Czech Republic: Karlštejn Castle, a Forest Walk, and Wallenstein Palace Gardens
This was my first real dawn in Prague. The sun actually made an appearance before 10 am. Until this morning dawn had greeted me with gray skies. But I wasn't staying in Prague this day. I was heading to Karlštejn Castle.
|Swans and Mallards up with the sun on the Vltava.|
|Morning dawns on Charles Bridge and the Swans the Guard the Vltava.|
I used Prague's Metro (Subway) for the first time. It is super easy to use. I headed to Prague's main train station (Prague hl.n. or Prague Hlavni Nadrazi). Karlštejn Castle is an easy day trip from Prague being about 40 minutes train ride from the main station. The train to Karlštejn follows the Berounka River. This early in the morning it was shrouded in fog and low clouds. It lent an air of mystery to the whole journey, not being able to see fully where you were headed.
When you exit the train you find yourself in the middle of what seems like no where. You can't see the castle from the station. You can walk to the castle from here or take a horse drawn carriage. I walked. It is a slog all the way uphill, through the village lined with touristy souvenir shops (Karlštejn Castle is one of the top tourist attractions in the Czech Republic). There is something to remember about really big castles built on hills for defensive purposes: you have to climb that hill to go see them! But I enjoyed the walk. There was just a few other people making the climb. We were spread out like wraiths upon the road in the mist still clinging to the sides of the valley.
|Walking down the road along the rails away from the train station in Karlstejn.|
|Crossing the Berounka River. The castle is located up the valley to the left, where you can see the village of Karlštejn. That's the sun showing like a cold eye in the reflection on the river.|
|And there it is: Karlštejn Castle with its great tower still wreathed in mist.|
|The horse carriage returning from dropping people off at the castle. I'm still climbing up and up using my two short little legs.|
|Still walking up and up toward the castle. The mist has finally burned off.|
|A look at the Great Tower.|
|Entering the Castle Gate|
|Standing in the Burgrave's Courtyard, looking up at the Imperial Palace, St Mary's Tower, and the Great Tower looming above all.|
Karlštejn is a Gothic walled fortress, built upon the hills of the of the Český Kras, a wilderness area characterized by limestone bedrock and karst canyons and gorges. It's rugged terrain covered in oak forests is beautiful and rich in biodiversity. Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia Charles IV built Karlštejn as a summer palace and as a place to house and protect art treasures and the crown jewels. Construction began in 1348. Construction was completed 20 years later. The Great Tower, which houses the magnificent Chapel of the Holy Cross, can function as an entirely self sufficient entity during sieges because it can be effectively cut off from the rest of the castle.
During the Hussite Wars, the castle was subjected to "biological" warfare. Catapults were used to throw dead bodies and dung over the walls (or as our guide said "poo was flung in great quantities") During the 30 Years War, the Swedes managed to take all but the Great Tower. After this invasion the castle fell into disrepair until the late 1800's. It owes its present look to that neo-gothic facelift.
There are several tour routes through the Castle. You can't see the whole caslte in one tour. You also can't take photos inside. Tour II is worth taking to see the Chapel of the Holy Cross. Tour I will get you into the bedroom of Charles IV where you can see his royal privy (bathroom). Game of Throne fans...yes...the privy Tywin Lannister meets his fate in is rather historically accurate.
|A better look at St. Mary's Tower.|
|The Great Tower. You can just see the hint of the top of the wooden bridge that connects St. Mary's Tower with the Great Tower through the trees on the right.|
|Looking down into the Outer Ward and across the hills of Bohemia.|
|Exiting the castle through the Outer Ward.|
Just past the main exit of the Castle you can pick up the Red Trail that heads west. If you are really fit you can hike all the way to a monastery (Svaty Jan pod Skalou). I opted for a shorter hike, going up through the hills and then down to the village of Srbrsko, where you can pick up the train back to Prague.
The Czech Republic has an amazing network of marked hiking/walking trails. Good hiking maps can be picked up in books stores and train stations. Also, there's an app called mapy.cz that is invaluable. Hit Zmenit mapu and choose Tursticka and you will have a map of all the hiking trails and places of interest in the country.
|The beautiful woods of the Cesky Kras.|
|This sign means you've stumbled upon a "protected tree." You'll see this quite often. If you can read Czech you can learn the significance of the tree.|
|Beetle. They were all over the trail. If someone can tell me what kind of beetle, message me below.|
As I walked along butterflies fluttered around, bees buzzed around flowers, and nuthatches, tits, and Great Spotted Woodpeckers flew through the trees around me. Beetles crawled and slugs slimed their way along the path too. I walked past magnificent old trees, rolling hills and stands of aged sunflowers.
|Twin Spotted Fritillary on thistle.|
|Red Slug. I haven't seen one of these since I lived in Germany 20 years ago.|
|This is one of the most unusual and beautiful plants/flowers I've ever seen. If you know what it is, message me below.|
|European Peacock Butterfly|
|The Berounka River and the village of Sbrsko. The building to the right is the Hotel U Berounky, where I spent a very nice hour enjoying their terrace over the river, a nice, extremely late lunch and cup of tea.|
I then headed back to Prague late in the afternoon. As I emerged from the Malostranska Metro Station I noticed that the Wallenstein Palace Garden was finally open. It had been closed for the past few days, though I don't know why since I couldn't read the sign.
Wallenstein Palace was built by Albrecht von Wallenstein, Duke of Mecklenburg, who served as Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial forces during the Thirty Years War. He was extremely powerful and influential and thus Emperor Ferdinand II had him assassinated in 1634. He only lived in the palace for one year before his death. Today the palace houses the Senate of the Czech Republic. The Palace isn't open to the public most of the time BUT you can visit the gardens. Along with peacocks, bubbling fountains, interesting views of the surrounding Castle District and Mala Strana, you can also see an amazing example of a Mannerist wall made out of fake stalactites. Snakes, owls, and frogs peak out from or wind around the artificial cave-like wall, which also houses an aviary with real owls in it.
|Fountain in the Wallenstein Palace Garden with Koi.|
|A family of Moorhens has taken advantage of the beautiful surroundings and is raising three youngsters here. These birds are native to the area.|
|Moorhens. Mom, Dad and two of the three babies.|
|Juvenile Moorhen with Koi|
|Adult Moorhen with Koi|
|A white peacock's baleful gaze.|
|Koi, the palace, and the Church of St. Nicholas in the background.|