Time Travel Saturday: Bohemian Canoe Trip 2014 + What’s a Vodník?

Featured image thanks to Expats.cz

Flashback to my early days learning Czech.

“Pojedeme na vodu!”

We’re going on the water? What does that mean?

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It turns out “to go on the water” means “to go canoeing,” a Czech tradition. Conjure up an image of an idyllic one-week trip with your friends, a few canoes, beer bottles tied to the sides and being cooled by trailing along in the water. Your life on the move for a week while you spend time in nature.

Something completely foreign to my American upbringing.

I had been canoeing before, but maybe for an hour or two at summer camp or in Colorado. Not for a week. And I had no idea what was involved.

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I went with Gymnázium Tišnov at the end of my first year. We stayed at a large camp, meant for schools, with log cabins and communal meals. The first day we canoed 9 kilometers, I think on the Sázava River. By the end of it, my arms were totally sore and exhausted. We got back to camp to eat dinner and they told us the next day we’d be going 17.

I remember thinking, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!”

Every day we did a little more for four or five days, going back to camp each night. And I got through it. One of the most fun parts of canoeing was needing to find some way to amuse ourselves, and becoming a human jukebox on the water. We just sang and sang all day.

It was on this trip I learned what the character vodník is. Oh, you’ve never heard of it either? Let me enlighten you.

 

Some people say he’s evil, some people say not too much. It’s confusing. He’s a water spirit you’ll see endlessly in the form of stone statues at the edge of the water if you go canoeing in Czech Republic. He protects the water, but he also likes to drown people and put their souls in a cup. Yes, a cup – why not a small chest, a safe, even a vase? Don’t our souls deserve more than that? 😜

But he can also love. In one legend, a woman goes under the water to be with him (no word on whether she could magically breathe down there, because it didn’t kill her) and they had a son.

Either way, I’d beware.

When we weren’t “on the water,” we made day trips to three important Czech cities.

Český Krumlov

 

Český Krumlov is a charming, Unesco Heritage city with narrow stone streets and lots of cute shops (many of them full of souvenirs or trdelník, a Czech dessert of baked and sugared dough). Although it’s touristy, it’s beautiful to wander for a couple hours getting lost in the windy streets. It’s surrounded by the Vltava River (which famously runs through Prague!). Lots of streets run up and down and you don’t want to eat too much trdelník so you don’t get out of breath. At the very top of the hill is the 13th-century castle which is quite beautiful.

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View of the city from the castle:

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A view of part of the castle and Vltava from a high point:

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Telč

Unlike Český Krumlov, it’s completely flat! But it may be a welcome change…

Here’s the main square, full of cute colorful buildings (some date from the 16th century Italian Renaissance) and restaurants. It’s been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1992. It’s quieter and more relaxed than other cities and also great for a day of wandering, eating ice cream and sipping coffee while looking out at the buildings. It doesn’t have a castle, but it has an old chateau.

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Třeboň

It’s flat like Telč, also with a tightly-packed main square full of colorful buildings (where in Czech Republic isn’t? But it never gets less charming). It’s a small town surrounded by ponds as it’s a famous fishing area. One of the highlights is the Regent brewery. If you’re lucky you can take a tour, but I didn’t have time for that. If so, you can go to its stock store and buy a variety of its beers for cheap.

It’s not difficult to wander here for a few hours, perfectly at ease.

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A quick view of the Renaissance chateau grounds:

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Every reasonably large (and even quite small – like Lomnice!) Czech cities, towns and villages have a castle or chateau, and while I get tired of churches after a while, I never get tired of these royal residences.

We also passed through Tábor for about an hour, and since this time I’ve never stopped wanting to return. I found out they have a chocolate festival in the fall, but I haven’t had the chance to visit it in the last two years.

Spring is in full swing now – it has rained like crazy a few days this week. We don’t have to “go on the water” – it’s all around us 😝

Categories Czech Customs, summer goings-onTags , , , , , , ,

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