Again, Mike and I picked a campground based on its proximity to a train station for our long bike rides. We selected Valtice, knowing very little about it. Well it is lovely. If you saw my previous post you will know that it is part of the Liechtenstein Lednice-Valtice area with its own Chateau and lovely small town. We toured the Chateau on Monday which was good because we ended up unexpectedly leaving the following day. That is a story to have over drinks some time.
There were no English tours available this year (covid?) but they gave us a booklet to read that matched the sequence and stories the tour guide was giving in Czech. This did help and it allowed us to stay a room ahead of everyone else and look at items much more closely than you could in a crowd. I thought that it was interesting that the House of Liechtenstein opened up the Chateau Valtice to tourists when the Prince was absent, starting in the 1800s. I didn’t expect to see an elevator in a private home. It had been added in the early 1900s. Although the summer residence of Lednice was the larger complex, Valtice was the family’s main home for centuries.
One thing that makes this area so interesting are the three chateaux in very close proximity to one another: Mikulov, Lednice and Valtice. The House of Liechtenstein owned the land in this area since the mid-1200s. These chateaux are some of Czechia’s top tourist attractions and their ownership is under dispute. The current legal battle is over the forest area confiscated in 1945 but the assumption is that this is a test case and if the small country of Liechtenstein wins, they will then try again to get back the Lednice and Valtice chateaux. Mikulov was originally the main seat of the Liechtenstein family but they were forced to sell it in 1560 and over the following centuries huge amounts of money has been poured into the Lednice-Valtice complex. Interestingly, we could see the Chateau in Mikulov from the second floor of the Valtice Chateau.
In 1945 the Czech’s stripped all German families of their property in Czechoslovakia. They labelled the House of Liechtenstein as German because their small country, which lies between Austria and Germany, speaks mainly German, even though they remained neutral throughout the war. The House of Liechtenstein vehemently deny that they ever collaborated with the Nazis who had taken over some of the Liechtenstein properties during the war. The case is currently before the European Court of Human Rights. It will be interesting to watch its progress. Given the importance of this area to Czechia I don’t see the Liechtenstein’s winning.
The area of the three chateaux is small enough to easily bike to each of them on different days. A couple of days ago, we went out again biking in the area. This time we unexpectedly came across “Janův Hrad” or John’s Castle. It was built to look old a few hundred years ago, today it looks even older. It was originally used to meet for a hunt or to party there after the hunt. A short while later on the same ride, we left the woods and were cycling over some hills when we came upon another very different and very foreign sight – a packed swimming pool, beach bar and restaurant in the middle of nowhere. We believe that it was associated with a winery of which there are very many in this area. We are really getting spoilt coming upon all these interesting sights on our rides.
We visited Mikulov a few times over the 11 days that we stayed in this area. The heat did stop us from touring the grounds as much as we would like. Bicycles were not allowed on the chateau property and I can’t walk as far as I would like when it is really hot out. It did cool down one day and we went to Mikulov and hiked up a tall hill to see a chapel and the views at the top. I was in much better shape for walking when we first retired and Mike and I were doing 10,000 steps every day. This continued throughout our first year in Europe. At the beginning of year 2 we picked up our new electric bikes and the 10,000 steps per day disappeared. Mike is in better shape for walking than I am now.
On the path up the hill were 14 very small chapels. Each one had a large statue in it of one of the stations of the cross. Seeing these at the side of the path in the trees or at the edge of a stone cliff added interest to the hike. The views from the top were pretty spectacular. Luckily the rain held off until we got to the bottom of the hill although we still got wet walking back to the car. You can see the white chapel on the top of the hill for miles including from the Chateau Valtice.
Seniors are treated well by the train lines and a 40 km (25 mile), seven stop train ride for two seniors and two bicycles costs us about $5.00 Cdn. On one ride, it was really difficult to tell from the internet the status of the trains. The area the train went through had been hit by a major tornado a month earlier and it had wrecked some of the tracks. We did get to our destination, got off the train with our bikes and then started our 40 km ride back to the campground. For the first half of the ride, we rode through areas that had been badly hit by the tornado. Reconstruction was well under way. Much of the wood and debris had been cleaned up. We saw one town with a huge new dumping area. They were still bringing truckloads of broken pieces of houses and other buildings to this dump. Much of the damage was to the roofs of buildings. A lot of the rebuilding of the roofs had started. It looked like they might have been working on many houses at once. They would do the strapping on all of them, then go back with the clay tiles and go from house to house. Mike thinks this might have been due to the supply of tiles. The most common sight on the ride were the roofs covered in colourful plastic to protect them from the weather while they were waiting for the clay tiles. The picture here is of a single building that was only partially damaged, while the houses on either side were completely gone. It was heartbreaking to see.
On a nicer subject, I am quite enjoying the food here. It is nicely flavourable without being spicy. I think that Mike would like it a little spicier. A common dish is beef with whipped cream which was a first for us. I must say that the Czech style of cappuccinos is not the greatest. They could learn from the Austrians.
There is much less English here, even among the young, than in most countries that we have visited so far. Sometimes you just have to laugh at the misunderstandings language causes. I was looking at a map of the Chateau Mikulov complex. This is the chateau where you are not allowed to ride your bicycle on the grounds. Imagine my surprise when I saw a “Bicycle Store” on the map just inside the entrance. As Mike quickly guessed, it was not a retail outlet or even a service place for bikes, it was simply a parking or storage area for bicycles. One word that causes problems through all the countries around here is “Frei”. You often see signs that say Parking Frei for example. It just means that parking is available, not that you don’t have to pay for it.
It is extremely common to have to pay to use the toilets in Czechia. The charge is usually about 50 cents Canadian. The bigger surprise for us, was that we have occasionally had restaurants charge us to use their toilets even though we ate a full meal there. That was unexpected.
I want to finish off this post by putting some minds at ease. In the US and Canada you often hear about how bad Covid is doing in Europe at the moment. To most North Americans, when they think of Europe they are thinking Western Europe, and those countries are certainly having their problems with the 4th wave of Covid-19. Mike and I are in Central Europe and the situation here is just fine. Our plan this year is to tour Czechia and Southern Germany. Have a look at the map below. This is from an EU website that we have been following for the last year that shows you, often by region of a country, how they are currently doing against the coronavirus. As you can see, our area is completely green, as in most of Germany. Last year it was this website that stopped us entering Czechia because at that time Prague was red. This year this area looks are good. If it makes everyone feel better, we do keep an eye on this and we will easily change our plans based on virus outbreaks. Luckily we don’t have any fixed plans.
To add a little update. Mike and I are now moving on to the far eastern border of Czechia and will be staying near the city of Ostrava. We have left the province of Southern Moravia which is one of the large tourists region within Czechia. I would think the other two are probably Southern Bohemia and of course Prague. We will get to both of those areas but not for quite a while yet.