Tuesday, September 13, 2016

we are cocktail legion

An anonymous drink
Anonymous is many things. He’s a writer. He's possibly Shakespeare. He’s an artist. He’s that public masturbator that lives down the street. He’s an internet activist group. He is that guy who got arrested for revealing the identities of a ring of rapists.

Anonymous is also a coffee shop in Prague.

And a bar.

The coffee shop, near IP Pavlova, is one of the more uncomfortable places to sit with a computer, since all the seats are made of wood pallets and are about as comfortable as an introvert doing an unprepared stand-up comedy routine. Thus kind of defeating the theme of borrowing from an internet hacktivist group when you can't comfortably sit around on the computer. They do serve some pretty great brew though. The bar and the coffee shop are owned by the same people, and it shows in the standards and service of the staff.

But I’m not writing about the coffee shop. I’m writing about the bar.

We decided randomly with a friend to go for cocktails. I’ve been having trouble lately finding “classy” places to hang out that are still somewhat edgy, since mostly I just choose dive bar locations with questionable toilets. Toilets that either aren’t there, or that when the door opens, there’s not much else but for the entire bar to cheer you on. When I was prompted last year by a friend to go to a lounge, because he was there with his girlfriend, I couldn’t think of an appropriate place. “Nope, this one smells of beer, this one of vomit, this one of vinegar.” It’s a hard knock life, my friends.

Anonymous Bar at Michalska 12 then made the list of possible places to take out-of-towners who aren’t in for a rough night of drinking cheap beer. Cheap beer in Prague, mind you, is still better than expensive beer in 99% of the countries of the world. And ironically, that expensive beer is usually cheap Czech beer. Anonymous fit the higher class standard of being a cocktail bar and my standard of being a slight bit unusual.

The place is certainly classy, and weirdly extreme on good customer service. I almost felt offended, as I’ve been living in Prague for so long that I’ve come to see bad customer service as polite. All of these “hellos” and “good evenings” while passing the service staff almost seemed excessive, as though they were mocking us. But fine. They are legion. What am I to do?

Hideout of the Legion
The interior is a bit of a cross between what I imagine Kanye West’s house to look like and the set of the Nine Inch Nail’s Perfect Drug video. In fact, I think this was their primary motivation in design. The furniture were huge red lush old fashion arm chairs and couches, the ambiance dark with some soft electronic music going and on the wall a large sort of graffiti art interpretation of the Guy Fawkes mask. The music was nothing aggressive, just on the background, drifting along so you don’t have to raise your voice for conversation. The menu was full of weirdly named cocktails, the fun stuff of any cocktail bar. I got the 100% leather, which was a basic Manhattan with a shot of absinthe. My wife got a drink served in a syringe, and people at other tables had drinks served with toy guns, kaleidoscopes, and any assortment of novelties.    

The staff, as I said, is exceedingly friendly and quite knowledgeable on cocktails. My friend was bent on trying to stump the waiter, shooting out names like Witches Left Tit and the Vespa from the James Bond book, not the movie one, and the waiter was on top of the game. The drinks were expertly crafted and presented, with the waiter donning a Guy Fawkes mask as he serves the drink to carry on the namesake of the bar.


Getting our drinks
The place isn’t cheap by Prague standards though. The cheapest legit drink on the list is 175 crowns, or roughly 7 USD. Which, in the US that’s really cheap for an amazingly mixed drink. In Prague, well, that’s about 7 great beers. It’s a sacrifice to heavy drinkers like myself, but a worthy sacrifice. Now if only I could convince them to host an accordionist singer-songwriter like myself and pay him in free cocktails...   

In winter, it's highly advised to book seats. Call at +420 608 069. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

the museums of Orlik and Zvikov

Orlik Castle
It’s surprisingly cold in the newly re-branded country of Czechia. The climate has been on course for the change, though to something slightly more comfortable than all the warming mumbo jumbo. Last year, I remember sitting up in my attic apartment at night, soaking in sweat, unable to do much but drink water and breathe heavily. This year, I’m quite happily relaxed in blue jeans on my balcony, sipping coffee while I watch all the plebeians pass me by down below. But summer isn’t over yet, as there are still some things to be done and castles to be seen, and truly some borderline summer spirit to take you there.

The current cool cloudy clime is still the perfect time for a visit to Zvikov and Orlik. This would be my third time there and indeed, my second time to write about it (the first time was covered here). I won’t cover much information that I covered there on this blog, but rather something we managed to do that I’d never done before: the tours.

Orlik


Our first stop was Orlik, or the “little eagle” in English, beginning with our customary langose. I’m not overly sure what a langose is, but it’s flat, fried, and topped with copious amounts of cheese and garlic. Frankly, I’m not even sure if it’s any good, but I keep ordering the stuff so it must have some merit. 

We then went on our merry way to the castle grounds. My first instinct is always to go down the stairs at Orlik and follow the moat to a small peninsula, where you pass by a door where there’s always a hundred or so people streaming out. What was that door? A secret entrance? I couldn’t tell, since as I said, there were a hundred or so people streaming out an egress that could barely fit a kitchen stool.



Back up the moat and to the tour. The tour costs 120 czk for the straight Czech and 200 total for that with a booklet that will let you decipher the tour guide’s speeches. The castle is well worth the tour and is now on my top three list of castle tours. 


Orlik castle was the main manor of the noble Schwarzenberg family, who still wields power in the Czech government today. The house tour shows you the living period of the most famous of the Schwarzenbergs, Karl Philipp, who led the victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig. However, the man also served as the Austrian Ambassador to the French Empire and had been an acquaintance of the Corsican Fiend, even receiving the best gift you could receive from a friend: their own bust. The bust of the Little Corporal is on display in the gigantic lounge room, which is situated next to the dining room, by far the chambre sans pareil of the chateau. The room is paneled entirely of hand-carved wood, taking the master craftsman from the locality over four years to complete. The ceiling, the walls, everything. It’s truly a masterpiece of woodcarving and shouldn’t be missed by any fan of the trade, and it certainly makes the entire tour worth the price.

The next most interesting thing are the Halls of Terror (name is mine). In one hall are rows and rows of hunting guns, and in another, an unparalleled assemblage of animal heads. It seems that the Schwarzenberg family tradition was to provide a fresh gun for each guest and store the gun for later use by that guest, and they’d go out hunting in the immediate lands. The guns were all notched with their score and on the plate of each beast’s head was served the name of the hunter and date of the conquest. 


Orlik from the front
From Orlik, we went on the ferry down the Vltava. The schedule is on this site and costs 240 czk for a round trip. On board you can find beers by the can, so no need to come prepared, and there’s also a beer garden on the Orlik side.

Zvikov



Zvikov I’ve already written about as well. It’s a mystical little place with the ruins of an old fortress. The boat lands in the back, but it’s best to hurry on and walk through the place and pretend to walk in from the front, which is certainly the best way to enter, where you walk over a bridge that’s easy to imagine having once been a drawbridge. There are ruined towers galore here and a museum that’s well worth a visit—again, before I’d never taken the visit, but this time decided on it, as it was just 70 czk. 


Zvikov from the front
The first floor of the museum has a couple of art galleries and for the castle and history buff is a bit of a disappointment. It’s the second floor that makes the place shine, with the old wooden rooms and the stairs up to the top of the tower. Moreover, I learned about why the castle stopped being occupied. It once served as the storage facility of the crown jewels of the Bohemian King, an honor that was later transferred to Karlstejn. Part of the palace had crumbled down off the cliff, and this part included the royal bedroom of the King. Figuring that this wasn’t a good precedent—especially for his crown jewels—the King abandoned it and it declined in its usefulness.


The walls near the dock

Monday, August 1, 2016

The church of bones

Kutna Hora
I first visited Kutna Hora nearly six years ago, during my great trek across Europe. I went for a day trip from Prague with some mad Greek. We explored the ossuary and the two main churches, and then ended the day hidden in fog at the train station—I was trying to figure out which of those ancient electric trains to jump on to get home while he was trying to figure out how to score some weed from some neighborhood kids that were huddled nearby. Many years later, weed was decriminalized and I moved to Prague (the two are not actually related). It’s one of the most premiere tourist sites in Czech Republic and really, if you’re in Prague for three days, then you should take your time on one of those to visit the village. Why? Because there’s an ossuary there that’s filled with bone sculptures.

But don’t go just for the calcium craftsmanship, go also for the other two churches that are there. You can get a discount pass for the three attractions, which also includes the Cathedral of Our Lady and St. Barbara's. If you’re in for a really intensive day, you can visit the place where—I overheard one local tour guide saying—“is the place the Jesuits used to take poor Czech children and brainwash them with the mindless idiocy of Christianity”. As interesting as that sounds, I’d suggest skipping it and visiting the nearby Vlassky Dvur (the Italian Court) instead, which was an old mint and part-time royal residence, or to the Hradek, where you can tour a medieval mine.

Kutna Hora is a thousand-year-old village, which started with the founding of the Sedlec Monastery. Silver was discovered nearby and the place became an immediate attraction and it was soon a booming mining town, something that is not lost on visitors of St. Barbara's. It also became the site of the royal mint, where the Bohemian Kingdom would press its money.

Sedlec Ossuary

Sedlec Ossuary and the plague column
The last time I visited the ossuary was with my parents a few weeks ago. There seemed to have been going on a death metal festival nearby, as there were no limits to the numbers of darkly dressed Goth punk rockers wandering about, with lots of black, face makeup, black, purple, or dark red hair, and piercings. For a moment I had to remind myself I wasn’t in Finland. It seemed the perfect pilgrimage for such patriots of punk, given the theme of the place. Of course, the place itself doesn’t have such a dark history—there are no Draculas or Bathorys in the mix—just a bit of bizarreness that results when people take religion a bit too seriously. 

Sedlec Ossuary was originally the small cemetery of a Cistercian monastery founded in the 12th century, but it wasn’t really known as an ossuary until the Bohemian King Otakar II sent the abbot to go down to the Holy Land and check in on the peaceful folk making camp down there. When he came back, he brought some dirt from Jerusalem—as you do—and added it to the monastery. Before he knew it, it became the most popular place in all the land to be buried.


The chandelier and candle holders

Within 300 years, after the Black Death and a few wars, thousands of bodies had been buried in the tiny plot of land and something had to be done. They built a tomb in the middle and put to task a half-blind monk to take the scores of dead bodies and exhume them one at a time, so that they could have bare skeletons and make more room for the dead. 

It was in the the 1800s when they had the best idea. a member of the noble house of Schwarzenberg—still a prominent Czech family today, owning many a castle—had the brilliant idea to get more room there by making it into art. So they hired the woodworker Frantisek Rint and set him to work. He made a coat of arms, a chandelier, candle holders, and four gigantic pyramids of skulls and crossbones. A true marvel in the world, making the ossuary an absolutely unique place. 

The House of Schwarzenberg

Church of Our Lady

To be honest, the church itself is not that interesting. Being Cistercian, it was all bare and not decorative, not at all your typical Catholic Church of Central Europe, which tends to be gaudy and Baroque. The 14th century church—which suffered from a huge fire during the Hussite Wars and some 200 years of neglect—was restored in the 1700s but put into a plain, aesthetic form of the Baroque Gothic style. What’s interesting about Our Lady is that you can go up into the roof. During the latest 2001 restoration work, they decided to put in a walkway above the vaults from the choir loft to the back loft. This can be reached from the stairs just left of the altar and reliquary, and you can explore the tops of the vaults. 

The Church of Our Lady
St. Barbara's

If you’re driving, then the best way to get to St. Barbara's that includes a nice, scenic walk through the old town is to park at Morovy Sloup and to make sure you walk by the Vlassky Dvur (the Italian Court). If you're taking the train in or walking from Sedlec, this is really the only way. You can take a tour of the Vlassky Dur or continue on to a really cute pedestrian street where you can try a glass of the local wines or have a beer in a garden pub. Then continue your walk up to the GASK—the old Jesuit brainwashing chamber-turned museum—where you can check out some modern Czech art (this is the fourth place on the ticket deal, if you purchase all four). The restaurant just in front of the GASK is the best restaurant in town, with some killer duck and great prices. So eat there. The walkway alongside the GASK is stunning, with a nice view of a nearby hill, a creek, and a small stone wall lined with statues of the religious and royal famous.
The GASK and St. Barbara's
The construction of St. Barbara's, a church dedicated to the patron saint of mining, started in 1388, led by the son of the famous architect, Peter Parlor, who had designed St. Vitus in Prague. The church is one of the most interesting Gothic designs I’ve ever seen, with three green spires pointing upward from the central nave and flying buttresses surrounding almost the entire church. Inside can be seen many pieces dedicated to miners, from a statue of a miner himself, to paintings of the coat of arms for the miners and the pulleymen. They were two houses of the same guild apparently too, one for the guys digging, and one for the guys lifting up the stones. 

St. Barbara's




Tuesday, July 26, 2016

another Prague beer spa

Bathing in beer is something I imagine the gods taking time to do up there on Mount Olympus, next to drinking ambrosia and playing fatal games with mortals. So when at first I heard this could be done in Prague, I jumped on it and went with my wife to Spa Beer Land on Zitna. It was a good experience, but one thing let me down, I wouldn’t be bathing in actual beer. It was tepid water with some malt, barley, and hops added. Not quite the real thing. But with unlimited pours of beer and my beautiful wife, a good time was had anyway.

When my parents came to visit, it was a reason to celebrate. Another beer spa would be had, as a proper treat for any foreigner to this great land of Czechia. The two remaining beer spas to try in Prague were Spa Pramen—featuring a microbrew owned by Staropramen—and Prague Beer Spa Bernard. To tell you the truth, drinking Staropramen or Bernard didn’t really excite me. Neither did going downtown to Spa Bernard. But Spa Pramen was at the less trafficked area of Hradcanska—an easy ride on the green line metro—and was serving the aforementioned microbrew, from a small brewery out near Karlovy Vary. That would be the choice then.

At the front desk, we were greeted and brought down to our beer spa room. It was similar to the Spa Beer Land room—cozy, fireplace, two big wood tubs for two, and a large straw bed. The main difference here was that at Spa Beer Land, you got your own bathroom, whereas here at Pramen, you had to share the restroom. Since we were there with my parents, that wasn’t an overly big deal, but for anyone planning a romantic night, that might be an issue.

The biggest difference though was in the tub. They actually put several liters of dark beer in the tub, then water, and then a mix of malts, barley, and hops. While we were expecting some jets a bit sooner and they only finally turned them on after asking them again, they did apologize profusely and added another 15 minutes of time for soaking and drinking. Then we went upstairs where we had another beer and decompressed.

All-in-all, Spa Pramen got my recommendation when I was telling some Prague newcomers where to go.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The treasure of the Clementinum

View of the Castle from the Clementinum
There was a heavy knock at the door. Pavel was kicked out of bed by his wife, who whispered loudly to answer the door and it better not be Vasek coming home from the hospudka again! Pavel muttered something about his wife as he stumbled through the kitchen and opened the door. There in the hallway were two men in heavy monks’ robes, the hoods up so their faces were only deep shadows. Pavel was somewhat surprised and rubbed his eyes a bit before making out a groggy “Hello?”

“Pavel Krumlov?” one of the men asked.

“Yes? Can I help you?”

The other man was holding a small, cloth pouch, made from the same material as the heavy robes. He held it out for him to take. Pavel took it—it was heavy and clinked. Gold. At least as much that he needed to pay back that lender he owed.

“What’s this?” he asked, narrowing his eyes.

“We have more.”

“Do you?”

“We have a job for you.”

Pavel naturally accepted the job, as his masonry business had gone somewhat downhill. The men refused to say where the job was, but rather took his wrist and led him into the hall, down the stairs, and into the street. “You’ll have to wear this,” said one of the men, holding a blindfold to him. After a short sigh, he put on the blindfold and they led him around the streets of Prague, over the river, in circles around buildings, back over the river, in circles, around this building, that building, up a hill, down a hill. He was completely lost by the time that he heard a door open and he was led down some steps into a cellar. From the cellar, there was a dark passage that led to chest after chest after chest. Jewels and glittering things were on the ground, the light from their torch picked up and scattered, making the floor itself almost look like a precious object.

“What is this?” asked Pavel.

“You will make a wall here, and it will appear as if the wall was always here. Do you understand?” one monk said. “The materials are all here. There are bricks, mortar, spades. If you need anything, you tell one of us and we will get it for you. When you're done, we'll take you back a different way.”

Pavel understood. This treasure was to be hidden. One monk remained behind to watch Pavel as he worked through the night. He slept on a cot through the day. When he woke, there was a different monk and he kept working and working until his wall was perfected.

When he came home, with several more sacks of gold, he told his wife what had happened. “Do you think you can find the place?” his wife asked. They searched again and were never able to realize that his commission was from the Jesuits of the Clementinum


A bit of history

In 1773, the Empress Maria Theresa told the Jesuits to pack their bags and go—thinking this was only a temporary departure, as they had a perfectly functional relationship with Charles’ University, they had allegedly decided to store many of their treasures in a secret room somewhere on the campus. Maria Theresa had designs for her own functions though and the property was never returned to the religious order. Which means there’s still a room full of gold somewhere in the Clementinum. 

Inside the Observatory tower with bookshelf/ladder

The building standing in the heart of the Prague Old Town was built by the Dominicans in 1556 and reconstructed and developed into a full-scale university by the Jesuits in 1653. The complex spans over 2 hectares, making it one of the largest building complexes in Europe. It was used by several famous astronomers, notably Tyco Brahe and Johannes Kepler. Brahe was key in keeping most of the scientific community of the time—meaning the Jesuits—against the heliocentric theory, while Kepler would advance the early Copernican ideas and correct them, adjusting the planetary orbits into off-center ellipses, which was the main failure of Copernicus. Then he also wrote several books expounding how Christianity and the Bible allowed for a heliocentric theory, and he never made the famous Galilean mistake of calling the pope an idiot in any of his tomes. Pope Urban VIII at the time interestingly supported the heliocentric theory, but didn’t support being called an idiot. And so the Inquisition goes its way.

The King's Road

The Clementinum now stands alongside the “King’s Road”, the path of coronation for the old Bohemian Kings, and is thus on the direct route to the Charles’ Bridge from Old Town Square. It works still as part of Charles’ University, containing an immense library, and it also functions as a museum—preserving the library wing where Kepler and Brahe once worked, in the form that they had left it. You can tour the library and observatory tower and you can sign up for the tours in the inner courtyard. Don’t worry, it’s okay to walk around the courtyards, even though guards might be eyeing you while you do so. 

View from the Clementinum
The tour lasts for about 30 minutes, is sold out quickly, and doesn’t really take reservations, which means you need to show up about 30 minutes before the tour and buy your tickets then. The price is a whopping 220 crowns, but the view from the top and the fact that you are looking into the library where Kepler was working certainly makes it worth it, especially if you’re only in Prague once.



Sunday, June 5, 2016

the festival and the tramp

Loket, By Rejectwater, commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46676354
Lying in the grass, looking up at the dwindling light of the Sun as pinpoints of light slowly turn on like their lights from a skyline, with music blazing out from one direction and the next, some girls laughing over near a grove of trees, dancing in a circle, some guys commenting about the girls while they sip drinks and nod their heads to the pulsing of the bass from the nearby stage – these are parts of the image of summer that I love, the festival life, the life of being outside, slightly so inebriated, feeling the earth pulse through me as it rocks and shakes with the footsteps of passing people. When I lived in the United States, I always enjoyed the idea of a festival, but in general the complexity and price of getting a beer makes it only mildly worth it. Here in Europe, especially in the Czech Republic, where the beer is cheaper than water and finer than champagne, festivals are fodder for fun. And it’s hard to go anywhere in Prague where you don’t run into a festival, in some park or some street corner, there is something that’s going to be going on with beer, sausages, potato pancakes, or all three.

But also getting out of town is fun, since the festivals ravage the countryside, moving from town to town like the ranging tramps of old that they seem to have been inspired by.

The Tramp

The only time I had heard of “tramps” before was from the Lady and the Tramp, after which I still didn’t know what one was, and also just before I beat some kid up in second grade when he called my mother a tramp. I beat him so good, I was crying for afterwards about it. Nobody calls my mom a tramp, even though I didn’t have the slightest clue what a tramp actually was – nor, apparently, did the other kid.

But then I moved to Czech Republic and started reading the Good Soldier Svejk, and I started meeting folks on the street with nothing but a knapsack over their shoulder and a healthy distrust of anything to do with the G-word (government), talking about how 9/11 was a Bush conspiracy and that Trump is set to bring America back to what it once was or could be or might have been or something rather this way or that. But sometimes it was interesting to journey into the city and see what things were going on, that old stench of civilization that just wouldn’t wash down the Vltava along with all the Drano, fluoride, and whatever the hell else is turning the color that lovely shade of brown.

Tramps are the bearers of a long Czech tradition of shafting the government and taking to the woods. The movement seems to have started sometime around the times of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, when forced conscription had been put in place. Czechs have never been lovers of their rulers, being passed from one to the next over the generations, but this was a line crossed too far. In times of war, instead of going out to pointlessly kill some folks that didn’t have anything for them but fought for the wrong ass hole on the other side of an invisible line, they set to the sticks and wandered about the hills (this would be what we call “draft dodging” over in those United States, and Muhammad Ali had something to tell you about them).

Tramping was a highly illegal activity and carried huge punishments, from torture, to beatings, to execution, depending on the temperament of the local military tribunal. The Czechs of the countryside also knew this, and were quite sympathetic, so there grew some strange tradition of hospitality for the rovers and meanderers of the Bohemian wild and would regularly take them in and help out.

Times are different these days though, what with globalization and refugees. The tramping life is no longer seen as something brave and idyllic, but now the basic term for the chronically homeless. Still, heroes to some, heroes of sorts.

Meander Feastival


The Meander Festival celebrates all those things tramp, the free spirit, and Bohemian ideal. Set just across the Russian border at Karlovy Vary, on the Czech side in the small town of Loket, it’s a three-day music festival that caters to all sorts, the outcast and the tramp, the hippy and the intellectual, the small one-man band and the hundred guitar acts, local and international, fire breathing and water streaming, theatrical acts, clowns, lions jumping through hoops, an impregnable castle, a princess and a pauper, and a meandering river. Really, it’s got something for everyone. “We booked the lions because -” Andy, one of the festival organizers and principal operator of A Maze in Tchaiovna explained to me while smoking something that may not have been tobacco while drinking something that may not have been tea, “Because I thought there needed to be something more. You know, for the kids. It’s really going to be spectacular this year. Oh, and tell them about the bus!”

The Meander Bus leaves A Maze in Tchaiovna on Friday the 10th at 5:30 pm and returns at 2:00 pm on Sunday. You can book your ticket there in advance, one way or both. There are also public transit methods via Student Agency and local routes that aren’t too hard. Or you can drive or coordinate a car to Loket. 


Be sure to catch Cupla Focal - the band in which I play accordion - at midnight on Saturday. And if you need something to read for the bus, check out a copy of How It Ends sold at A Maze in Tchaiovna.

Loket

Loket was founded in the 9th century and is near the Russian town of Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic. Its name translates as “elbow”, called such because of the meandering elbow shape that the Ohre River makes around the town. Overlooking the town – like most Czech towns – there’s a 12th century Gothic castle, which was once known as the “Impregnable Fortress of Bohemia.” In the 18th century, the castle was burned to the base, but a hundred years later it was rebuilt as a prison, which was probably used for those draft dodging tramps trolling around the Austrian barracks. The Communists shut down the prison though and turned it into a museum, which it’s been ever since, showing the life that never really existed in the place but did before the place was built. Or something like that. Anyways, come for the castle, stay for the festival. Or vice versa. As you wish. 

Loket, From http://www.loket.cz/en/

Monday, April 25, 2016

Grandmaster Bouzov and Kanye

Bouzov castle from the village
I’ve long held my beef with Czechs and their castles. As I’ve mentioned before, when I first came to Prague, I wasted an entire day looking around for Prague Castle. Why? Because it’s not a castle. At least, not in the sense that us Americans have come to think of castle, which is something that kind of looks like a fortress, has lots of stone, and with flags on top. Okay, Disneyland did a lot to create this image, but their castle really is more of a castle than Prague castle, and has even more of a castle history – think Neuschwanstein, never really a fortress, always really just something that looks cool and came out of Wagnerian fairy tales. Prague Castle is an administrative center, has many palaces inside of it, and has a wall. That might make for the biggest "castle" in the world, but it also makes for castle that looks more like a palatial complex than anything else. In Prague, there is a castle, but it’s not the castle, it’s Vysehrad, which means “high castle”, and it’s a bit of a ruin, but have fun. 

However, the Czech Republic is full of the real deal of castles. Everywhere from the decorative Disneyland type playgrounds for ye olde riche, like Hluboka, to the old ruins of castles, like Rabi, to the kept up fortresses of old that were also administrative centers and the houses of old knightly orders, like Bouzov, which is today’s subject. The castle sits on a wooded hill, maybe a twenty-minute drive from Olomouc. By public transit, a bus from Olomouc to Litovel and then to Bouzov will take you near an hour, along with a good hike up a hill and a dubious time schedule. Luckily for the un-carred, this part of the world isn’t intolerant of hitchhikers, and they even have a mild tradition of it. So if you’re really determined to make it to this castle, then that might be your best bet.

A bit of history

castle gates
Bouzov was founded back in the 1300s and were most famously owned by the Lords of Kunstat and later the Teutonic Knights. The famous Czech king, who is perhaps the third most famous Czech in Prague after Charles IV and Zizkov, Jiri z Podebrady was born here. Jiri (read: Yeezhee, where Kanye West must get his name) is often called by Czechs speaking to foreigners “George from Podiebrad”, which kind of confuses us, since we read his name on the metro station as JZP. He was a King of Bohemia back in the 15th century and leader of the Hussites. Jiri was both a Bohemian to the core and a modern day nationalist. He proposed to the Pope – who he was at war with – to sit down and have chats rather than wars (the Bohemian side). But he was also a bit of a nationalist, since the whole point of those sit downs was to plot against the “abominable Turk.” The Pope wouldn’t have any of that peacenik nonsense and thoroughly excommunicated Kanye's predecessor, who was soon to die during a war with the Pope-serving Hungarian king.

the inner courtyard of the castle
Bouzov remained a Hussite stronghold through the 30 Years War, during which it served as a prison for captured Swedes. The Swedes were rampant during that period and something had to be done with them. Unfortunately, this was not enough, as they would later lay siege to Prague, raping and pillaging everything outside of its so-called castle. It’s to be noted though that that was the time before it was redecorated into its current Baroque affair and actually did resemble something like a castle.

After the decline of the Hussites, Bouzov castle eventually burned down and the domain fell to the Grandmaster of the infamous Teutonic Knights. The Teutonic Knights were a German crusading bunch responsible for bringing in the Baltic pagans to the Catholic Church. Having succeeded in their campaign, they eventually got some land, went a bit nuts and started attacking everybody, from the Balts to the Russians to the Poles to the Germans. They built some of the best military castles in Europe though, and for that, many of the aforementioned countries owe them many a tourist dollar.


A bit of a tour

the fountain
The castle as you can see and tour it now is preserved in this later Teutonic period. The beginning of the regular tour starts in the Grandmaster’s office. It moves on through some bed chambers and along a wall, then down to the servant’s quarters. From there, the tour continues to the kitchen, where you can sort of imagine castle life centuries ago, and how the servants were able to get about the castle without ever being seen, and how there were even rudimentary ordering and calling systems for the servants, in the form of a dinging call box that would tell the servants what room needed aid. The tour rounds out with the central well that has a German inscription that translates as something like, “This was a really ugly well. You should thank me for having it replaced with this beautiful piece of art”, and then on to the chapel and the armory.

This was one of the best preserved and prettier castles in the Czech Republic (now known as Czechia) that I’ve visited and that says a lot.