The Old Man and the Lake
The road, like a grey serpent, carved its way through the darkened Czech landscape. Mists had already started forming in the valley below us like eerie, ghostly lakes. We were on the final stretch of our 10-hour drive from the Netherlands and it was well past midnight. Finally, a row of rooftops appeared out of the mist as we arrived at the tiny village of Muckov. A silhouette stood at one of the doors and a porch light turned on.
An old, Czech man with friendly wrinkles and a twinkle in his eye greeted us. He spoke no English or German… and I spoke no Czech. With our combined, limited knowledge of the Russian language, we slowly started to understand each other. He guided us through the house, showing us the bedrooms, the boiler, and the kitchen. We were too tired to take any of it in, so we just smiled and nodded, thanked the man, and crashed into our beds.
As the cool morning sun crept over the distant hillsides, I woke up, put on my slippers, made a cup of coffee, and snuck out to take a look. The house was… unusual. It was as if I walked through a little museum portraying the lifetime of the old man. An ancient rotary dial phone, heavy-set Soviet-style cabinets, a very extensive pottery set for all kinds of spices… everywhere I looked, there were decorations, memorabilia, little touches of the man’s personality. It had a quirky, but innately cozy feeling. I took my coffee outside and wandered up the hillside. As I looked down, I started to take in the astonishing landscape our car had senselessly waded through the previous night. It was a scene from the Sound of Music, with small villages and farms dotting the green, sloping hills. The hills were alive with large thickets, shimmering lakes, and small, winding roads. A smile crept across my face. “I can get used to this”, I thought.
Soon, my girlfriend and I found our holiday routine. We took our swim gear and beach towels down towards the nearby Lipno lake and decided to discover a new area its lush waters every day. We bronzed on a small, artificial beach, we took a ski-lift upwards and clambered through an amazing treetop walkway and we drove to an abandoned hill-top castle with a mesmerizing view of the valley.
We were particularly fond of Cesky Krumlov, a small town that, according to the limited reviews, was only known by locals and tourists who accidentally stumbled upon it, as we did. We drove in via a rough, stone-hewn gatehouse and immediately knew we found something unique. We quickly parked and got out to wander through the narrow, coiling streets. They were filled with wood makers, smiths, tanneries, and small market stalls. Colorful glass ornaments and unknown local spices lined the streets in a parade of antique and venerable beauty.
Watching over the town from a rocky outcrop, stood an enormous medieval keep with bears (yes, live bears), patrolling the moats. The keep had been expanded and renovated during the classical period and it looked like it could rival any great Habsburg or Bourbon castle of its time. It had its very own theatre and castle gardens that were equal in size to the entire surrounding town. The Cloak Bridge connected the castle to these gardens by crossing a daring gap of at least forty meters, with huge stone arches and massive pillars.
We looked around us in awe. We kept on asking each other how we didn’t know of this place and why it wasn’t on every holiday brochure.
I now think back to the night we arrived. The old man with that spark in his eyes. Almost as if he were amused by our ignorance. As if he knew that we were in for a truly remarkable holiday. That teeny tiny village of Muckov lay at the center of the magnificent and historic heartland of Southern Bohemia. Perhaps, its beauty partially lies in its obscurity, and perhaps, they should keep it that way.
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