Day Seven Ota and I both slept until 10:00. I felt great. Breakfast included a wonderful dish that Hana had introduced to me on the last trip, buchty. Buchty is cake that is baked in a baking pan. Hana made hers with sweetened cream cheese and Kozlovâ€™s red currants.
After breakfast, we drove to Kozlov where Hana and Otto joined us and led us to the best place in the pine forest to pick mushrooms. Karel is the real mycologist and he has imparted his knowledge to his daughter, Hana. The ground in the pine forest feels like it is carpeted with pine needles. The forest is dim and quiet. We started foraging at the bottom of the slope and worked our way slowly up. I had trouble seeing the mushrooms sometimes. I was the least experienced and the worst at finding them. The delicious ones camouflage themselves to look like their surroundings. Mushrooms come in all colors, shapes and sizes. There was not an abundance of fungi but careful searching reaped rewards. I found varieties that were bright yellow, mustard color and bright red with protruding white speckles. Hana told me that the brightly colored ones are mostly poison. Hana only approves mushrooms
with which she is familiar. Poisonous varieties can be deadly. Ota directed me to spots with good edible mushrooms. Hana and Otto were already far ahead of me but Ota lingered a bit to make sure I didnâ€™t get lost. We finally got a chance to play with the walkie-talkies I brought from home. I used a knife to cut and pry the caps and part of the stems without taking the root. If I did pull out a root, I was instructed to replant it so that more of the good mushrooms could grow back. Eventually, I filled my wicker basket with (at least half) edible mushrooms. By that time, Hana and Otto had already taken the car back to the cottage. Ota and I hiked through fields and pastures to the Kozlov cottage, not much over a mile.
When we returned to the cottage, Hana introduced me to their next-door neighbor. On my last visit to the Czech Republic, his family had brought over a kettle of pork-blood soup. I didn’t meet the neighbors then but I do remember that thick and hearty congealed hot soup and how much I enjoyed it. The neighbor’s sheep came up to the boundary fence when they saw their father. Ota demonstrated that I could feed them from across the fence. He ripped a large leafed Swiss chard stalk out of the ground and held it tightly, waving it over the sheep’s heads. They stood on their hind legs to chomp them from his hand. I followed Ota’s lead and I fed the two ewes and a ram like a wide-eyed kid in a petting zoo. Hana set Ota and me up at an outside table, in the inviting sunshine, to peel and clean our catch. Some of mine were spongy and damp. They seemed poisonous to me. Hana also rejected them. Together, the four of us had captured an abundance of mushrooms. While Ota and I prepared mushrooms, Hana and Otto prepared a supper feast indoors. While we sat in the warm sunshine enjoying the moment, the little neighbor girl came by with her own basket of mushrooms. She said that she had hunted at least 15 minutes. Her two big baskets were brimming with portabellas and champignons, the prized varieties. So much for my inflated ego. Misha Otto prepared delicious sauerkraut, which I had requested. Hana roasted a rabbit that Karel had sent from his farm. Hana also served potato dumplings. Again, I topped off my succulent meal with a medium strength Kozel beer. Beer is the preferred beverage for this traditional Czech repast.
I think we had hardly put a dent into peeling and trimming the mushrooms before sitting down to eat. Hana and Otto insisted that we leave the rest for them and go about our business of having fun. We drove to pick up Jirko at home. Then we set out to Lipnice Castle. Lipnice is less than a 30-minute drive from Ledeč nad Sázavou. Ota remembered that on my last visit, part of the castle was closed from visitors. This time, I was able to explore the parts of the castle I had missed. I remembered vividly our first visit. It made the castle seem friendlier to me in spite of its violent history and menacing legends. The 14th century castle has seen a long succession of owners. It has been destroyed in sieges several times in its past. It was left in near ruins during the 30 Years War in the mid 17th century when Swedes occupied it. The castle was reconstructed after that war but fires and lack of interest later took their toll. The Czech government has
owned it since 1953. The original plan was to rebuild Lipnice Castle to its original glory but historians now feel that such interventions would be a detriment to its historical importance.
The legends? “The Tale of the Black Man” tells us that a servant, disguised with black coal dust, robbed and killed previous owners of Lipnice Castle. The wife recovered briefly and described the criminal to another servant. He was found in the town, in a bar. Before they could hang him, he killed himself and his troubled soul wanders the grounds to this day. Another legend says that the wife of the knight who once owned Lipnice fell in love with the owner of a nearby castle. The knight had the lover killed and he sealed the remains in a nook in the chapel of Lipnice Castle. He made his wife attend services and positioned her directly beside that nook. Afterward, he walled her up too, while she was still alive. In the 18th century, two human skeletons were discovered in the walls during reconstruction of the chapel. One was wearing armor. The guard walls and towers offer magnificent views of the villages and rolling farmland all around. It was near 18:00 and we had the place practically to ourselves. In one upstairs gallery was a display of ridiculous and sacrilegious art. In one landscape, a Martian robot was playing with a flock of sheep. In another, Jesus was gambling with cards, behind a barn. The well and the cellar and the chapel were high points for me on this visit. The cellar was once the dining room but all the trappings are long since destroyed. The chapel’s frescos have been restored from original. Jesus is depicted rising mightily from ashes. A sow, on the other hand, is nursing Jews, depicting their low class status. I couldn’t leave without seeing the second floor toilet I remembered so well. I didn’t have to go inside to do so. It is a hole in a stone window seat, cantilevered over the castle lawn. I looked at it from the lawn, but not from directly beneath the hole. From Lipnice Castle, Ota, Jirko and I drove off to explore flooded Kamenna Lhota Rock Quarries nearby. Just as before, when we were seeking quarries, Ota drove off-road, meaning no road, and, as far as I’m concerned, no discernable landmark. We traveled through woods and across fields. Once again, we reached our mark.
Jirko and Me
In the forest, we could see a very large quarry through a chain-link fence topped by barbed wire. Jirko noted that it seemed strange that a flooded quarry would be so well protected. Although the barriers deterred us, it didn’t matter. That evening we explored, by foot, six other nearby quarries in the forest, each more beautiful than the next. We climbed walls and rock ledges through what still seemed like unmarked paths to me. Ota and Jirko climbed like monkeys and they helped me up one steep rock climb. Anyone can view the placid waters from the easily reached spots. We tackled those perches above and on level with the water where only daredevils can reach. We were still in the woods after dark, exploring the sixth quarry by auto headlight. I never once doubted he would do it but I marveled as Ota drove us out of the dark forest. We dropped Jirko at his home. He and I said our goodbyes. Jirko’s job is in a different town. Sometimes, he sleeps there during the week. Tomorrow, he will go out of town again and I will leave Europe during this week. Ota and I drove back to Kozlov to pick up Hana and Otto. They too would be beginning their workweek tomorrow and they would start from their Ledeč nad Sázavou home. While Ota and I prepared for tomorrow’s trip to Poland, Hana assembled a traditional dish of whipped scrambled eggs with sautéed mushrooms that we had picked this afternoon. Hana also dried some of the mushrooms for me to bring back to Washington. The four of us sat and ate and we downed some of Ota’s mixed red and white slivovice and also some of the bottled martini drink. I began to think how I would miss these times with the people I love. My time was drawing nigh.