• in Galicia
• in Maramureș-Bukovina
• in Mallorca
• in the Crimea
• to Odessa and back
• in Odessa
• in Lemberg/Lwów
It is this region, which is involved in a disproportionate way in world heritage, the richest in historical monuments and at the same time the most unknown region of Central Europe, which we have traveled all over in five days. It is these five days that the fellow travelers now report about in writing, in pictures and in music. And I let them report now, because I have written enough and will write even more about this beautiful, strange, out-of-time world at your fingertips, here in the middle of Europe. To where, I am sure, we will also organize many more trips.
Middle-earth in Bohemia
If I should characterize the Böhmerwald with one term, such pathetic-sounding words would immediately come to mind as “Fairyland” or “Enchanted Empire”. Everything here seems unrealistically idyllic, and it is this unreality which recalls such catchwords. Not in the modern, post-Romantic sense, but closer to its older meaning, which contains a good amount of fear of the unknown. This meaning was an important source of Tolkien’s mythology (and the Shakespearean unpath’d waters, undream’d shores also seems to evoke Tolkien’s imaginary Valinor), and it is still lingering in the terms Faërie and enchanted lands. This feeling is enhanced still by the mist, the patchwork of the roofs of Trebitsch/Třebíč, and most of all the waters: the Vydra stream, and the Vltava, which accompanies us for a good while, and in whose depths the stones, risen to life, wander along. In the night, standing on the river bank at Český Krumlov it seems as if even the harsh German words were ground smoother by this incessant flow of water.
Closer to historical reality, the garland of Renaissance towns seems to show a mirror to the Hungarian traveler, the mirror of the somewhat ahistorical “what if”: this is how several Hungarian towns would look like, had there not been the Ottoman conquest (I would then miss the Turbe of Gül Baba anyway): Renaissance market squares, house walls decorated in sgraffito with allegorical and biblical scenes, kind of poor man’s Bibles.
And finally, the very real history of the recent past, which overshadows this idyllic picture, and makes so familiarly East-Central European this region, where each town has at least two names. The Jewish cemeteries of Nikolsburg/Mikulov and Trebitsch/Třebíč, but especially the traces of the displaced Germans (who once built and lived in these Renaissance towns), of which sadly little has remained, and even fewer will remain as the “memories” of constructed Czech history require place for themselves: ghost signs popping up, medieval churches, the German grave stone inscriptions. The timber has long flown down, and the current of the river will soon carry away their last traces.
The discovery of Czechoslovakia
This South Bohemian journey has aroused particular emotions in me. It seemed a kind of time travel, which spanned several decades, and connected to my childhood. As a former Czechoslovak citizen, I was permeated already in the elementary school geography and history lessons with the names of České Budějovice and Telč, the Šumava and the Český Les, Třeboň and Tábor, etc. The carp on the Christmas table also arrived from Southern Bohemia to the Pozsony/Bratislava market. However, until now – with the exception of the city of Brno – I’ve never been in this area.
In the eighties I had the intention to visit it, but then history, the change of regime, the opening to the West changed everything, and this region was somehow forgotten by me.
Then recently I stared in wonder on río Wang at the beautiful photos and informative reports which showed the values of this landscape. And when I came to know that my friend is going to go to Český Krumlov to the show of the famous open theatre, the old intention came to life again, and with great joy I applied for the journey announced on río Wang.
Although once they were parts of the same country, Southern Bohemia seemed very remote from my native Pozsony/Bratislava. And it was indeed. The travel by rail to Prague took five to six hours. Now, however, as we observed it in agreement with the fellow travelers, this region became very close to us both in space and in time.
Leaving behind Brno, we headed south. During the trip, the countryside and the towns visited gradually revealed to us all their beauty.
Instead of a detailed travel report, let me only tell about my “tops”: the breathtaking living room of Villa Tugendhat in Brno; the legend of the crocodile promoted to dragon – with a historical background; the magnificent Benedictine abbey of Třebíč and its Romanesque crypt; the building complex of the Cistercian abbey of Zlatá Koruna, in every room having newer and newer surprises in store; the poignant story of the Hungarian soldiers; the towns in picturesque locations, on hillsides or at the bank of artificial lakes or rivers, each a jewel; the friendly welcome of Jindřichův Hradec and Český Krumlov in the evening light; the ancient hotels, beautiful churches, houses and castles; the century-old cemeteries; the lovely scenery, the valley of river Vydra with the excursion refreshing body and spirit alike; the pilgrimage church of Kájov, with the competent and compassionate guide of the guardian… And of course the common experiences, conversations, discussions, with Juli, Györgyi, the boys, Tamás Deák, “Uncle” Laci, Gábor… and the other nice fellow travelers… and the continuous, but never stressful, enjoyable and cheerful intellectual edification and enrichment, by courtesy of Tamás.
From the photos made during our travel, I want to share with you those, which, even if not in the best quality, record for me the moments and atmosphere of this memorable trip. And, in addition, one photo about our tireless guide, Tamás, who paid attention to every little detail.
And finally, one more memory worth remembering: the virtuoso maneuvering and parking of our driver Józsi with his bus-trailer, in which we participated with bated breath.
Ars longa, vita brevis
Karel Čapek, in his essay Pictures from home, writes this about Český Krumlov:
“…I do not know how many bends the Vltava has, while you cross the city, but if you do it as directly as you can, you will cross it at least five times, and each time you will wonder how goldish brown it is and how much it is in a hurry. I do not know either, how many inhabitants Krumlov has, but it has twenty-four pubs, three churches, a castle, two great town gates, and a lot of other monuments. Substantially, all the city is one great historical monument, which reminds you of Siena or Stirling or any other famous place. That is, it has old gables, window bays, roof windows, arcades, vaults, loopholes, sgraffiti, frescoes, stairs up and down, handrails, fountains, columns, corner stones, corners, houses, underpasses, historic pavement, zigzag alleys, nativity scenes, high roofs, Gothic church, Minorite monastery, and the red rose of the Rosenbergs everywhere. Wherever you go, you only see picturesque places and antique monuments and historical sights, and in the old suburbs low houses, whose roof you can touch with your hand, with rose geranium in the windows, and signs above the doors, here still there live old craftsmen, like in the fifteenth century.
In that place, everything is dominated by the castle (…), especially the tower, one of the most tower-like towers I have ever seen. I would say, this tower is a Bohemian specialty, because in no other country you can find so strange domes, plump onion domes, poppy domes, lanterns, little sharp towers, galeries and church spiers, sa in this country. Here every old Bohemian town has its special tower, by which you can tell that this is Hradec, and this Brno, and this Budějovice, and this Český Krumlov.”
I cannot sketch my impressions during our adventures in South Moravia and South Bohemia with more eloquent words than those of Čapek. While wandering – not only in the above mentioned four cities, but also in the other phenomenal little towns –, the stones speaking about the historical past and ancient cultures convinced me not for the first time, that art is eternal.
In the Hippocratic idea quoted in the title, I include, somewhat arbitrarily, also the works of art of nature. Our journey led through beautiful landscapes, particularly after we reached the Czech Forest. Many beauties we only saw from the bus, but some of them we could closely study during our walk along the river Vydra in the Šumava National Park. This is the scenery ingrained in me: small, larger and even bigger granite stones of different colors fixed in the riverbed, frilly, frothy, roaring, buzzing water, which is forced to avoid, but also to embrace the rocks, and the audience thronging on the two banks, swaying and nodding with their branches and foliage, to express, how much they like the performance. No wonder, that the otters loving pure water moved here and stuck here, albeit now they played hide and seek with us, and they have won :)
There were so many impressions, and they are so much swirling still in my mind, that now this, now that one comes to the surface. For example, our first stop, as soon as we arrived at Brno, the Villa Tugendhat. Viewed from the street, the house did not appear anything special, one would have walked past it. But inside I fell from one wonder to the other, mainly because every solution served the best the function it was intended for. For most people, such a villa remains a dream even today, but the fact that such a house was built almost a century ago, in the late 1920s, is a small wonder. Clear forms, spacious rooms, quality furniture, wall covering and flooring, mysterious natural and artificial lights, a winter garden with tap water and drain. Electric sockets in the floors, large glass windows, through which the light just pours in, some of them can be simply pulled down and simply disappears in the pavement, air conditioning which both heats and cools, a direct terrace and garden access (invisible from the street front), so that the inner spaces look much larger than they are, and so on. I fully understand why the Villa Tugendhat, as one of the first chef d’oeuvre of modern architecture, was put on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
While walking in the Jewish neighborhoods and cemeteries of Mikulov and Třebíč, I could not think but about the shortness and fragility of life.
In the Jewish quarters, silence and absence were palpable.
The tombstones standing orderly or tangled in the centuries old cemeteries, with their Hebrew and/or German inscriptions, and several elements of Jewish gravestone symbolism referring to the social status or ancestry of the deceased, all made me think about the people of the diaspora and their offspring. Also of the particular persons. It was perhaps due to the 100th anniversary of the Great War, that I spent longer time in front of the plaque of the law student Erich Pisk, who was the only son of the local city doctor, was awarded with the bronze and silver medal of courage and valor, was born on 28 February 1893, and died on 8 December 1916 at Kirlibaba, at the Eastern front, for his homeland.
He lived 23 years.
The center of Southern Bohemia, České Budějovice (Budweis), where the world-famous original Budweiser beer is made. This was my first visit to a brewery, it was worth it to taste the process of beer production, as well as a glass of unfiltered beer, called a “young beer” by the local guide. Such a beer you cannot buy elsewhere, since it requires a follow-up treatment, before, filled in bottles and canisters, it is shipped out in all directions of the compass.
The rectangular main square of Budějovice is an impressive sight with its beautifully renovated Renaissance and Baroque buildings. Many of them have arcades, under which you can walk around even in the rain, just like in the beautiful main square of Telč. Fortunately, here we avoided rain, which was our companion for a part of the journey. The enormous square is crowned by an impressive fountain in the middle, with Samson and the lion on the top. As I saw no honey running from the mouth of the lion, I sat down under the arcades, where I finally drank a delicious cappucino, continuing to behold the grand square from there. My ephemeral hedonism prevented me in climbing to the top of the Renaissance Black Tower emerging in the corner of the square. I will make up for this gap on a future trip, because one thing became clear: you can get to know Southern Bohemia and Southern Moravia only by traveling there several times, if it is possible at all to know all the sights, historical monuments and architectural treasures.
Last, but not least, as a newcomer in the tours of río Wang, I would like to say thanks to Tamás for the meticulous planning and organizing of the journey, the lots of information, stories and tolerance received of him, and for having made so that I did not feel long the hours spent in the bus. And as to the fellow travelers, I felt perfectly their excellent companionship.
I write hastily, because now the everydays come again, I will be dragged into the usual routine, and will inevitably slip out of any deadline. It only happened to me again, what I had already expected on the basis of the earlier journeys organized by Tamás: a small window opened again, and I became richer not only in unforgettable experiences, but also in knowledge. I have much to read after, thus not closing, but prolonging and at the same time processing my experiences. I feel very lucky that I could not only enter the Villa Tugendhat and get to know its history, but to learn that it exists at all. The view of the main squares of the Renaissance little towns opening in front of us indelibly burned into my memory, just like the excursion in the valley of the Vydra, the view of the Southern Bohemian forest and of the meandering Vltava, listening to the unforgettable music of Smetana in the background. I had nice and sweet companions, I laughed a lot during the trip, which is also an important ingredient of such a journey. Just like the good brandy offered by them, which I will also provide next time. Thanks to Tamás and to everyone.
A post has been made about one moment of the journey, the 19th-century Schwarzenberg Channel of the Böhmerwald, for the Danubian Islands blog in Hungarian and in German. And a summary of the whole trip is in preparation for the Pangea blog.
History living with us
There was once a film or a series entitled History living with us. Well, the people living here, in the south of Moravia and Bohemia, do not need to recall history by the help of some picture box. In this region, which was not devasted by the Turks, and which was not a front line for centuries, everything which is necessary to clearly see the living connections between past and present, remained almost completely intact. The little towns, preserving all the loveliness of the Italian Renaissance settlements, wait their visitors with an indescribable atmosphere.
And here everything is original. The old mural is really old, the year carved in it is real, showing that man can somehow resist time.
The Renaissance sgraffiti on the facades recall the memory of people, whose most surprising feature is their ordinariness. We see events which were considered important in the lives of the little towns, half a thousand year old news. We see, as it has been seen for centuries and will be seen, what he did and how he lived his life, the Renaissance man in these parts.
In Kájov, the guardian of the pilgrimage church – just like Uncle Cyril in Bártfa/Bardejov – impressed us with his beautiful Czech language, kindness and knowledge. We are wandering in a fairyland. Why are these old men hidden, why don’t they record fairy tales on CDs? How good it would be if the children could listen to people with such a nice speech (once the parents never have the time…)
Along the Vltava, I see countless memories of the saint, St. John of Nepomuk, who defended and enriched my water miller family for centuries until 1947.
The twentieth century slowly appeared in this region, too. Fortunately, it was considerate, and showed its saddest and sorriest memories at the beginning of the journey, but I will leave this story for the end. The reverse order is also appropriate, because the modern-day stories – despite all the horrible history – somehow move towards reconciliation in this region.
The gourmet breakfast served in the incredibly intimate environment of the wonderful inn at Jindřichův Hradec, is supervised by the severe look of the President, but the high spirits is maintained by the gramophone records of the Sestry Allanovy, playing during breakfast.
Sestry Allanovy: Honba za písnickou
A. Kavka, Sestry Allanovy: Melodie mi nedá spát
Sestry Allanovy: Poznáte lehce náš rytmus
Sestry Allanovy: Večná otázka
In the German cemetery of the Kájov/Gojau pilgrimage church, we can see some of the parents of those three million Germans who were deported from Czechoslovakia after 1945.
The graves are now taken care by the Czechs and Germans together. Just as the monument in Třebíč, which records the names of the local Jewish heroes of WWI, and which somehow survived WWII and the Nazi occupation.
Next to Zlatá Koruna, in the village of Rájov, there is another WWI memorial, kept in order in an exemplary way. Here, in the local cemetery we had a heartbreaking surprise.
The Czech revolted against Nazi occupation in the last days of the war, on 5 May 1945. The Hungarian soldiers stationed at the village switched over to Czech side, disarming the Germans and then letting them go, but in the evening they came back with heavy weapons and an SS squad. The locals and the Hungarians defended themselves for a while, but then they gave up the hopeless fight, and fled.
Mihály Erdélyi: Bajtárs ma még tán csak öt perc az élet (Comrade, life is perhaps just five more minutes). Performed by István Mindszenthi. This song was also performed by the late 20th-century Hungarian popular singer Tamás Cseh
The next day, a part of the fighters came back unarmed, and was taken prisoner. Those fallen in the fighting: Ensign Lajos Balázs, Buck Sergeant Mihály Gergely, Corporal Mátyás Berkes, Private Pál Bense, Private György Krivjanek. Their memory is revered by the locals, their tomb is always decorated with a Hungarian flag.
Tamás Hegedűs: Az én szerelmem messze idegenben jár (My beloved is far away, in a foreign land). Performed by Katalin Karády
I tell you that the history of this region somehow leads to reconciliation.
How could it be otherwise? Where even the insane freak killer son of Emperor Rudolf, Don Julius can lend his name to a restaurant, there they only remember what was beautiful. Perhaps because these wonderful little towns, with the spirit of the Renaissance focusing on beauty, make people a little bit better?
We will come back many times, and we will get to know.
Leoš Janáček: Moravian Folk Poetry in Songs / Iva Bittová (14'52")
Reflections and memories
As the initial picture of my contribution, I choose a photo taken from the bridge leading to the old town of České Budějovice. This sharply reflects, that during our journey we mainly focused on the old and newer architecture of Southern Moravian and Southern Bohemian cities, while the rivers, lakes, streams and the nature in all her vivid autumn colors constantly stood out. And in the background there were also the people…
Rapids of water and…
The excursion in the valley of the iron-rich, and therefore uniquely brown-reddish Vydra stream, accompanied by the rumbling sounds of water, was an unforgettable experience (a photo downstream in background light, and one looking back, backlit).
A different type of experience was offered in the iron-rich bottling plant of the Budweiser brewery in České Budějovice, where the stream of bottles provided the monotonous background rumble.
Evolution and relativity
In České Budějovice, on the main square of the old town (Nám. Přemysla Otakara II), my attention was attracted by the building of Grand Hotel Zvon. More precisely, by its three buildings. The first one is a cute Renaissance building from 1533, the third an elegant Art Nouveau from 1903. They stand there in a queue, emerging higher and higher. They tell about the architecture of a half thousand years. The two older ones are adorned with the label Grand Hotel Zvon, while the highest one with the simple Hotel Zvon. Well, this is the law of evolution and relativity.
Mass demand and individual offer
Drinking is good, drinking is enjoyment, drinking is a must. Either beer or wine. Much or with moderation.
The first visit of our journey led to the Villa Tugendhat in Brno.
A short historical summary:
– Once the designers were given a free hand from Mrs. and Mr. Tugendhat, they could release in their engineering and artistic imagination in all areas. In 1930, the villa, which highlights a new era in architecture, was completed..
– Once the Nazis were given a free hand, it became obvious that they can release their destructive and murderous fantasies. In 1938, the Tugendhat couple left the villa and the country forever.
Changing perspectives: a basilica at a distance and close-up – a window from the outside and from the inside
During our journey, Tamás offered a global view on historical processes and geographic regions, while pointing out many interesting local details, and showing both sides of these details. I try to illustrate these diverse viewpoints with thee few photos taken on the Basilica of St. Procopius of Třebíč, now part of the UNESCO World Heritage.
Photographers and styles
Taking photos is good and is a must. We, the majority wildly click with our small digital machines. But there are people, who do it a bit or very differently. Here you are some of them, the semi-professional, the full-professional, the tablet-girl and the trendy guy:
He is unbeatable both in forward, reverse and spirit. My defining experience about him: presenting, in front of a sudden blind alley sign, a ten-point pirouette with the trailer-bus: it would have awarded a podium in any European Championship.
Tamás is a walking Wikipedia. Here we can see him in the chapter hall of the Cistercian monastery of Zlatá Koruna, obviously in the place of the reader canon. This is why now, exceptionally, he does not tell his information by heart – but possibly he only pretends to read.
At the fireplace
When I caught sight of the fire blazing in the restaurant of Hotel Parkán, Prachatice, in the fireplace decorated with the symbol of the Rosenbergs, I thought about how wonderfully it represented the unquenchable flames of knowledge and enthusiasm.
And immediately Tamás came to mind.
Thank you very much for this journey!
An adventurous brave Japanese group from Equatorial Africa in Telč
We are going to look at everything again!
This was our second beautiful journey with Tamás, and I hope there will be some more.
Yet it did not start smoothly. We somehow misunderstood each other with Tamás, and we were already in Brno, when the rest of the company went to visit the Villa Tugendhat, so we missed it. But it is not a problem, since Brno is only 100 minutes by train from our Vienna.
I am almost ashamed, that from so many impressions so few are left in my head. Obviously, the most beautiful ones. Well, let’s see.
In Brno, the modern synagogue, and especially the bank house from the 1930s. How can such a huge, but simple building such an excellent rhythm!
The evening in Mikulov. The city was virtually deserted, but the beauty of the old houses was already suspected in the darkness, while we were wandering with Tamás to the small restaurant, where they gave us a delicious dinner at ease and in a good pace.
In the morning the city was much more beautiful. It was to admire, with how much heart they restored everything. This can be said also about the other towns, since the first impression was everywhere the beautiful square with the gorgeous houses. Both here and in Třebíč we wisited the Jewish cemetery, we absorbed their atmosphere, trusting that someday we would come back to spell the tombstones for hours.
In Třebíč we have already been, so we politely greeted the Benedictine abbey and the basilica, where Romanesque and early Gothic are mixed, the gate, the crypt and the fresco.
Then we walked in the Jewish quarter, where again a few houses more were restored than last time. And I promise that I will not cry about how many things we did not see, so I just mention, that next time you should also visit the museum with the synagogue!
In Telč, like in all cities of this kind, it is good to arrive. And good to sit there in the sunshine, and simply looking at the square. True, there was no sunshine, but you could watch. I have quickly consumed a few Gothic – the two-hall church.
In Slavonice we were really at home. This town is small, and the tourism industry is developing, in a good version. Last time they made our grandchildren busy, helping them draw sgraffito and play with clay. And let all my wish be fulfilled like this – the permanent breakfast sign was still there, so I could then talk in the bus about the crazy ideas of my crazy friends.
I’m getting confused. That evening we were in Jindřichův Hradec. Was it there, that we gathered together in the Goat Pub, where the food was good, but the youth loud? And was it there that we visited the next morning th castle with the Renaissance courtyards and the manufacturing plants, and the school where Smetana studied?
The landscape became more and more beautiful, with glistening lakes. In Třeboň we walked around the city walls and the Renaissance main square. I secretly envied our fellow traveler, who, instead of culture, ate a local carp for five pennies.
We are not beer drinkers, so we visited the brewery of České Budějovice only as a technical curiosity. We were shown the wonders of technology, the treadmill, and the desire of programming it was visible on the faces of some computer-minded companions.
From then on, we traveled along Vltava, and to me this was one of the highlights of the journey. Not only the landscape, but also the explanation of the music, thanks to Gábor. The many variations, the possible origins of the motifs – for Smetana could have invented the main motif just as well as he borrowed it – brought even closer to me Mr. Smetana. If in the middle of the night one asked me, what was the most beautiful in this journey, I would begin to hum the Vltava, the first beats, as the water emerges from the earth.
In the evening I started to talk with Gábor, since it is always interesting to talk about music with a professional musician. And lo, it turned out, that he was a programmer. Well, everyone must have some defect. My joy was perhaps even more, because once I also was one, and I’m also an obsessed music fan.
And the walking day has also come. First we climbed up to the castle of Kašperk, which slipped out of the fog for some minutes. At times, the sun came out, at times we could not see a meter ahead, unfortunately exactly when whe climbed the 102 stairs to admire the white soup from the top of the tower. But the local lady guide knew and told us everything what we could and could not see, in a good English (and the same good German). And then the long travel in the romantic valley, accompanied again by the melody of the Vltava. It was good to walk, to trek, to smell the mushrooms, to listen to the rushing stream, and mainly to talk. The promised otter disappeared. It would have been like this:
Instead, we saw only that unfortunate and somewhat smelly animal in the cage.
And then, heading to Český Krumlov – one of the main attractions of our travel.
Another beautiful road along the dammed lakes. Before the main goal, we quickly entered the pilgrimage church of Kájov. Wow – we must surely come back here. The two-hall church, the frescoes, which must be admired for long, the late Gothic Virgin on the main altar, and this Dormition of the Virgin. Of course, I said in excitement, that there are many like this at us, some 50 kilometers to the south – but who listens to me? :)
Then we arrived at Český Krumlov, we rattled along the cobblestones of the city, we entered the hotel, we walked, and we had a last supper. The portions were not big, but excellent. From the window of our hotel room we saw the lighted castle. Now I felt sorry that I do not take pictures.
The last day was that of Český Krumlov. We have already seen it twice, and that is why it was a joy to listen to Tamás, because now we started to understand what we saw before. Should I say that we would come back here, too, or have I already said that?
On the way home, we visited the castle of Rožmberk. These Rosenbergs knew very well where to build their castles, just like the Benedictines knew well the good sites for their churches. We had one more look at the Vltava, and we were happy that this brave river meanders so richly. This is why they could build a beautiful tiny town in every bend.
But time was running, and we had to consider the working time of our driver Józsi, so we did not stop at the monastery of Vyšší Brod. In vain I lured Tamás, that there we could say goodbye to the last Rosenberg rose in the Gothic painting of Christ’s birth. There was no time, and Tamás of course knew that that alter has been since long in the museum of Prague.
Then we reached Austria, and I was allowed (thanks, Tamás!) some not entirely glorious moments of our history, and tell about a few things we saw along the way.
And at the Schwechat airport we said goodbye to the company with a heavy heart, and with many beautiful images in our heads. Of course, totally confused, because I still do not know, which one of the several beautiful cities was this:
Along the Vltava
Smetana, The Vltava, conducted by Ferenc Fricsay
More photos about the journey on my blog.