I kept trying to write this blog post quickly, and it kept devolving into a long essay because, well, it’s hard not to do that when you love to write. So I’m trying to make this into a *photo* essay (not without some relevant text, of course) since I’m pretty sure the internet is actually just for photos now.
When we found out our friend Jon was marrying his sweetheart, Kasia, in Poland this summer–and that we were invited–we knew we had to go. The timing, as it always seems to be, wasn’t perfect. Matt was job-hunting (he’s now employed!), and I’m still in graduate school, so the issue for us wasn’t so much setting aside the time as the money. But when would one of our friends be inviting us to their wedding in a castle (yes, you read that right–a castle) in Poland ever again? Not anytime soon.
So in late June, Matt and I flew into Prague, exploring some of Staré Město (Old Town).
The next morning, we boarded a large charter bus with other wedding guests for the drive into rural Poland. Out the windows were wheat fields, still green. I’d never seen green wheat before, wheat still growing, flexing in the wind.
The castle itself, Zamek Czocha (Zamek means “castle” in Polish), was built in the Middle Ages to guard the borders of Bohemia when Lake Leśnia, which surrounds it on three sides, was still a free-flowing river. It has since been dammed into a small lake, and today is managed by the Polish army.
Polish weddings, we learned as a result of being invited to one, are two days long. The first day is the ceremony and reception, and the second day is the poprawiny, or a continuation of the reception.
Jon and Kasia pulled out all the stops. Everyone staying at the castle, which was converted into a hotel and event venue many years ago, got back on the charter bus to get to the historic cathedral, which was a few towns away, for the Catholic ceremony.
When we returned to Zamek Czocha, there was champagne waiting. A beautiful oak garland was strung up across the entryway, and
castle staff knights were there to greet the wedding party.
Tables were set up for us guests in two different rooms, both beautifully (royally!) decorated. Endless, decadent courses were served well into the evening as the band played and everyone danced to songs in Polish and English.
Some of us even took the opportunity to explore a few of the castle’s secret passageways…
We eventually snuck back to our room, but not before taking some delicious pudding with
The next morning, Matt and I did our best to rally. We’d heard about a nearby shop where kayaks were available for rent to explore Lake Leśnia. We set off on foot down the two-lane road, and eventually came upon the place.
Unfortunately, no one there seemed to speak English. Fortunately for me, one man did speak some German, which makes sense, considering Lesna is not even 20 miles from the border with Germany. Again, fortunately for everyone, kayak in German and Polish is kajak, and pronounced the same.
After a couple hours on the lake, we rushed back to the castle to prepare for more wedding festivities. This day was slightly less formal, but the food and dancing were just as spectacular.
And just like that, it was time to bid Zamek Czocha–and the view from our window–adieu.
Back in Prague, Matt and I stayed at a lovely apartment in Nové Město (New Town). We took the subway to a different castle–Prague castle, which is essentially a complex of the old palace and official buildings on a hill above the rest of the city, and across the Vltava River. Being atop the hill offered spectacular views of Prague.
While at Prague Castle, we paid a visit to the Lobkowicz Palace and Museum–home to beautiful portraiture and many other collections–with my absolute favorite being Beethoven’s original manuscript for his Eroica Symphony.
Over the course of a couple days, we also visited Franz Kafka’s statue and the Museum of the Senses, an illusion-based museum whose gimmicky exhibits proved fun nevertheless.
We also enjoyed several excellent meals in Prague. Below are just two photos. On the left, I’m enjoying one half of a duck with dumplings and potatoes; on the right, venison with carrots in a red wine sauce and a cocktail of black currant juice, soda, and Becherovka, a Czech liquor with herbal and spiced flavors.
Other than the wedding, my favorite activity of the trip was the bike tour we took through the Czech countryside on our last day in Europe. We took the subway to meet our guide, Lukáš, who drove us a little over an hour outside the city. We began by biking through a traditional country village.
The whole trip was so scenic–even without the multiple castles (yes, more castles!) we stopped by.
We biked through Bohemian Paradise, a UNESCO Geopark.
And we stopped for a small lunch and a snack between castles. Lukáš even encouraged us to pull over to eat wild raspberries growing alongside the bike trail.
Matt and I now have more pictures of the two of us than ever! But this one might be my favorite:
I can’t believe how gorgeous the Czech Republic and Poland countrysides were, and I feel so lucky we got to visit them this summer. I see another (hopefully longer!) Europe trip in our not-too-distant future.
Love to all.