Monthly Archives: October 2012

Cesky Krumlov

If Prague is proclaimed to be “the jewel in the crown of Central Europe”, surely Cesky Krumlov is the crown itself! A tiny, delicate town on a sharp bend of the river Vltava, it is held together by a number of small bridges, and boasts a picture worthy view with every turn of one’s head. An artist’s paradise, this protected UNESCO heritage site provides eye candy to those creatively bent. The leaves are just beginning to turn with the fall color; the river provides a series of small cascades whose banks are alternately cobbled by the rock walls then softened by the yellowing weeping willows. Views from on-high show the colored roofs of the buildings as if a quilt thrown over the town which in turn gives rise to the numerous chimneys, church spires, and the castle’s extraordinary trompe l’oeil tower. At one turn, an old man with a colorful palette of oils; crossing a bridge, another elderly man with a set of watercolors; two women, each sketching a church spire that had caught their fancy; people with numerous tripods and cameras…all hoping to take home with them a little piece of the undeniable fairy-tale essence of Cesky Krumlov.

Our little red penzion is directly on the river and from the window we can see the spire of the St. Vitus Cathedral and the Cesky Krumlov Castle tower. The walk to town is short and provides plenty of interest as the streets are narrow and heavily cobbled, and many of them are undulating as well. A real challenge after a long night on the town, we thought, and as we ventured into the town center with its many eating and drinking establishments, we wondered if perhaps it was a cruel trick for those who over imbibed at one place or another. The illusionary art used for the Castle tower is only the beginning of the exquisite painting that is found on many of the buildings in the center of town, providing a three-dimensional look to their facades with cornerstones, arches, and window boxes that are only real in your imagination.

We wandered the streets, found a sunny bench for lunch and enjoyed a sandwich and a Pilsner Urquell on the river, climbed the hill to the Castle and the grounds and gradually wound our way back to town for a cup of hot chocolate. Tonight a final stroll through the town and another traditional Czech meal before turning in for the night. Tomorrow we will rise early to head back to Prague for our last evening before returning home to San Francisco.

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Welcome to Prague!

Prague! It is hard to believe that 44 years ago it was under Communist rule as it now shines as brightly as Paris, a beautiful little jewel of a city. Brightly colored buildings, flower boxes filled with colorful arrangements, and the hustle and bustle of a thriving city do not even hint at the austerity that enveloped Prague even in our lifetimes. It is a testament to a new life built by a people who in 1989 said enough was enough and with the election of Vaclav Havel as president, the Czech Republic was born.

In Old Town (Stare Mesto) and Lesser Town ( Mala Strana) there are countless spires and towers, churches and bridges, along with twisting, cobbled lanes filled with shops  selling crystal and souvenirs and hosting small cafes and restaurants. The architecture runs from Romanesque, to Gothic, to Renaissance, Art Nouveau, and Cubist, but what you will see predominantly is Baroque. From the smallest of sculptures, to the two story rooflines, to the finest example of Baroque excesses, the Jesuit church of St. Nicholas…this was the movement that seemed to most define Prague. The city’s architecture is laid out in front of you like a small map that draws you further and further into its interior. And speaking of maps, there is no map in the world that can help you navigate the maze of streets; we have been helplessly lost only a few blocks from our hotel!

Like Paris, music is big during the tourist season so you can find a church or government palace on almost every corner that hosts a concert on most evenings. One night a chamber orchestra, the next a candlelight organ recital; one would never be without some sort of classical music entertainment while visiting during this time. But with the tourist season comes the crowds. We wondered, if this is what it is like in the early fall, what must it be like in July?

And we cannot leave without mentioning the food. It is a little more challenging than Paris with meat, cheese, and dumplings as the mainstay of the Czech diet. Lunches have been the best choice for us; mussels and bread one day, soup and salads the next. For tonight, we found a restaurant with a lighter fare and some seafood…I think we are going to go for it!

Regardless, we will be leaving for the countryside tomorrow headed for Cesky Krumlov, south of here. On the last night of our trip we will be back in the city to hopefully hear one more concert, see one more elaborate church, and say farewell by having a big bowl of goulash and some rather large sized dumplings. As they say, “When in Rome…”


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Happy Anniversary!

Today we celebrated 20 years of marriage; a day filled with Metro rides, Parisian landmarks, rain, and hot chocolate. Declaring before our visit that we would see sites we had never before visited in Paris, we travelled to the 16 arrondissement to the Musee Marmottan Monet and the L’Orangerie, nearby in the 1st. Musee Marmottan boasts the largest collection of works by Claude Monet, including water lilies and landscapes; L’Orangerie houses two rooms of 360 degrees of water lilies.  As a frustrated painter, standing in the presence of greatness is not easy. His work Impression, Sunrise was on exhibit at Marmottan  and was perhaps the most poignant. This painting  was the one which gave a name to a new movement of painting…Impressionism. The brush strokes were fluid and loose and instead of defining form merely suggested it. A quote from Monet explained the title:

“Landscape is nothing but an impression, and an instantaneous one, hence this label that was given us (Impressionists)…I had sent a thing (painting) done in Le Harve, from my window, sun in the mist and a few masts of boats sticking up in the foreground…They asked me for a title for the catalogue, it couldn’t really be taken for a view of Le Harve, and I said: “Put Impression“”.

To celebrate our anniversary, we headed to Notre Dame, a bottle of champagne and a picnic lunch packed in a carry-on bag. Finding a bench between the Seine and Notre Dame, we toasted our 20th while enjoying a view of one of the rose windows of the church. As the rain increased in intensity, we found ourselves wandering in the great cathedral and finding an appropriate spot, lit a candle to commemorate our 20 years of marriage and the promise of years to come.

Dinner was fabulous…L’Ambroise in the Marias and the wine, a 2003 Chambolle Musigny Beaux Bruns was spectacular. Here’s to another 20 Tom…love you lots!


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Breakfast in bed…

It isn’t everyday that I wake up to someone handing me a cup of strong espresso and a warm pain au chocolat, but in Paris anything is possible and that is exactly what happened this morning. But it was also early so we drank our coffees, ate our croissants, planned our day, then promptly went back to sleep. Just an hour or two more is all we need; after all, we reasoned, yesterday was busy and today would be even busier. Just a while longer to rest the weary lower extremities…is it too much to ask? Paris is a walking city and we were feeling the effects.

But by 10:00 a.m. we were leaving the apartment headed for the Musee Carnavalet; everything you ever wanted to know about the history of Paris, and some things you really didn’t care if you ever knew. Museums are like that, you have to pick and choose where to spend your time or you will end up like Tom Hanks in The Terminal or worse yet, like you checked into the Hotel California. We did enjoy the history…the prehistoric times, Paris in the 16th century, Paris in the 17th and 18th centuries, Bonaparte, Louis the XVI, the Hotel de Ville and the Bastille, fires, revolutions, rebuilding, coups, occupations, more rebuilding. We remarked at the wealth of information, so much to look at and digest and speaking of digestion, isn’t it about time for lunch and a little wine? A nice fresh Nicoise salad with some crisp Champagne and Sancerre and we were on our way…home for a nap before our 9:30 reservation. Hey, it was a late reservation…we needed a nap!

Which brings me to the second part of our day…dinner at Mon Vieil Ami. If you remember my saying that I would have to look long and hard for a dish better than the bouef bourgogne I had at Robert et Louise, I found that I had to search no farther than Mon Vieil Ami. After we split an heirloom tomato and burrata salad that could stand on its own merits, I was served a risotto with chanterelles and roasted sweetbreads that raised the bar for the best dish in Paris. We shared a profiterol, sat and finished our 2009 Gevrey-Chambertin, chatted with the Americans next to us and the Italians next to them. It was a long and leisurely dinner and at the stroke of midnight we crossed the Seine on the Pont Marie and I thought…Midnight in Paris. Perfect!

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