It seems I had stumbled upon a stretch of good weather in the Czech Republic and I intended on taking advantage of it. The hills surrounding CK were etched with hiking trails, leftovers from the winter ski season. There was one that led up the mountain to Kliet, the largest peak in the area, a 4-hour round trip. It would be perfect for a day’s hike.
I stopped by in town for some fruit and a Delicious Baked Good (for those who don’t know, I have a debilitating weakness for anything out of a bakery), and then walked north out of town and onto the trail to Kliet.
According to the maps and signs, I was to follow the green and white striped markings on trees, streetlamps and curbs, but I soon found that the green and white paint marks were actually yellow. Nevertheless, I walked on. For the first 30 minutes, the “trail” was basically the road out of town. I passed houses and farmland, and workers getting ready for the day.
Near the foothills of the mountains the track finally went under the canopy. Often the trail markers would disappear at a junction and I’d have to go forward and test my choice, and sometimes I’d have to backtrack to correct the mistake. At one point, I faced another such junction, and chose the fork which went down. The path up was marked with a sign that had a picture of a backpacker and a big “No Smoking” cross across it. Uh-oh, don’t like the looks of that …
About 100 meters in I found a very convenient and informative map.
Note the signage about halfway down on the right side of the picture, not very inviting, is it?
According to the map, I had chosen poorly. I backtracked and went up the high path, but only found what looked like a bed and breakfast. A path ran along the left-hand side of the house, but all it seemed to lead to were goats. A small barn with a fenced in yard stood near the parking area for the B&B. A few goats were munching on the grass, and one was daring enough to stick her head out and snap at the tall weeds that bordered her front yard. She looked at me like you would look at a tourist lost in the city.
I went back down to the map and studied it more carefully. Sure enough, there were only two trails: the one I was standing on, which had other signs clearly trails to the other mountains, not Kliet, and the goat the path. I went back up to the house and walked around their lawn, inspecting the area for other trails, half-hoping that the owner would come out and lend a hand.
Having exhausted all other options, the only one left was to power down the small path that lay between the house and the goats. As I passed the barn again, I noticed that all the other goats had gone in except for the one with its head through the chicken wire. It had stopped eating and instead was moaning and turning her head towards the fence. I’m not sure what exactly brought the idea to my head, but I suddenly knew that she was stuck there. I considered just leaving it be and letting the farmer deal with it when he next came outside. But as soon as I thought it, I felt bad and knew I had to do something then. I went up to the goat, who had become agitated with my approach and tried to retreat behind the fence. It was then that my suspicions were confirmed, the silly girl couldn’t get her head through the hole in the wire. I tried to calm her as best I could and slowly grabbed the two pieces of wire behind her ears and pulled up as hard as I could. The wire was biting through my fingers, and as I pulled she tried to yank her head through, but it still wasn’t enough. I gave it one more go, and finally she cleared her head through the octagonal hole and retreated into the yard. I stood up, proud of my good deed and kinda disappointed I didn’t get a bleat of gratitude. I looked forward and saw a much bigger goat with very large pointy horns giving me the goat-equivalent of the Evil Eye and slowly advancing towards me. The Boyfriend, I presume. “Easy there big boy, your girl got her head stuck in a fence, I was just helping her out …”
That small, unmarked path went beyond the B&B, and all the guests who were doing yoga on the back lawn, and widened in the woods where the trail markers picked up. I was thoroughly annoyed having lost so much time because someone forgot to paint green and white stripes on some trees, but also quite glad that it had given me the opportunity to rescue a damsel in distress.
The rest of the walk was nice and the forks in the road were less confusing. The fall foliage was in full effect under those trees, and combined with my iPod, it was just the kind of relaxing day I was looking for. The hills weren’t even that steep either, or if they were, the founding fathers were nice enough to weave an easy, snake-like pattern in the mountainside.
That is, however, until the last 2.5 kilometers. Those were straight uphill, and it was steep. By the time I reached the top I was dripping with sweat and panting like A Biggest Loser. I reached the red and white TV tower that made the Kliet peak stand out so well from the ground, and for a second I thought that was it. Someone said there was a tower at the top and I assumed they meant the TV antenna. And unfortunately, the thing was closed. Well that was a waste. I walked further to see if there was at least a nice lookout where I could take a picture, and that’s when I saw the real tower, and the accompanying restaurant.
The lookout wasn’t much to shout about. Sure, you could see alot of the valley, but at the same time, much of it was also blocked by trees. And the bits you could see were so washed out with the powerful sun that any pictures would be overexposed and useless. On top of all that, the tower, which was supposed to provide the best views (on a clear day you could supposedly see the Alps from there), was closed.
Instead, I wandered into the café looking for a beer and a bite to eat. The ordering counter was busy with people and I was afraid that no one would speak English. The soup they were dishing out looked good, and I was just in that mood, so I simply pointed at another bowl and said “Soup?” The guy spoke limited English and explained it was garlic soup, then filled up a bowl for me. I took a dark Budvar with it.
I went up to a second floor balcony to eat my lunch outside. The only other occupants were a group of four rather drunk middle-aged men. They were laughing heartily, chain-smoking and speaking at the top of their voices. They were acting like men on a Sunday afternoon away from their wives.
I stayed for another beer, read and enjoyed the weather. By the time I got ready to leave, the whole area had been swarmed by bikers, hikers, dog-walkers and car-drivers. The restaurant was packed and the lookout point was teeming with people trying to get that perfect shot which I swear wasn’t there.
Ever the wanderer (see previous examples of how this goes horribly wrong), I decided to take a different route down. When I was lost way back at the B&B, I was smart enough to take a picture of the map, which I referred to many times after my “shortcut”. Even still, the trail markings were so erratic and easily misunderstood that I was sure that I was on the wrong track. Or that I would soon be lost. I still had a couple hours to go before it got dark, but I wasn’t ignoring the possibility of being lost in the Czech wilderness. It just sounded like something I’d do.
My only comfort came from the other people I passed, mostly in cars (the “trails” were often roads). Finally I reached another map and realized that even though I wasn’t on the track I thought (or should have) been on, I ended up in the right place. I had taken the long way home, and though the rest of the walk was pleasant and calming, by the time I reached town my legs were screaming and I was very tired.
I sat down in the dining room of Krumlov House and surfed the web before considering what to do about the rest of my day. Alejandro, a lawyer from Columbia who was on his way home from studying in Melbourne for two years, had followed me here from Sir Toby’s in Prague, and we chatted before he set off for Berlin. This time, I would be the one following him, since I was headed there myself.
After he was gone, I ate the food he left behind.
I was keen on heading out into town that night, but by the time I got ready, no one was around. I went by myself to a bar down the street called Antre, which had a porch out the back that overlooked the castle, and had a beer. Then I walked around town only to find the whole town had gone quiet. Either that or it’s just too early for someone like me. I stopped at the liquor store and bought very cheap Czech rum and some Diet Coke. Back at the hostel, I stayed up and talked with two backpackers from Queensland. One of them, Conrad, was from Ipswich! I was both excited and baffled that someone from The Switch actually made it out of Queensland, let alone Australia. Let alone the Ipswich City Mall itself, for that matter.
Cam was telling me about a town in Switzerland that had the same laid-back atmostphere like CK, called Lauterbrunnen, near Interlaken. I knew I was headed in that direction and made a note of it. I would reach Lauterbrennan nearly a month later, but I’m getting ahead of myself.