April 27, 2002
Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
We’re spending the night in Ceske Krumlov on a drive between Bratislava and Zagreb. Ceske Krumlov is nowhere near the direct route from Bratislava to Zagreb. Suzi and I have not often taken direct routes and we are the richer for it. Ceske Krumlov is a fortified city protected by a meander in the Vlatava (Moldau) River. We were last here in spring 1990 during the election that legitimized the Velvet Revolution. The city was not yet a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That came in 1992 along with some restoration funds. In 1990 the city was a magnificent, grey jumble of towers and walls climbing up from the river. Paint peeling, it looked old. It was a city struggling to redefine its last fifty years. We went to the museum and found whole sections closed for re-working, especially the part about the Red Army liberating Ceske Krumlov. It was really Patton who did that. When we were there the museum had dug up for display anything that gave evidence that the US Army had been there first, including a poster advertising a boxing match between two GIs. The museum sold buttons with the turret of a tank flying an American flag and the word “Pravda,” truth.
The city is no longer gray. It’s been retucked, repainted and restuccoed. The colors bring out a completely different mood less gothic, less medieval, more baroque although all three elements are represented in the town. I doubt if the town was ever as bright and clean as today’s version. I wonder what its early inhabitants would do seeing it so completely lit up at night. Run in terror, I suspect.
The town is already hosting early season tourists, mostly young. We got the last room in a nice inexpensive pension. (I’ve been trying to figure out the difference between a pension and a hotel. This pension has bigger rooms than the last several hotels we’ve stayed in. I think the difference is colored towels and no little bottles of shampoo.) Twelve years ago Suzi the boys and I stayed in a campground outside Ceske Budejovice, several kilometers up the road. It’s still there but I can hardly call it outside, or even on the edge of Ceske Budejovice. One thing that struck me twelve years ago is that cities just stopped. There was a row of apartment blocks and then fields, no suburbs. Now the string of car dealers, fast food places, discount houses and gas stations spread past the campground and merge to the next village. Between and behind new homes have risen with new Skoders parked beside.
This is a comforting countryside. Its rolling hills and well platted farms give a sense of security. It reminds me of being lulled, floating on a gentle swell. It’s so unlike the Balkans, or Slovakia, for that matter, where the flat clam of the Danubian or Pannonian planes give way to the angry whitecaps of the Accursed Mountains (a proper name) or the Tatras. We last drove these roads twelve years ago. They were much narrower then. When widening them the designers tried to leave one of the rows of trees along the side. Sometimes they failed and new, slender trees line the newly widened roads.