I was talking with some of my travel friends in a little list I made on Facebook yesterday about our mutual love of photography and travel. I have been very fortunate in being allowed to travel and see so many fascinating places. For the start of the new year I have decided to look back at some of the great castles I have seen and share some stories about them.
One of the first castles I was able to visit was Karlstyn Castle in the Czech Republic. I had read a lot about the castle when I was preparing for a trip to Prague. I had read that it was close to Prague and that it was one of the most visited castles in the Czech Republic. So I was very excited about visiting this castle. In my mind I had imagined one of the great castles that inspired the castles in the old Disney cartoons. But I was a little disappointed when I finally got to see Karlstyn Castle.
I was in Prague and had a day to myself to do a day trip out of the city. The guide book I was using suggested that it was not difficult to reach the castle and suggested skipping the tour groups who would rent bus tours to Karlstyn. The guide book gave me good directions to the train station where I could buy my tickets to Karlstyn and go on my own without a group of tourists. . I was still a novice traveler and was still learning the ins and outs of exploring Euorpe so I was very thrilled with myself for finding the correct train station with no help from anyone else. The station to Karlstyn was outside of the city center where there was a lot less English spoken than in the city itself. This should have been my first red flag that I was in trouble. I walked into the station and went to the ticket window and tried to ask for a ticket to Karlstyn. I did not think there would be any problem because there was a photo of the castle in the window at the ticket booth. I slowly asked for one ticket to Karlstyn. The ticket agent just looked at me. I repeated again very slowly "One ticket to Karylstyn. I still received just a blank faced expression. Then the ticket agent said to me very rudely "Česká ! Česká !" Speak Czech. Now the panic sets in. I was outside of city center. No one was speaking English and I had angered the ticket agent. But I tried again. I pointed to the photo of the castle on his booths window and raised one finger to indicate I wanted one ticket to go see the castle. I said politely "One". The man pointed to me and said again "Česká ! Česká !" So I gave up. I took the tram outside of the station back down to city center. At the tram stop there was a man, who spoke some English, and was selling tickets to go to Karlstyn for the next day. Defeated, I bought the ticket and took the tour bus the next day.
The tour advertised that it was in seven languages including English, Italian, French. So I felt comfortable that I would have no problem. On the day of the tour the tour guide only spoke two languages. He spoke English and Česká. The only people who spoke English on the bus were me, two Australians, and the guide. Everyone else spoke different languages and they were not happy. The tour guide handed them printed out information in their language about the tour and asked them to follow along reading as he talked to us in English. This did not make the three of us very welcome in the group. After some arguments over the arrangements and the language problems we were on our way. We arrived to the little village in the photo just above. The bus parked in the village and we had to walk up a large hill to get to the castle. It was a good hike and some of the people on the bus were not young so it was difficult for some of them. We had lunch in Karlstyn and there was a lot of grumbling about the language problems and the hiking. The three of us who spoke English were the least favorite of the group. But during the lunch meal the beer started to flow and people stopped grumbling and I did get to meet two Russian couples and have an interesting conversation with out broken languages. The Italian speaking members of the tour never did calm down though and were angry for most of the tour. It did make for an interesting day.
The castle itself was empty inside. There was not a lot to see. It was not very exciting at all in my opinion. I was expecting it to be renovated and beautiful inside. So I was a bit disappointed. But it was my first castle. And one of my first experiences traveling in a foreign country. So my expectations were a little over the top. I probably would have enjoyed it much more now. So all was not lost. All these years later I still prefer not to take guided tours. I like the challenge of my finding my own way around, trying to communicate with the locals, and not sharing my experience with arguing tourists unhappy with their guide. I returned to Prague in 2015. It's much easier today. It's very touristy. There is no problem finding train stations or purchasing tickets. But I am glad I was there to have the experience before the infrastructure was there. It left me a good story to tell and something I will never forget.
Historically the Karlštejn Castle was founded by Czech king and Holy Roman emperor Charles IV (Karel IV.) in 1348, the same year when the king founded Prague's New Town and Charles University. The hill-top castle surrounded by forests was built to hold the royal treasures and coronation jewels of the Holy Roman Empire, and served as the king's retreat. The Czech coronation jewels were also kept there for almost 200 years during and after the Hussite wars in the 15th and 16th century