prague, czech republic: exploring malá strana

Tuesday, October 3:  This morning, Martina from Comfy Tours picks us up at Penzion U Matesa in Český Krumlov and drives us to our Airbnb apartment, hosted by Kateřina, in an attractive part of Prague -Vinohrady.  The apartment is spacious enough for six, with two rooms (one extra with two beds), a kitchen, dining area, and nice bathroom. It’s a newly renovated apartment, clean and comfortable, located close to Peace Square and public transportation, making it easy to get around the city. It also has a washer and dryer (shared by 3 apartments). We have loved our Airbnb apartments, here and in Budapest, on this trip.

It’s about 12:30 when we arrive in Prague, so we head out to look for a lunch spot.  We find the modern vegetarian restaurant, Etnosvet, at Legrerova 40, on a corner down from our apartment, and here we enjoy a fabulous lunch.

I start with a glass of cactus tea with cranberries.  We share a Chestnut velouté, and I have Celeriac Ravioli with smoked tofu, hazelnuts, walnuts and hazelnut oil.

Today, our focus is on Malá Strana, a district of Prague known officially as the Menší Město pražské, or Lesser Town of Prague.  We get off the tram at Malostranské náměstí, the main square of Malá Strana, which has been the hub of Malá Strana since the 10th century.  The green dome and imposing facade of St. Nicholas church tower over the square. From here, Mostecká ulice leads out to the Charles Bridge, and that’s where we head first.

Church of St. Nicholas
Malostranské náměstí

On our way to Charles Bridge, we pass a colorful Thai Massage place that beckons, and although I’m always a sucker for a massage, we don’t have time to indulge today.

We walk down Mostecká to Charles Bridge, passing the taller of two towers at the western end of Charles Bridge. This Malá Strana Bridge Tower was built in the mid-15th century imitating the Old Town Bridge Tower on the eastern end of the bridge.

Mostecká

I love the fancy wrought iron ornaments on the sides of the buildings.

Mostecká

Charles IV commissioned the architect of St. Vitus Cathedral, Peter Parler, to build Charles Bridge in 1357, replacing the washed away Judith Bridge. Completed in 1390, it was known simply as Kamenny most (Stone Bridge), and wasn’t renamed Charles until the 19th century.  Charles Bridge is decorated with thirty statues.  Below is the 1709 statue of St. Kosma and St. Damian, third century physician brothers (Lonely Planet: Prague & the Czech Republic).

St. Kosma and St. Damian on Charles Bridge

The Malá Strana Bridge Tower sits beside a lower tower originally part of the Judith Bridge, washed away by floods in 1342.

Malá Strana Bridge Tower

Charles Bridge is a favorite place for both locals and tourists to see and be seen.

Charles Bridge
busy Charles Bridge

Another statue on the bridge is St. John of Matha, St. Felix of Valois and St. Ivan, a 1714 statue of the 17th century French founders of the Trinitarian Order.  The original intention for the Order was to provide the ransom for Christians held captive by non-Christians; these Christians were often captured by crusaders and pirates along the Mediterranean coast of Europe.

Statuary of St. John of Matha, St. Felix of Valois and St. Ivan

From Charles Bridge, we can see the canal that separates Kampa Island from the west bank.

Kampa

From Charles Bridge, we have great views of the Vltava River going in every direction.  Looking north, we see the Mánes Bridge, or in Czech, Mánesův most.

the Vltava River

On the west bank, we can see the Franz Kafka Museum and other buildings lining the shore.

the Vltava River

To the south, we see the Legion Bridge and the National Theatre.

view of the eastern shore of the Vltava

At the Malá Strana end of Charles Bridge, we descend steps to Kampa, Prague’s biggest island, and wander through a tree-lined square bordered by outdoor cafes.

Kampa

We make our way to the shore of the Vltava and see Charles Bridge and the Old Town Bridge Tower at its eastern end.

view of Charles Bridge and the Vltava River from Kampa

We pass the John Lennon Pub as we make our way to the John Lennon Wall.

John Lennon Pub

We stroll by some cute cafes, love locks, canals separating Kampa from Malá Strana, gnomes, and interesting graffiti along the way.

restaurant on Kampa
canal on Kampa
locks on Kampa
gnome over canal
Mike and graffiti

Look closely at the middle of the first wall of graffiti and you can see my political sentiments expressed perfectly.

In a leafy secluded square, we find the John Lennon Wall across from the French Embassy.  After Lennon was shot on December 8, 1980, the singer, songwriter, and peace activist who co-founded the Beatles became an inspiration for young pacifist Czechs. Lennon’s image was painted on a wall, along with political graffiti, Beatles lyrics and other song titles. The communists banned most Western pop music and even jailed some Czech musicians for playing it.  Though the secret police whitewashed the wall many times, they could never keep it clean.  After 1989, though Lennon’s image and political messages became chipped away, tourists began to make their own contributions. The Knights of Malta now own the wall.  Early on, they painted over it, but after a while they gave up.  The wall lives today (Lonely Planet: Prague & The Czech Republic).

The John Lennon Wall
The John Lennon Wall
The John Lennon Wall

I’m initially surprised to find “Washington” on the John Lennon Wall, but then again, I’m not. Our government has the wherewithal to do great good for the world, as well as to inflict great evil, and we have done both.

The John Lennon Wall is a work in progress, adjusting its messages to the political times.

The John Lennon Wall

We make our way off the island of Kampa and head back uphill to Malá Strana.

going through Kampa
Kampa

Our next destination is the High Baroque St. Nicholas Church, built from 1703-1760.   We head first for the bell tower and climb its 215 steps for a view of the city.

St. Nicholas Church
view from St. Nicholas Church

Inside the bell tower, we pass some small rooms.  The living room was used as a place to rest, eat and work.  The bed sits in a cut-out niche next to the stove.  The sleeping corner is equipped with a cross of “protection” hung on the wall.  The eating and working corner consists of a wooden bench, a table and a chair.  A small corner cabinet was the only storage space. The remaining storage furniture fits in the opposite niche which features a cupboard-like shelf to store tableware (ceramic plates, a jug for beer/wine, and a serving dish).  Next to it, on the floor, is a chest for books, clothes, and other personal objects.  The simple clock on the wall gives a finishing touch.

From St. Nicholas Church, we can see Petřín Lookout Tower, which we will visit later this afternoon for more fabulous views.

view from St. Nicholas Church
view from St. Nicholas Church
view from St. Nicholas Church

According to Lonely Planet, the tower of St. Nicholas Church was used during the communist era to spy on the nearby American Embassy.

St. Nicholas Church
St. Nicholas Church
building outside St. Nicholas Church

The interior of St. Nicholas Church is an extravaganza of ceiling frescoes, a 2,500-pipe organ and numerous statues.

interior of St. Nicholas Church

On the ceiling of St. Nicholas Church is Johann Kracker’s 1770 Apotheosis of St. Nicholas, Europe’s largest fresco, according to Lonely Planet.

dome of St. Nicholas Church

The Early Baroque Church of Our Lady Victorious, dating back to 1611, was rebuilt from 1634 to 1669 and is administered by the Barefoot Carmelites.

The Church of Our Lady Victorious

The church is famous for its statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague, originally from Spain and donated to the Carmelite friars in 1628 by Polyxena; she was first princess of Lobkowicz, a Bohemian noble family that dates back to the 14th century. The Infant Jesus has two crowns and about forty-six robes. His vestments are traditionally changed about ten times a year according to the liturgical season, according to Prague.eu.

The Infant Jesus of Prague

We continue walking through Malá Strana, heading back to Charles Bridge once more.

The Church of Our Lady Victorious
Prague streets
dolls in shop window
Malostranské náměstí & St. Nicholas Church
on the way to Charles Bridge

It’s a beautiful time of day to walk back over the Charles Bridge and see action on the Vltava River, including boat traffic and swans floating leisurely on the rippling river.

the Vltava River and Charles Bridge
the Vltava River and Charles Bridge
the Vltava River
the Vltava River and Charles Bridge
Gustav Mahler

The Memorial to the Victims of Communism is a series of seven bronze statues descending a flight of stairs at the base of Petřín Hill.  The statues deteriorate as they recede in the distance, their bodies and limbs decaying and disappearing.  It memorializes the victims of the Communist era between 1948 and 1989,   It is the work of Czech sculptor Olbram Zoubek and architects Jan Kerel and Zdeněk Holzel.

There is also a bronze strip that runs along the center of the memorial, showing estimated numbers of those impacted by communism (Wikipedia: Memorial to the Victims of Communism): 205,486 imprisoned; 170,938 forced into exile; 4,500 died in prison; 327 shot trying to escape; 248 executed.

Memorial to the Victims of Communism

We then take the Petřín Funicular Railway up to Petřín Hill, where we plan to go to the top of Petřín Lookout Tower. Built for an exhibition in 1891, the tower is 200 feet tall.

Petřín Lookout Tower
Petřín Lookout Tower

It turns out the elevator to the top is out of service today, so we have to climb up the 400 steps circling the exterior of the tower, making for a cold ascent.  We have amazing views of the city as the sun goes down.

view from Petřín Lookout Tower
view from Petřín Lookout Tower
view from Petřín Lookout Tower
view from Petřín Lookout Tower
view from Petřín Lookout Tower

We have extraordinary views from Petřín Lookout Tower.

view from Petřín Lookout Tower

We find a Mexican restaurant, Restaurace Cantina, on the street near the bottom of Petřín Hill, where we stop for a cozy and delicious meal in a festive atmosphere.

Restaurace Cantina
Restaurace Cantina
Restaurace Cantina

Despite our day being short because we came from Český Krumlov this morning, I think we still managed to squeeze in a lot!

Steps today: 13,778 (5.74 miles).

This walk is inspired in part by Jo’s Monday Walks.

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a day of aimless wandering in český krumlov

Monday, October 2:  Today is a bright and cheery day.  Since it’s a Monday and all museums are closed, we have nothing to do but wander around Český Krumlov.  Mike has a hankering to go on a raft ride down the Vltava River, but after he tries several times to call the outfitter and gets no answer, he wants to walk down to the river to try to find the office.  We take off after a decent breakfast at Penzion U Matesa, walking through the cobbled streets.

streets of Český Krumlov
Český Krumlov
Vltava River in Český Krumlov
St. Vitus Church in Český Krumlov
wandering through town

We’re delighted to find a small church in a leafy park setting.

a shaded church
hidden church

We continue following the river in search of the rafting outfitter.

the Vltava

We find the address, but the office door is closed, so we descend steps down to the river.  There is no one to be found, so they must be closed on Mondays along with the closed museums. Mike is disappointed and wonders what we’ll do all day. I’m always happy to linger and meander and drop into shops as the urge strikes, so I don’t share his concerns.

a derelict building near the boat dock

We cross one of the bridges and continue walking through the town, admiring the red roofs, the whimsically shaped stucco buildings, and the castle tower and church steeples.

We find a map of Český Krumlov at the top of a hill.  I wish I could do aerial photography because I’d love to capture this view with my camera.

Map of Český Krumlov

We come upon the looming St. Vitus Church in Český Krumlov, and this time we decide to go inside.  If you’d like to read more about the church, click on the link.

St. Vitus Church
St. Vitus Church
St. Vitus Church
interior of St. Vitus Church

We make our way to the town center, known as náměstí Svornosti, with its 16th century Town Hall and 1716 Marian Plague Column. Several buildings on the square feature valuable stucco and painted decorations (Lonely Planet).

náměstí Svornosti
náměstí Svornosti & the Marian Plague Column
náměstí Svornosti

We find an exhibit of candy-colored Porsches in the square. They entice like shiny Matchbox cars.

Porsche display at náměstí Svornosti

We continue our walk through the swirls of the town, poking our heads into shops now and then, much to Mike’s dismay.  I love the round-top facades and pastel colors of the buildings.  The streets are packed with tourists, especially Chinese.

Český Krumlov
Český Krumlov

Walking through town, we see views of St. Jošt Church and Český Krumlov State Castle and Tower.

St. Jošt Church
Český Krumlov State Castle
St. Jošt Church

We stop at an outdoor cafe along the Vltava River for a lunchtime cheese sampler and coffee. It’s a perfect day, crisp, sunny and full of possibilities.

me with a cheese plate

We decide to split up for an hour and half and go our separate ways.  I want to take a photo walk around the town, dipping into shops when the urge hits me.  Mike decides to walk around the perimeter of the town, on the outer edges of the Vltava.  Following are the photos I took during my meanderings.

streets of Český Krumlov
Český Krumlov
Český Krumlov
Český Krumlov

I love some of the delightful little details I find on the streets of the town.

I love this box of fun signs, especially this: TEENAGERS: TIRED OF BEING HARASSED BY YOUR PARENTS?  ACT NOW!  MOVE OUT, GET A JOB, PAY YOUR OWN WAY WHILE YOU STILL KNOW EVERYTHING.  (Sounds like something I’d like to say to someone I know, except he’s not a teenager!)

fun signs
colorful Český Krumlov
pretty in pink

I get to a bridge at the far end where I see a park behind the castle.  Later Mike tells me he walked in this park. If it weren’t for the dog with the fellow seen below, I’d have sworn he was Mike.

a park
Český Krumlov
St. Jošt Church
Český Krumlov State Castle
vintage signs

Even though we arranged to meet at our hotel at a specific time, Český Krumlov is so small that we run into each other near this cute little cafe.

a cute coffee shop

Mike shares some of the pictures he took on his walk:

Together again, we climb above the town on the perimeter, where we find some different views.

St. Vitus Church
Český Krumlov
Český Krumlov
Český Krumlov
Český Krumlov
Český Krumlov
Český Krumlov
fall colors

After meandering on the outskirts of the town, we find ourselves back at the center again.

We get another view of Český Krumlov Tower, difficult to avoid in this town!

Český Krumlov Tower

We pause for a few shots on the Horni Bridge, with St. Vitus in the background.

We continue our stroll.

After we’ve seen every nook and cranny of Český Krumlov, we stop once more at the same restaurant where we stopped earlier, this time for a piece of blueberry cake.  Tired from a few beers and all our walking , we return to our room for a little rest before dinner.

After our rest, we walk back into Český Krumlov to find a vegetarian restaurant we checked out earlier – Laibon.

walking back to town for dinner
Český Krumlov State Castle

When we stumbled upon Laibon earlier today, we made reservations for this evening.  Below is the restaurant in the daytime, cheery and inviting.

Laibon

Whimsical cave paintings of animals romp on the rough cave-like walls.

cave paintings in Laibon
cave paintings in Laibon

When we return to Laibon in the evening, the weather has become colder and grayer.  We sit outside on a picnic table beside the Vltava River and order dinner, accompanied by cold beers.  The owner is welcoming and a little silly, making for a fun evening despite the chill in the air.  He gives us light blankets to put over our legs, but sadly they aren’t warm enough.  We enjoy our meal, but we’re shivering the entire time!

Our our way back to our room, we find a few metal signs and license plates along the way. I’m surprised to find U.S. state license plates in Czech Republic!

license plates
pig sign

Tomorrow, we’ll be heading to Prague, where we have four days to explore.  I wish I’d brought warmer clothes! It’s getting colder now that October is upon us.

Total steps today: 15,645 (6.63 miles).

czech republic: the charming český krumlov

Sunday, October 1: This morning, we take our second ride with Comfy Tour, this time from Vienna to Český Krumlov.  Martina is our driver, and she picks us up at 8:30 a.m.  We have a lovely drive through rolling countryside, at one point passing a dog waiting patiently at a bus stop. Mike and Martina see it and burst out laughing; sadly I missed it. 😦

We arrive at our hotel, Penzion U Matesa, but can find no one manning reception.  We leave our bags inside the dining room and head out to explore the town.

Penzion U Matesa

On this cold and gray day, we head out along the Vltava River toward Český Krumlov State Castle.

first view of Český Krumlov State Castle

The first version of the striking Renaissance Český Krumlov State Castle was built in 1240 by the Witigonen family, a main branch of the powerful Rosenberg family; this was an influential Bohemian noble family that played an important role in Czech medieval history from the 13th century until 1611.   They were considered powerful lords of the Kingdom of Bohemia, a medieval and early modern monarchy in Central Europe (Wikipedia: Český Krumlov Castle).

Český Krumlov State Castle

In 1963, the town was declared a Municipal Preserve; in 1989 the castle became a National Monument, and in 1992 the entire complex was listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Monument (State Castle Český Krumlov).

Český Krumlov State Castle
Český Krumlov State Castle

The castle area is one of the largest in central Europe. It is a complex of forty buildings and palaces, situated around five castle courts and a castle park spanning an area of seven hectares (State Castle Český Krumlov).

Český Krumlov State Castle

The former St. Jošt Church, no longer used as a church, is now occupied by such enterprises as brand-name clothing Otavan, Bolero Restaurant, and the Marionette Museum.

St. Jošt Church

Český Krumlov State Castle soars over the town with its pretty painted exterior.

Český Krumlov State Castle
Český Krumlov State Castle
Český Krumlov State Castle

The town of Český Krumlov is endlessly charming, situated as it is within the tightly coiled curves of the Vltava River.

According to legend, the name Krumlov is derived from the German “Krumme Aue,” which may be translated as “crooked meadow.” The name is an apt description of the natural topography of the town.

The word “Český” simply means Czech, or Bohemian (actually the same), as opposed to Moravian or Silesian (History of Český Krumlov).

sign in Český Krumlov
Český Krumlov
town of Český Krumlov
Český Krumlov

We stop at a cute little restaurant, Pension Barako, for a lunch of bean and sausage soup and a sandwich.

After lunch, we climb uphill toward the Castle entrance, passing St. Vitus Church. While Český Krumlov State Castle and its tower represent secular power, the church tower of St. Vitus symbolizes Christianity’s might and influence, “which from medieval times functioned both as a counterpart and complement of the worldly powers,” according to St. Vitus Church in Český Krumlov.  St. Vitus Church is used today for religious purposes, as well as for classic music concerts.

St. Vitus Church

Castle Tower, a partly Gothic, partly Renaissance, rounded six-story tower, is the symbol of the town of Český Krumlov.  It was once described by Karel Čapek, the author of a 1953 five-parts travel sketch called “Along the Vltava River,” as “the towerest of all towers” (Castle No. 59 – Castle Tower).

Český Krumlov State Castle

In 1590, the tower was decorated with mural paintings and figural and architectural motifs. In 1947 an ambitious reconstruction of the tower was undertaken. In 1994-96 the paintings and murals were restored as well (Castle No. 59 – Castle Tower).

Castle Tower
Castle courtyard

Mike and I climb the 162 stairs of Castle Tower for a fabulous view of the city and its vicinity.  We can see the beautiful verdigris cupola of the former St. Jošt Church and the Vltava River.

view of Český Krumlov & St. Jošt Church from Castle Tower
view of Český Krumlov State Castle from Castle Tower
view of Český Krumlov from Castle Tower
view of Český Krumlov & St. Vitus Church from Castle Tower
view of Český Krumlov State Castle from Castle Tower
view of the Vltava River from Castle Tower
view of St. Jošt Church and Český Krumlov from Castle Tower

After our climb, we drop into the small Castle Museum.  The National Heritage Institute opened the current exhibition on January 11, 2011. Most of the exhibits show an inside look at the Rosenberg, Eggenberg and Schwarzenberg Krumlov estate owners.

painting in Castle Museum
detail of painting

Inside Castle Museum we find coats of arms, an exhaustive family tree, manuscripts, model boats, furnishings and rooms, porcelains and glassware, paintings, movie posters and a small movie theater.

I find the dining room at Castle Museum suggestive of old Europe with its nostalgic furnishings, wallpaper, curtains, table settings, palm trees and porcelain displays.

Dining table in Castle Museum
Dining room in Castle Museum

Today, we’re unable to tour the interior of Český Krumlov State Castle, as it’s only possible to do so by guided tour, and all tours are booked for today.  Tomorrow is Monday, so all the museums will be closed. As we’re due to leave Tuesday morning for Prague, it’s unlikely we’ll have time to tour the castle or the fabulous Castle Theatre.  An old friend of mine highly recommended the Theatre tour, so we’re disappointed to miss it.

After leaving the museum, we continue walking around the huge Castle complex, climbing higher and higher.

Český Krumlov State Castle
view from on high
Český Krumlov State Castle

Here we are at the top!

We find some interesting views from the ramparts.  I love the golden and orange leaves against the red rooftops.

framed view
Český Krumlov
Český Krumlov

The Baroque Castle Garden, founded in the 17th century, sprawls over the slope adjacent to the castle complex . We walk all around the garden through hedges and colorful flowerbeds and past the pool and fountain at the end of the garden.

Gardens at Český Krumlov State Castle

The fountain at the garden is regal and impressive.

fountain in the garden
Gardens at Český Krumlov State Castle

After walking through the gardens, we make our way back down from the precipice.  We have more views of the town hugged by the Vltava River.

Český Krumlov
Český Krumlov State Castle
Český Krumlov State Castle

Český Krumlov State Castle is situated imposingly on the Vltava River, adorned by terraces of greenery.

Český Krumlov State Castle

Cute canals wind their way through the town, with cafes overhanging the rippling waterways.

canal through the town
Český Krumlov State Castle
Český Krumlov State Castle
Český Krumlov State Castle
Vltava River
Vltava River

We see some rafters floating down a small rapids area near the castle.  They squeal with delight and surprise as they get turned around toward the bottom of the chute.  Watching from the shore, we laugh along with them at their crazy antics.

a raft goes down the Vltava River

We stop back at our room to check in and relax a bit. I have to say that the people who run Penzion U Matesa are not very friendly.  Maybe it’s because they don’t speak English.  Martina told us earlier this morning that they are Romani, more commonly known as gypsies.

We have brought with us a 2007 edition of Rick Steves’ Prague & The Czech Republic, which mentions a hike up to Chapel of the Mountain of the Cross.  Mike is determined to do the walk before we go out to dinner.  So, after a brief rest, we’re on our way in early evening on a walk through the town, with our destination being the hills on the outskirts of town.

evening walk through town

Český Krumlov is certainly the fairy tale town it is billed to be.  Between the pastel colored buildings, the pretty architecture, the narrow winding streets, the cute shops, and that fabulous Renaissance castle, it’s no wonder that it is so popular as a tourist destination.  In fact, we see busloads of Chinese tourists everywhere.  Apparently there are now direct flights between Beijing and Prague, which have opened the welcome doors for the upwardly mobile Chinese.

According to the directions in the Rick Steves book, we should follow the stations of the cross up the hill to the Chapel, where there are supposedly fabulous views of the town. We find the first station of the cross, but then after that, we can’t seem to find the next one and we wander about through the town, using the hill above us as our only compass.

first Station of the Cross

We walk through pretty meadows and then circle around a large stand of trees.  It turns out to be a much longer walk than we anticipated.

meadow on the way to the chapel

We finally reach the Chapel on the Mountain of the Cross.  The chapel is now abandoned and left to the elements.

Chapel on the Mountain of the Cross

We do have some nice views from up on the hill, though it’s rather hazy.

view from Chapel on the Mountain of the Cross

The derelict chapel looks a bit dark and threatening in the waning light.

Chapel on the Mountain of the Cross
Chapel on the Mountain of the Cross
view from the hill

Since we don’t see any mention of this walk in our more current guidebook, Lonely Planet Prague & the Czech Republic, we wonder if a more current version of the Rick Steves guidebook might have omitted this hike.

view of Český Krumlov

We find a more direct route back down the hill, and taking it, return to town enjoying views of St. Jošt Church and Český Krumlov State Castle and Tower.

St. Jošt Church

It’s hard to find a restaurant that’s open at this hour.  Many are closed, and the few that are open are packed and have waiting lists. Luckily, we’re able to get in fairly quickly to Restaurant Terasa, though we’re squeezed into a tiny table in the midst of a packed dining room.  It seems Český Krumlov is mainly a lunchtime town, often visited as a long day trip from Prague.

After dinner, we stroll through the town in the dark, enjoying the relative quiet and the spotlit castle.

Český Krumlov State Castle at night

Tomorrow, we have another whole day to explore Český Krumlov.  Mike is worried we won’t find enough to do here, and we’re both annoyed by the sheer number of tourists. We’re hoping since museums are closed on Monday, there won’t be so many tourists.

Ah the foolish folly of hope!

Total steps today: 19,796 (8.39 miles).

This walk is part of Jo’s Monday Walk challenge.  Visit her to find other great walks.

 

austria: a bicycle wine tour in the wachau valley

Saturday, September 30:  This morning, we leave our hotel early to get to our Pedal Power Wachau Winery Bike Tour.  We take metro to the Vienna Opera, then walk 10 minutes to the Pedal Power office.

Heading to Pedal Power in the early morning

We arrive early, where we find the doors of Pedal Power closed.  We return to a cafe near the metro stop, where we have an espresso and croissant and use the restroom.  Because we stopped for this treat, we arrive exactly at 8:15, the appointed meeting time.  One of the Pedal Power guys who is checking people in gives us some good-natured grief for not arriving early: “When you fly somewhere do you show up right on time?  If you did that, the plane would leave without you!”

As a group, we take the metro to the U-Bahn stop, where we see an incinerator whose patchwork façade was designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser, the Verkehrsstation Wien Spittelau.  The waste incineration plant is one of three thermal waste treatment plants in Wien Energie.  The plant represents the second largest producer in the district heating network of the city of Vienna.

Verkehrsstation Wien Spittelau

Verkehrsstation Wien Spittelau has almost as unusual a façade as the Hundertwasserhaus that we visited the first day we arrived in Vienna.

Verkehrsstation Wien Spittelau

From the metro stop, we take a double-decker train for an hour and 10 minutes to Krems an der Donau.

Giovanni and Mike at the train station

Giovanni from Sicily, our fabulous tour leader, shows us a map of the area where we’ll be biking.  We’ll start at Krems an der Donau, stop at a small private winery, stop for lunch in Dürnstein, and then ride to another small winery in Weißenkirchen in der Wachau.  From there, we’ll take a ferry across the Danube and bicycle back along the south of the Danube to the bridge near Krems an der Donau, cross over, then take the train back to Vienna.  It’s to be a 26km bike ride altogether.

map of Wachau Valley
on the train

When we arrive at Krems an der Donau, Giovanni unlocks a small storage room and equips us all with bicycles.  We have sixteen in our group, ten friends who went to Loyola University Maryland together, four Brits, one of whom is a swim coach, and us.

Mike on his bike at Krems/Stein
me on my bike

We ride a while along the main road in Krems an der Donau, with Giovanni in the lead.  We have to cross a number of intersections with traffic lights, and some people get held up by the lights.  Mike has taken it upon himself to keep an eye our for stragglers.  I’m up in front behind Giovanni. At some point, we make a right turn off the main road onto a cobbled street.  I’m looking around for Mike and some of the others are looking for their friends, who have disappeared.  We wait and wait, and still the rest of the group doesn’t catch up to us.  Since we have turned off the main road, I’m worried that the rest of the group has gone straight on the main road and has no clue that we’ve turned.  Giovanni goes back to search for the rest of the group while we wait.

I call Mike on his cell phone and luckily he answers.  He says, “One of those guys doesn’t know how to ride a bike! I finally gave up trying to wait around for him.”  I ask him where he is, and by his description, which doesn’t sound familiar, it seems he has overshot our turn.  He eventually makes his way to where we’re waiting.  He tells us when he arrives that one of the guys in the Loyola group doesn’t know how to ride a bike.  “He rides a few feet, then puts his feet down on the ground and stops and then rides a few feet again. He’ll hold up our whole group.  He can’t come along with us!”

Some of the Loyola friends start complaining.  They imagine it’s their friend Kyle: “He’s been a freaking pain on this whole trip!”

How ridiculous!  Why on earth would someone come on a bicycle tour if they don’t even know how to ride a bike? Not only is it common sense, but the website for Pedal Powers says specifically: “Although we bike at a leisurely pace, you should be able to ride a bike!”

waiting for the lost bikers

We’re waiting for some time at this spot, while Giovanni figures out what to do.  During this time, I walk up and down the street at Krems an der Donau and take some pictures.

I find a beautiful church with frescoes on its façade at Krems an der Donau, as well as a fancy statue.

church in Krems an der Donau
statue in Krems an der Donau

Finally, Giovanni returns.  He tells us he took Kyle back to the storage room and put his bike away.  He then gave him instructions on how to catch a bus to meet up with the group for lunch in Dürnstein.  I guess poor Kyle will have a lot of waiting around to do, as well as having to catch various buses to meet up with us at points along the way.

Our first stop is a small private winery in a rural area in the midst of vineyards.  Giovanni has a key to the winery though the owners are nowhere in sight. It’s pleasant to be in a winery where there aren’t hordes of other people around.

approaching the private winery

Inside the first winery, Giovanni pops a cork and gives us our first tasting.

Inside the private winery, a cozy kitchen area occupies the main floor.

winery

Giovanni grabs a couple of bottles and brings them out behind the winery, where we taste several other wines while admiring the garden and the views of the vineyards.

Outside at the winery are some pretty gardens and seating areas.

outside at the first private winery

We leave the winery, and on the way to Dürnstein, pass through bucolic countryside with lines of vineyards flanked by low-lying mountains.

Wachau Valley
another wine cellar
vineyards in the Wachau Valley
vineyards

When we arrive in Dürnstein, we park our bicycles and head to a gasthaus for lunch.

I enjoy a dish of roasted vegetables in Dürnstein.

lunchtime in Dürnstein

We have about an hour in Dürnstein to do whatever we want.  Mike climbs to Burgruine Dürnstein, also known as Kuenringer castle, a ruined medieval castle perched on a rocky outcrop at 312 metres (1,024 ft) above sea level, while I wander around the town.

There are so many cute cottages and inviting shops in the town.

Dürnstein

On one street, I can see clearly Burgruine Dürnstein above the town.  The castle is known for being one of the places where King Richard the Lionheart, returning from the Third Crusade, was imprisoned after being captured near Vienna by Duke Leopold V of Austria. He was held there from December 1192 until his extradition in March 1193 to Emperor Henry VI, who imprisoned Richard at Trifels Castle (Wikipedia: Burgruine Dürnstein and Dürnstein).

view of Burgruine Dürnstein

In 1663, Conrad Balthasar of Starhembery purchased the castle, which is still owned by his heirs to this date. From 1679 on, however, the castle was no longer habitable and was abandoned. Today, the fortress is part of the “Wachau Cultural Landscape” UNESCO World Heritage Site (Wikipedia: Burgruine Dürnstein).

Burgruine Dürnstein above the town
cute yellow house
converted pigeon roost
Burgruine Dürnstein above the town

I love the window boxes with cascading pink flowers and the metal wall creatures (which remind me of the south of Spain) throughout Dürnstein.

Dürnstein

From the town, we can see the cruise boats plying the Danube.

view of the Danube from Dürnstein
Dürnstein
view of the Danube from Dürnstein

When our appointed meeting time arrives, we hop on our bikes and leave Dürnstein, bicycling through the Wachau Valley on our way to Weißenkirchen in der Wachau.

Wachau Valley
Wachau Valley
Wachau Valley
vineyards in the Wachau Valley

Upon arriving in Weißenkirchen in der Wachau, we park our bikes and climb a steep hill to the next private winery.

Weißenkirchen in der Wachau
climbing steps to the winery at Weißenkirchen in der Wachau

We have magnificent views of the valley, Weißenkirchen in der Wachau, and the Danube.

view of Weißenkirchen in der Wachau from the winery

What a pretty little town!

view of Weißenkirchen in der Wachau from the winery

Again, Giovanni has the keys to the winery, where he gets out several bottles of wine.  We sit on the terrace of this winery for quite a long time; the views are gorgeous, the weather is lovely, and the wines are fabulous.

entering the winery

Inside the winery at Weißenkirchen in der Wachau is a seating area and the typical cellar. Again, we have the place all to ourselves.

I take a short walk above the winery, where I find a charming house.  A woman comes out and chats with us about our wine group, asking where we’re from and where else we’re going on our travels.  She knows Giovanni from his many visits to this winery.

From above, I look down on the winery, with some of our touring group on the terrace, and vineyards, the town and the Danube below.

view of the winery terrace and our group from above

Weißenkirchen in der Wachau is the last town we’ll visit on the north side of the Danube.

Weißenkirchen in der Wachau
view of Weißenkirchen in der Wachau from the winery
view of Weißenkirchen in der Wachau from the winery

We make our way through the town of Weißenkirchen, where we just miss the ferry and have to wait a while for it to come back across the river.

Weißenkirchen in der Wachau
Weißenkirchen in der Wachau
Weißenkirchen in der Wachau

The ferry between Weißenkirchen and Sankt Lorenz is powered not by motor or sail, but by rudder set against the river current, anchored to a cable above the river. The ferry carries passengers, bicycles, motorcycles, and automobiles.

As we approach Sankt Lorenz, we see a strange nostril sculpture, called the Wachauer Nase,  on the shore.

approaching Sankt Lorenz

On the south side of the Danube, we ride along several long stretches of roads and through a couple of small towns until we come to a little camping area where we have fabulous views of Dürnstein from across the Danube.

view of Dürnstein from across the Danube
view of Dürnstein from across the Danube

The ride back on the south side of the river is shady, cold and windy, and we all are pedaling fast and hard to get back to warmth. By this time, my behind is killing me!

On the train back to Vienna, Giovanni distributes Drunken Apricots to all of us, which we enjoy! Apparently, Krems is the primary producer of Marillenschnaps, an apricot brandy.

When we arrive back in Vienna at around 7:00 p.m., we stop at an Italian restaurant which is so crowded that the maître d asks if we’d like to share a table with two British ladies, Jill and Liz. They are exuberant and chatty.  They met each other 36 years ago when they worked as au pairs for Vienna families and came back here on holiday to take a trip down memory lane.

I enjoy a dinner of tagliatelle with tomato and mozzarella and Mike has lasagna with Bologne sauce, accompanied by wine.

What a fun but exhausting day! This has been one of our favorite days on our trip.

Tomorrow, we’re heading to Český Krumlov in Czech Republic.

Total steps today: 14,725 (6.24 miles) + ~ 26 kilometers (16 miles) by bicycle. 🙂

vienna: the hofburg imperial palace, nachshmarkt, the belvedere and a cheesy show at palais palffy

Friday, September 29:  On our second day in Vienna, we stroll past fragrant flower shops and bushels of gourds, pick up coffees to go, and study the baffling foreign headlines in a newsstand, somehow keeping aloof from the world at large.

street scene near our hotel
Vienna squashes and gourds
Vienna flowers
Mike at the coffee shop
newstand in Vienna

We feel dwarfed by the lavish Hofburg Imperial Palace, where Emperor Franz Joseph and the reclusive and eccentric empress “Sisi,” ruled their sprawling empire.

Hofburg Imperial Apartments

Among roses at the Volksgarten, we encounter Greek gods and nymphs spitting water, and temples to mythical kings.

Triton and Nymph Fountain at Volksgarten
Theseus Temple at the Volksgarten

We are greeted by fine specimens of sculpted muscular men at the Hofburg Imperial Apartments, and we dream of being escorted like royalty through Vienna’s streets by horse and carriage.

statue at Hofburg Palace on Michaelerplatz
horse and buggy in Vienna

As we wander through the Imperial Porcelain and Silver Collection at the Hofburg Imperial Apartments, we imagine we are attendees at huge elaborate dinner parties with painterly plates, fragrant flower arrangements, floral and gold-leaf soup tureens, crystal goblets, and napkins folded in the shape of swans or flounder. The tableware collection is opulent and overwhelming all at once.  The royals apparently entertained up to 800 guests at a time.  If we had attended, we would have undoubtedly been overlooked. The collection we see is intact, as this area was never bombed during WWII.

Oh, the excesses of the royal Habsburgs.

a plate from the Imperial Porcelain and Silver Collection
the Imperial Porcelain and Silver Collection
a soup tureen from the the Imperial Porcelain and Silver Collection
Imperial Porcelain and Silver Collection
multiple me with the Imperial Porcelain and Silver Collection

Click on any of the images below for a full-sized slide show.