Mum, Dad, and I arrived in Vienna and we stayed at the home of dear friends of ours in Schwechat, near the airport. The next day, my parents left for the Czech Republic and I picked up a VIP in my life 😉 at the airport. We enjoyed running around Vienna together for the next few days, visiting all the sites (Schoenbrunn, Stephansplatz, churches galore). I have been to Vienna countless times, but it is always a treat. My favourite spot is the Prater, where as a toddler I experienced the thrill of an amusement park for the first time. At the Prater, you pay for each ride individually, so if you want, you can stop off at the park anytime and ride a roller coaster before carrying on with your day. How awesome is that?
After finishing with Vienna, we were joined by my Uncle Graham and Aunt Donna, and we all took a train to Southern Moravia, where my father’s family lives. To make it even better, my brother Tony came all the way from Canada to the Czech Republic for the weekend to join us! We chose the last weekend in May to visit our family because of the huge folklore festival held in Vlčnov at that time every year. The festival, called Jízda králů or “The Ride of the Kings,” has taken place in the village each year since at least 1808. Legend has it that “in 1469, the King of Bohemia, Jiří of Poděbrady, defeated his son-in-law, Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus, who, in order not to be recognized and captured, dressed up in a female folk costume, covered his face with ribbons and headed for his residence in Trenčín guarded by his company, who had to collect money from serfs to feed him” (quote from the Vlčnov website). As such, a young boy is dressed as a women and parades through the village holding a rose in his mouth. He is accompanied by two guards with sabres, who are also dressed as women. Men on horseback, all in their eighteenth year, shout poems at women as they ride through the village in an effort to solicit donations. There is also a folk costume parade, dance performances by groups from across the country, delicious food, merriment, and of course copious amounts of slivovitz (plum brandy). More info on the UNESCO designation of the festival is provided here. A highlight for me was watching the dance event on the Friday night, where boys compete for the title of best “verbuňk” dancer (lots of jumping, squatting, thigh slapping and singing). A highlight for my brother was the giant outdoor wine party on the Saturday night in the hills above Vlčnov, where we drank delicious wine and listened to folk bands until the wee hours of the morning.
After the festival, our entire group minus Tony headed to Prague. I have been to Prague several times, and I even lived in the city for a few weeks in 2009 while taking a fantastic beginner Czech course at Akcent International House. Whenever I tell people that I’m half Czech, I always get told that Prague is awesome. (I know it’s amazing, but there is much more to the country!) Anyway, it’s the sort of city where you can always make new discoveries. One notable spot that I visited this time was the Ss. Cyril and Methodius Cathedral, where Czech patriots hid and eventually died after assassinating Reinhard Heydrich. There is a small museum, and you can visit the crypt where they spent their final moments.
Of course, in true Hunter-Zemanek fashion, we managed to stumble upon on a Romanian folklore performance going on right outside our hostel. How do we get so lucky? The dancers were from Bukovina, and they were absolutely fantastic. They even had public dancing at one point, which my family and I joined in immediately of course.
We took a day trip to Český Krumlov, which is south of Prague. The city and old town are absolutely lovely, and I loved our tour of the palace especially. On the way back to Prague, our van stopped in Holašovice at one of the oddest tourist attractions ever. It’s called the Czech Stonehenge, except they know exactly how it was made. The lady who owns the land explained that pagans use the area to hold events, just like at the real Stonehenge.
After our Prague visit, my parents, uncle and aunt left for Canada and there was just two of us left ;). We headed from Prague to Munich in the pouring rain, and unfortunately, the rain never let up for our entire weekend in Munich. I had been very much looking forward to touring the city for the first time, but it was a complete washout. Every time we tried to go sightseeing, we ended up soaking wet. I did enjoy going to see a modern ballet at the Bavarian State Opera though, and visiting the science museum.
Our original train to Salzburg was cancelled because of flooding, so we ended up taking a strange detour. On the way to Salzburg, we saw fields that were completely underwater, and even some poor truck driver stranded on a washed out road. Luckily, Salzburg was not affected by flooding, and we had some amazing weather for touring. I had been to Salzburg twice already, once in summer and once in winter, and it is one of my favourite places in the entire world. The old city in the foothills of the mountains is simply breathtaking. This time, we had the opportunity to climb the Untersberg overlooking Salzburg. It was quite a solid uphill climb, and there was one crazy slippery staircase right on the edge of a sheer drop. The saddle of the mountain was lined with memorials to hikers who had perished on the hike. It was a bit unsettling! I loved the challenge of the hike though, and the delicious drinkable water coming down the mountain.
We also headed to Berchtesgaden to visit the salt mines. I really enjoyed my tour back in 2003, and I was more than happy to do it again. You get to shoot down these wooden slides (yea!) and ride a boat on an underground salt lake. They have also added all these nifty multimedia effects. So cool!