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Drunken Sleepwalking in Abandoned Castles

The Art of Being Lost in Europe Whoa…where am I? And why am I alone and intoxicated in this dark castle right now?

I’ve never sleepwalked before. It’s a bit weird. As I snap out of my dream state, confusion hits me like reaching the bottom of a long page in a novel without processing any words on it. Where is everyone? Why am I drunk? …Whose castle is this? As I look around I realize all questions are moot at this point. Who cares, I’m in a castle! Chalk up a win for sleepwalking!

Well, not to say that waking up at 3 AM completely inebriated and stumbling around unsure which European country I’m in classifies as sleepwalking—but it sure feels the same.

I walk past a row of statues holding crosses and swords. The moonlight hits their eyes and I catch them staring at me. Sorry, is this your castle? Don’ mind me, I’m just passing through…The only sounds in the night are my fumbled steps over the cobblestones and the steady stream of a distant water fountain. Electric lanterns are scattered throughout the halls and open plazas bringing texture to the brick walls and old arches over the doorways. On the other side of curved windows a small town sleeps quietly below.

This isn’t Berlin…Aren’t I supposed to be in Germany right now? To my right there is a large wooden board jutting out from the decaying brickwork. Hey, a map! That should tell me where I am! I stagger over to a strange chart of the castle in which I happen to be the sole guest. There aren’t even any real words on it; just multi-colored circles with triangles pointing in different directions and some strange lines zigzagging around a little man standing with arrows pointing all over him. “Oh right, that's where I am!” I say aloud, nodding my head. “I’m in the hidden level of the shapes castle! Clearly.”

I pass through a large gate onto a stone bridge. Looking over my shoulder I catch my shadow darting across the coat of arms above the archway. I let out a malty burp that smells like an egg got drunk in a schnitzel house. I almost keel over walking into it. “Whoa!” I shout wafting the air and bracing myself on the side of the bridge. I look over to my right and into a dried-up moat that circles the castle. It’s full of trees, shrubs and…a bear! A large brown bear saunters over and looks up at me with a scowl like the smell just woke him up from hibernation. “Aha! I remember where I am now!” I laugh aloud. “I’m in the Czech Republic!”

Česky Krumlov to be precise. It’s all coming back now (possibly because I’m finally sobering up). I came here the day before and scrapped my plans to go to Berlin because of a comment a British guy made to me about “a cool medieval castle town” while I was checking out of my hostel in Prague.

“…just don’t feed the moat bears when you’re beer rafting those Czech Castles.” “Oh, yeah. Of course,” I remember saying like I knew what he was talking about. An American came up to me after overhearing our conversation and within an hour the two of us were on a train to the southern Czech Republic without even knowing each other’s names. And that’s why I’m so drunk! The American (his name's Sam I eventually find out) and I spent all yesterday in a raft full of beer, floating down the river that wraps around this castle I’m in! The local who rented us the raft simply kicked our dingy down the river without life jackets or any instruction besides: “Buy beer on river. I find you later.” We turned every little beer shack along the river into a contest to see how many locals we could break from their iron-like inability to smile (pretty easy when you get to know them, they just don’t like to “smile in public”—it means you’re a foreigner). I remember passing out before the sun went down but not quite sure how I ended up in my current predicament: alone in a castle, staring at a bear.

The bear continues to stare back at me as I laugh to myself. He then wrinkles his nose, lets out a grunt and waddles back into the dark bushes inside the moat. I should do the same. Time to retreat back to my fortress and enjoy it before the sun rises and brings the day’s tourists with it—European castles are definitely best experienced while drunken sleep walking.

John Early July 2008 Česky Krumlov, Czech Republic ~~~

The view of Cesky Krumlov (UNESCO World Heritage Site) from atop its castle.

One of the brown bears in the old castle moat.

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