Saturday, June 27, 2009

In Luv in Krumlov

I know...I Know. It is a cheesy title and I am going pink with embarrassment as I type this, but there is absolutely no other way to describe our time in this wonderful medieval city. There are romantic towns and then there are ROMANTIC towns. With its stunning castle casting beautiful shadows in the Vltava river while it snakes around the town in a perfect "S" shape, it is no wonder that this town falls in the second category. The enchanting little town is full of delightful little shops and restaurants, art galleries, narrow cobble stone streets, pedestrian bridges and most of all - wonderful people. The town is a splendid example of life in the slow lane. There is no rush to do anything....actually there is not much to do here. As Rick Steves would say " There are no 5-star attractions,but the town itself is a 5 star attraction". All I remember doing here is walking hand in hand, people watching and having long luxurious meals by the Vltava river.

We took the 11:00 AM bus from Prague. It was a beautiful drive through the Czech countryside. Spring was at its best and we passed through acres and acres of yellow mustard flowers. The video coach bus was showing a Czech movie with English subtitles. As I dosed in and out of sleep, one thing I noticed was that the leading lady Dubrakova was in the SAME dress for the entire length of the movie...even after she accidentally falls in a ditch! Czech cinema must not have the budgets of Bollywood. As I mentioned in previous reports, I did not make any reservations for the last 6 days of our 13 day trip. We showed up at the tourist office with no reservations. Only problem was that they didn't have any rooms in the old town, so we stayed up the hill in a small pension. Pension Vishaharad was a clean and simple bed & breakfast in a residential area. It was a 1/2 mile walk to the city center, which was actually nice because we had great views of the town from up there. We originally booked the room for one night, but an hour after we walked into the town, we were bowled over by the beauty of the place and decided to stay another night. We walked over to the city center and had a late lunch/snack of pizza and chocolate crepes (I can give up lunch, but can NEVER give up dessert when I am on vacation).

We walked around the town, did some window shopping and just when the light was going down, settled at a vegetarian restaurant called Laibon that was highly recommended in the guide book. We had a long 3 hour dinner. Our table was outdoor, right beside the river. While waiting for the food to come, I actually went down and cooled my feet in the water- oh what fun it is to put tired feet in cold running water!!. - A lone duck was trying to swim upstream, but the current was too much, so it flew up. A few minutes later we saw the same duck float downstream without putting up a fight! We had a huge basket of pakodas (that's was international food) and chips and salsa and guacamole for appetizers and a huge bowl of vegetarian chili for main course. We took our time and ate very slowly watching the sun set behind the castle. As it became darker, the castle lights came on and transformed the place into magic land. We did not have our tripod, so took this night shot with a point-and-shoot Canon while balancing it on a stack of coins (told you...we had a lot of free time). Dessert was chocolate cake and homemade ice cream. We took the other two night shots on the way back to the pension.

We spent the morning walking around the town, visiting churches and heritage buildings. We had a brunch in a bistro - nothing special. We walked around for a little bit and went to another restaurant for dessert -
ice cream folded in a warm chocolate crepe floating in mild blueberry sauce and drizzled with powdered sugar...ummm.
Vam: There is not much to do here, but I love it. Should we stay another night or move on?
Saru: I love it too.What is the hurry?
Vam: Yeah...Let's stay here and savor the place. You know, I don't understand how people can do day trips to this place. 3-4 hrs is just not enough to get a feel for this place. It is just not enough to slow down and appreciate the beauty of the town and the culture here.
Saru: uh-huh
Vam: You know....I also don't understand how people go on whirlwind Europe tours - 7 countries in 10 days etc. What can they see that way? They will just be shuttling between airports and train stations. You need to make the leap from being a tourist to a traveler and get a feel for life in foreign countries - their food, their history, and their way of life. That way, you might take back something with you and make your life better.
Saru: Vam.....It seems to have slipped your mind that we are doing 4 countries in 13 days....So, are we tourists or travelers?
Vam (counting): Belgium, Netherlands, Czech Republic and Austria. OMG....that is true. I completely lost track. Shit!! I am a freaking tourist!! What the hell was I thinking? Oh Man!! I am one of them? think I am one of them?
No, you are not one of them. You are a giant snob! Forget the philosophy and have fun.

I don't know if I am a tourist or a traveler, but I certainly took inspiration from their laid back lifestyle and changed mine after we moved back to India. Simple things give me more joy now than they ever did in my life before and for that I am really glad I went to Cesky Krumlov.

In the afternoon, we went up the castle. While it is an imposing and handsome building from outside, it was not all that great inside. The only impressive room was the Rennaisance room with paintings that had a three dimensional look. The best part of the castle tour was to be able to climb the steps and get to the clock tower. Views from up there and the castle gardens were excellent.

We had another long and excellent dinner that night in an Italian restaurant. I had an interesting Czech dessert – ovocne knedliking (don't even bother pronouncing it)- fruit dumpling sprinkled with curd cheese (cheese tasted liked khoa from a new mother-cow’s milk). On the way to the pension, we took this picture.Next morning we left for Hallstatt, Austria which was another beautiful place.

To read more about our trip browse these links:

Monday, June 15, 2009

Birds in Breeding Plumage

This is Part 3 of our trip to Bandipur National Park. You can read Parts 1 and 2 here:

In Part 3, I am actually writing about the first day of our trip. Those who have read the other two reports or at least the title of the first report will know that we were traveling with T & S, our blog friends who we had never met before. On our way to Bandipur National Park, we planned to stop at Ranganthittu Bird Sanctuary, which is a famous breeding ground for egrets, spoonbills, open bill storks, painted storks, river turns and many other birds . Our plan was to start at 5:00 AM and reach the sanctuary by 6:30-7:00 AM.

Thomas: 5:00 AM means 5:00 AM , 5:00 AM does not mean you wake up at 5:00 AM. 5:00AM means you are outside the door and ready to leave at 5:00 AM
Vam: I GET IT!! I will be at the door at 5:00 AM. Don't worry, I am not a morning person, but I wake up when it is necessary.
Thomas: Do you want me to give you a wake-up call? You know what...I will give you a wake up call at 4:00 AM just in case.
Vam: Relax Thomas....I will wake up.

This was our first time meeting Thomas and Shilpy and I did not want to start off on the wrong foot, so I set up two phone alarms 5 minutes apart and kept waking up every hour to check the time. Finally I fell asleep at 2:00 AM and woke up when the alarm rang. I showered and got ready and woke up Saru. It was already 4:30 AM and I still didn't get the wake up call from Thomas. I called him, just to reassure him that we were indeed going to be ready by 5:00 AM. The phone rang a few times before it was answered by a very sleepy voice.

Thomas: Hello

Vamsee: Hi Thomas...It is Vamsee. Don't worry we are almost ready!
Thomas: Oh Shit...Oh Shit...What time is it?
Vamsee: 4:30
Thomas: Oh Man....I was very restless last night and I woke up at 2:00 AM and could not go back to sleep.
Vamsee (with a very wide smile): Did YOU oversleep?

It was a little after 6:00 AM by the time we started. We were meeting for the first time, but the ice was broken with the hilarity of the situation and I was thoroughly enjoying the upper hand.

Vamsee: Thomas....When we said 5:00 AM, we meant leaving at 5:00 AM, not waking up at 5:00 AM.
Thomas: Oh God....You are going to write about this on her blog...Aren't you?. It was not my mistake. S takes one hour to pack and get ready.
S: Don't bring me in to this. You didn't wake up.
We had fun teasing each other and before we knew it, we were chatting like old friends. It was a nice drive along green fields. Gulmohar trees were in full bloom and were really beautiful. We took this picture much later in the trip.

We stopped at Barrista for some coffee and breakfast and were delayed a little bit more, so it was about 9:00 AM by the time we reached the bird sanctuary. The sun was high in the sky, not the best time for photography, but since we were there, we decided to take the boat ride anyway.The place was full of water birds- egrets, storks, pelicans etc. Since we were on a boat, we had the chance to take some really good closeup shots.

Cattle Egrets in Breeding Plumage
Egrets are so common, we normally don't give them a second look. During breeding season, they develop orange-brown feathers on their back, breast, crown and bill and their irises become red for a short period before mating. Here is the bird in many poses.

Intermediate Egrets in Breeding Plumage

As the name suggests, these egrets are intermediate in size, between The Great Egret and the Little or Cattle Egrets. They are mostly white in color with a thick yellow bill but breeding birds have a black bill with a green gape skin. This one kept taunting us with various poses, but finally opened up its feather for a decent (not great) picture. The sunlight was too harsh and the white color is overexposed, but this is the best we could get.

Painted Storks

(from Wikipedia)The adult is a large bird, mainly white with black flight feathers. The head is red, and the long downcurved bill is yellow. The tail and legs are pink, and there is dark barring on the breast.

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