A walk from Světlá nad Sázavou to Lipnice nad Sázavou. This post is the story of a Vysočina trip I took in 2020. I never had time to recall it properly, but it deserves some of my attention. It’s the story of a green hill scattered with ponds, a one-of-a-kind monument carved in rocks, and lots of apple trees along the way. This post smells like summer.
22 Aug 2020. Světlá nad Sázavou strikes me as a weird place. At least, that’s the very first impression I get as I hop off a delayed train under a blanket of silver clouds. The summer air is sticky and damp.
The main station (yes, there’s also a second one, there’s a reason I’m saying this) vaguely reminds me of Šakvice, the Pálava village I travelled to a couple of times last year, in South Moravia. Weirdly enough, it also reminds me of tiny, rural stations in Romania. I would only see them briefly from the window: long-distance trains to and from Bucharest wouldn’t stop there, but sometimes they’d slow down enough for you to catch glimpses of them: a concrete platform, a bench, a small house for a station building, a rusty sign.
The station is empty and silent. No one got off at my stop but a couple with a big suitcase. He is a middle-aged man, she looks Asian. I wonder what brought them here. A freight train is parked on the racks as if waiting for the green light: I can’t see the end of it.
I hop across the train racks toward the station building. The station sign is old and vintage – I love these old station signs. The čekárna (waiting hall) is microscopic, half taken up by the usual coffee machine with a giant picture of the usual red-haired sponsor girl merrily sipping coffee on one side of the machine. I always wonder how old that girl is now: she was already sipping coffee when I moved to the Czech Republic four years ago.
I step out of the station, cross the bridge over the Sázava river, and continue to the city centre. The centre, small and collected, spreads on both sides of a bridge. Its highlights include a beautiful zámek (castle), the main church (overlooking the main square), ‘Na bradle’ high street, and a local museum. The river view from the main bridge makes for the prettiest view, if you ask me.
On a brisk walk down the high street I tell myself that Světlá must be quite well known for glass and crystal manufacturing. That would explain why, out of the dozen or so shops lining the main street, at least four are crystal shops.
Radostovinský kopec and all its ponds
I walk back toward the riverside, and head up Wolkerová ulice to the castle park, a mosaic of footpaths, tiny bridges, and ponds. I duly get lost around the park, then head back to the main path, on to the fields out of town.
I know what I’m doing, I have a plan. I’m heading south to Radostovinský kopec, the hilly area that sits between Světlá and Lipnice nad Sázavou. I walk through the small village called Závidkovice and, before I know, I’m delving through the woods.
Radostovinský kopec is as hard to pronounce as it is delightful to walk through. It’s an actual hill (kopec in Czech) entirely covered in woods and dotted with quarry ponds that makes you want to stop by each and every one of them. It’s the ponds that make up the route – at least, that’s definitely what makes up mine. There’s a very good reason this kind of hoppipolla through water basins works this well, and it’s that many of the ponds are named after numbers. I didn’t exactly stop at each and every one of them, but even zigzagging off the main trail to check out a few of them makes for a pleasant walk – mostly uphill, that is.
The first pond I come across is Hranice. I’m about to walk past it, when I glimpse something through the trees, so I take a few steps back, and head down the steep-ish trail to the shore. It looks peaceful and deserted, the water as still and flat as a mirror. The rocks are so vain, staring at themselves in it from all sides. I stand there for a while, and imagine what it must look like from above: a shiny, greenish-blue gem in a sea of dark green.
Pond number two is almost adjacent to Hranice, and is actually called Pětka, which sounds like ‘number five’ (pět is ‘five’ in Czech). I sit on a rock overlooking the pond. Everywhere is silent but for a girl in a kayak, lazily rowing from one rocky side of the pond to the other. A couple of friends are standing by, keeping an eye on her. I can’t help wondering how she has lowered the kayak into the water and, especially, slipped herself into it. I leave before I can overthink it, and move on to pond number three.
This one’s called, oh the irony, Trojka, which does mean ‘number three’ (tři is ‘three’ in Czech). Coincidence? Actually, yes, it is a mere coincidence. If you head to Radostovinský kopec from Lipnice (and not from Světlá, as I did), Trojka might be the seventh or eighth pond you come across. Let’s not read too much into rocky shores just yet.
I balance myself on a rock for a quick snack break, and take in the view. This pond is the largest and most ‘crowded’ I’ve seen so far. A couple of families and a few lonesome bathers are making the most of the natural pool: they lie in the (now pale) sun, walk on the rocks and, obviously, swim. Yet the overall picture is that of a profoundly tranquil spot in the woods.
Ponds are not the only peculiar feature of the kopec. As you get closer to Lipnice, they start going hand in hand with the ‘rocky pieces’ that make up the Národní památník odposlechu (National Monument of Eavesdropping). That’s where the real fun begins.
Národní památník odposlechu (National Monument of Eavesdropping)
The Národní památník odposlechu is one of the main places of interest in the area between Světlá and Lipnice nad Sázavou. The project, designed by Czech sculptor Radomír Dvořák, consists of four sculptures located here and there in the forest outside Lipnice.
Try not to underestimate the somewhat ‘funny’ appearance of this monument: it’s much more than the ‘sculpture hunt’ it may look like.
Of the four pieces that make up the monument, the mouth, the ear and the eyes were created between 2005 and 2007. They were carved in rocks overlooking three different ponds in the woods. The head, sculpted in 2013, sits on a meadow by the main road, closer to the village of Dolní Město than Lipnice.
The památník must really be quite popular in the area, and it shows: the path that connects each site is clearly marked by dedicated signs, plus I bump into quite a few monument ‘hunters’ along the way.
The mouth comes first on my route. I find it sculpted into a rocky wall over the pond called Dvojka (‘number two’). Its official name is Ústa pravdy (Mouth of Truth), as it’s (loosely) inspired by its (more internationally renowned) Italian counterpart, the ‘Bocca della Verità’ (Ústa pravdy in Italian) monument, placed on a wall outside Santa Maria in Cosmedin church in Rome. The Czech mouth looks objectively much more sensual than the Italian mask-like original.
The ear sits very close to the mouth, over pond Jednička, literally ‘number one’ (from the Czech ‘jedna’, ‘one’). It’s known as Bretschneiderovo ucho (Bretschneider’s Ear), which is in turn named after a character from the popular Czech novel ‘Dobrý voják Švejk’ (‘Good Soldier Švejk’) by Jaroslav Hašek.
To get to the third piece of the monument I keep to the sculpture path, which crosses the main road, then delves back into the woods. That’s when I pass another three ponds (Váha, Prostřední and Metelka), and a couple of rather creepy-looking clay-and-mud sculptures sitting in the grass. I keep left at the fork in the trail and, a bit further on, I find myself staring at pond Hřeben I and, right above the water, a pair of giant eyes staring back at me. That’s monument sculpture number three, aka Zlatý voči or Zlaté oči (Golden Eyes).
I realise I don’t know much about this piece: I wasn’t able to find relevant info anywhere. A hint at God’s all-seeing eyes maybe? There’s also the neat straight line drawing a triangle all around the eyes, but I can’t explain that either. One thing I can say, though: Internet sources claimed that the inscriptions on the eyeballs read ‘Enter’, ‘Exit’ and ‘Home’. Well, I can only see ‘Home’ (left) and ‘Enter’ (right), so if you do see the ‘Exit’ part, I beg you to tell me, as I’ve been staring at these eyes for a good half hour now, but to no avail.
To find the fourth piece of the ‘puzzle’ I have to get back to the main road and walk a bit further down, toward the village called Dolní Město. I pass by the (rather odd) Monument Nomen Omen, which sits outside the factory Granit Lipnice. It consists of a collection of granite letters that, if you combine them in the right order, spell out the name of the factory itself.
Across the road from the Nomen Omen I spot the grassy path that takes me to the head. That’s Hlava XXII (Catch 22), the fourth and last piece of the památník odposlechu, and, possibly, the one with the most complex concept behind it*.
The sculpture looks like a large destructured head sitting in the grass. It was added to the monument project on the 130th anniversary of Hašek’s birth. The location itself is all but a coincidence: Hašek himself had allegedly walked through that spot on his way from Radostovice and Kocharov, two small villages in the area.
I assume that the Czech version of the sculpture title rests on a play on the word hlava. Hlava means both ‘head’ and ‘catch’ in the legal meaning of the word (i.e. ‘paragraph’). In this respect, the monument both looks like a head (namely Hašek’s) and hints, not too subtly, at Joseph Heller’s famous novel ‘Catch 22’.
The head bears two inscriptions. One is a quote from Hasek’ ‘Good Soldier Švejk’ in ten languages. The other is a ‘motto’ (in Czech only) from Joseph Heller’s ‘Closing Time’, the (lesser known) sequel to ‘Catch 22’. In fact, the Yossarian mentioned in the motto is the protagonist of both Heller’s novels.
The connection between Hašek and Heller is a tight and recurrent one, so the inscriptions on the head only further validate the link between the two authors and their respective works. Literary critics have often drawn comparisons between Hašek’s ‘Good Soldier Švejk’ and Heller’s ‘Catch 22’ and their respective main characters: the two novels touch on similar themes. What’s more, Heller’s novel features at some point an older soldier named Švejk. It’s this Švejk Yossarian is talking to in the ‘motto’ quote on the sculpture – and this is not a coincidence.
As I stand in front of the head in the super hot sun, I can’t help thinking how truly fascinating the conceptual construction behind the project is. This is hands down the coolest monument piece of all four.
Lipnice nad Sázavou
To reach Lipnice from the head site I… head back to the main road. I briefly cross into Pelhřimov district, walk a stretch along the pond Kamenná trouba, then start the ascent to Lipnice, still via the main road.
The road goes uphill, then uphill, then, again, uphill. As I keep going under the scorching sun, all I can think of is a bench in the shade. Slowly but surely, the landscape around me grows more and more urban, till Lipnice itself starts taking shape in front of me.
I make it there, at last, and the sky is suddenly overcast. Today I can’t keep up with the weather. But I welcome the clouds, and I do end up sitting on a bench in the shade on the castle premises.
Lipnice’s two key monuments are huddled up on top of the hill: the Church of St. Vitus (Kostel Svatého Víta), with its red roof and candid walls, which turn to blinding white in the high August sun, and the castle, which is a truly magnificent complex. Each side looks as if it was borrowed from a building of its own, so if you put them all together, it’s like reading the history of the castle on its walls. The overall effect is intensely evocative. Needless to say, the view from the castle over the hills all around Lipnice is pretty stunning: green hills and fields as far as the eye can see.
I see tourists in the streets and at the castle, yet the atmosphere is calm and laid back. Of course, the memory of Jaroslav Hašek is as vivid in Lipnice as it was at the Hlava XXII monument site. That’s because the author of the Švejk books (yes, there are more than one) died there in 1923. Lipnice is home to a museum dedicated to the life and work of Hašek. The museum is located just at the foot of the castle hill, while just outside the restaurant and hotel ‘U české koruny’ is a statue of Švejk himself.
While I had originally intended to walk all the way from Lipnice to Havlíčkův Brod, I now realise I wouldn’t make it there in time to catch the last train of the day. I resolve to walk back to Světlá, instead, and to do so via a different route than in the morning.
I take the main road out of Lipnice in the direction of Havlíčkův Brod. I’m surrounded by fields and leafy trees rustling in the light wind. In a field nearby I can still see sparse sunflowers in surprisingly good shape. Around 1 km down the road, I take a side trail to the left. According to the signpost, the blue trail should take me back to Světlá. I trust the blue trail, and off I go.
The blue trail does not let me down, so much so that, by the time I’m back in Světlá main square, I can enjoy an extra leisure stroll down the high street.
When it’s time for me to head back to the train station, I check the map, and I’m relieved to see that the ‘Světlá nad Sázavou město’ stop is only a ten-minute walk from here.
I cross over to the station entrance only to realise that I’ve reached the wrong one. My train to Brno is leaving in twenty minutes from the ‘Světlá nad Sázavou’ stop, which is not the one I’m at right now. I have to run – and maybe also make sure I run to the right station. Luckily enough, Světlá is no metropolis, and I make it there in time.
The train is not very crowded, but all the single seats are taken, so I perch uncomfortably on one of the corridor seats. The virus situation is quite okay at the moment, but social distancing sounds like a good idea nonetheless. I stare out of the window at the impending sunset, and I think to myself.
For each and every trip we take, be it the dream travel of a lifetime or the lowest-key day trip in our backyard, there is always something that stays with us, something that, even later on, reminds us of that place. The walk from Světlá and Lipnice is no exception.
If I were to make a shortlist here, it would probably include three entries. One is apple trees. I’ve seen so many apple trees in and around Světlá as I haven’t probably ever seen elsewhere. Apple trees were everywhere: in the gardens of the houses along the street from the station to the centre; lining the path heading out of town to Závidkovice; here and there on the very fields, as if for everyone to enjoy their fruits, once ripe.
The second entry is the vague, yet distinct feeling that late summer has officially begun. I got this feeling twice today: once while sitting on the bench outside Hašek museum, eating the plums I’d picked off a tree nearby, and, shortly after that, on my way out of Lipnice. I remember staring at the wheat fields in the distance, and thinking they were a darker shade of gold.
The third most vivid memory-to-be is, needless to say, the sculpture monument itself, which I do recommend you to ‘visit’, if you ever happen to be in the area. The path through the forest is well marked in bright colours, so you will hardly miss any of the sculptures. And if you do get lost, you just have to stop the occasional passer-by and ask them: ‘Where’s the ear?’, or ‘I can’t find the mouth’. Chances are, they will know exactly what you’re talking about.
* I only have a fairly rough knowledge of Hašek’s book and Heller’s novels: I haven’t read any of them (yet). The remarks stated in the post are largely based on the reading of online Czech sources about the monument. The explanation of the twofold meaning of the word hlava is not borrowed from any source, but is solely grounded in my own language knowledge. Further insights, comments and/or clarifications on the subject are therefore more than welcome.