Although I’m touring Central and Eastern Europe in style on someone else’s euro, I am paying the price.
It’s only 7:00 a.m. and my weary-eyed “band of merry media” and I — travel scribes and lens crafters invited by Insight Vacations (Insight) to sample a portion of its Bohemian Rhapsody journey, including last night’s last call at U Fleků — are already mustered down in the lobby of Prague’s Art Nouveau Palace Hotel with our luggage, looking very much like extras at a casting call for a George A. Romero zombie movie as we wait for the green light to board the motor coach.
Where to? About 3.5 hours due south of Prague in the Bohemian region of the Czech Republic. We’re off to Český Krumlov, where someone’s going to hand over the keys to the town castle.
Along the way we’re bombarded with facts and figures about the Czech Republic doled out by Neira, Insight’s chatty tour director/storyteller/Trivial Pursuit expert, who keeps us on the edge of our seats and, surprisingly, awake.
“Did you know that the word ROBOT comes from the Czech word ROBOTA, meaning WORK?” We shake our heads NO, and Neira continues, “The contact lens was invented by Otto Wichterie, the sugar cube by Jakob Krystof Rad, and the propeller by Josef Ressel.”
Quicker than you can say, Nejneobhospodařovávatelnějšímu — the longest word in the Czech language that means, “To the least cultivable ones” — we arrive in Český Krumlov, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the best-preserved medieval towns in all of Europe.
Set along the banks of the Vltava River, this fairytale-like vision out of the Middle Ages appears lost in time.
Off the motor coach we go, each light as a feather — Insight handles all checked baggage at every stop along the way — and head straight for the front desk at the atmospheric five-star Hotel Růže.
It’s a renovated 16th century Jesuit university-monastery that oozes the Rennaisance with period furnishings and decor — including lifelike waxed figures positioned around the lobby — and serves as Insight’s signature property here.
A quick lunch on our own euro — fresh trout and a white wine for me — and then we’re rejoined at the hip and follow Neira up the cobble, like a gaggle of goslings waddling behind Mother Goose, to see a man about the keys to the castle — the State Castle and Chateau of Český Krumlov, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Monument since 1992.
More than 300,000 visitors annually cross over the moat — occupied by brown bears — and pass through the arched entryway and into the massive 13th century complex of 40 buildings and palaces, situated around 5 castle courts and a park spread across 11 hectares of land. It is one of the largest castle complexes of its kind in Europe, and ranks second in size only to Prague Castle within the Czech Republic.
We’re met on the grounds by a knowledgeable art-historian guide — the keeper of the keys — and given a VIP tour of some of the highlights of the impressive noble residence.
Boasting 300 rooms with more than 30,000 pieces of original furnishings, artwork and other treasures, our guide unlocks a door, ushers us in, and immediately locks it again. This exercise is repeated throughout the tour as there’s no turning back.
We flow into and out of grand rooms and lengthy corridors, each just dripping with more wealth than you can imagine.
Jaws drop in an OMG moment as we gaze at a gilded golden carriage, used only once back in 1637 by Ferdinand III von Habsburg, the newly crowned Holy Roman Emperor, to transport gifts through the streets of Rome for delivery to Pope Urban VIII in the Vatican.
Our VIP stroll around the castle ends on a high note as we get a privileged peek inside one of Europe’s few remaining wooden Baroque theaters.
Built in 1775, the ornate theater, once graced by Mozart’s presence, is undergoing a long and expensive renovation and is very rarely seen by the public, but is readily made available whenever Insight comes calling. It’s just another “signature” moment on the Bohemian Rhapsody journey.
Free to roam until our Insight-hosted dinner, I meander around town and click away at the colorful sights and scenes before making my way back to the Hotel Růže for a cold one — an Eggenberg Pils enjoyed out on the terrace overlooking the gently flowing Vlatava.
Sometime during each and every Insight journey a Club Bon Voyage dinner party breaks out and returning Insight guests are given a special nod and toast.
Yours truly happens to be one of four seasoned road warriors so honored tonight, having traveled previously with Insight on its Country Roads of Italy itinerary through Tuscany and Umbria.
The champagne, beer and other spirits flow — compliments of Insight — as we enjoy an aperitif or two or three, along with trays of delicious finger food, before we’re ushered into one of the period rooms for our sit-down, guitar-serenaded Bohemian dinner.
“The night is still young,” Neira, Insight’s effervescent tour director, proclaims as our wine glasses now stand empty. “Let’s go for a stroll and see the town at dark.”
Most everyone grabs a wrap for the cool night air, but I grab my hotel room key instead, take the elevator up to the second floor and fall fast asleep dreaming about a fairytale place named Český Krumlov.
For complete information on Insights’ premium and luxury-escorted itineraries loaded with “signature” moments and impromptu flourishes, including the Bohemian Rhapsody and 100 other journeys throughout Europe, just click HERE, or call toll free 1-888-680-1241, or contact your travel agent.
See you at the crack of dawn when we waltz our way out of the Czech Republic and head for Vienna.
Dobrou noc! (Good night!)
©The Palladian Traveler