"If you build it, they will come"
—Field of Dreams
HISTORY OF THE HOSTEL
In 1990, Cal Zukowski, a Canadian artist, came to Cesky Krumlov on his way to study art in Berlin. After only a few hours of setting foot on the cobblestones, he decided to ditch Berlin, and set up his easel here, in a town that many describe as "the Europe we had in mind when we thought of Europe." Four hours south of Prague, built in a valley and set off by a bend in the Vltava, Cesky Krumlov's castle and tower literally grow from a clifftop, lording over this town of spires, ceramic-tiled rooftops, crooked alleyways, and cobblestone streets. Swallows return every summer from the south to make their nests in the crumbled facades of ancient houses. It's a town that revels in its age, reveals itself slowly.
Cal rented a flat, and painted for year with local artists. As art (like crime) doesn't pay, Cal had to think of another way to support this bohemian lifestyle. As luck would have it, an ancient (1569) little house on the river came up for sale...An abandoned, dark, gloomy hole, replete with mushrooms growing in the hallways, a garbage tip in the garden, and water damage everywhere. For someone with artistic vision, the little house promised big opportunity.
For two years, Cal repaired plaster, insulated, set in water and heating, installed windows and carpets, and bought some beds. U Vodnika Hostel ("at the water troll's house) was born. At that time, there weren't many backpackers about, but Cal believed that they would come, and that Cesky Krumlov would become a major backpacking destination. In 1992, UNESCO named Cesky Krumlov "one of the most important towns in Europe in regards to historical conservation." In 1993, Cal's future wife, Carolyn, klunk-klunked into town with her rolling suitcase, and found the little hostel on the river. After a few days, she was not only smitten with the town, but with Cal. Although she had to take her flight back to the States, break up with her boyfriend and quit her job, she vowed to come back. They were married in 1994, and now have three houses, two children, one cat, and still no car or television.
As you can see, Cesky Krumlov can change your plans, and change your life. Perhaps it's the way the Vltava tips in on itself, or maybe it's history breathing its musty magic from the walls and streets.
After a few years of running the 8-bed Hostel U Vodnika, and sending away more people than they could accommodate, another lucky break came Cal and Carolyn's way. Two more abandoned houses came up for sale nearby -- one of which was the town bakery in the late 1700's. Luckily, they had a few talented Australian backpackers living with them who could help rebuild these houses to make Hostel Krumlov House. The walls were quite literally falling down, but in less than six months, the new hostel was opened. One of the Australian backpackers, a whiz in photography and design (responsible for the "look" of the Krumlov House brochures and maps), continued to live here for six years as manager, and quite literally checked in her future husband.
HOSTEL KRUMLOV HOUSE
What makes Krumlov House special is that it was designed by artistic and visionary backpackers. It has been built slowly, with care, and has never increased capacity...only space. It only houses up to 25 people at a time. The original hostel, U Vodnika, is now Carolyn and Cal's home with a river-side apartment for Krumlov House guests.
Walking into Krumlov House through the Hobbit-inspired Dragon Door, a guest is immediately hit by the warmth of the ochre walls, the warm wooden staircase, and a commanding view over the town's tiled rooftops. The guest is greeted warmly by the hostel managers, who are selected from guests who stay with us. Management isn't employed in the traditional sense..they just extend their stay in exchange for work. There is a preference for couples to run the hostel, as they get their own room with private facilities, good pay (10-12 % of gross earnings depending on length of stay), and autonomy in doing the regular chores of cleaning and reception. They also get a day or two off a week, so that Carolyn can gauge what's new in the world of backpacking. As luck would have it, all of the managers come with a usable, fun talent. The latest managerial couple is a five-star chef, and her partner is an industrial designer.
As guests are checked in, they are given a map of the town with all it has to offer, shown to the large kitchen with free coffee and tea, and brought to the lounge with its collection of games, musical instruments, DVDs and book exchange, and then to their freshly-made bed. This is usually when someone decides to extend their stay by one or two days.
The typical backpacker's sustenance -- bread, cheese and cornflakes -- is forgotten in this town of cheap and fantastic eateries. For once, a backpacker can feel like a real person again. Sometimes the guests just want to stay in, and that's when impromptu, inspired cook fests happen in the Krumlov House kitchen.
Krumlov House tries to stay as unplugged as possible, with little noise or distraction. There are very few rules: no smoking, no shoes. There are no lockers, and an honor code set firmly in place. This has worked well for years, especially as no one is allowed into the hostel if they're not a guest.
Krumlov House keeps with the times. Guests can expect free wifi, and the website is mobile, for access to all info at the click of a button.http://www.krumlovhostel.com/?wptheme=mobile
This is a hostel for grown-ups of all ages. Pub crawls? Nights for the absinthe-minded? They're over it.
KRUMLOV HOUSE GUESTS
It takes a special type of person to go four hours south of Prague in search of Bohemian rhapsody. Professionals and non-professionals of every nationality sit around Krumlov House's kitchen table, share stories and a pitcher of beer from the pub next door. Many guests have returned after a few years with wives and children in tow; some have made Cesky Krumlov their home and have formed a small, supportive community.
Krumlov House cares about the environment. They initiated eco-hostels.org as an information portal for green-minded travellers and hostel owners.
Carolyn, a writer and editor in her former life, created The Literary Bohemian -- an online, travel-inspired literary journal :www.literarybohemian.com
For more information see the Hostel Krumlov House website.
Photos courtesy of Hostel Krumlov House.