How to put flesh on a skeleton

The building front left is where Markéta Pichlerova lived and from where her mother ran Cesky Krumlov's bathhouse
The building front left is where Markéta Pichlerova lived and from where her mother ran Cesky Krumlov’s bathhouse

Markéta felt ambivalent as she skipped down the cobbled path to the river. Tendrils of smoke lazily drifted from town chimneys to dissipate into a pastel blue sky, temporarily lifting her spirits. Only to be dragged down to the pit of her stomach as the memory of roughened hands eagerly exploring the rounded curves of her body intruded upon her mood. Unknown to her, these deprivations imposed by her mother’s avarice would soon appear nothing more than a bother compared to the tragic consequences of soulless eyes peering down on her from above.

For a change, Don Julius was quiet, composed, comported, as he gazed out over Cesky Krumlov from a high castle window. Puffy white clouds pocked the horizon, punctuated only by the St Vitus steeple anchoring the medieval town in the folds of the Vltava River. Usually, he would rage. Anger at his father Emperor Rudolf for imprisoning him in this castle; fury at being banished from Prague to a backwater rural town, an explosion of violence at the curtailment of his desire to gratify every depraved wish and whim. 

The which Annabella's house (green) where she shielded Markéta from Don Julius' wrath
The which Annabella’s house (green) where she shielded Markéta from Don Julius’ wrath

But now his wintry eyes rested calmly, forebodingly, on the wisp of a girl, the movements of her body unintentionally sensuous as she made her way down to the river to do the bathhouse washing. His focus backtracked along the path she had walked, finally pausing on the house he knew belonged to the local bloodletter – the medical practitioner given the task of curing his madness. And like the gathering clouds of a cataclysmic Bohemian storm that could whip the sparkling Vltava River into an uncontrolled, destructive force, a plan began to form in his crippled mind…

Novels as resource

Author Linda Lafferty’s remarkable tale of Markéta Pichlerová and her relationship with Emperor Rudolf II’s illegitimate son Julius Caesar d´Austria fills me with wonder as I stand on the Lazebnicky Bridge. The Cesky Krumlov castle and chateau from where Don Julius no doubt first spied Markéta, towers over me. Looking to my right, I can almost feel Markéta’s presence in what used to be her home… and Cesky Krumlov’s bathhouse. This is where her mother, at remuneration, provided for the hygiene and ablution needs of clients such as the local baker, butcher or burgher. It was not an uncommon practice for these upstanding and generous patrons to indulge in playful relaxation with sprightly and accommodating attendants while soaking their troubles away.

Still in awe of the memories, the history, the ghosts that imbibe every building, every structure, every home with the passions, the bliss and the anguish of those who walked this same bridge before me, I turn back towards the Old Town. Turning right onto Dlouha Street, I stop outside the witch Annabella’s green-painted house… The only woman in Cesky Krumlov capable or brave enough to provide succour to Markéta in her time of need, shielding the Bohemian beauty in her home beneath the dark shadow of Don Julius’ wrath.

Travel is not merely a one-dimensional visual experience, but an astonishingly rich, multi-layered journey of exploration!

The windows from where the incarcerated Don Julius would gaze upon Cesky Krumlov
The windows from where the incarcerated Don Julius would gaze upon Cesky Krumlov

Books, and particularly historic novels, have become one of my most treasured travel essentials. The emotions I gain from reading books like Lafferty’s The Bloodletter’s Daugther imbues the mortar and bricks, forests and dales, oceans and lakes that I visit with feeling. It honours the lives of those who populated these places at a time when my genealogy was probably no more than a speck on the horizon of life. It pays tribute to incredibly momentous individuals, those who loved, hated, showed compassion, committed cruelty, excelled in bravery, slunk away in cowardice, felt elation, and collapsed in hopelessness. It is the flesh that fills out and gives substance to the scaffolding of bones.

Novels provide depth to the travel experience. What might have been a few ticks on a bucket list becomes an immersive experience. An unshrouding of the past that exponentially enhances the traveller’s enjoyment of what is visible in the present. Travel is not merely a one-dimensional visual experience, but an astonishingly rich, multi-layered journey of exploration!

Even before you set out on your physical journey, delve deep into the magical words of storytellers, discovering bygone times populated with amazing characters.

Recommended Reads

The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek (Czech Republic)
The Memoirs of a Prague Executioner by Josef Svatek (Czech Republic)
The Bloodletter’s Daugther
by Linda Lafferty (Czech Republic)
The Empty Mirror by J. Sydney Jones (Austria)
Altdorf by J.K. Swift (Switzerland)
The Burning of Isobel Key by Jen McConnel (Scotland)
Sweet Offerings by Chan Ling Yap (Malaysia)
The Rice Mother by Rani Manicka (Malaysia)
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (India)
Wolf of the Plains by Conn Iggulden (Mongolia)
Cloud of Sparrows by Takashi Matsuoka (Japan)
Shike by Robert Shea (Japan)
Shōgun by James Clavell (Japan)

6 comments

  1. Well written and so true: “An unshrouding of the past that exponentially enhances the traveller’s enjoyment of what is visible in the present. Travel is not merely a one-dimensional visual experience, but an astonishingly rich, multi-layered journey of exploration!” HAPPY TRAVELS!

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