Welcome to Cesky Krumlov, the cutest little European town you ever did see. UNESCO, the United Nations organization that protects important historical and natural sites, has the Bohemian town of Cesky Krumlov in its list of protected places. Why? It's just so darn cute. Seriously. I think that's why. The place is the concept of "if you got it, flaunt it" in the form of a small town. Cobblestone roads, tall steeples, red roofs, vendors selling Christmas cookies and marionettes and mulled wine, the Vltava river running through - I half expected Rapunzel and Prince Charming to stick their heads out of two windows and sing in harmony with a flock of bluebirds.
We decided to spend 24 hours in Cesky Krumlov after repeatedly hearing that we shouldn't leave the Czech Republic without seeing it. Our hostel, which for some reason was named Hostel Skippy, was right on the Vltava, and it looked and felt like the inside of a cottage in the woods of New Hampshire or Vermont. A quaintly (sorry for the overuse of the word, but it fits) furnished private room was perfect for our one day, one night jaunt. Everything in the whole town is cute, quaint, and romantic. More than one comparison to the Truman Show was made.
There were tours and pub crawls and such available at the information center, but the four of us mostly just walked around. We went up to the castle on the top of the ridge (of COURSE there's a castle) and tried to see where they usually keep the famous bears, but I guess the bears have already gone into hibernation. I felt like going into hibernation too; I don't care if the politicians keep calling in Central Europe, because in the winter the weather feels pretty damn Eastern European.
At night we strolled around, and for the first time in a long time I conscious of not being in a city. When we got outside of the town center and street lights were sparse, we experienced actual pitch darkness. I realized I had not been in a truly rural area in a very long time, I was even reminded a little of Philmont where you can actually see the stars. A dinner of warm vegetarian chili and pita bread, a few glasses of mulled wine, and a harmonious gypsy band (bass, fiddle, clarinet, and accordion) were a great way to round out the evening. The bass player in the gypsy band had one of the best singing voices I'd heard in a very long time, he was able to effortlessly project over the din of ten or so simultaneous conversations in the pub we were in. In the morning, we reluctantly got out from under our warm covers and caught the bus home.
Apart from being quaint, the trip to Cesky Krumlov represented something else: barring unforeseen circumstances, it's probably the last trip I will take outside of Prague before I return to the United States. Traveling has been such an integral part of my experience here, it's weird to think that the next time I book a flight, train, bus, or hostel it'll be for a trip to Maine or Connecticut or Chicago, not some beautiful European city. I've learned a ton about how to get around, both on my own and in groups, and the Cesky Krumlov weekend serves as a sad but important bookend.
I have less than three more weeks in Prague. I've tried to avoid saying it, but there it is. We'll all see each other soon, and I just hope that it won't be long before the pain of leaving becomes an ache.