Five peaceful spots in Cesky Krumlov that you need to see

Cesky Krumlov, the offbeat way

Gawking over the iconic sights in a fairytale town like Cesky Krumlov is a given. Who can escape the attraction of the dreamiest of settings…medieval castle overlooking a time-warped, red-roof huddle of houses, and a gushing river wrapping it like a satiny ribbon. But there’s another Cesky Krumlov, hidden, and off-the-beaten path. Tempting you to wander into nooks where few others are venturing. All you need is your incorrigible curiosity to lead the way. The rewards? Unanticipated discoveries. Here are my favourite five solitude-filled spots to swoon over, in the cutest town of the Czech Republic.

1. Relax by the riverside

Through a hidden alley, where red colored wall pedestals display quirky sculptures and a pile of trash cans doubles up as a pin-up board. Through a stony archway framing Czech houses sporting dark slanting roofs and attic rooms. To the cutest of bookend-like benches and giant pink coral-hued chairs facing dark water, gushing at full speed. A couple strolls by. A couple of friends perch on the smooth rocks lining the borders of the sloping embankments.

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On roofs of traditional houses converted into B&Bs or home-style restaurants, diners find quiet spots to enjoy the peace. Find a riverside eatery. Order some vegetarian crepes and seekh (tofu tikka) on rustic benches, with blankets draping your knees. Its chilly out here. Followed by the popular carp filet or whole trout, maybe? Gaze at mellow sunlight kissing the tops of rust roofs and adding a warm glow to russet treetops. Follow the ducks that quack and paddle around. Look at the wooden rafts and canoes glide by. Laze over the leisurely lunch. What’s the rush?

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2. Moon over the monasteries

A large complex of medieval monasteries echoing peaceful perfection. Vast grounds with golden-red autumn trees. Crunchy fallen leaves that make you sigh. Outline of a red brick tiled roof against a soft blue sky. A stone paved path through green grassy gardens. A cathedral with a baroque steeple and pretty, delicate, yet ornate chandeliers. Not a soul around to interrupt the quiet. An empty bench to daydream on. And a fascinating tour of the living quarters of the Sisters of St. Clare for a peek into their monastic lifestyle.

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And my favourite memory…coins stuck on the cobbled road at the pink-and-white exit gate of the monastery grounds. No, you can’t pick the coins. Make a note of the Pizzeria Nona Gina outside. Scrumptious, authentic pizza…highly recommended. Grab a seat in the open-air or squeeze into a tiny table inside.

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3. Seek solace at Siroka Ulice

Spend a couple of hours admiring world-class modern art at the Egon Schiel Art Centre. There is a permanent exhibit about Egon Schiele’s life and a wide range of his works from nudes to Cesky Krumlov landscapes to his own photographs. Get a fascinating glimpse into the town life during the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Temporary exhibits include artists in the league of Dali, Chagall, Picasso. Wonder why the place is so underrated. Pick up souvenir from the gift shop…a poster, postcard or a T-shirt? Sip a coffee in the cafe, while the drizzle stops.

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Enjoy a slow amble on the broadest street in town under the shade of a dripping umbrella. Find leftovers of medieval architecture, gaze at decorated portals of gabled houses, admire pretty relief work and elaborate stucco. Stumble upon street art by an unknown artist in an empty back alley. Or browse in the many quirky shops for an unusual hand-blown Bohemian glass memento. Buy a locally hand-crafted wood piece for your home. Hours drift by. Wander into by-lanes and find small wooden bridges to cross.

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4. Linger along the Latran

The long curving street connecting the wooden Lazebnický Bridge and Budějovická Gate is not really a secret, but is still relatively quiet most of the time. Endless moments pass joyfully gazing at medieval burger houses packed into the cutest of spaces, some flaunting lovely Gothic and Renaissance features. Flower bunches adorning windows add colour to pastel buildings. Tiny tables with patterned tablecloths showcase pretty cafes. Ornate wrought guild signs dangle from shop doorways, making each signboard a showpiece.

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Stop at the offbeat Marionette Museum…appreciate finely crafted old Czech marionettes and complete puppet theatres including stage designs and curtains from the latter half of the 19th century to modern gems. The waxworks are so real, you’ll be waiting for them to blink. Buy an original marionette crafted by contemporary puppeteers and wood-carvers from the Museum gallery. Or potter around in the stores on the street outside for an overwhelming choice of more affordable versions. A quaint spectacled puppet in a red chequered dress sounds perfect to remind you of the trip to Cesky Krumlov.

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5. Lose yourself in Left bank

As you cross the Dr. Edvard Beneš Bridge, you will find yourself comparing the dark river waters to the dark roof the church above. The setting is lovely like the rest of the town…clumps of yellows, oranges and reds in offsetting pointy-roof houses lined up along the water front. Despite the slight drizzle and cloudy grey skies, its as pretty a picture as ever. 

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Explore the lovely Renaissance houses of the Plešivec neighbourhood. You can feel the serenity more deeply up here, there’s hardly a soul on the streets for company. Bonus…you will stumble upon a fabulous view of the town. Eyecandy? Or town planner’s artwork? A stop to catch photography enthusiasts’ fancy…the Seidel Photographic Studio Museum. The Nouveau-Romanesque Jewish Synagogue is another hidden delight with its eight-sided tower and rounded colourful windows decorated with the Star of David, built to face in the direction of Jerusalem.

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Another day flits by, but you haven’t had your fill of Cesky Krumlov. Tasting Bohemia can be addictive. 

 

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Have you been to the fascinating fairytale town of Cesky Krumlov?

Cesky Krumlov, the iconic way…

Imagine green-yellow hues of the pastoral countryside of southern Czech Republic. Leading to an enchanting cobbled town cozily hidden within gently sloping hills. And a towering castle straight out of a Bohemian fairytale. Cynic or romantic…Český Krumlov can lure anyone into an endearing 16th-century time warp.

There are no bus-filled bays or bustling queues in sight. Maybe no one gets off with you at the bus station. A secluded road and an equally secluded petrol station in sight. A prick of doubt…are you even at the right place? Which way to the town? And how far? No cabs, cars or public transport to be seen. No signboards anywhere. Quick check with the petrol station. Apparently, its a 5 minute walk across the road. Oversized luggage roll, on your way. Wait, stop, hold it! That view, that view!  Lost your heart even before you step into town. Tough competition…huh, Prague?

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No grand gate. Just an unassuming entryway along a cluster of red-roofs buildings straight into a charming medieval paradise trapped in time. Homely Pension B&Bs all around. And you realize that the narrow lane you’re trudging on is the main drag. Perspective set right immediately. A few seconds and you’re at the Hotel Ruze. Love, love, love it. Designed like a monastery, complete vaulted ceilings, tall, iron-grill windows, a Knights Dining Hall and servers in vintage velvet gowns. A gorgeous view from the room over Vltava and a park. Ah, those vibrant autumn colors!

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You expected crowds…just not that much. There’s a festival in town and people are streaming onto the streets. Go with the mood, melt in, join the revelry. Map-less and agenda-less. Follow the throngs to dip into every iconic flavour of this unique UNESCO World Heritage Site. Delights every step of the way.

Located opposite Hotel Ruze, is the most first photogenic spot to start with…Seminární Zahrada. Did they plan that for wide terrace consciously, just for an eye-popping effect? Such a perfect place to catch up on some reading or finish a project report. Lean on the balustrade and soak in the gorgeousness of the wondrous vista. You could pitch a tent here to spend your life in, with that as a backdrop. Whoever planned this town was a genius.

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The main artery of town leads directly to the lively town square, Namesti Svornosti, enclosed by delightful, pastel gabled houses, crookedly huddled together since antiquity. Uncanny resemblance to Prague’s old town square…on a small scale. Aromatic food grills, artisans showcasing local crafts, sweets, wines and Bohemian folk performances. The carnival spirit is infectious…pick up some gingerbread cookies to munch along.

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Lazebnický Bridge, the ancient wooden bridge over the rushing river Vitava is no Charles Bridge, but feels more inviting and intimate. Photo-ready and how. The odd street performer or two, souvenir dangling salesmen, portrait painters, the scene is familiar. And there’s the legendary castle (second largest in Czech Republic), clinging to a rocky hill above, owners richer than the Holy Roman Emperor himself. The Rožmberk family ran this town from that spot for three centuries…and they certainly knew how to scout for a location. Who wouldn’t fall in love with this mini Prague?

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Mandatory Tridenlik queue-up a a tiny shop ahead for a hand-rolled cinnamon version. Hot and fresh, soft yet crunchy. Tread up a short flight of steps towards the castle entrance. Much less walking and much less steps than in the Prague castle complex. A complex of forty buildings situated around five courtyards and seven-hectare grounds. 13th-century castle with Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque elements. Can’t stop ogling at the finely painted pastel facades of the palace walls. Explore the interiors if you have the time, but don’t miss a sneak peak of the International Gallery of Ceramic works in the Vaclav Cellars located in the 4th castle courtyard. The freestyle artworks of selected Czech artistic ceramicists within vaulted ceilings and rock walls are quirky and inspiring.

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Towards the most recognizable landmark of the town…the six-storied cylindrical Castle Tower. Dressed with lovely murals and motifs in pale salmon and mint colours. Negotiating a traffic jam up the 160 steps to the windy, circular arcaded gallery. And being rewarded with 360-degree killer views of the entire town. Who cares about crowds when you get this?

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Back to ground level, follow the throngs to the Chain Bridge vantage points. There’s a reason why its so popular…that incredible horseshoe bend of the Vltava river. With two bends so acute that they almost touch, creating an island. The challenge? Jostling the crowds and waiting patiently for free spots to gawk from. Houses spilling down the hill to the river to the New Town, where elaborate merchant houses surround the town square. Tiny people dotting the curving streets. And the commanding tower and spire of St Vitus church standing proudly as a centrepiece of the russet-green landscape. Quintessential Bohemian takeaway? A picture of Cesky Krumlov town, framed in a stone arch…stuff dreams are made of. Stay a bit longer and breathe in the remnants of the past.

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High above the town, past the castle complex, away from the selfie sticks and noisy tourist groups, sprawls a massive sanctuary of calm. Does remind you of the Prague castle garden, though. Humungous trees, endless walking paths strewn with russet fallen leaves, carpet-design flower beds, manicured mazes, grand sculptures, lavish fountains. And minuscule figures of you… hopelessly giving in to the fantasy of royal pretence. Find a bench and just watch the clouds float on that generous expanse of blue. The Rožmberks were not the only ones to be privy to this luxury.

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One long day and its a wonderful wrap on the castle and its grounds. Mission iconic Cesky accomplished. But satiation status incomplete. There’s a whole town sprawled down there, literally begging to be discovered. So, who’s up for another kind of hunt? This time for quieter, hidden spots…away from the madding crowd. Just you and your restless roving spirit. (To be continued)

 

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How these lucky places can make your wishes come true

Seven lucky landmarks in Europe…

Shooting stars, wood knocks, horseshoes, wishing wells, finger crossings, wishbones, tooth fairies…everyone can count at least one happy, hope-inducing, harmless superstition that they have always believed in. The fascination for lucky charms is eternal and crowds will continue to gather at places where wishes are said to come true. So, queue up and call out to good fortune at these seven marked spots…whether for faith or for fun. Who knows, you may just strike gold, lucky devil!

All about ‘toeing the line’

Set the stage for magic: Split, second-largest city of Croatia, sitting on the edge of the dazzling Dalmatian Coast beside sparkling sapphire waters of the Adriatic Sea. Known best for its 1700 year-old UNESCO-protected ancient walled city. Sports the 7-acre retirement home of Roman emperor Diocletian.
Spot to be spotted at: Gregory of Nin statue (Grgur Ninski), located near the Old Town’s Golden Gate.
Of legacies and legend: Gregory of Nin was a bishop in the medieval Croatian capital of Nin. Historical protector of Croatian culture, language, and statehood. His oversized bronze statue, a 1929 creation of Croatian artist, Ivan Meštrović, towers to 28 feet (8.5 meters) in height.
Keeping the faith: Indulge in rubbing his shiny big toe…its easy to recognise by its golden color. Locals will vouch for his powers. 

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Get a charming headstart

Set the stage for magic: Dubrovnik, Croatia. dubbed ‘Pearl of the Adriatic. Claim to fame? A quintessential Wall Walk and of course, the epic Game of Thrones filming locations.
Spot to be spotted at: The Franciscan monastery, on Stradun, the main street on the left side, near the Pile Gate entrance to the Old Town.
Of legacies and legend: People crowd near the head of a small stone gargoyle ledge, fixed about half a meter above the ground and sticking out barely fifteen centimetres from a wall. It seems like the mouth of a rainwater drain, and even has a name…Maskeron. Its top surface is smooth and polished like marble from years of thousands of steps and the wall above is greasy from the touch of a thousand hands.
Keeping the faith: The legend is that if you balance on the ledge, stand facing the wall, you will find true love. Definitely worth trying.

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Win by a nose

Set the stage for magic: Enigmatic capital of Italy’s Tuscany region, Florence. Considered the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, overflowing with all rings arty.
Spot to be spotted at: The Mercato Nuovo (Straw Market) covered by a Renaissance loggia in the historic center, a two-minute walk from Duomo.
Of legacies and legend: Il Porcellino is a bronze fountain decoration created by Baroque-era bronze master Pietro Tacca. This one is a replica of the original sculpted to adorn a fountain in Italy’s famed Boboli Gardens.
Keeping the faith: Slip a coin into the boar’s jaws and rub the shiny golden snout for for good luck.

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Other side of the coin

Set the stage for magic: Rome, the eternal city and capital of Italy, dripping with history, ancient artefacts and some of the world’s most recognised monuments, including the Colosseum and Pantheon.
Spot to be spotted at: Trevis square in the Quirinale district of Rome, less than 10 minutes from the Spanish Steps.
Of legacies and legend: At 85 feet high and 65 feet wide, Trevis takes the cake as the biggest and most elaborate fountain in the city. Created by several designers including famed sculptor Bernini. Roughly €3,000 coins are thrown into the fountain pool every day. All proceeds towards charity and upkeep.
Keeping the faith: With your back to the fountain, throw a coin into the Trevi with your right hand over your left shoulder. Second trip to Rome guaranteed.

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A shoulder to cry on

Set the stage for magic: Timeless city of Istanbul, Turkey on the striking blue Bosphorus Strait, straddling the two continents of Asia and Europe. Identified by its spectacular skyline of cascading grey-blue domes and pencil-thin minarets of nearly 3,000 mosques.
Spot to be spotted at: The Hagia Sophia at Sultanhamet has a column close to the northwest exit of the nave, which attracts visitors for a strange reason.
Of legacies and legend: The column is known as the “wishing column” or the “weeping column” is always damp to the touch. It is said to be crying because of a sultan’s pity. There’s a healing hole on the column.
Keeping the faith: Stick a thumb into the hole and attempt to rotate the finger in a perfect circle. If the thumb gets wet, your wish will be granted.

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Thank your lucky stars

Set the stage for magic: Mother of all cities, Prague, Czech Republic. Home to a hundred spires and the iconic Charles Bridge, lined with statues of Jesus, the Holy Family, and other saints.
Spot to be spotted at: St John of Nepomuk memorial plaque in the middle of the Charles Bridge.
Of legacies and legend: A cross engraved on the bridge wall marks the spot from where Saint John was said to be thrown off. A wrought-iron grille plaque depicts Saint John resting at the bottom of the Vltava river. The statue has a halo with five stars, representing five bright stars that appeared in the sky above him when he died.
Keeping the faith: Using all fingers of your left hand, touch the image of St. John of Nepomuk on the grille, who is depicted lying down. Your wish will be granted.

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Its ok to point a finger

Set the stage for magic: Germany’s best preserved medieval walled town, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, on the popular Romantic Road route, epitome of German romanticism. Known most by a certain instagrammable location: Gerlachschmiede, the pretty gabled house on a forked street.
Spot to be spotted at: 14th-century St.James Church, 3-minute walk from the central market square, Marktplatz.
Of legacies and legend: A statue of St. Jacob statue outside the church building depicts one of the twelve original apostles, James, official saint of the town. James has an extended left index finger, glowing golden from a million touches.
Keeping the faith: Pull the index finger to ensure good luck and protection.

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Have you been to a place which has a lucky legend associated with it?

 

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My first impressions of the lovely French city of Lyon

Lyon, France’s second city, is my first choice…

Taking a train from Provence through the peaceful countryside into the bustling train station of Gare de Lyon Part Dieu can be a jolt of sorts. There’s a buzz in the country’s second-largest metropolitan area, home to over 1.6 million people…and you can feel it even as you hail a cab. At 7.30, people are already on the roads, driving to work, waiting at bus stops, opening their boulangeries and coffee shops. The laid back, relaxed atmosphere of Southern France is behind you…this is city life, busy and bustling…after all, you’re closer to Paris. Ready up to discover the country’s gastronomic capital.

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Dwell on the delights of beautiful Barri Gotic in Barcelona

Simple charms of Barcelona’s Barri Gòtic…

There’s a different Barcelona behind Las Ramblas and you wouldn’t believe it until you stride a few feet down a side street into the city’s old Gothic Quarter, Barri Gòtic. This vast area stretching between Las Ramblas and Via Laetana is where Romans had developed their early settlement in 133 BC. Remnants of the fortifications they built to protect their city can still be found. A slice of ‘Barcino’ still exists in ‘Barcelona’. Devote a day to dwell on its delights.

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15 Turkish delights in Istanbul worth travelling for

Iconic symbols of Istanbul, beyond the mega sights…

Its a city straddling two continents. Its skyline of ancient mosques and pencil-thin minarets is a photographer’s dream. Its imperial history is the stuff dreams are made of. And it boasts of some of the most sought-after mega sights on the planet. But for me, the real magic of Istanbul lies in its everyday scenes, its people, its streets, its waters, its very air. Unveiling my list of favourite Turkish delights in Istanbul. Icons in their own right, one and all.

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One surreal day in the achingly beautiful town of Bruges

Bruges is the loveliest canal town…

A labyrinth of meandering canals, cobbled streets and centuries of history. Nicknamed Venice of the North. UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to a fifth of the city’s 105,000 residents.  And just hour-and-half by bus from Belgium’s capital. Compelled to witness the aching beauty of Bruges?

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