers, Jim managed to get us to the parking area with time to spare. By this point I was feeling a little green around the gills from car sickness, and was ready to kiss the solid ground of the parking lot!
The castle itself was about a mile up the hill from the parking area and there was no way we were going to make it in time unless we actually sprinted. About to give up, we were hailed by a guy near the entrance and paid to take his rickety old van up to castle. Taking a roundabout way (through town to drop off another patron) our driver actually took turns even faster than Jim. Between this motion, diesel fumes, and lack of air movement, I was about ready to hurl all over the back of the van. We arrived at the top just before I blew mine. We managed to get to the ticket office just as the last English tour started, me following along on wobbly legs like a newborn calf.
The tour of the castle was really interesting, including getting to see a lot of medieval artwork, however they did not allow pictures so I can’t show off any to you! Upon finishing the tour, the castle was closing down and we were hustled out onto the road quickly. We walked down through the small town clustered on the hill below the castle, watching touristy shops and restaurants closing down for the day, sort of like a cross between a fairground and a Renaissance Festival feel. I would actually have liked checking out some of the shops if we had been there earlier in the day.
Now, back in the car, we had a 2 hour drive (luckily much of it on legitimate highway and not switch-back goat paths) to Ceský Krumlov. We arrived late (9 PM) at the Pension Danny and checked in, humping our luggage up tight wooden stairs. This was a somewhat unusual hotel with old antiques like sewing machines and wagons scattered around the entrance, hallways and even in the rooms. They had a small bar and restaurant, but we rarely saw anyone working in there, even during open hours.
At this time of night the city was pretty well closed up other than a few bars that seemed to have later hours. We saw a few small raucous groups of younger people walking the cobbled streets with open bottles of wine and liquor, but otherwise things were pretty empty. Starving, we tried finding open restaurants via the internet and physical exploration. Eventually we found a pizza place that was still serving and had some really good pizza and our first Budvar beer. Was this really the first beer of the day?
Now off to bed!
OK, this day was a little stress-filled with our large amount of driving and scheduled tour deadlines. I make a big deal about Jim’s crazy driving, but I have to admit he really is a good and safe driver and I would put my life in his hands any day. But man, those roads! I really appreciate all the work he did with driving and that Sj did with navigating to get us to all these places on time and alive.
Breweries visited: 24
Bierkellers visited: 7
Cities visited: 25
Brewery Museums: 3
Torture Museums: 1
Really high places that Eric is terrified of: 5
Times Jim tried to kill us: too numerous to count
Mileage walked today: 5.7