“Glacial corries contrast with bare-stone ridges, large alpine meadows with timber cottages down in the valleys, the murmur of waterfalls with the mysterious silence of peat bogs, while regal Mount Sněžka, queen of the peaks, lords it over her lofty realm. All this awaits you in the Krkonoše.” [CzechTourism.com]
After reading the passage above, how can you not want to explore this place?
The Krkonoše is the highest mountain range in the Czech Republic, the most talked about, the most visited, the funnest to say aloud. Forming the border between the historical lands of Bohemia and Silesia, the Krkonoše mountains are important to both the Czechs and the Polish.
According to Czech legend, a giant mountain spirit named Krakonoš lives in these mountains and protects them, often appearing in famous fairytales and sometimes to whimsical hikers. Whether or not you spot Krakonoš lurking in these lands will depend on your attention to detail, mountaineering expertise, and degree of imagination.
But either way, the Krkonoše are a fantastic place for fresh air and elevated spirits. It’s a truly special place worthy of regular visits.
The journey begins…
We awake Saturday morning with an itch, a feeling of wanting to move, and we walk 35 kilometers that day. We are on a mission to cover as much of the Krkonoše as our legs will allow, stopping only for snacks, photographs, and to watch kids running down the mountains.
The pinnacle of our journey is walking through the valley, where I experience color the way a child does when she plays around mixing paints.
For most of the walk, the mountains maintain varying shades of blue — azure, indigo, cerulean, cobalt. But, when the sun sets here, the mountains take on their true nature: ethereal, prismatic, as incredible as a valley of rainbows.
At sunset the scene changes so spontaneously that you never quite feel in control of what you’re seeing, only in awe. Indigos quickly change to bright pinks and the azures are now an exquisite purple palette, from deep plums to faded lilacs. In an instant, the cobalt becomes laced with turquoise, accented by golden hues and fiery oranges. It’s like watching a masterpiece being painted in front me, but the artist is invisible. I can only see the brushstrokes which reveal the fickle nature of the painter, unsure of which combination of colors she will settle on.
I can’t help myself from stopping every few steps to exclaim, “Just…wow!”
Thirty five kilometers give us intimate moments with time. Time all to ourselves, much of which is spent talking about how lucky we are to be humans, to have the capacity to experience beauty. To have the ability to appreciate the way the light falls on one side of the mountain, how the swirl of clouds resembles the cosmos, how depth-of-field makes the mountains look like onrushing waves, how the moon looks so surreal, making an early appearance, hanging low and full, knowing.
I’m acutely aware of the way my perspective changes the more I photograph beauty around me. Once you’ve seen life through the lens of a camera, you are constantly viewing the world as if you’d never put that camera down. Squinting, seeking, observing, judging, perfecting.
Exhausted at the end of the day, we find a small pub at the bottom of the mountain. Even though we’re far from home, Filip knows two people there, shares memories and embraces. One manages the bar, an old friend from Jablonec and reminder of his childhood. The other is a blacksmith, a regular at the coffee shop where he used to work. Filip still remembers what the man used to order, but I’ve already forgotten it.
The blacksmith is there with a large group of men, drinking jubilantly and toasting to the birth of a new baby–a Czech tradition. I love watching Filip talk to people. He is so relaxed, so fluid, engaging, engaged, charming. People love him and it shows, and I know I’ll never be as good at communicating with his people.
When we get back to Harrachov, my limbs are so tired and my mind is in a daze. I really don’t know how I can continue to place one foot in front of the other, but I do, and I’m grateful that I can push my limits and they will move.
The next day we take our time waking up. Travel channel, yoga, coffee, pizza, fresh basil. After, we assume our tourist personas and go to a pivní lázně (beer spa) to soak our aching muscles.
The beer bath is filled with warm water, herbs, hops, and beer, the miracle liquid which Czechs swear is capable of fixing any problem. The beer is said to have healing properties that regenerate your skin and rejuvenate your body and mind. I don’t know if I buy into it, but I’m a sucker for anything advertised as healing.
So we tiptoe into the steamy water of our private bath and wait for a transformation. A few minutes later there is a knock at the door–the lady from reception carrying two frothy glasses of beer. Of course you can’t sit in a beer spa without beer! So we sit in beer, sipping draft beer from the spa’s minipivovar (microbrewery) and, I have to say, I don’t hate it.
After the bath, we are wrapped in warm towels and told to lie down on beach chairs, while they pour us another beer from the tap. I can feel my heart pounding in my head, my legs, my arms, my chest, my fingertips. And I’m not sure if I’m healed or transformed, but I definitely feel something. In fact, these past two days, I’ve felt everything–from aching muscles, to feelings of awe, and an awareness of being alive—and maybe that’s the experience of healing.
This post is dedicated to Denis, a great travel companion