After a wet few days heading towards the Austrian border, our last stop was to be at Vyšší Brod, famed for its large Cistercian Monastery and precious library of books with editions more than 700 years old. Vyšší Brod is just 7kms from the nearest Austrian town of Weigetschlag, so it was good to keep a little bit of momentum.
We couldn’t leave the campsite at pretty Frymburk until the pouring rains abated mid-morning so arrived via slick-wet and forested roads into town where we found very local camping 100 yards from the abbey’s gigantic wooden doors, just as the monks were set to open up at 12.30.
Except they didn’t. The advertised opening hours on the website were not in tune with the seasonal hours on the notice board. No monks, no books, no Gregorian chanting and no mead. Not today.
At a bit of a loss, as we’d already paid for a night’s stay, we wandered along the river bank and up into town. Clearly the main business seemed to be summertime canoe and rafting rentals given the numbers of craft safely stashed on metal racks.
Then a strange sight greeted us. At the very top of the town, past the last house, a makeshift secondary town of market stalls and discount centres was heaving with Chinese and Vietnamese traders and Austrian shoppers. We ventured into the throng and discovered machete knives, Barbie dolls, shampoo and cat food for sale.
Simon saw a couple with a basket full of deodorant and car wheel trims. It was bizarre.
Advertising suggested cheap booze and cigarettes, which given Austrian prices would draw people across the border for a ‘duty free’ experience, but the shops seemed to sell neither. With the Asian traders came massage parlours, nail bars and the inevitably loud hawking and spitting. We didn’t hang around.
Back in town we found a local brewery and asked about the market. It seems to be a daily event but most popular at weekends with visiting Austrians, and not with locals.
Indeed when we passed it on Monday morning the bright metallic garden gnomes and tatty plastic garden decorations still lined the roadside, but no one was evidently shopping.
After the Czech Republic’s pristine landscape and less evident consumerism it was an incongruous sight on which to leave the country.