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 konopiste

9 duben (apr)
A friend pulled out a train schedule as a few of us sat around after dinner, and declared that the train to Benesov, the town nearest to the Konopiste castle, left at 10:04 from Smichov station. I am usually careful about checking my transportation arrangements, but didn't bother this time since it sounded so definite and reliable. At the station the next morning, we four travelers found out otherwise and scrambled back to the metro to catch the 10:15 at the main train station. We ran to Platform 7 - a train was sitting there and we got on just in time. Although the overhead sign was not on, there was a paper sign listing the stops taped to the car door, and it included Benesov.

Oddly enough, there was no one else in our car and when we entered a tunnel, a very long tunnel, we discovered there were no lights on. The crew was apparently not expecting there to be passengers on the train. Nervous laughs and "Oh well"s all around, we settled in for the adventure. After about 15 minutes, we arrived at a railyard. Finally we found Silva, a railroad employee, who informed us the train was going to be cleaned. She was surprisingly pleasant and helpful, unusual for Czech service, and accompanied us on the next train returning to the main station, telling the tourists from Australia stories about her life on the tracks. We caught the 11:15 to Benesov and walked two kilometers through forest to the castle.

Konopiste was the home of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose claim to fame was being assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914 while waiting to inherit the throne, an incident which is reputed to have started WWI. Besides the decorative and historic artwork and furnishings, the castle was a museum of weaponry. He collected everything from crossbows, spears and knives to very ornately decorated guns and powder boxes from different countries. The suits of armor, including armor for horses, were fascinating. Ferdinand was also an avid hunter, an understatement at best, with an estimated count of hundreds of thousands of animals killed, some of the remains of which were mounted on the walls and spread on the floors. The rose garden was not yet in bloom, but a walk through the greenhouse on the grounds was a refreshing break.

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Mentioned by several students as one of the nicest Czech towns to live in,
I also took a day trip a few weeks ago to Liberec, a small city in the foothills of the northern Bohemian mountains. These are not what we'd call mountains in Colorado, but high enough for skiing, although they've had to make snow the last few years, and perfect for hiking.

At one time there was a dark castle of a building at the top of Jested mountain, but it deteriorated over time and has been replaced by a silver needle like tower. Czechs are proud of the round modern spike, but it seemed out of place in the rolling country hills. The sepia images of the old tower were more romantic. Approaching the lift, we trudged through a few feet of snow in an evergreen forest. A welcome respite from the constant activity, noise and people in the city - it felt like a breath of home. We rode the gondola to the top for the view, including hills in Poland and Germany, and a coffee.

Not a tourist center, the city was a hodgepodge of restored or preserved historic buildings, crumbling old structures, and sleek, modern blocks. The lovely town hall dominated the square; we weren't able to go in to see the huge stained glass windows, darkly visible from the outside. We spent a few pleasant hours circling outward from the town square.

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