Today's recipe: Tiramisu, Dungeons and Red Faces

Trip Start Sep 20, 2009
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Flag of Czech Republic  , Bohemia,
Thursday, October 15, 2009

After a short bus ride, our weary travellers arrived in the gorgeous town of Cesky Krumlov. Weighed down with sleep deprivation, flu and of course our chunky packs, we walked all the way into the town of Cesky (as the cobblestone streets are too narrow for the bus to enter the main city area). Funsies. On the way into town, our busabout guide explained that Cesky has a ghostly, eerie quality to it, and that the horror movie 'Hostel' was actually filmed here!!! (Scary film about backpackers getting picked off one by one, meeting their maker in a gruesome manner, and no we're not talking about our 'Mansion' accommodation in Honkers!). We were of course now slightly hesitant to locate our hostel, but after a good 20 minute walk from the drop off point outside the town, we were too tired to care about potential torturous ends...

Krumlov House is an interesting place to stay, its being run at the moment by two Kiwi girls, who have only been in Cesky for the last 3 weeks. Apparently they were travelling through here last July and the owners needed a break and offered them the opportunity to run the place for a bit. We jealously listened as they told us how they were going to be taken skiing in the Austrian Alps by the owners.

Our room is cute, for $30 we have our own little apartment with mini kitchen and own bathroom! How quickly a private bathroom and one bed (rather than two little ones) to huddle and cuddle in (especially when its fricking freezing, we both wore socks last night) becomes a luxury! Although we are separated from the main hostel, with our own little side entrance, its a nice change, and we can come and go as we please. Having said all that, we found it to be constantly freezing and very damp, the door and windows had trickles of water/condensation running down them all the time. With minimal bedding, we shivered together at night and upon checking out, we filled in the Canadian/American (couldn't tell) chick on duty, about our concerns with the condensation, thinking we were telling her something helpful. She then explained that the room is a cave (no shit!!!) and that the heating needs to be turned up...

We have learnt a new lesson peoples, when you are freezing your nuts off in a cave, and there are heaters everywhere that you can't turn on as they don't have any knobs, it means the stoopid NZ chickies who checked you in, probably don't know squat about the heating situation in a fricking cave, and that most of all, it is important to go to reception after the first night of hardly sleeping because you're so cold, and then you might get something done about it, rather than waiting til you check out... Silly dubchecks!

Moving along, the town itself is very quaint and small, all the good bits of Prague condensed, and best of all not so many tourists. Many pensions (bed and breakfast hotels), we expect it would be a very romantic weekend getaway place for people living in the big cities close by, as its only around 2hrs from Prague. There are many interesting restaurants by the side of the water (a large canal runs around and through the town) and also hidden down allies within allies. When we arrived here on the Sunday, the town was very deserted, we struggled to find a place for some food, as everywhere seemed shut. We dipped our heads into the Medieval restaurant we'd been recommended to try by the Kiwi chickies, but unfortunately it was full - we only saw the entrance room which has 6 little tables, so we figured, ok small venue. When we returned the next night, and we were successful in getting a table, we were led through two extra underground cavernous rooms/dungeons, chock-full of people - a little goldmine of a restaurant.

We decided to visit the castle that overlooks the town, apparently the second oldest Medieval castle in central Europe. The sun was streaming through the beautiful autumn-leaved trees. Suddenly the sky turned a very ominous grey colour and it started snowing out of nowhere, our first experience of being caught in the snow - in AUTUMN for christsakes! It was so beautiful though, that despite being freezing, all we could do was jump around and giggle like little kids. When the snow hit, we had been walking through the castle garden grounds, which are quite magnificent, gorgeous colourful flowerbeds everywhere, so the snow falling made it even more magical. Just as we had started losing sensation in our fingers, about one hour later, the snow stopped and it was sunny and beautiful with clear blue skies! Forget Melbourne's 4 seasons in one day, this place has like 10!

Dani was very excited to see the native bears that live under the main castle bridge (out of reach of yummy people to eat), however they were gonesies, we figured it was too cold for them too and they were hiding in a Medieval dungeon eating turkey and pork knee, by a roaring fire. Pansies! Toughen up bears, its only Autumn after all.

Incidentally, whilst shivering in front of a heater at a restaurant the next day, the waiter laughed at us and while we were telling him of our first snow experience, he explained that he too was suffering, as apparently only a few days earlier, it had been 25 degrees in Cesky and he had been in shorts and thongs. So maybe the bears have a fair excuse for being a no-show.

Given that it was too chilly to do much else besides eat, we decided that this was how we would experience Cesky Krumlov - trying as many different traditional nosh (food) experiences as possible - and what a place for it! The two NZ chickies at the hostel had worded us up on the best places to eat in Cesky and we gave it our best effort to try as many as we could. Our first night, Lewey sampled the Czech traditional goulash, small portion of meat stew (very tasty) surrounded by lots of gravy and chunky bread to slop it up with. The place was deserted by 9pm, and we were being subtly given the bum shuffle out, so despite wanting to sample the local specialty of plum jam dumplings, we left that venue in search of other gastronomical delights. We found a lovely little Italian restaurant and a much needed cup of tea (best cup of tea ever! Huge cup and so good!) and the biggest piece of tiramisu we've ever seen! Its fun, because we've been so frugal back home when treating ourselves to a dinner out, never having dessert, and now we can overseas, sampling very tasty treats! One of the Barbie's we met in Berlin whilst doing our laundry remarked that she had put on 5kg whilst travelling around Europe. Dani was skeptical, but now can see how it could be possible, given all the delicious and relatively cheap food!

Our experience at the aforementioned Medieval restaurant (the first of the officially recommended places) was amazing! The actual place was down a dark alley and had a huge wooden door but not much else around, except for a wonderful aroma of meat roasting, wafting out from a chimney. We opened the door and parted the velvet curtains, to find wooden tables full of people, inside a cavernous room, with an open fire and found the source of the smell! The atmosphere resembled what we imagine a Medieval tavern to be, all we were missing was some bear skin hats and body armour. It really was a very cool place, we ordered a grilled meat platter to share, and when it arrived we were shattered that we'd left our camera at home. The wooden plate was chock full of turkey (yay, Dani finally gets to try some!), beef and other interesting meats (...), huge baked potatoes smothered in sour cream, fried potato pancakes (very similar to latkes) and piles of mustard and horseradish. Our giant appetites were no match for the platter, but we did well!

We enjoyed our food experience so much, that the next day after we had been caught in the snow at the castle, all we could think about was lunch and warm food. Not feeling very adventurous, we decided to return to the Medieval place and sample some other delicious food. Along with interesting food, the Czechs are known for their ability to drink, not only beer as we discovered in Prague, but also 'aperitifs', basically an alcoholic shot (which equals fire water - these drinks have an extremely high alcohol content, and Absinthe was invented in Czech, so many people go 'chasing the green fairy'). We had walked past many places advertising one beverage made from distilled plums. Dani, always keen to try something new, decided to begin lunch with one of these drinks, thinking it would warm her up. The 'Slivovice' came served in a small ceramic shot glass. A sniff should have told her it was not a good idea, a tiny taste definitely should have warned her off! Lewey had a tiny taste and passed up the opportunity to shot it (him knowing better!) so not wanting to waste it, she downed it! It burned all the way down and she could not taste plums at all! Well ladies and gents, by the time our food arrived, Dani was well and truly tipsy. (We should mention at this point that we hadn't really had much breakfast....so Dani is not a one shot girl by any means, although Lewey still maintains she's a very cheap drunk, hehe).

Lunch was one of the traditional Czech specialties, garlic soup (not a great combination with the alcohol, but at least Dani had it first, not after the soup!), served in a bowl made out of a round loaf of rye bread that you can eat when you finish the soup inside. It was the perfect warm-up after our snowy morning, and we sat there, in front of the fire for ages, Lewey laughing at Dani's tipsy antics, until we got hungry again watching the one guy who seemed to be doing all the work, putting all sorts of meat and fish onto the open grill, and decided to try some more meat, ordering a turkey skewer to share, but through a communication error we ended up with a chicken breast steak - still very happy though, it totally shat on Nandos! (We're getting hungry just thinking about it!)

Another memorable meal we ate was traditional Bohemian food (at one point in the history of Czech, one part was called 'Bohemia', hence where it comes from!). Fascinated to see what it would be, we ordered a sharing plate. Again, a huge serving of food arrived- with roast chicken, dumplings, potato pancakes, baked potatoes, hot sauerkraut, coleslaw... it was awesome! Apart from Lewey trying a Czech chicken noodle cup-a-soup, we didn't really bother with the kitchen at our little place, and why would we, when the food is yummy, interesting and very cheap. We realise this means we'll be living on two minute noodles at some point, but we figure its silly to deprive ourselves here...France will be a baguette and cheese experience we thinks!

Our culinary adventures extended to trying a tea house, which again was recommended by our Kiwi friends. We should have known better, when we went to try it out on the first day, after checking in, and discovered that it only opens at 2pm... Nevertheless, emboldened by the chance to try something new, we returned in the next few days, for some afternoon tea (only after 2pm of course...). Lewey is still steaming about the pretentiousness of the venue, after shelling out 65Krownes each for a pot of shit tasting tea, when we payed half that amount in the Italian restaurant where we got our yummy, boring, English brekkie tea, and giant tiramisu. Lewey knew it was going downhill, the moment the waiter (guy with giant giant dreadlocks) gave him a little bell and a menu, with over 80 teas to choose from, telling him to 'ring the bell when he was ready to order'. Paging through the menu was enlightening enough, we both felt like tea plebes, what the hell is the difference between a green tea, a white tea, a red tea and a yellow tea? Its all bloody tea for christsakes! Lewey could sense the experience would be interesting when he began to watch the tea being 'prepared'. Our waiter extraordinnaire began to first select the tea leaves from the many jars on the wall, then weighed a portion, then poured it into a special tea bag which could have been made of cashmere for all we know, looked very shmick, and then began the brewing process. This alone involved many steps, including swirling it, pouring it out of the teapot and then back in again, warming the cup with it, and him pouring himself a little cup a tea and then tasting it continually, until he has decided in his infinite tea wisdom, that the cup was brewed to perfection. It was more fun watching him make the bloody tea, than drinking it! Anyways, at least we can tick off that particular experience.

We should also mention that there was a sheesha pipe room in the tea house, sheesha pipe, for those not in the know, is a giant Turkish water-pipe, which you put a little hockey puck of flavoured tobacco (ie apple, strawberry etc) on top and smoke whilst sitting around it (its very big). We poked our head in this room to have a looksies and see what all the fuss was about, as a group of tourists had just left, having laughed their heads off for a good hour, while we sat trying to get our tea down the hatch.

In and around our eating tour, we actually did stuff as well. We decided to send some stuff home, realising that the summery stuff we brought is pretty useless for a while and with things so cheap in Egypt etc, no much point keeping all of it when we can buy some there. Purging was great, although Dani was sad to say goodbye to her purple jacket, but she knows it sadly wont be long before they're reunited. We can't believe we've already been travelling for almost a month! In some ways it feels like 6 months, and sometimes it feels like 5 minutes. (Still have to pinch ourselves that we're actually over in Europe!)

Our visit to the post office was enlightening. So far, most people we'd encountered in Czech were either quite friendly, or just ignored us (even when serving us in a retail store - c'mon, customer service people!), but the BITCH who served us was something else! We tried communicating in what little Czech we have, Dani's repertoire now includes 'proseem' - 'excuse me', it wasn't like we walked in all cocky and not even trying to speak the language. Ah well, a very humiliating 15 minutes later, (we'd filled out the form wrong, only one tiny error mind you, and she shook her head like we were idiots and then proceeded to show the incorrect form to her co-worker, whereupon they both laughed really meanly, pointing at us and everything) we left the post office, with Dani ready to kill. We just hope the damn package actually makes it home!

Basically our trip in Cesky was four days of food and some R&R, which was just what we needed. Lulled into a false sense of security and self-confidence, we should have know better... as so far nothing on our journey has been that straightforward and we were about to trip over our next stumbling block and learn yet another valuable lesson.

When we left our hostel and began the long trek back to the bus drop off point (to catch the bus to Vienna), we decided to be clever and head straight to where the bus had dropped us, rather than the official pick up point (one of the other hostels). According to the timetable, the bus was due at 11.45am. It is relevant to note, that on our journey into Cesky from Prague, the bus made good time and arrived half an hour early, but was unable to leave as they have to stick to the timetable in the manual.

Understandably, by 12o'clock (15 minutes past the pickup/departure time), standing in an empty bus parking lot, with our packs still strapped on (after walking for 30mins) and freezing to the marrow, we began to get a little worried to say the least, as we had not seen any sign of the bus.

Lesson learned, do not divert from the bus pick up point as stated in the manual. Suddenly we began to doubt if this was indeed the location where we had been dropped off initially... Cut to us frantically trying to use our mobile phone to call the hostel (official pickup point) with the calls not going through for whatever reason, and frozen fingers and shortened tempers not aiding our cause. Eventually we got through to the hostel, and inquired whether the busabout group had been dropped off/picked up already, Dani fulfilling her designated role of communications officer, struggled to make herself understood, as the hostel worker did not sphraken de english so well. Thankfully she made some headway and gathered that no, the bus had not arrived yet, no he did know if it was delayed, but that there were people waiting back at the hostel to be collected. We asked him to get the busabout people to wait, sighing with relief at the thought that we hadn't been left behind yet... Preparing to walk back to the hostel (the pickup point), a jolly 20minute walk away, the bloody bus arrived exactly where we were standing! Turns out it had been delayed due to a snowstorm in Prague! Thankfully we spoke to the busabout guide and copped a little stern lecture about meeting at the designated pick up points and dutifully vowed never to stray again! Lesson learned.

So, with our faces red from both the cold and a smidgen of embarrassment, we gratefully boarded our bus to Vienna... Look out for our next exciting installment!
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