Lessons from a Czech Forest: My Accidental 15km Hike in Toms and Jeans

I was visiting the magical medieval village of Český Krumlov in the Czech Republic, set in the gorgeous rolling hills south of Prague. Everything about my stay in the village thus far had been strange and wonderful. I had written down walking directions to get from the bus station to my hostel and they went like this: “cross the town square, veer left at the fountain, go straight, cross over the footbridge with the castle on your right. On the other side, take a right and go through the main castle gate.” I’m telling you, magic.

It was my second day in the village and I’d heard that the surrounding hills were quite nice, so I bought a map from a little store and sat down to take a look at it. On the map, there was a mysterious-looking tower surrounded by a sea of green that looked intriguing. “Klet,” it said. I popped back into the store to ask the lady at the counter about the tower. “Yes, Klet,” she said, “There you will find an old tower with beautiful scenic views.” Perfect. Eyeing it on the map, it didn’t look very far – just six inches away! A leisurely afternoon saunter. I stopped at a bakery to buy some bread, cheese, and water, and I was on my way.

I walked back through the main castle gate, took a left, crossed the little footbridge, went straight, veered right at the fountain, through the square and proceeded up the road away from the magical village of Český Krumlov. The houses grew farther and farther apart as I headed up the slope and away from civilization. The scenery gradually changed from medieval stone to lush green. The path I was meant to follow was marked by little green swatches of paint decorating the occasional fence post and tree trunk. After walking for thirty minutes I thought, surely I must be almost there! This majestic tower will appear in view at any time!

I carried on, sweating profusely in the Southern Bohemian sun. I’d considered the landscape I had been walking through to be pretty forested already, but then the path took me to a small picnic area with tables, and I saw that, beyond this point, the real forest began. The path ahead was a steep upward climb on a thin dirt path.

I sat down on one of the picnic tables to eat my cheese and bread. As I looked around the picnic area, I noticed little distance markers on a post nearby. The one pointing downhill said “Český Krumlov, 4 kilometers.” The one pointing towards the thick forest said “Klet, 3.5 kilometers.” How far is 3.5 kilometers? I wondered, wishing I had spent more time learning the metrics that the world actually uses. Looking back at this moment with the wisdom of hindsight, I try to communicate telepathically to my clueless, cheese sandwich-eating self: be logical! I say to her, you know that 5 km is 3.1 miles, do the math! It’s not that hard! But at the time I concluded, I don’t know how far either place is. I’m over halfway there, may as well carry on!

I set off on the loose dirt path, up the hill, into the forest. At times the path meandered over piles of sticks and rocks and over little streams. Up and up I climbed. Whenever my confidence faltered, I reminded myself of the ancient tower and pastoral view I would be rewarded with when I finally reached Klet.

Forest, forest, more forest. My determination began to disintegrate with each passing minute, but I forged ahead, knowing that the way back was also lengthy. The path grew steeper and steeper. Just up ahead, I lied to myself, just up ahead is the tower. Eventually, of course, it was true. I scrambled up a particularly nasty stretch of tree roots and piled rocks and there it was: the famed Klet, Klet of dreams.

Well, the tower actually turned out to be pretty standard looking, as far as towers go – round, stone, with a neighboring two-story building that has a restaurant on the first floor and a patio on the second. The tower was built in the 19th century, so not exactly ancient, but the internet does say that it is “the oldest stone-made observation tower in Bohemia,” so that’s something! I glanced at the view, which was mainly just the green of the surrounding forest I’d spent the past few hours scrambling through, and then went to the restaurant to buy a large bottle of water and a tall glass of Sprite. At first I was angry – so sweaty and so angry. I came all this way for this?! But the anger soon gave way to laughter (which was somewhat hysterical, probably due to dehydration). Ancient tower! Pastoral view! I laughed, too, in despair at the knowledge that I still had to walk all the way back down to Český Krumlov. I lingered over my glass of Sprite, ate the last of my (now quite warm) cheese and bread, and began the long descent back to Český Krumlov.

The forest seemed to take on a glow for the remaining 7.5 kilometers, and when the path turned to solid, paved ground once more, I found myself literally skipping for joy. I hadn’t known what I was after, but in that moment, somehow I knew I had found it.

 

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