One of the great joys of travel is eating all the different foods, am I right? Never knowing what you’re going to get, relying on vaguely translated descriptions (if there is an English menu) or trying to identify a common word between languages.
Cesky Krumlov is a major tourist destination – the town relies on tourism and, as one of the guides during my castle tour told me, “it’s all souvenir shops and jewellery stores.” There seemed to be three major languages in use in the town – Czech, German and English. If you didn’t speak one of those three then you were, realistically, on your own. This also means that every menu I saw, whether in a restaurant or posted outside of one, used these three languages.
I decided to try one of the numerous restaurants that had a nice teresa, determined to enjoy the sun while it lasted. It promised traditional Czech food, for a good price! The special set menu, roast pork with spinach dumplings, came with both a dessert and a noodle soup. Worst case scenario I could just eat the noodle soup, right? And I liked dumplings, especially if they were stuffed with spinach. Oh and the roast port would probably just be like a carved roast, right?
Wrong. The noodle soup was exactly what it promised to be – a noodle soup, in a homemade, perfectly seasoned broth. Yum. But then this plate arrived, which left me scratching my head in confusion. Even if I had spotted it elsewhere in the restaurant I wouldn’t quite have realized that it was the special. Those white things are dumplings? Why is the spinach so… big? What’s up with the pork? Slightly befuddled, I shrugged my shoulders and dug in, finding that the food was at least edible and knowing that I had done my best to try some traditional Czech dinner items.
There was of course, more to come. This cake, to be specific. Warm, fluffy with plump raisin like fruit inside (I have no idea what it was, please don’t ask), drizzled with chocolate syrup and coated in icing sugar. Highly recommended.
The next morning, I had a new challenge ahead: finding breakfast. I had aimed for an early start, hoping to visit the castle before things became too busy and the tour groups descended on the town, however the restaurant attached to our hostel wouldn’t open until 10am. The place across the road offered “sugar waffles”, which didn’t really interest me… so I assumed that one of the other cafés or restaurants between my hostel and the castle would be open. Wrong again.
I followed the main street until I found a restaurant called Kolectiv. It wouldn’t be out of place in any major city in the world – trendy music, modern decor and a reasonable menu. This was my breakfast – 3 sunny side up eggs, cooked and served on a thin slice of ham (which you can’t see). It also came with a healthy serving of fresh, warm bread. The eggs were really flavourful and deep in colour, exactly how farm fresh eggs are described in all of the food biographies I keep reading.
When I emerged from the castle I was surprised at how busy the streets of the town had become and decided against joining the hordes of people looking for lunch. I stopped into a Czech grocery store, conveniently located just across from the castle, and browsed its offerings. Baked goods, mystery meats and all sorts of cheeses called out for my attention. I snagged enough for a couple of sandwiches, plus some fruit and a drink, and the total came to under €2. One interesting aspect of grocery shopping there was that the cash displays a running total – so instead of flashing up bread as CZK 2.50, for example, it displayed the bread plus everything that came before it. A good way to stay on budget. A bad way to play grocery guessing games.
Wandering through the city was making me thirsty, so I found a small bar (again, advertising a teresa), perched on one of the high points of the town. It was not the most accessible – you had to either climb up a lot of steps from the riverbank, or down a few from the street – but the waiter was friendly and the patio was busy. Like many places I’ve been, the seating was communal so I joined a German couple at the end of their table and spent some time getting my Hemingway on, jotting away in my journal.
When I went to use the bathroom before departing, however, I entered into the restaurant itself and was surprised to see that it was basically carved into the stone. The stairs to the bathroom were of varying heights and the ceiling was very low on the way up. It was definitely an atmospheric place to spend a night, if one was so inclined, and the restaurant seemed to be out of the middle ages.
I met up with the American girls at the hostel and they invited me to head down the riverbank to share some of the wine they had picked up. It was terrible – absolutely awful – and although I couldn’t read the country or the language, I’m fairly certain it was imported from Slovakia. I had barely a glass but enjoyed the evening swapping travel stories. I had been surprised to see that they left their bags and clothes strewn about, while I kept everything locked up, and while they were telling me about their travels so far I learned that their hostel room had been robbed while they were in Liverpool. I would have assumed once bitten, twice shy, but these girls seemed willing to throw caution to the wind.
On our way back up the hostel, in search of food, we were cajoled into a bar by the “3 vodka shots for CZK 100” – or about €3.60 – sign that was hanging outside. The bar was in a former pharmacy, had great music and we didn’t have anywhere else to be so we popped inside thinking that we each would get a vodka shot. Nope, ends up that it was 3 shots each.
The bar created its own flavoured vodkas by steeping the fruit in the vodka until the flavours mingled and merged together. The three shots were pear, fig and strawberry – which we tasted in that order – while we watched the bartender work his magic. He was a skilled mixologist and one of the girls, Alexis, ordered a fancy cocktail called a “celery sipper” which was an unexpected combination of mashed celery, grain vodka, lemon and soda water. He then put some sugar and a spirit on a celery stalk, pulled out a crème brulée torch and crystallized it. Mind blown.
Once we settled up, the Americans and I continued our walk back to our hostel, noting that everywhere seemed closed. We had asked the bartender and he said we may luck out with a place down by the town square but that we were a few days too early in the season. The hostel restaurant was supposed to be open until midnight or one but as we approached the hostel we saw that this wasn’t the case – despite the opening hours boldly proclaimed on more than one piece of signage. We scrounged up a quick and simple dinner of leftover pasta, garlic, cheese and some butter in the hostel kitchen. Vampires, watch out!
We already knew that the next day would be miserable and the weather predictions proved correct. It was raining, it was damp, it was cold. I had looked up the local brewery online before leaving Canada and knew that they had an English language tour at noon. The Americans decided to join me – their train to Prague didn’t leave until 3pm – so we headed to the brewery which was conveniently located next to the hostel. We found the place to buy our tickets, I asked about the English tour and the woman in the ticket office pointed to the sign which clearly stated English tours at 11am and 2pm. Once again, the Internet lied!
A quick decision was made to have lunch in the brewery restaurant and I settled for the garlic soup, a local food that the Americans and the guy working at the hostel had raved about. This one had thin slices of ham in it, croutons and some cheese at the bottom. I’m sure you could smell me coming from a mile away, but garlic is supposed to cure colds, I think, so it was imperative.
I paired it with the Eggenberg “yeast beer” and came out of the meal with total wallet damage of just over €2, which is basically unbeatable. Although we didn’t get a chance to see the brewery itself, the restaurant had enormous, soaring ceilings and was pretty busy. The entire front area of the restaurant was packed with many of the guests seeming to be locals.
After lunch, we went our separate ways. I was in search of cough drops while the Americans wanted to stroll around a bit more before their train left. The rain just started to get heavy as I returned to the hostel, soon to be joined by the American girls who seemed to be completely drenched. I spent the rest of the day snacking on some fruit, watching Mad Men and sorting through the dozens (ok, hundreds) of photos I took in Cesky Krumlov. How many views of the castle does one really need? Dozens, I say!
A few parting words: I also would like to point out that many restaurants seem to charge for water, and occasionally a beer really is cheaper than water…