Memories of Czech Republic and Austria:

We enjoyed a number of great lodgings, meals and experiences throughout the Czech Republic and Austria.  Here are some of the highlights:

  • the ornate architecture throughout the city of Prague
  • our room in Pactuv Palac overlooking the Charles Bridge and beyond to the Prague Castle
  • our meal at Restaurant Kachniky
  • Prague's castle
  • the music - at Prague castle; the flamenco guitarist; the Vienna Boys Choir; the ensemble in Vienna
  • Burg Oberranna
  • our beer bath
  • the CIOFF Folklorica Festival in Frydek-Mistek 
  • the scenic town of Telc
  • Jan, our waiter serving us our 'most romantic dinner ever'
  • our romance package at Myln Romantique Hotel in Karlstejn
  • Stekl castle and our carriage ride
  • Karlstejn Castle and Hlbolka Castle
  • Cesky Krumlov
  • my mother's doppleganger in Luhacovice
  • searching form my great-grandmother's gravestone (regrettably I can't find the photo)
  • many tasty Czech meals
  • fireworks, every night in Prague and over Hluboka Castle
  • enjoying some wine and food at a Heuriger on the Danube
  • the obvious history of communism / Soviet occupation / apartments in much of the Czech Republic
  • the prominence of flowers throughout Austria contrasting the more stark images within the Czech Republic
  • the town of Durnstein and our meal at Sanger Blondel
  • the villages along the Danube
  • the city of Vienna, with its stunning buildings, parks and cafes

We spent quite a bit ($719) on souvenirs, including
  • a Uhersky Brod doll for sister Jean
  • a Duo Guitars CD
  • traditional Czech pottery
  • a Czech chicken 
  • a couple of beer mugs
  • a straw Heuriger ring for Mary and Cathy for looking after Toledo
  • a platter and serving spoon
  • an Austrian Wachau doll
  • a dragon for Toledo
  • a paella pan
  • a Czech CD for uncle Frankie
  • a Czech t-shirt and hockey cap,
  • earings, and a 
  • crystal bowl

Some of the souvenirs we purchased on the trip
  • a platter in Karlstejn
  • a couple of pieces of pottery near Uhersky Hradiste
  • a crystal bowl
  • an artistic chicken
  • a beer mug from Ceske Budovice, and
  • an Austrian Wachau doll from Durnstein


(based on average exchange rates of  1 euro = $1.45 Cdn; 1 Czech karuna = $0.06 Cdn):

Here are the costs of our trip:

$ 1,760           airfare

$ 3,191           lodging ($188 Cdn $ per night)

$ 1,310           food ($77 per day - dinner etc. including wine as breakfasts are included in lodging)

$    763           vehicle ($55 per day for the vehicle plus fuel of  $129)

$    761           entrances and concerts

$    223           miscellaneous

$ 8,008           for 17 days

The average cost per day excluding airfare and souvenirs (lodging, food, entrances, vehicle and miscellaneous) was $368.

Lodging ranged from a low of $105 Cdn$ to a high of $233 Cdn, including breakfast.  Here is a list of where we stayed, the amount we paid and a link to their website.  

$ 220      Pactuv Palac                                     Prague                              

$ 105      Hotel Celerin                                   Telc                                        

$ 137      Hotel Arigone                                  Olomouc                          

$ 175      Zamek Zabreh                                 Ostrava                              

$ 124      Hotel Konicek                                 Uhersky Hradiste               

$ 233      Hotel Austria                                   Vienna, Austria                   

$ 222      Burg Oberranna                              Muldorf, Austria                   

$ 234      Stekl Hotel-Castle                           Hlubolka nad Vitavou                     

$ 141     Romantic Hotel Myln Karlstejn       Karlstejn                              

     As is our practice we communicate and book directly with each place, and in doing so save the establishment the booking commission and are known to the staff when we arrive.  We expect this may have contributed to our upgrade (and what a wonderful upgrade it was) at Pactuv Palace


June 14, 2011 - Halifax to Frankfurt to Prague (Pactuv Palace)
     We had always wanted to visit Prague, and Vienna.   Furthermore my mother's roots were in Moravia in the east of the Czech Republic.  She never traveled to the Czech Republic or her parents' home town of Uhersky Brod, never having the means to do so, being somewhat frightened (communism and all that) and then when she got over that being too frail.  So after she passed we decided we would make a 'pilgrimage' to Uhersky Brod and travel through the Czech Republic and north-eastern Austria.     

     We flew from Halifax directly to Frankfurt on Condor Airlines, a subsidiary of Lufthansa, from where we made a connection for a short one-hour flight to Prague.  There is risk in flying Condor as they only fly a few times a week, and only during the late spring, summer and fall months.  If something went wrong it might be messy but when it goes right, as it did, the benefit of not having to back track to Montreal or Toronto is great.  As a result we landed in Prague quite early at 9:10 am, giving us most of the day in the city.  We had arranged, through the hotel, for a drive from the airport which also worked perfectly.

     We booked into the upscale Pactuv Palac, a cultural and architectural Prague landmark in its own right, being the closest hotel to the Charles Bridge.  The former residence of Earl Karel Pachta and Mozart's home in the city, the hotel boasts stunning features including frescos, vaulted ceilings, sculptures and a cozy courtyard garden.  The original, old Baroque Palace of Count Jan Jose Pachta from Rajov was built in the 18th century, standing in the place where four medieval houses used to be.  The Pachta family were of noble origin, having received their coat of arms in 1628.  The family crests can still be seen at the head of the original entrance to the palace.  Jan Josef Pachta was known to be a big music lover and a great supporter of the music life and culture in Prague, having his own orchestra with whom he hosted concerts and dances.  Mozart and his wife Konstanze were regular guests of the Count.  During a visit to the palace Mozart was symbolically imprisoned for a couple of hours in what is today the Mozart Suite because he had promised to compose a few (actually six) dance pieces for the Count, which of course he did.  Others to visit the Palace included Beethoven and Wagner.

     We had tried to book a river view room but at the time there were none available.  A couple of days before leaving we received an email advising one was ours if we wished, asking whether we were interested.  For an additional 20 euros per night we said yes.  However when we arrived not only were we provided a room with a river (and Prague Castle) view but we were upgraded to a corner Deluxe Suite (Room 305).  The room was spectacular.  Upon entering we were welcomed with a live feed of the boats along the river on the TV, with accompanying classical music.  Beyond impressive.  A vaulted ceiling, gorgeous inlaid wood flooring, antique furniture, lots of chairs and sofas, three windows - two out the front and one to the side and a beautiful chandelier all in our living room.  There was a separate bathroom and bedroom down the hall.  The views across the river were stunning.  We paid only 154 euros ($220 Cdn).  Sure there has been nine years of inflation but booking the same room today would be 429 euros ($665 Cdn).

     Prague is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  Founded in 870 with the foundation of the Prague Castle, in 1085 Prague became a 'royal town' and residence of the first Bohemian king.  During the mid 1300s Prague became the capital of the Bohemian Kingdom and the Holy Roman Empire.  In 1918 with the proclamation of the independence of Czechoslovakia, Prague became the new state capital.  We spent the first day wandering around Old Town and the Charles Bridge, the historic bridge that crosses the Vltava river.  Replacing the old Judith Bridge built from 1158 - 1172, a bridge that had been badly damaged by a flood in 1342, construction started in 1357, under the auspices of Charles IV, finishing in the beginning of the 15th century.  The bridge, originally named Stone Bridge was the only means of crossing the river Vltava until 1841.  The bridge was renamed the Charles Bridge in 1870.

     Prague certainly lived up to its reputation with its numerous squares, churches, spires, museums, gardens and variety of architecture, including Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Neo-Classicism and other more modern styles.  The buildings are particularly impressive generally presented in pastel colours.

     After coffees, a croissant and an apple strudel we returned to the hotel to check in and have a needed afternoon nap.  While we expected to eat Czech our first night we came across a nearby Afghan restaurant which had some interesting menu choices, and figuring we would have lots of opportunities to each Czech cuisine chose to dine at Kabul, where we enjoyed a wonderful dinner.  We started with traditional Afghan bread and an olive salad.  Gayle then had the Badonjane Siah, baked eggplant, tomatoes, white yoghurt, garlic and spices while I the Kebabe Gosfand - special mutton, a garnish of chutney and pomegranate accompanied by a plate of Kabeli rice - Basmati with raisins, carrots and oriental spices.  The meal was a great way to finish a very enjoyable first day.

Room 305 - a Deluxe Suite and certainly one of the nicest rooms we have ever had - both before and since our time in Prague. 

Some happy to be in Prague.

The chandelier.                                                                      The view out the side window.

Thick enough walls to sit by the window.

Pactuv Palace - our perfectly situated hotel while in Prague.

Our view across the River Vltava to Prague Castle as seen from our front window of Pactuv Palace.

Our first glimpse of the interesting statues, buildings and churches of Prague.

Restaurant Kabul.                                                                  A salad of olives with tomatoes, cucumber and greens.

Afghan Kabeli basmati rice with oriental spices.

 Baked eggplant with tomato and white yoghurt.                  Kebab Gosfand - grilled mutton.

June 15, 2011 - Prague (Pactuv Palace)
     Today was a day to wander around Prague, admiring the squares and architecture.

     Breakfast at the hotel was quite expensive so we searched out a cafe.  We quickly found Ebel Cafe where we enjoyed a couple of coffees, a croissant and a piece of apple cake.  From there it was to the Old Town Square, the most significant square of historical Prague.  Originating in the 12th century it has since witnessed many historical events.  Beside the old Town Hall and the Church of Our Lady before Tyn the square has several other dominant structures - the Baroque St. Nicholas' Church, the Rococo Kinsky palace housing the National Gallery exhibition, the House of the Stone Bell - a Gothic city palace from the 14th century - now the Municipal Gallery concert and exhibition halls and the Astronomical Clock.

     The large square is enclosed by stunning, colourful buildings creating a wonderful ambiance.   We continued our wanderings past Wenceslas Square, one of the main city squares and the centre of the business and cultural communities in the New Town of Prague, and the statue of Saint Wenceslas, the patron Saint of Bohemia, at the top of the boulevard.  Like the old town square many historical events have occurred here, it being a traditional setting for demonstrations, celebrations and other public gatherings.

     We then circled back but not before stopping for lunch at U Pinkasu.  We ate outdoors in the Summer Gardens.  The original construction project of the adjoining Church of Our Lady of the Snow included, in addition to the church itself a northern nave and a coronation cathedral next to the temple.  However this area fell victim to a fire during the Hussite war in the early 1400s.  The perimeter walls and open space between the temple and U Pinkasu remain, serving as an outdoor space as summer seating, one of the quietest and most beautiful gardens in the centre of Prague.  Having had a light breakfast and having walked a fair amount we needed nourishment and therefore stopped for lunch of Old Bohemian beef, in a cream sauce with dumplings and fried cheese with fried potatoes.

     We became aware of, of all things, a concert being preformed by a Czech Guitar Duo - Jana and Petr Bierhanzl that included classical and flamenco pieces. 

     Jana and Petr are apparently the most famous and the longest playing ensemble of their kind on the Czech concert scene.  They have developed the perfect performing virtuosity and skills which are highly esteemed and well received by both audiences and critics (or at least that's what their brochure says).  They have played over 3,000 concerts as well as radio and television shows in the Czech Republic, Spain, Germany, Poland, Austria and Lithuania.  Here is a sample of their music.
     After the concert, performed in the Golden Melon House dating from 1401, a beautiful venue from the Gothic period with renovations done in the Renaissance style we found our way to Lehka Hlava meaning Light or Clear Head, a vegetarian restaurant only a 100 metres from our hotel.  Set in a house of more than 500 years old - it seems pretty much every place in Prague is hundreds of years old - during which goldsmiths, winemakers, barrel organs, soap-makers, puppeteers and tea-makers took turns here.   The meatless menu provided a number of interesting choices, including a red lentil soup with vegetables and coconut milk, grilles goat cheese with walnuts served on potatoes au gratin with steamed spinach and a burrito with pinto beans, cheese, avocado, salad with goat cheese, tomato salsa and sour cream.  For dessert we had  a carrot cake made with millet, grated coconut, and ginger served with a chocolate sauce and physalis berries.

     After dinner we returned to our room where we admired the lit castle and churches across the river.  Stunning.

The architecture in Prague is outstanding, with interesting and colourful buildings around every corner.

A cafe in one of the many Prague squares.                             A statue ... or a person posing as a statue?

Prague's Old Town Square.

The old town hall and astronomical clock.

More ornate buildings in central Prague.

Near Wenceslas square panels presented in a boulevard providing a history of the Czech Republic.

Having had a light breakfast and having done a fair bit of walking we stopped for lunch at U Pinkasu.

The buildings in Prague really are impressive.

Waiting for lunch.                                                            A poster for the Czech flamenco guitar concert we went to.

The burrito at Lehka Hlava (Light Head), a vegetarian restaurant.

Grilled goat cheese with walnuts.

Prague Castle and churches at night as seen from our room.

June 16, 2011 - Prague (Pactuv Palace)
     We again ate at Cafe Ebel this morning only 350 metres from our hotel.   Today we enjoyed a nice piece of apple cake and a bagel along with our lattes.  Another sunny and warm morning we enjoyed eating our breakfast outdoors.

     Today it is a visit to Prague's Castle and Lobkowicz Palace, prominently positioned on the hill on the other side of River Vltava.  The castle is a national cultural monument, the symbol of more than a millennium of development of the Czech state.  Since its foundation in the 1st quarter of the 9th century it has been evolving without interruption throughout the past eleven centuries.  It is a monumental ecclesiastical complex.  Fortification, residential and office buildings representing all architectural styles and periods, surround three castle-courtyards, covering 45 hectares.  Originally it was the residence of princes and kings of Bohemia.  Since 1918 the Castle has been the seat of the president.

     Dominant is the Gothic cathedral, the spiritual symbol of the Czech state.  Founded in 1344 in the place of the original Romanesque rotunda the construction lasted nearly 600 years, being completed tin 1929.  Decorated by precious works of art it encloses St. Wenceslas' Chapel and the crypt with tombs of Bohemian kings. It is also the home of the coronation jewels.  Also of prominence and one of the oldest preserved buildings of the Castle is St. George Basilica.  Founded in 920 it was rebuilt in the 12th century to become one of the best preserved of any comparable buildings in Bohemia.

    There are numerous other buildings that make up the complex, including the Old Royal Palace, St. George Convent, The Prague Castle Picture Gallery, The Mihulk Powder Tower, Golden Lane with its small houses built within the Gothic fortifications in the 16th century for riflemen and craftsmen, Daliborka, a fortification tower built in 1496, Queen Anne's Summer Palace, The Riding Hall and the Castle Gardens.

     Lobkowicz Palace houses a museum with one of the most significant collections in Europe of superb old master paintings, rare musical instruments and manuscripts, rich decorative arts and a spectacular display of arms and armour.  Each day there is a concert held in the Castle where classical music is performed in the beautifully decorated Concert Hall with its impressive 17th century painted stucco ceilings.  We very much enjoyed the performance.

     After viewing the changing of the guard we continued on through the streets of Prague towards Charles Bridge and on to Restaruant Kachnicky, known for its duck dishes.  U modre kachnicky (At the blue duckling) is located in the picturesque Mala Strana (Lesser Town) district.  Its guests have included political celebrities like Czech President Vaclv Havel, the Hungarian President, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Phil Collins, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Jean Claude van Damme among others, and now Gayle and Norm Collins (although we doubt we were added to the brochure as were these others).  The restaurant offers duck and game specialties, many Czech and international dishes, in a beautiful setting including antique furniture, hand painted wall paper and many antique objects.  Although perhaps a bit dark inside there was certainly an ambiance of class and history.  Gayle started with a unique iced strawberry soup while I had Prague ham with horseradish.   For our main courses Gayle enjoyed a wonderful mushroom ragout and I of course had duck - with stuffing and cabbage, superb.  We shared a cherry strudel for dessert (also wonderful) and a glass of wine each.  More than we would normally spend on a meal at $127 Cdn (including tax and tip), but worth every penny.  It was extremely tasty, delicious and special ...  a very memorable meal.

     After dinner we strolled back to and crossed the Charles bridge to return to Pactuv Palace.

Breakfast at Cafe Ebel - apple cake, a bagel and two lattes.

Views from our hotel across the River Vltava to the Prague cathedral.

Gorgeous buildings throughout Prague.

                                                                                              ... and statues.

Bridges crossing the River Vltava.

A 'cruise' boat touring the river.  We thought about taking the boat trip but in the end passed.

Simply impressive.  Nothing like this in Halifax.

What a stunningly beautiful city!

On our way to Prague's castle we encountered this protest.

Impressive pastel coloured buildings throughout the city.

The skyline and rooftops of Prague.

And yet more colourful buildings.

Waiting for the Prague Castle midday classic concert at the Lobkowicz Palace.

The beautifully decorated Concert Hall with 17th century painted stucco ceilings.

Buildings within the Prague Castle / Lobkowicz Palace complex.

Prague's impressive cathedral.

Gorgeous stained glass in the cathedral.

Windows to the cathedral                                                     The massive interior.

                                                                                              An interesting gargoyle.

One of the exhibits in the Prague museum.                           Zlata Ulica (Golden Lane) from the 16th century.

                                                                                               Changing of the guard at Prague's castle.

More of the vistas across Prague and its streets.

Views back across the River Vlatava from the castle side towards the north.

Iced strawberry soup.                                                             Prague ham with horseradish.

Mushroom ragout.                                                                 Duck with stuffing and cabbage.

Cherry strudel.                                                                        Kachnicky restaurant.

June 17, 2011 - Prague to Telc (Hotel Celerin)
     We again went to Cafe Ebel for breakfast where we shared a cinnamon roll, a piece of Czech honey cake and a couple of lattes.  Afterwards we packed and took a taxi to pick up our car rental.  Once we found the ring road it was relatively easy to get out of Prague.

     Our first stop was Kutna Hora, a town of 20,000 about an hour east of  Prague.  Kutna Hora is best known for its Gothic St. Barbara's Church with medieval frescoes and flying buttresses, which we visited.  Also of note is the nearby Sedlec Ossuary, a chapel adorned with human skeletons and the Czech Museum of Silver, dedicated to the city's silver-mining history with a replica medieval mine.

     Before leaving we stopped for lunch at Restaurant Harmonia, where in addition to Czech cuisine strangely enough they served Mexican.   I ate Czech -  roast beef with mushroom and home-made potato pancakes, topped with an egg while Gayle had Mexican - a colourful vegetarian fajita of corn seeds, black beans, green bean pods, red peppers, tomatoes and onions.

     We continued on to Telc, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre town of just over 5,000.  The town is known for its Italian Renaissance architecture including the chateau, formerly a Gothic castle, a highlight of which are the carved wood ceilings.  Colourful houses with arcades and ornamental gables ring Zacharia of Hradec Square.  Highlights of the square are the 18th century Marian Column and St. James Church with its Gothic frescos.  Our hotel, Hotel Celerin is nicely positioned on the east side of the square.  Our room was not particularly huge but enjoyed a nice view the town square.  

     Soon after strolling out of our hotel we realized there was a bit of activity.  As it turns out the Festival Podporuji was in swing with a high school band playing on a stage.  We bought a beer and sausage (for me) and a sweet (for Gayle), sat down and enjoyed the music and then the sun setting over the church on the west side of town.

A piece of Czech honey cake.                                                Planning on how we will drive out of the city.

Lattes for each of us.

Pactuv Palace's interior courtyard.                                         Comfortable seating in the lobby.

A colourful field of poppies on the outskirts of Kutna Hora.

Lunch at Harmonia in Kutna Hora including roast beef with mushrooms, tomatoes, garlic, egg and potato pancake.

Vegetarianske Fajitas.

The impressive cathedral of Kutna Hora.

Italian Renaissance buildings encircle the town square (ok oval) of Telc.

Hotel Celerin, on the east end but with windows / views facing the town square.

With the early evening light highlighting the buildings Telc is stunningly beautiful.

Some drink and food while we listened to the bands.

In the town square we were entertained by this group of students.

The setting sun brings an end to another day.

June 18, 2011 - Telc to Olomouc (Hotel Arigone)
     After a fairly simple breakfast we spent the morning touring the town. including a visit to the State Chateau of Telc.  

     A Gothic castle was built in Telc during the second half of the 14th century.  Then in the first half of the 16th century the original castle, as well as the domain in which it was situated became the property of Zacharias of Hradec, a member of the Moravian court and a municipal Marshall.   Per his status as a nobleman Hradec, inspired by a trip to Genoa, fundamentally reconstructed the Middle Ages castle into a modern Renaissance castle.  There remain many uniquely preserved original interiors.  The chateau complex, together with the adjoining park, all adjacent to the historical centre of Telc, was added to the UNESCO list of world cultural and natural heritage centres in 1992.

     We enjoyed an interesting tour of the chateau including a number of rooms, some of which were used as living quarters, some with rich wood-paneled ceilings, all adorned with engravings, paintings etc.  The All Saints Chapel is an extraordinary architectural treasure with its stucco decorations richly decorated in gold.  

     Complementing the chateau is an extensive  garden, created in the 1570s, where one can relax in peace and tranquility, separated from the nearby town.  

     We spent some time further strolling the streets of this most interesting town, admiring the beautiful buildings while walking on ancient cobblestones.
     We left Telc, continuing our journey east through mostly rolling countryside.  This area, even in spring with fields of poppies is not the most attractive of places we have traveled.  The land is fairly flat and the cities, such as Brno, very industrial.  Olomouc was not a destination but rather simply an over-night stop along the way.  Once a historical capital of Moravia it is located on the Morava River.

     Today Olomouc is the administrative centre of the region and the sixth largest city in the Czech Republic with 100,000 residents proper but nearly 500,000 in its larger urban zone.  Our hotel, the Arigone was nicely located in the historical centre of town - in the university district directly across form the Chapel of St. Sarkander.  

     After arriving and settling into a wonderful room with rich wood ceiling and a beautiful brick wall we went out to explore the centre of Olomouc.  For a while we were somewhat limited as to where we could go due to a race taking place.  We eventually came upon a restaurant that looked decent.  Being pretty famished we enjoyed a large meal starting with a soup each - garlic with quail eggs for Gayle and Moravian sauerkraut with homemade sausage for me.  Gayle then had fresh spinach with cream while I grilled pork medallions in a mushroom sauce while we shared roasted potatoes with garlic, grilled fresh vegetables and cheese sticks, all with a half liter of Czech wine.  Good choice.  

     We made our way back to Hotel Arigone and retired early as we have a busy day ahead of us tomorrow.

A pretty simple breakfast but look what I found gazing out the window.

The view out of our room's window to the town square with the church in the distance.

The interior of the cathedral and the spires of the church.

Telc's Chateau.

A sampling of the wall murals and interior of Chateau Telc.

Cobblestone streets and unique buildings given Telc a wealth of character.

More of the pastel coloured beautiful Renaissance buildings of Telc.

The view across the pond to the town of Telc.

Being spring flowers were prominent, whether brightening up a fence or a field of poppies on the drive.

The Hotel Arigone.                                                            Our impressive room with wood ceilings and a brick wall.

A race of some sort was taking place.                                      Moravska Restaurant.

Garlic soup with quail eggs.                                                    Grilled pork medallions with mushroom sauce.

June 19, 2011 - Olomouc to Ostrava (Chateau Zabreh)
     After only one night in Olomouc after enjoying a very nice breakfast of juice, including cherry, coffee, meats, cheese, eggs and all the other standard breakfast items we left immediately for a relatively short drive of a little over an hour to Frydek-Mistek for the CIOFF Folklorni Festival (videos and photos separate below).  

We spent the day in Frydek-Mistek, first outdoors in a town square enjoying the music, dancing and colourful folk costumes.  At 4:00 pm we moved to a theatre for the nearly four hour festival ending Gala Koncert.  Afterwards we drove the half hour to Ostrava and Chateau Zabreh where we enjoyed a spectacular room.
      Chateau Zabreh was first documented as a fortified building in 1529.  In 2007 the chateau was renovated in order to provide a number of rooms, nine of which are historical.  Every room in this Renaissance chateau is unique, some with fireplaces, others with antique furniture and period decoration.  Our room was beyond impressive.

     The restaurant is situated in the vaults of the oldest part of the chateau, where local cuisine is provided from fresh ingredients.  Also on site is a brew-pub where one can enjoy the unpasteurized beer from the Chateau's own Brewery PIKARD.  Brewing here was first mentioned in 1574.  Over 400 years later the high-tech microbrewery was revived based on recorded traditions.  

     After a very entertaining day we enjoyed a nice dinner in the Chateau's restaurant.

A hearty and tasty breakfast at Arigone Hotel.

Our very impressive room with rich wood - not only on the ceiling but also the roof of the beautiful bed.

Some of the ornate furniture present in our room.

The stairs leading to the upstairs pub area; the restaurant and my pork appetizer.

Gayle's pasta dish with spinach and mushrooms and my duck with lentils and potato sticks.

June 19, 2011 - The CIOFF Folklorni Festival Frydek-Mistek
     Today was spent at the CIOFF (International Council of Organizations of Folklore Festivals and Folk Arts) festival in Frydek-Mistek, a substantial city of over 50,000 approx. 25 kms north of Ostrava.  

     Throughout the morning and into the afternoon there were a series of performances in an an outdoor park setting.  Fortunately the weather cooperated.  While somewhat overcast it was generally a bright day perfect for the music and dance.

     The festival brings together dancers and musicians from all over the world to experience the Czech, Moravian and local Silesian region's folklore tradition.  The week is filled with diverse music and dance in colourful traditional costumes with up to 600 participants of all ages.  Unfortunately the program is in Czech making it difficult to understand the info provided on each group, but here is a list of the 16 dance troupes and where they are from who participated in the festival.

Tradiciones - Caracas, Venezuela
Angham El-Behira - Beheira, Egypt
Spandan - Ahmadabad, India
Sputnik - Tambov, Russia
Kis Csepel - Csepel, Mad'arsko
Vihorlat - Snina, Slovenia
Lipta - Liptal, Czech Republic
Kyjovanek - Kyjov, Czech Republic
Radhost - Trojanovice, Czech Republic
Ondrasek - Frydek-Mistek, Czech Republic
Ostravicka - Frydek-Mistek, Czech Republic
Ostravica a Mala Ostravica - Frydek-Mistek, Czech Republic
CM Fris - Ostrava, Czech Republic
CM Sidla - Frydek-Mistek, Czech Republic
Suba Duba Band - Frydek-Mistek, Czech Republic
Velky Dechovy Orchestra VP - Frydek-Mistek, Czech Republic

     The week culminated with the four hour Gala Concert with performances by all of the participants in the festival.  Below are many photos, and a number of videos, first from the outdoor performances, then waiting to enter the theatre, and finally from the Gala Concert.  

     It was a long day with so many wonderful performances - enjoyable dance and music.  Enjoy

A few short (ranging in length from 16 seconds to 25 seconds) videos of some of the outdoor performances during the day.

SPANDAN - Ahmadabad, India

We didn't understand the meaning of the cabbage, but no doubt there is one.

While waiting outside for the theatre to open, we noticed a number of the younger members of the Kyjovanek folk group.  The origin of the group goes back to 1975.  There are over 70 children from the ages of 5 to 25 who dance and sing, in traditional folk costumes from Dolnacko, part of South Moravia.  The dances are devoted to children's activities in folk customs from South Moravia, often accompanied by dulcimer music.  The ensemble has taken part in many folk festivals in various regions of Moravia, as well as in Germany, Poland, Italy, Russia, Serbia, Croatia, France, Turkey and Taiwan.  Each year the group performs Christmas concerts in churches and seniors homes.  The troupe regularly enters competitions for children's folk groups run by the Folk Association of the Czech Republic.

Over the span of nearly four hours there was lots of wonderful, uplifting folk music and dance, all in authentic, colourful costumes, of which the following is a small sampling.  The videos range in length from 17 seconds to 2 minutes 27 seconds.

TRADICIONES from Caracas, Venezuela                           VIHORLAT from Snina, Slovakia

                                                                                                KYJOVANEK form Kyjov, Czech Republic

SPUTNIK from Tambov, Russia                                           The closing.

The introduction of all the folk groups.

KYJOVANEK from Kyjov, Czech Republic

SPUTNIK from Tambov, Russia.

The Sputnik orchestra.

VIHORLAT from Snina, Slovakia.

SPANDAN fro Ahmadabad, India.

TRADICIONES, from Caracas, Venezuela.

The finale with all performers on stage.

June 20, 2011 - Ostrava to Uhersky Hradiste (Hotel Konicek)
     To get our day started we enjoyed another nice buffet breakfast including eggs made to order.  

     One of the unique experiences of Chatau Zabreh is the opportunity for a 'beer' bath in a wooden bath tub in their 'Mediterranean' cellar.  Now the entire tub is not filled with beer although a few pitchers are added.  However there are taps on the edge of the tub where one can pour themselves a glass, or two, or ... more.  The bath is 30 minutes followed by twenty minute massages for each, using lava stones, aromatherapy and oils.  The cost was $65 Cdn.  No question it was a neat thing to experience.

     We left Ostrava, driving south through the gently rolling landscape and forests of Moravia towards Uhersky Brod, the hometown of my grand-mother.    Being a short drive and wanting to do some shopping, although only 13 km before reaching Uhersky Brod, we stopped in the spa town of Luhacovice.

     First mentioned in 1412 the town is believed to be founded before 1287.  From 1629 through 1948 the town belonged to the Serenyi family who made use of the mineral springs in the area, building the spa.
         Luhacovice mineral water is a heavily mineralized, naturally effervescent residual seawater, indicated for use for diseases of the vocal chords and breathing pathways, metabolic diseases, stomach ulcers, liver cirrhosis, diabetes, chronic pancreatitis and excessive consumption of alcohol.  

     However the real reason for mentioning the stop was this very strange experience as we were getting out of our car.  While trying to decide which direction to go this elderly women approached and started to talk to us.  What was weird was that except for the jewelry, which my mother would never wear, this woman was the spitting image of my mother - short, a bit rotund, snow-white hair.  Although we did not understand a thing she said she kept talking.  When we mentioned we were from Canada she went into her purse and pulled out a card for her son, who apparently - at least as best we could understand - studied medicine in Toronto, although we could be totally wrong.  Just like my mother would she went on and on and on about her son, as proud as a mother could be.  Her pride in her son, her physical appearance, her mannerisms - it was like she was a reincarnation of my mother.  To be clear I don't believe in such things and as such I was very uncomfortable, as I said it was quite a strange experience.  

     Because of the discomfort I didn't take a photo of this women, which perhaps was for the best.  After about five minutes we excused ourselves and went for our walk, shaking our heads at what we had just experienced.

     From Uhersky Brod it was 20 kms to Uhersky Hradiste where we easily found Hotel Konicek.  The building dates from 1872 when it produced high-quality carriages and some of the first cars in Czechoslovakia.  Eventually the plant was closed and resurrected as the Konicek (hobby-horse) Hotel.  The hotel has a large restaurant located in the 'basement', made to imitate a cave or cellar.  The hotel boasts 'exquisite cuisine' and we must say it lived up to its billing.  We ate here both nights, very much enjoying our meals.  We started with a garlic soup with dill and a poached egg and some lightly coated baked cheese.  Gayle then had an excellent mushroom risotto while I a superb leg of duck with red apple cabbage and chestnut dumplings.  An excellent Chardonnay from the wine area of Valtice near the Austrian border complemented the meal.


The exterior of Chateau Zabreh.

A 'beer' bath and a massage - how great of a way is this to start one's day.

Delivering the beer.                                                              The massage.

Relaxing in our room at Hotel Konicek.

'Konicek' translates to hobby, as in hobby horse, the symbol of the hotel.

Gorgeous roses all around the property.

A very nice bottle of Moravian wine from Valtice (near the Austrian border) to accompany dinner.

Garlic soup with dill and egg.

Lightly coated fried cheese.

Risotto for Gayle.                                                         ... and duck with red cabbage and chestnut dumplings for me.

June 21, 2011 - Uhersky Hradiste - a visit to Uhersky Brod 
     Breakfast was just ok, certainly nothing to write home about.

     Today is kind of the purpose of the trip, a pilgrimage of sorts.  My mom had never come to the Czech Republic, to the home of her mother, my grandmother.  Most of her life she seemed frightened - communism and all that - until her later years when she seemed to turn a corner and did want to visit but her health would not allow it.  It was probably for the best as she had this image of Uhersky Brod as a quaint little farming village, which it is not.. 

    Uhersky Brod is a full-fledged sizable town of 16,500, fairly compact and dense with a significant industrial presence.  The town can be traced back to the 10th century.  In 1272 it had become sufficiently important to be granted the status of a King's town.  The name loosely translates to 'Hungarian ford' or 'river crossing to Hungary'.  During the golden age of the 16th century the town hall and lords' house were built.  The good times came to an end at the beginning of the 17th century when Hungarians started to attack in a series of invasions.  Later German and Jewish communities sprung up and in the 19th century the town was transformed by an industrial component, while managing to retain its character and charm.  World War II brought further invasion and the development of military industries, including a precision firearms manufacturer.  In spite of the industrial component the town retains its cultural and social prominence in the Moravia-Slovakia area.

     With a photo of my great grand-mother's gravestone we went on a search of the two cemeteries in town.  Up and down each row as well as showing the photo to a couple of maintenance workers - who did not speak a word of English - but to no avail.  In all honesty we don't know if she might be buried in some village on the outskirts of Uhersky Brod.  Although we did not succeed we did try for which we felt really good.

     The town is known for production of dolls in national costumes.  In fact we have one from the early years of the 20th century that my grand-mother brought (or had sent) to Canada, a doll that was passed on to my mother and then to me.  The Folk Art Manufacture Uhersky Brod produces the dolls in a factory in the outskirts of town.  The traditional costumes are sewn by the creative talent of tailors, seamstresses and embroiderers into a rich treasury of  costumes, representing a wide range of regions and towns.  The sunny and fertile region around the Morava River is characterized by rich embroidery, gathered sleeves and ribbons while mountain regions are somewhat simpler.  There was a small museum of dolls of various regions and a shop where we bought one for my sister Jean.

     We spent a considerable amount of time strolling through Uhersky Brod, admiring the buildings and churches (and wandering through their cemeteries) before heading back to Uhersky Hradiste and beyond to Buchlovice, a much smaller town of 2.500, where there is a Chateau, beautifully manicured gardens and a museum showcasing folklore traditions including local costumes..  We spent some time strolling throughout before having a light mid-day lunch.

     On the way back we passed a ceramic museum and shop (Muzeum Tupeske Keramiky) with a very nice selection of Czech pottery, the same as a small flower vase we have at home.  Of course we purchased a number of pieces.

     We returned to again eat at Hotel Konicek.   Gayle had roasted vegetables with buffalo mozzarella, Parmesan and a reduction of balsamic, while I traditional beef sirloin cooked in a cream sauce with cranberries and a variety of Czech dumplings.  For dessert we shared an order of pancakes with caramelized banana and whipped cream.  We enjoyed the meal with a bottle of nearby Frankovka Moravino Valtice 2008 (we will be stopping in Valtice tomorrow).

Arriving in Uhersky Brod.

Uhersky Brod as we approached.                                           The central square (well more like an oblong).

A church and the town clock of Uhersky Brod.

Hotel Bucholvice in Bucholovie.                                           A row of buildings in Uhersky Brod.

A factory in Unhersky Brod makes these beautiful Czech dolls, the same as the one brought to Canada by my grandmother.

My grandmother's Uhersky Brod Czech 

Cemeteries in Uhersky Brod where we unsuccessfully searched for my great grandmother's grave.

It is unusual for us to have lunch but we did here at Buchlovice.  The fruit pasty we picked up in Uhersky Brod.

We came across a ceramic museum and workshop where we purchased a number of items including this plate and coffee mug.

The chateau of Buchlovice.

Gayle enjoying the sunshine in the gardens of Buchlovice.

The peacock and a selection of the paths and gardens at Museum Podhradi Buchlovice.

Hotel Konicek's cave inspired restaurant.

Roasted vegetables with buffalo mozzarella, Parmesan in a reduction of balsamic.

Traditional beef sirloin in a cream sauce with cranberries and a variety of Czech dumplings.

Pancakes with caramelized bananas and whipped cream.

June 22, 2011 - Uhersky Hradiste to Vienna - Hotel Austria 
     This morning we left Uhersky Hradiste and the Czech Republic for Vienna and Austria.  The drive through southern Moravia to the border was very flat and generally uninteresting.  We stopped in a couple of towns along the way, the second one being Valtice in the heart of the Moravia wine country.  Until 1919 Valtice belonged to Lower Austria.  It is part of the European Centrope multinational region project established in 2003 with all border controls abolished in conjunction with the Czech Republic implementing the Schengen Agreement in 2007.  The vineyards around Valtice are the centre of wine production with tastings in the Valtice Chateau.

     Valtice itself is a small town (population 4,000) in the South Moravian Region, very near to the Austrian border.  The town contains one of the most impressive Baroque residences / chateaus of Central Europe.  It was designed as the seat of the ruling princes of Liechtenstein in the early 18th century.  Together with the neighbouring manor of Lednice, to which it is connected by a 7 km long lime-tree avenue, Valtice forms the Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Between the 17th and 20th centuries, the ruling dukes of Liechtenstein transformed their domains in southern Moravia into a striking landscape.  It married Baroque architecture and the classical and neo-Gothic style of the castles of Lednice and Valtice with countryside fashioned according to English romantic principles of landscape architecture.  At 200 square kms it is one of the largest artificial landscapes in Europe - or at least that's what the UNESCO World Heritage Site claims.  We simply strolled around the chateau without going in but did stop in a cafe for a beer and a glass of wine.    

     We crossed the border, or at least what was once a border crossing- now totally deserted - and made our way to Vienna.  Vienna is a large city with a population of 1.8 million.  Making our way into the city centre, where there are many twisting turning one-way streets was a challenge but after a number of map checks we found the underground parking we had arranged through the hotel.  
     It was a short walk to the Hotel Austria.  The first building in this location, a boarding house, dates back to 1457.  In 1587 it was converted to a restaurant and inn, considered one of the best restaurants in Vienna.   The hotel was destroyed by a bomb on November 8, 1944, with many killed.  Reconstruction began in 1953 with the hotel reopening in 1955.  The hotel was relatively expensive but that's the price one has to pay to be in the city centre.  While our room was small it was actually very nicely appointed with a couch and a couple of chairs.  
     After checking in we went out for a stroll through the nearby central part of Vienna, admiring the horse drawn carriages, impressive buildings, and St. Stephen's cathedral dating from 1147.  It is the most important religious building in Vienna having borne witness to many events in Habsburg and Austrian history and has, with its multi-coloured tile roof, become one of the city's most recognizable symbols.

     Vienna is known for its cafes, serving coffee and other drinks along with a wide selection of wonderful pastries.  We came across one - Cafe Diglas - where we stopped for a coffee and hot chocolate accompanied by a couple of pastries.  We quickly concluded afternoon stops in the cafes would become a regular thing here in Vienna, which it did.  We booked nearby Pfudl Gasthouse for a dinner and on the whole were very disappointed.  In fairness Gayle enjoyed her gnocchi - fresh, well presented with a nice sauce.  On the other hand the effort at a beef strogonoff was pathetic, absolutely terrible - certainly the most disappointing meal of our trip, and ridiculously overpriced at 15 euros.  Furthermore the service was terrible with the waitress unaware of our reservation.  Delivery of food was first rushed and then disinterested.  As well there was a bit of sewage smell.  All in all a disappointing experience.

Leaving Uhersky Hradiste the land was pretty flat, with a number of cherry trees bursting with ripe fruit.

Not sure of the town but we came across this church and eldery Czech woman.

The most impressive Valtice residence.

A winery in Valtice ...                                                            ... where we enjoyed a drink.

Roses lining the rows of vines.

Vineyards everywhere.    

The Czech / Austrian border crossing - now deserted with the EU.

Austrian countryside on the way to Vienna.

Some of the sights during our first stroll through Vienna.

Vienna is a city of cafes, coffees and pastries - these at Cafe Diglas.

Hot chocolate and a pastry.

Our room key.                                                                       A common area.

Although the room was small it had a coach and chairs.

The short street, Fleischmarkt, complete with gargoyles in central Vienna where Hotel Austria is located.

Dinner at Pfudl Gasthouse - wine, beer, vegetable gnocchi and a terrible beef strogonoff.

June 23, 2011 - Vienna - The Mozart Ensemble 

      Our morning began with a much better breakfast than we were expecting - a full buffet the highlight of which was the hearty Austrian breads.

      First on our agenda was a visit to the Sisi Museum housed in the Hofburg Palace.  The Hofburg is the former principal imperial palace of the Habsburg dynasty rulers, today serving as the official residence and workplace of the President of Austria.  It was originally built in the 13th century, being expanded several times, serving as the imperial winter residence.  Since 1279 the Hofburg area has been the seat of government.  The Sisi Museum is dedicated to Empress Elizabeth (Sisi) Amalie Eugenie (1837 - 1898), the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph.  A very ornate museum that includes a number of rooms (anteroom, salons, study, bedrooms, dining room etc.) and a significant silver collection. 

       After the tour we simply wandered through central Vienna, enjoying the parks and beautiful buildings, the most iconic of all being the Gothic St. Stephan's Cathedral.  Wealthy aristocratic families like the Liechtensteins first brought the ornate Baroque style of architecture (1600 - 1830) to Vienna.  By the mid-1800s the former city walls and military enforcements that protected the city centre were demolished.  In their place Emperor Franz Joseph I launched a massive urban renewal, creating what has been called the most beautiful boulevard in the world, the Ringstrasse - three miles of monumental, historically-inspired neo-Gothic and neo-Baroque buildings.


      Of course, coming upon one of the many Viennese cafes we could not help ourselves, stopping for coffee and and couple of tortes - the famous Viennese Sacher Torte and a Mozart Torte.

     Vienna is a city of music.  We booked tickets for the Vienna Boys Choir tomorrow and a performance of the Mozart Ensemble at the Mozarthaus this evening.  The Ensemble, comprised of four musicians plays in the tradition of the Viennese classical period.  Their repertoire includes works of Haydn, Schubert and Mozart.  The concert was held in the Sala Terrena of the Mozarthaus, the oldest concert hall in Vienna where Mozart used to work and play in 1781.  In fact Mozart, at the age of 25, lived in the house for a number of weeks, from March 16 to May 2, 1781.  

     The Sala Terrena, located next to the church, was designed and painted in the second half of the 18th century in late Renaissance Venetian style.  The theatre is adorned with beautiful and expressive frescoes illustrating the rich ornamentation and revealing mythical scenes.  It is here where Mozart gave concerts for the Viennese aristocracy with some of his concerts premiering at this very place.  The small intimate space - I'm guessing less than 50 seats is a perfect environment for a concert.

* photo taken from a website - not mine
     Beyond the annoying lamp in the middle of the stage the music was wonderful and the venue impressive, especially given its history.   

     After the concert we strolled back (< 1 km) towards our hotel stopping along the way for a bite to eat.  Although not very 'Austrian' we ended up at a pizzeria where we enjoyed a simple meal of pizza accompanied by wine.

Breakfast at Hotel Austria.

The Sissi Museum - a candelabra.                                            More gold on the ceiling and the staircase.

Impressive buildings / architecture throughout Vienna.

St. Stephen's cathedral.

Beautiful twisting streets and gorgeous buildings provide the perfect backdrop for an indulgence at a cafe.

Choices, choices, choices.

A Mozart Torte and a Sacher Torte, with coffee of course.

As we meandered back to our hotel we passed the famous Cafe Central but having just eaten a rich torte each we decided not to stay.  Tomorrow!

The interior of the small and intimate Mozarthaus.

Silly time.

The Mozart ensemble.

After the concert we ambled back towards our hotel.  

Along the way we checked out a number of restaurants but in the end decided on a simple pizza.  We know - not very Austrian but we had had the coffee and tortes earlier in the day and one can never go wrong with pizza.

June 24, 2011 - Vienna to Burg Oberranna, Muldorf - The Vienna Boys Choir 

     Today is going to be a busy day.  We were able to purchase tickets to a 4:00 pm performance of the Vienna Boys Choir and consequently arranged our day to not leave the city until after the concert, around 6:00 ish, for a 2 1/2 hour drive to the Wachau Valley and Burg Oberranna where we will be staying the next three nights.

     In the late morning we walked (further than we expected) to the Volkskunde (Folk Museum) where there were displays of furniture and artifacts.  The museum was founded in 1895 and housed since 1917 in the Shonborn Garden Palace.  In all honesty it was not that exciting, certainly not worth the effort although along the walk we passed numerous very impressive buildings.  The retention of these heritage buildings, with no high-rises / towers in the central core is impressive.  Along with the buildings are large expansive parks, lots of green space for residents.

     On the way back we stopped at Cafe Central for coffee and desserts.  The cafe was opened in 1876 and in the late 19th century became a key meeting place of the Viennese intellectual scene, attracting among others Sigmund Freud, Leon Trotsky (a regular), and Tito.  The cafe was often referred to as the 'Chess school' because of the many chess players who used the first floors.  It closed at the end of World War II until 1975 when it was renovated and again opened.  In 1986 it was again fully renovated, today serving as a tourist spot and popular cafe marked by its place in literary history.  And the coffee and desserts were really good!

    Late afternoon we went to the performance of the Vienna Boys' Choir, founded over five hundred year ago.  Tickets were not cheap - 63 euros each for a total of $183 Cdn for the two of us, but they are famous and we likely will never again have the opportunity.  And we got A+ seats - the centre of the third row.  The theatre was spectacular, perhaps the highlight.  The gold ceiling, statutes etc. were very impressive.  The concert started with a symphony orchestra being backed up by the choir, followed by the choir taking centre stage.  The symphony was excellent and the voices of the boys wonderful, but unfortunately too many of them seemed quite bored - the occasional yawns gave it away.  As I said the theatre was perhaps more of a lasting memory than the choir itself.

     Being pretty much the day of the year with the most light there was no issue of driving in the dark.  It took some effort to get out of central Vienna but when we did it was for the most part highway driving until we reached Krems.  From there we continued west along the north shore of the Danube river past Durnstein to Spitzan der Donau in the heart of the Wachau, and then 7 km north into the hills to Burg Oberranna.  Along the way we passed a number of Maypoles, used to celebrate the arrival of spring.  The poles are erected on either April 30th or May 1st in the centre of villages.  The 'pole' is a tall tree that has been striped of its branches and leaves leaving a short crown of green branches at the top.  There is also a wreath hung from these last branches that encircles the trunk.  Apparently the trees have been symbols of fertility with some men putting little versions of the trees in front of their sweethearts' houses - it's true I read it.  Some Maypoles are taken down while others are left up through the summer for tourists like us to see.

     At first glance Burg Oberranna looked very impressive, and it is, standing on the steep hillside of the Muhtal Valley, tracing its roots back to the Castle Ranna whose creation is apparently entirely in the dark.  However the castle existed prior to 1070 when it was bought by the Lords of Grie.  The Fortress of Oberranna was built to stop the French or Prussians, or whomever from marauding and slaughtering local residents and is now a luxury hotel.  Burg Oberranna has been lovingly restored in close consultation with Austria's Office of Historic Monuments.  We were greeted by a women in traditional Austrian dress and checked into Apartment 10, a massive room with antique furnishings, gorgeous colourful rugs, expansive vistas out our windows in two directions, massively thick walls - thick enough for a chair to easily fit, and high walls / ceilings with remnants of previous frescos.  The castle itself is beautiful with a moat, with deer wandering through, wonderful alcoves with chandeliers and painted ceilings and its own chapel.   Very impressive.

     Unfortunately dinner is not served (or so we thought - when we later met the manager Lydia Nemetz and suggested it would have been nice if there had been an opportunity for a plate of bread, meat and cheese she regretted we didn't ask, mentioning they have all of that for breakfast and would have been more than happy to put something together for us) so we headed back towards Spitz.  We stopped at one place but thought it was a private gathering - it turned out to be a heuriger (more on them later) and with it getting late stopped at a hotel where we were able to get some food - for me a schnitzel with vegetables and potatoes.   Back up the valley where we called it a night.

Sights while wandering the streets of Vienna.

More of the dramatic, massive, ornate buildings of Vienna.

Some of the artifacts at Vienna's Volkskunde (Folk Museum).

More beautiful buildings and one of the many parks.

An Alfen Torte, and apple strudel and two coffees at the stunning Cafe Central - cost:  16 euros.

Enjoying our coffee and desserts.

The stunning theatre in which we saw the Vienna Boys Choir perform.

Two videos of the orchestra and Vienna Boys Choir.

Over the bridge above the moat to enter Burg Oberranna.      The view out one of our windows.

Burg Oberranna as one approaches the entrance.

Beautiful rug, chair and artwork.                                            One of the vestibules, again with a painted ceiling.

Our beautiful room with gorgeous views out the windows to two sides.

The bed is behind the Chinese wall on the left.

Retained painted walls and ceilings - on the left in our bedroom and on the right in the chapel.

This ceiling in one of the vestibules.

The Christmas Tree Maypole seen on the road to Muldorf.

Pork schnitzel, potatoes, salad and wine for dinner.

June 25, 2011 - Burg Oberranna, Muldorf - a drive to villages along the Danube 

     We started the day with a fantastic breakfast.  Of course there was juice and coffee, yoghurt and cereal, and a selection of meats, cheese and fruit.  But the best was the bread - a wonderful selection of hearty Austrian breads.

      Today we meandered through the villages on the north side of the Danube - Wosendorf in der Wachau, Joching, Weissenkirchen in der Wachau and Durnstein - each quaint villages with beautiful buildings highlighted by flower boxes overflowing with colourful blooms.  The villages were full of pedestrians as well as cyclists given there is a well conditioned bicycle path that connects the villages.  We strolled about, stopping for a drink of apricot juice given apricots were in season, and a couple of pastries.  We purchased a local wine and a cherry liqueur.  In one of the villages we stumbled upon a wedding which we observed from a distance.  

     The drive along the Danube is nice with the cruise boats going both up and down the river.  The only disappointing aspect is the colour of the water - a dirty brown, not at all the way one imagines it when one thinks of the 'blue' Danube.  We ended in the touristy village of Durnstein.  Sure it is touristy but very impressive with its narrow alleys, attractive shops, wrought iron signs and of course the most impressive abbey church.  The abbey was founded on a rock cliff high above the Danube in 1410.  It was later modified and baroquized in the first half of the 18th century.   The blue and white tower of the abbey church is a regional landmark.

     We found what appeared to be a nice restaurant - Sanger Blondel - with an attractive outdoor terrace.   We decided to stop for a meal, starting with a glass of apricot sparkling wine.  We enjoyed a wonderful meal, my highlight being the 'Wachauer Rostbraten' from Donauland beef prepared with a sauce of apricots and white wine, with roasted potatoes.  Superb.  Gayle started with a nice broccoli soup while I had the smoked trout.  Then Gayle had a Gemuselaibch - a vegetable loaf and me the Rostbraten.  A very pleasant late afternoon meal in a lovely courtyard.

A delicious breakfast of Austrian breads, meats and cheese, cereal, juice, coffee, eggs, yoghurt, fruit and on and on.

A sampling of some of the attractive buildings, adorned with flowers flowers flowers in the villages along the Danube.

While in a village we came across this wedding.

The Danube River.

Churches along the Danube - the one on the right in Durnstein.

Early summer - flowers were in full bloom.

One more photo of flowers and some grapes - this is after all some prime Austrian wine country.

The impressive blue church of Durnstein.                              One of the interesting alleyways of the village.

We easily found Sanger Blondel hotel and restaurant.

With apricots in season there is nothing better than enjoying an Austrian apricot wine spritzer.

The beautiful outdoor terrace of Sanger Blondel where we enjoyed a wonderful afternoon meal.

A smoked trout appetizer.                                                        Beef in a mushroom and apricot sauce with potatoes.

June 26, 2011 - Burg Oberranna, Muldorf and a Danube river cruise

     We decided to take a river cruise down the Danube today.   We drove to the town of Melk, famous for its Abbey - founded in 1089 as a gift of Leopold II to the Benedictine monks from Lambach Abbey.  Today's Baroque Abbey was built between 1702 and 1736.  The Abbey caught fire in 1974, damaging the ornamental rooms, the interior and some of the art.  The abbey was restored from 1978 through 1995 with eight pounds of gold bullion used to restore the statues and alters.  The process also focused on the church's frescoes and brown marble columns, leaving the abbey similar to its 1740 grandeur.  We did not have (or make) the time for a tour, only seeing the massive structure from the outside.

     The cruise was 38 kms from Melk, past Spitz and Durnstein and a number of other river-side villages to Krems.  The weather was mixed, originally overcast but clearing up somewhat during the day.  The first and most lasting impression was that the 'blue' Danube is not at all blue, but rather a dirty brown.  We passed a number of castles and  churches along with hillsides of vineyards.  The cruise, which was approx. three hours each way was 52 euros ($75 Cdn.) for the two of us.  It was interesting but honestly the six hours was enough.  I highly doubt I would enjoy a multi-day river cruise, but we were glad we did it.

     After returning to Melk we drove east along the south side of the river to take a small ferry across at Spitz.  Along the way we saw another of the heuriger wreaths and decided to stop and ask what they were about.  We discovered they actually are small taverns or cafes associated with a local winery.  For a restricted number of weeks during the growing season, under a special licence, the Heurige serve the new wine, along with simple food and in some places - music.  Heuriger is the abbreviation of "heuiger Wein" (this year's wine), originally open-air taverns on the premises of winemakers where people would bring their own food to enjoy with the new wine.  Nowadays a number of the taverns are situated at a distance from the winery but offer food and drink.  We decided to sit down to sample a number of Weingut Mayer's fresh wines along with some delicious bread, cheese and fruit.  It was reasonably crowded as we enjoyed our food and wine, looking over the vineyard across to the church of Durnstein.

     Being only an afternoon 'snack' after crossing the river on the small ferry we stopped in Spitz Strand Cafe for dinner.  I had roast beef with a large helping of vegetables while Gayle had a local scrambled eggs with mushrooms.  The food was just ok, nothing to rave about.  But the location, right on the banks of the river was perfect and the large, plump piece of apple strudel for dessert was a nice way to finish.

Our river cruise went from Melk to Krems, and back.           Melk Abbey.

One of the river cruise boats.                                                 We're off, floating down the not so blue Danube.

Noticeable hills on either side of the river, many covered with vineyards.

An 'articulated' river boat (or a creative combination of two photos?).

Beautiful churches along the river, including the well photographed blue steeple of Durnstein.

A couple of castles along the way.

And the cruise comes to an end.

The traditional heuriger wreaths.

The winery Mayer ...                                                             ... with its beautiful roses adorning the rows of vines.

The village of Durnstein across the vineyard and river Danube.

Staff in traditional costumes.                                                  Many enjoying their afternoon in the vineyard.

The bread was delicious, the cheese with fruit was excellent, the wine was excellent.

Enjoying our snack of bread, cheese and wine.

The Strand Cafe where we ate dinner.                                   Gayle's egg-mushroom concoction.

Roast beef with lots of vegetables.                                           A nice plump apple strudel for dessert.

June 27, 2011 - Burg Oberranna, Muldof to Hotel Stekl, Hluboka

     We said our good-byes to Lydia, leaving Burg Oberranna and Austria this morning to return to the Czech Republic.  It was an easy drive through quaint countryside, with a couple of short stops - first when we saw a fellow playing the accordion in the centre of a small village and second, once we had crossed into the Czech Republic when we went into a pet store where we found the same rubber dragon Lydia's dog had.  We just had to buy it.

Along the way we passed some cherry trees on the edge of the road, close enough to the car to reach out and pick a few.  

Further along, after crossing into the Czech Republic we came upon this small hamlet of Holasovice, dominated by its 'peasant baroque' style of buildings.  The hamlet was first mentioned in written records going back as early as 1263.  The current farmhouses are beautifully restored.  We commented as to what a cute little village it was, immediately reinforced by a camera crew filming nearby. 

     We then passed through Ceske Budejovice after which we drove a short distance further north to Hluboka na Vltavou, a small lake-side town of nearly 5,000 dominated by Hluboka nad Vlatvou Castle, originally a royal castle on a promontory above the Vltava River.  Nearby - a short three minute walk from the castle - is the Hotel Stekl, built in a similar style to the castle during the end of the castle's reconstruction from 1841 to 1871.  At that time, the original building, Stockl, located next to the kennels and horse stables, became the administrative building for Hluboka castle, being used as a residence until 1989.
     Our room was very impressive with antique furniture and wonderful vistas across the lake below.  We spent the afternoon relaxing on the beautifully manicured grounds of the hotel before enjoying an excellent dinner in the restaurant.  We were served the 'Summer Dream' menu that started with a salad topped with Parmesan shavings, an asparagus cream soup, for me two pieces of salmon with mashed potatoes in a lemon butter sauce and for Gayle a mushroom risotto.  Dessert was a chocolate roll with banana.  It was all delicious.  Very impressive - the room, the hotel grounds, the restaurant and the food.

We said good-bye / auf wiedersehen to Lydia (it was nice staff at Burg Oberranna wore traditional Austrian dress).

Gayle and Lydia.                                                                   The dog with his / her toy dragon.

Driving through this small town where this fellow was playing his accordion.  We stopped and listened.

And then we said Auf Wiedersehen (Good-Bye) to Austria.

Life is pretty good when you can pick cherries right out of your car's window.

We stopped at this cute village of Holasovice, attractive enough to be a film set ... oh wait, it was.

More of the attractive homes / shops in the village.

A stunning room with views across the neighbouring countryside and lake.

Beautiful, comfortable furniture in our suite.

Can you see the resemblance?                                                Gargoyles and other carvings on the hotel's walls.

The view from our room.

The grounds of Hotel Stekl.

The Hotel Stekl restaurant.                                                    Salad with Parmesan shavings.

Asparagus cream soup.                                                             A mushroom risotto for Gayle.

Salmon with mashed potatoes in a lemon-butter sauce.         Chocolate roll with bananas.

June 28, 2011 - Hotel Stekl, Hluboka, with a day trip to Cesky Krumlov

     Today we went on a day trip to Cesky Krumlov, a famous Czech village about a half hour south.  We first passed through Cesky Budovice where we stopped at a Budvar (a huge Czech beer producer) gift shop where I bought a Czech hockey cap, a T-shirt and three Czech beer mugs.

     We continued on to Cesky Krumlov, a town of 13,000 + dominated by Cesky Krumlov Castle - the 2nd largest castle in the Czech Republic, surpassed only by the Prague castle, and in 1992 designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The settlement dates back to 1240 when the castle's construction began.  The majority of early inhabitants were German-speaking, having migrated from Austria and Bavaria.  The town was known for its trade and crafts when in the late 15th century gold was found nearby.  During WW I the Czechoslovak army occupied the region, with the area becoming part of Czechoslovakia by the end of 1918.  In 1938 it was annexed by Nazi Germany until after WW II when the town was returned to Czechoslovakia.  During the communist era historic Krumlov fell into disrepair but since the late '80s much of the town's former beauty has been restored to what has become a popular holiday destination.

     The town hosts a number of festivals and other events during the year, including the Five-Petaled Rose Festival (who knew?) when the central area is turned into a medieval town with craftsmen, artists, musicians and locals in medieval costume.  Jousting, fencing, historical dance performances and folk theatre monopolize the festival.  There is also an International Music Festival in the summer along with others throughout the year.

     The Castle is also famous for its protection by a number of brown bears that live in the moat that surrounds the castle.  It is believed the bears were first held at the castle in the second half of the 16th century, and started living in the moat around 1707.  As the bears die off new ones have been gifted or donated by aristocrats.  Today there are four bears living in the moat - Vok and Katerina, and cubs Hubert and Marie Terezie.  Each Christmas Eve a festival is held for the bears with visitors allowed in the enclosure.   Early in the morning children arrive bringing food for the bears, including apples, Christmas biscuits, pastries and honey.  After the food is placed the bears are released for what is a frenzied feast on delicious Christmas treats.

     Cesky Krumlov is indeed a very impressive town with the Vitava river flowing through.  Its buildings have been immaculately restored with small shops and restaurants / cafes around every corner.  We thought it would be too much to tour the massive castle so just wandered through town where we stopped to purchase a local pastry - a Trdlo or Trdelnik - dough rolled on a cylinder of beech or oak, baked over fire or charcoal topped with nuts, plum jam or honey.  Delish.

     A very worthwhile side trip Cesky Krumlov reminded us of Peggy's Cove - a very touristy place that one might think has become spoiled by it's success and the crowds but in fact is not at all.  A very well preserved, authentic Czech village.

     We returned to Hluboka where we enjoyed a bowl of ice-cream and a glass of wine in the warmth of the courtyard of the hotel.  The 'romantic' package dinner was superb, starting with a beautifully set table covered with rose petals.  We started with a tasty soup after which Gayle had a vegetarian lasagna and I one of the most delicious meals I have had in quite a while - pork with a fantastic mushroom sauce, accompanied by Czech noodles, all accompanied by some pretty decent Czech wine.  Dessert was a light walnut cake.  Service was again excellent, making for a very enjoyable meal to end a very enjoyable day.

     After dinner we were treated to a display of fireworks over the castle.  I would like to take credit for the show as part of the 'romance package' but that would be stretching the truth.  Still it was a treat to see the fireworks light the sky. 

Our first glimpse of Cesky Krumlov as we approach the village.

Vitava river flowing through Cesky Krumlov.                     The bear pit / moat around the castle.

Below a selection of some of the beautiful buildings of Cesky Krumlov.

Displays of pastries.                                                                Trdlos.

Trdlo - a traditional Czech pastry.

And of course we had to buy a couple.

After returning from Ceske Krumlov we enjoyed a feast of ice cream.

And when the ice cream is gone, well there is wine.

Our beautifully set table.

Soup to start.                                                                           Vegetarian lasagna for Gayle.

Pork with noodles and a mushroom sauce.                            A walnut cake for dessert.

Fireworks over Stekl Hotel Castle.  

June 29, 2011 - Hluboka - a carriage ride and Hotel Stekl

     Before leaving we had two things to do - the first being a carriage ride that was included in our romance package, and the second to wander over to Hluboka Castle.  

     The carriage ride was the first we had ever taken.  We left the castle, descending into the village and then out along the shore of the nearby lake.  The ride was an hour to an hour and a half.  Unfortunately our driver could not speak much English but he smiled and pointed to stuff.  Really it was just nice to relax and be chauffeured around.

     After returning we strolled over to the Gothic castle built in the second half of the 13th century.  During its history the castle has been rebuilt several times.  It was first expanded during the Renaissance period, then rebuilt into a Baroque castle in the beginning of the 18th century.  It reached its current appearance during the 19th century when it was reconstructed in the romantic style of England's Windsor Castle.  The adjacent (well hidden from the actual castle by a small forest) Stekl Hotel, which has the appearance of a mini-castle was, we were told the servants' quarters.   Hluboka Castle is a National Cultural Monument of the Czech Republic.     

On our carriage ride.

After returning from our carriage ride.

A fascinating door handle being one of the many interesting aspects of Stekl Castle.

More Stekl Castle.

On the drive out of Hluboka we enjoyed a nice view across the lake along with a number of storks in a nest.

June 29, 2011 - Ceske Budejovice to Hotel Myln Romanticky, Karlstejn

Today was a relatively short drive more or less straight north to Karlstejn, about 30 km south-west of Prague.

We chose Hotel Myln Ramantiky in part because of the well visited castle in Karlstejn, the short drive to the airport in a couple of days and another 'Romance 'package.  I know I know the bar is being set pretty high with all these romance packages.

The drive was pleasant, primarily through rolling countryside that included fields of poppies and small villages, of which Karlstejn is one with a population of only 799 (2011).

     The hotel has a hotel feel to it - a large multi-story building.  What is so enjoyable are the vast grounds here in the country, along with being on the banks of the Berounka River.  Wide open spaces and vistas of the hotel's grounds creates a relaxing ambiance.

     The Romantic package includes, in addition to the room and breakfast, the possibility of breakfast in one's room (although we preferred to enjoy breakfast on the terrace given the warm sunny weather), a welcome drink, a small gift for the lady and a basket of fresh fruit upon arrival.  And then of course a romantic candlelight dinner.  Upon entering our 'Romantic' room we were met with a beautiful rose in a vase, a lovely fruit plate and flower petals in the bath-tub.  

     We spent the afternoon on the terrace, soaking in the sun and admiring the river.  As our candle light dinner will be tomorrow we enjoyed dinner on the terrace, starting with wonderful salads - one with Camembert and walnuts and the other with Blue cheese and pear.  Excellent.   Gayle then had a 'tower' of vegetables while I a grilled trout.  Also very tasty.  Not sure why but the hotel was not busy at all.  We certainly had excellent first impressions of the hotel and food.

Being spring some fields were covered with flowers - these pink poppies.

Turn the corner and what is ahead - nothing other than a smoke spewing nuclear power plant.

Some of the gentle rolling attractive countryside and tree lined roads.

The Hotel Myln Romanticky in Karlstejn.

The romance package included rose petals in the tub ...        ... and a colourful rose  ...

... and a welcoming fruit plate.

The Berounka river adjacent to the hotel.                               A hot air balloon floating by.

A glass of wine while checking out the menu.

A Camembert salad.                                                                A summer salad with blue cheese and pear.

An eggplant and tomato tower.                                             Grilled trout.

June 30, 2011 - Hotel Myln Romanticky, Karlstejn

     We awoke to another glorious sunny day, enjoying breakfast on the terrace overlooking the adjacent river.  Delicious breads, eggs, cereal, juice, coffee - all good.  

     Today was a visit to Karlstejn's castle, a large Gothic castle founded in 1348 by Charles IV, the Holy Roman Emperor-elect and king of Bohemia.  The castle served as a place of safekeeping the Imperial Regalia as well as the Bohemian/Czech crown jewels, holy relics and other royal treasures until the 17th century.  Karlstejn Castle, always in the hands of the king or the state, is one of the most famous and most frequently visited castles in the Czech Republic, in part due to its beauty and in part due to its proximity (only about 30 kms) from Prague.

      We walked up to the castle past numerous shops and cafes.  In one we bought a nice crystal flower bowl which we use often.  One of the cafes was Monsieur Gustev's Creperie, set up outside on the lane leading to the castle.  The spot looked popular and the crepes good so we bought one - a blueberry crepe to share.  Excellent for only $2.66 Cdn.

      Tonight was our 'romantic meal'.  Interestingly, when we went down for a drink late afternoon we were told by Jan we could not sit by the window as our table was being prepared in a 'special way'.  Jan, in his broken English told us it was a 'surprise', that we could not see it at the moment.  When we came down for dinner our table was set with candles and yellow rose petals.  Jan greeted us, sat us and did his very best to be the most professional waiter on the planet - note the arm behind the back in the photo lighting the candle.  After taking a photo of Jan, we asked another guest to take a photo of us.  Of course Jan stayed after which we had to actually ask him to move aside so we could get a photo of just the two of us.  He was meticulously careful in all he did.  However when he brought an incorrect salad for Gayle - he brought the same salad as last night - upon us mentioning the faux-pas he said something like - ".. no it is a salad", not recognizing it was not the one we ordered.  He was so sweet we just couldn't push the issue.  We did enjoy a wonderful meal - more excellent breads, tasty salads, stuffed peppers, new potatoes, green beans with almonds and smoked ham, and although I prefer meat to fish the trout last night was so good I ordered fish again - a zander, which again I very much enjoyed.  Dessert, so carefully presented by Jan were traditional Czech crepes.  Jan tried so so hard but we believe his calling is not as a server.  He did seem very excited when we gave him a considerable tip - to the point he showed his co-workers.  A memory we will never forget.

Delicious breads to accompany breakfast, enjoyed on the terrace overlooking the river.

Karlstejn castle.

On the way up to the castle we noticed this creperie.  On the way back down we enjoyed this blueberry crepe ($2.66 Cdn).

Seated for dinner at our rose petal covered table.

Jan lighting the candles (note his left arm)                             Gayle considering the menu.

Delicious breads with a cheese spread.                                  A salad of grilled mozzarella and parma ham.

Feta cheese stuffed peppers with new potatoes.                      Green beans with almonds and bacon.

Roasted 'ratte' potates with garlic                                            A grilled zender fillet with lemon sauce.

Jan so very carefully applying the finishing touches to our dessert.

The next morning, another beautiful day, we left Karlstejn and Hotel Mlyn Romanticky on a short half hour drive to Prague's airport to bring our trip to an end.