Czech Republic

Five Reasons to Visit Cesky Krumlov

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1. The People

Everyone is this little town was so warm. From the receptionist at our accomodation, Krumlov House (which I couldn't recommend more), to musicians on the street, the people who live in this little town welcomed us and treated us with kindness. Check out my profile of a man who lives there and owns a vegetarian restaurant and you will quickly see what I mean. 

It is also a certain type of tourist who visits a small town like Cesky Krumlov, so the other travelers you will meet there are also very adventurous and crave knowing a culture in its truest sense. 

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2. The Castle and Gardens

The Cesky Krumlov castle has an interesting history as it has changed hands of many important Czech people. A tour through the castle was nice to learn about it, but not necessary to enjoy the beauty of the building. Even more entrancing was the gardens behind the castle. These should not be skipped, as they are quiet and spread languorously from fountains and sculpted gardens to a pond filled with lily pads. Also the view from the castle is the best to be had if you would like to gaze out over this fairytale town.

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3. The River

Snaking through the town is the Vltava river. If we had planned a little in advance or been there for longer, we definitely would have gone river rafting or kayaking, as we saw many locals and tourists have a great time keeping cool in the river. Even so, it is a beautiful sight and perfect for watching as you eat a delicious dinner or listen to some didgeridoo. 

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4. Egon Shiele (Art Centrum)

An artist who grew up in Cesky Krumlov, Egon Shiele brought attention to the town with his moody, expressionist paintings. He is also famous for being good friends with Gustav Klimt. There is a museum in town that features some of his work, although many of the originals are not there. However, we really enjoyed visiting as the exhibits by other artists, including the jungle-inspired of Czech artist Otto Placht and Peruvian artist Dimas Paredes Armas, intrigued us. 

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5. The Vibe

From the musicians that play old rock and alternative songs in the city square to the views that show off uneven orange roofs of stone houses, the mentality and feeling of this town drew me in. It is laid back, with people wandering slowly through, but with a great quality of life. We had some amazing hot chocolate here, wandered the streets until we knew them, and came to love the Czech Republic. 

Actually we loved it so much that we changed around our plans, renting what was nearly the last room in town, in order to stay a second night. 

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 A market off the main square. 

A market off the main square. 

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Prague: Sights and (Vegetarian) Bites

Prague was the first real destination on our trip—and I knew it would be good. I’ve heard for months and years now from friends that I would enjoy the beautiful architecture of the city. However, not only was I entranced by the curving streets that are graced with wedding cake houses and graffiti, I found that the people and the vibe of the Czech Republic made it my kind of place. 

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To Do and See

The Czech Republic has a long and winding history; so while I don’t always recommend a walking tour of the city, it’s very worth it here. I went with Good Prague Tours, and my guide was excellent. He actually risked life and limb to get us to our tram in the pouring rain—quite literally, as he dashed in front of a car to stop it and allow me to cross the street. Here are some of the places we visited and a few other interesting stops I made on my own:

The Astronomical Clock and Old Town Square

This is a tourist highlight of the city, this 600 year old clock is beautiful. The apostles parade out as the clock strikes the hour. It has a clock face that gives the normal time, as well as the position of celestial bodies and the current zodiac sign. There are four other figures around the main clock face, representing the four greatest fears of mankind: death, greed, vanity, and foreignness. It is the oldest, still-operating astronomical clock in the world, so be sure to see it in action. 

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Jewish Quarter

The Jewish population in Prague was ordered to move into a single area, now called the Jewish Quarter or Josefov, in the 13th century. There are quite a few synagogues here, the most beautiful and decorated being the Spanish synagogue. The area was actually preserved by Hitler, as a ‘Museum of an Extinct Race’ and it still contains many of the Jewish artifacts that he brought from other places to Josefov. It is important to also visit the Old Jewish cemetery here, which was the only plot of land where Jews were allowed to be buried in Prague. Thus, there became up to ten layers of graves in many areas, with 12,000 tombstones and many more unmarked graves.

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Prague Castle

This is probably the biggest ‘must-see’ of Prague. A sprawling complex with many different styles of architecture built through the centuries creates a hodgepodge of buildings that is quite charming. It is also the largest castle in the world, no big deal. 

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 The mix of architecture styles on the castle. 

The mix of architecture styles on the castle. 

Library and Astronomical Tower

The Klementinum is a complex of buildings near the Charles bridge, containing a beautiful Baroque library and an astronomical tower. You can take a guided tour that goes through both; however, be warned that you can only peer into the library and pictures are not allowed. But the library is rich with astronomical tools and many old books and the view from the tower (if you can survive the trip up and down many steep stairs) overlooks the entire city. 

 The frescos in the tower were pretty amazing too!

The frescos in the tower were pretty amazing too!

 The view!

The view!

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The John Lennon Wall 

Here is a simple wall that once was graffitied with a picture of John Lennon and some Beatles quotes. Now it has become much more, as layers and layers of positive graffiti have built up to create an ever-changing mural. 

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A Note Concerning Your Safety Near Windows: There have been three defenestrations of Prague. What is that, you say? Defenestration, as in throwing someone out of a window. It started with a very angry mob of Czech Hussites who threw seven city council members out of the window of the New Town Hall on Charles Square. We were told this is why many pubs are underground and why you should never enrage a Czech person above ground level. 

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To Eat

Lehka Hlava was a magical vegetarian restaurant that we heard of again and again from other travelers. This funky place, ‘clear head’ in Czech, will leave you feeling refreshed and full. We ordered the daily special which comes with a starter, water, and entree. We had a spinach soup followed by fresh pasta and it was delicious. We seriously tried to get back there for a second meal before we left Prague, it was that good. 

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 Loved the interior of Lehka Hlava...

Loved the interior of Lehka Hlava...

Plevel was a vegan cafe and restaurant near the edge of town, but conveniently near to the hostel we were in. Filled with locals and fun artwork, the veggie burger was yummy and there was a large variety of vegan food for a very reasonable price. And after your veggie meal surrounded by Czech hipsters, I suggest you take a walk in the opposite direction of the city center; we did this and really enjoyed the local life that we saw.

Trdelnik—okay so this is not a place, but a food. It is the famous dessert of Hungary and the Czech Republic. It is basically pastry dough cooked around a heated cylinder and rolled in walnuts and sugar. You can use them as an ice cream cone or get different fillings spread on the inside (mine was vanilla cream). If you walk down the sidewalk in Prague and smell something that is absolutely heavenly, it’s probably the trdelnik, and I would highly recommend that you stop and have a taste. 

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The Czech Republic is renowned for it’s beers. The most famous being Pilsner Urquell, but there are tons of different beers from all over the country in Prague, so stop in one of the many pubs for a taste. Near the castle, there is a monastery with monks who today brew their own beer, which has an interesting name...

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To Sleep

There are multitudes of good hostels that are inexpensive in Prague, and personally I had a great experience at the Czech Inn. (No, I did not manage to hold a straight face when I walked in for the first time and announced I was there to ‘czech in.’) It was quite clean, the beds were nice, and many of the guests hang out in the common areas, so it’s easy to make friends. 

If you’re not in the mood to stay in a hostel, there are some good hotels and airbnb rentals in the city. Check out where you can live like a Czech local. Transportation on the trams and underground is easy and inexpensive, in addition to Prague being the perfect place for strolling, so I suggest saving a few dollars and staying outside the city center. 

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 Check out the Dancing House while you're in Prague--plus the views from the (surprisingly affordable) cafe at the top are not to be missed!

Check out the Dancing House while you're in Prague--plus the views from the (surprisingly affordable) cafe at the top are not to be missed!

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 Some handpainted treasures.

Some handpainted treasures.

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Dogs of the Czech Republic

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It is a simple fact of life: the Czech people love their dogs. Within the first day or two of being in Prague, we began to notice that there were many more dogs out and about with their owners than in other cities. We asked an American who had moved to Prague if he knew why and he had no clue the reason, just that it was true. 

Although I couldn’t find the source of the statistic, it is widely said that about 40% of Czech people own a dog, which would rank them higher than Germany, Britain, or France.

 We found this rascal rolling in the pebbles of the royal gardens in Cesky Krumlov.

We found this rascal rolling in the pebbles of the royal gardens in Cesky Krumlov.

With a bit of research I found that it is very easy to own a dog in the Czech Republic as landlords cannot stop tenants from having dogs. Further, dogs are actually qualified as objects there, which gives outsiders no say over the ownership or treatment of a dog—I did see dogs treated very well despite this. The cost of veterinary care is also much less than that of the U.S. so it’s less expensive to take care of a dog. 

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Many parks and cafes are dog-friendly, and you will see that Czech people walk their dogs everywhere. Often the dogs are not even on leashes, as they are so well-trained. 

In one store, my friend went to buy a souvenir. Upon pulling out her credit card, that has a picture of a yellow lab puppy on it, the shopkeeper cooed over ‘how beautiful!’ it was. 

The Czech Republic has been one of my favorite places in the world to visit. The architecture is gorgeous, the people warm, and the history interesting. But a true highlight was the amount of adorable dogs I saw all day long. Plus, I think that a population that enjoys the companionship of canines is pretty trustworthy. 

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