Cesky Krumlov is highly recommended in the Lonely Planet Guide and a popular “must see” on the Czech Republic things to see and do list. So it is no surprise that when looking for accommodation I have an enormous range of hostels to choose from.
However, after spending several days in isolation in my “cell” in Karlovy Vary I am hungering for company and when scanning Hostelworld’s website, one in particular catches my eye. It’s name, Hostel Skippy, immediately draws me to it with connotations of having a link to my second home, Australia. The description that it is the home of a musician, who welcomes travellers in and treats them like old friends sounds intriguing and seals the deal!!
I get my first glimpse of picturesque Cesky Krumlov as I walk along an elevated part of the route on my way to the hostel and immediately understand why it is such a high priority on the “must see” list. The River Vltava snakes its way through the town forming a horse shoe around the old centre and protecting it like a natural moat the majestic castle towering above. It is nestled against a backdrop of forests, pastures and farmhouses and is a fairy tale picture of medieval beauty, its church spiral and colourful castle tower dominating the landscape.
The town itself is quite undulating and walking through cobbled streets I ascend a set of gruelling steep steps, my back straining from the weight of my pack, before finally descending down a narrow cobbled lane towards Skippys Hostel.
The hostel is set within a row of little terraced houses sloping down towards the river, their narrow frontages quaint and ancient. I spot it immediately, its array of eclectic signs a clear give away. The front door is set just below street level and I step down into a narrow pathway to reach it passing three small square windows decorated with lace curtains and bric-a-brac on their sills.
When I ring the doorbell I am immediately greeted and welcomed inside by a charming lady of around my age. It is indeed a home rather than a hostel and introducing herself, Skippy leads me along the narrow wooden hallway to the kitchen which is tiny, but cosy in character and decorated with interesting and unusual wall-hangings, ornaments and bits and pieces. As we sit at the kitchen table completing the booking formalities we chat enthusiastically, giving each other a quick resume of our lives and Skiippy tells me about her passion as a musician.
The back of the house extends out onto a lovely wooden veranda perched above the fast flowing river. Under the veranda’s canopy there is a big rectangular wooden table with comfortably cushioned benches on each of its long sides; an inviting sofa rests against the house wall, with blankets folded on it, ready to warm guests from the night chill, and set off to the side there is a small square table which has a chessboard painted on it with two chairs. Carefully tended flower boxes are dotted around the veranda and it is a tranquil setting with views along the river and beyond the village to the high pastures.
The house is two hundred years old and my dorm is the little room at the front behind the square windows, with part views up to the street The ancient wooden floor is smoothly polished and slightly uneven and the room is pleasantly but sparsely furnished with a single bed in each of the four corners, a wooden table with a kettle on it by one wall and old rustic arm chairs by each bed, their age hidden under colourful draped covers.
Cesky Krumlov is the epitome of every medieval fairytale setting, ancient buildings adorned with frescoes, narrow cobbled streets where pedestrians and cars fight for right of way and a town square alive with tourists and buskers. It is an artist’s haven and little galleries compete with souvenir shops. Cinnamon dough cones are freshly baked and filled with rich creamy icecream, an indulgunce that tourists can’t resist and alfresco restaurant and bars are in abundance.
I love the town and its atmosphere and happily spend my days wandering aimlessly through it, climbing to the castle and resting often to soak up the atmosphere. There is plenty to do and see, but I am equally as happy sitting on the veranda back at Skippy’s chatting to her and fellow travellers while I catch up with my writing.
I meet a lovely young couple who live in Delhi, Prerita and Jai. We immediately have a connection and spend quite a bit of time chatting together. They are enthusiastic, love life, travel extensively and have a genuine interest in all that is life. We talk passionately about the places we have been to. They tell me a lot about India and I am deeply inspired to make this one of my next destinations, knowing that I now have friends to visit while I am there.
Hana, also around my age, manages the hostel with Skippy and although her English isn’t strong we get along just fine. She has a dry sense of humour and we are often laughing at silly little things. Hana is a fledgling musician with a great ear for music but only now is truly venturing out into the music scene. She is forever busy in the kitchen pottering or cooking for her parents who are visiting and decides to take me under her wing, cooking me enormous breakfasts of bacon and the most delicious free range eggs and ensuring I want for nothing.
I am truly spoilt and we three ladies strike up an amiable companionship and often while the other guests are out we sit quietly on the veranda; I am writing, they are playing chess, or Hana is practising on her guitar while Skippy is catching up on paperwork or reading.
While Hana’s parents are visiting we all sit on the veranda quietly appreciating the ambience, which isn’t always peaceful, but pleasant nonetheless. There is a small section of gentle rapids near the hostel and it is a popular area for kayakers to practice, so our tranquillity is frequently broken by the noise of shouts, screams and laughter as kayak after kayak is tipped over, its occupants floundering to catch escaping kayaks and paddles as they are swept down the river. The river isn’t too deep nor the rapids too strong so we watch the entertainment from the comfort of the veranda and often laugh along with the kayakers at their desperate but comical antics.
Despite the language barrier, Hanna’s father assists me one day with the zip of my daypack which has broken. He patiently puts the zip back together and instructs me through sign language to sew the end of it to prevent it from breaking again.
I am content and long to stay awhile, but am driven by my self imposed schedule. Nonetheless I do extend my stay for a couple of days, but need to move to a nearby hostel for the last night, which I am happy to do as Skippy and Hana are playing at a nearby bar that evening and I want to go and see them.
All too soon it is time to move hostels and I have my hat in my hand when I go to say goodbye. The ladies want to see me with my hat on, so I oblige. They both nod approvingly and Hana enthusiastically exclaims “Fuckit!” We all immediately burst out laughing and Skippy explains that a previous traveller, a bit of a character, had taught them the many ways to use the “F” word!
As I am heading out the door Skippy and Hana tell me I must come back and use the veranda after I’ve checked in at the other hostel, so I do just that, announcing loudly as I walk back in “I’m home!”
At the other hostel, the Hostel Havana, I meet an interesting and vibrant Hungarian lady named Andrea, who is a singer and permanently lives on the road following the music!! She lives in hostels and busks to get by, occasionally picking up a gig here and there. She is currently considering whether to remain in Cesky Krumlov or return to Karlovy Vary where some potential music opportunities await her. I am in admiration of her and we quickly bond.
I tell her that Skippy and Hana are playing at the Egon Schiele Art Centre Cafe Bar, and she suggests she might join me later after she has finished busking.
I make my way to the Cafe Bar and settling in to watch them I am soon mesmerised by the extensive range of Skippy’s crystal clear voice as she sings a repertoire of songs, some uplifting English popular classics and many Czech Ballads, her voice deep and filled with emotion and passion.
They are extremely good and when chatting to them during their break I am astounded to find out that they neither have a CD nor have they uploaded any of their songs to Youtube. When I ask why Skippy simply shrugs her shoulders and says “We don’t know about this technology, we are just happy to be musicians!”
My shuttle bus to Vienna is picking me up early the next morning so I sadly leave the Cafe Bar silently waving my appreciation and farewell to them as they carry on singing.
Feeling rather melancholy I am walking up the street when I hear my name being called out and turn around in surprise to find Andrea coming after me. She had come into the bar but couldn’t find me in the dim light, only spotting me as I was leaving. She knows I have an early bus to catch but wants to show me where the Gypsies are playing and promptly leads me, snaking through back streets and alleys until we come to a heavy wooden door, which she opens and beckons me inside. It is the tiniest stone cellar tavern I have ever seen, packed with local people, all singing and clapping along with gypsy musicians, as they sing jolly traditional songs and play various instruments! The music is exhilarating and the atmosphere is steamy and intoxicating and I so desperately want to stay, but Andrea is returning to the Egon Schiele Café Bar and I really do have to get back to the hostel to pack for my early departure.
So I reluctantly tear myself away, hugging Andrea goodbye, and solemnly make my way over the bridges of the meandering River Vltava climbing the gruelling steps for the last time, before making my way down to Hostel Havana. I pass “my home,” on the way, the light on behind the little square windows and someone else is already in my bed.
The road of a traveller is difficult and you need to be at one with it, listening to its hearbeat and following its rhythm. Sometimes you need to move on and sometimes you need to stay a little longer and as I walk away from town towards my hostel and my backpack, I know I haven’t listened properly and I am leaving this little town and its special people too soon.