A Castle on the Hill – Karlstejn, Czech Republic – Day 6

The magnificently imposing Karlstejn Castle

It was our last day in Prague, and traveler’s sadness enveloped me as I thought of leaving this amazing, mysterious city behind.

Our last adventure was to Karlstejn Castle in the town of Karlstejn, a pretty village below the castle on the mountainside. It was about a forty-five minute train ride from Prague, to a countryside station. After mourning the loss of bacon at the breakfast buffet, I was ready for a good walk to get my mind off it. Seriously, after five days of delicious bacon for breakfast, I really was hoping for one more day of it…

I had my Lonely Planet guide to the Czech Republic, and it said to turn left out of the train station and then go right over the bridge into the village. Other people began walking right as soon as they left the station, but I stuck to the guide, and we walked left. After awhile, it became quite apparent that the guidebook was wrong, as there was no bridge over the river except to the right…

One of my favorite pictures from the holiday: beautiful colors, reflecting water, church, and mountains.

Laughing, we turned around and walked the same direction as the other tourists – they were probably wondering where the hell we were going with our backpacks and guidebooks – and started the long trek uphill. The entire village winds uphill to Karlstejn Castle, the cobblestones gradually rising to tourist shops filled with scarves and kitschy items for sale, restaurants, and cafes.

A lazy dribbling stream snaked alongside the main road, bubbling nosily over rocks and making soft trickling noises at other places. Thick woodsmoke billowed out from residences, adding a sweet scent to the sharp, wintry air. Even though the walk increased in difficulty the further up it went toward the castle, the scents of smoke, cooking food, and snow on the air spurred us on.

I had hoped for what Lonely Planet said were horse-drawn carriages at the bottom of the hill, that for 150 CZ we could take one to the castle. I mean, what girl doesn’t want to be taken up to the castle in a horse-drawn carriage? But, at the base of the hill, there were no carriages and no taxis, so it was our own two feet that had to carry us up. Our tired, aching feet. Duchess Kate never had to deal with that sort of problem, I wager.

The town was left behind after awhile, and we entered a wooded area, slowly coming up the soaring medieval castle. Compared to Prague Castle, Karlstejn was the embodiment of what I believed a castle should look like – sharp turrets, dragon-scaled walls, and tiny windows bespeaking princesses locked in towers awaiting rescue.

We entered in through the front gate and procured tickets, but we had to wait for the English-speaking tour since we couldn’t poke about on our own. The day was overcast and very bone-numbingly cold, and there was a convenient little snack and coffee shop in the centre of the castle grounds. I grabbed a hot cafe latte, warming my freezing hands, and wandered around to take pictures of the very picturesque village and mountains around the castle.

Our tour started a half hour later, bringing us into the king’s chambers, the guards’ rooms, great, soaring halls with ceilings filled with coats-of-arms, and the queen’s chambers. We walked around the castle for about an hour before the tour ended, and we were all frozen solid. The most interesting thing about it, besides the usual interesting castle facts, was that Karlstejn was considered as never conquered by an outside invading force because the invaders were never able to make into the one ladderless and unclimbable tower.

I picked up an interesting map in the gift shop of all of the Czech and Moravian castles in the area, a little thing for my classroom to put up next year.

We roamed the castle grounds a bit longer, going to the deep well that reached down into the stream below, and then we started our walk downhill – happy we weren’t the people making the trek uphill now – and looked for a restaurant. We found a charming place about halfway down the hill, settling in for another glass of Czech beer – dark, of course – sausage, dumplings, pork, gravy, and potatoes. On such a cold day, it was a warm, hearty meal that made us both sleepy and ready for the final trek downhill toward the train station.

Since we still had about forty-five minutes before the train arrived, Julie and I settled into a small cafe across from the depot for another warming drink of cafe latte and hot chocolate.

Mountains through the bridge

The train finally came, and we hopped on, settling into the comfortable seats for our final train ride back to Prague.

Village restaurant & pub

Today, however, we weren’t going to be screwed over again by the overpriced cabs. Hell no. So, we decided to walk to Wenceslas Square, the other happening square in Prague, fraught with trendy teens, pickpockets, hippies, shoppers, tourists, beggars, and evidence of capitalism everywhere.

It’s almost as if, after the Velvet Revolution of 1989, Wenceslas Square wanted to display as much evidence of its new ideology everywhere. Starbucks, McDonald’s, Chinese buffets (with unauthentic Chinese food – American Chinese food is a lie and is not very Chinese at all), KFC’s, Subways, large bookstores, and other chain stores.

From Charles Bridge

We hit up a Starbucks for a snack and coffee before venturing on to our next destination, right off the square – the Museum of Communism, a building rather incongruously sandwiched between a McDonald’s franchise and a large casino. There is delicious irony in that, I suppose. Especially when we walked through the museum with our Starbucks lattes…

Most telling is the trinity of seagulls at the very top of the cross.

Overall, the Museum of Communism was a fascinating snippet of Czech history, filling up the history between the Nazi invasion and the present, a part of Eastern European history that people tend to forget existed with the advent of Starbucks and fast food on every corner. The postcards I bought sum it up quite well; my favorite is the matryoshka doll with the fang-like teeth leering menacingly.

For good luck?

From the museum, we walked into Old Town Square and over the Charles Bridge once more (past the Museum of Torture). It was one last chance to rub the worn statue on the bridge that was supposed to bring good luck to those who rubbed it. Though the picture looked rather…interesting, everyone who passed by did the same.

We grabbed some bakery goods and continued upwards to our hotels. Since we weren’t hungry right then, we decided to meet for dinner later, at a restaurant with an old knight’s armour outside the door advertising “mead.”

I had to go through my little suitcase to rearrange all of my items and figured I’d have to use a bag as well as my carry-on. Too bad I’d have to check my suitcase after all. I just hoped it would arrive in Shanghai with me, or someone would be getting an entire piece of luggage filled with stinky, dirty clothes.

And now for the Goblet of Fire…

Just as dusk fell, Julie and I ventured down the stairs to the restaurant, which was a medieval-like hall – dark, lit only by goblet-like candles and smoky hearths. It was extremely busy, but we got a table – or, rather, a piece of a longer table since it was a communal banquet hall style – and ordered beers (mead for Julie) and a large “feast” meal to share.

The mead was served in a tiny glass, but it packed a honeyed, sweet punch like whiskey. It warmed our insides dramatically. When the “feast” arrived, it was the traditionally game meat – deer and rabbit included – along with ham, sausages, sauerkraut, potatoes, and dumplings, all smothered in dark gravy. One last delicious Czech meal to send us off from Prague.

After a heavy dinner, we retired to our hotels – passing that creepy, hooded figure at the Ghost Museum once more – and went about packing up our overabundance of tourist items, including the three Starbucks mugs I bought for people back home. One more to add my city collection of mugs steadily growing on my bookshelf.

That was as close as I was willing to get to it.

I’d messed up my satellite television and couldn’t figure out how to work the remote, so I ended up listening to a program on shark in German and also a nature show about Midwestern tornadoes also in German. Well, at least the German language truly made it sound as destructive as tornadoes are supposed to be.

I curled up in my large bed and stared at the ceiling for quite some time that night, realizing that I’d finally gotten back to Europe after 7 1/2 years of longing to be back. I’ve worked hard enough and rearranged my entire life…but darn it, I got there!

This trip also started me thinking about renting cottages or apartments in Europe the following summer, and I was torn between two equally great ideas – either renting various cottages across the UK and celebrating a belated 30th birthday England-style OR renting an apartment in Prague, near the main train station, and traveling by train to Vienna, Warsaw, Budapest, Bucharest, and so on. Either way, I’m heading back to Europe for the big 3-0.

After all, I wanted to return to Europe by then, as it was in one of my many journals full of lists and hopes and promised I’d made to myself.

One day.

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