Beyond Prague Guest Post
For this entry, I’m taking a break and handing the writing duties to a guest. I’ll leave you in the capable hands of my girlfriend, Jana, as she tells you all about a phenomenon that any visitor to a Czech chateau or castle has experienced and one to expect if you have yet to visit one of these places: chateau slippers!
Slippers: We use them every day. At home, here in the Czech Republic, their importance is slightly higher than in the Anglo-Saxon world considering the long standing habit of taking off your shoes when entering a flat even if you are a guest. So if you do as the Romans do, when invited to come in, you take your shoes off and put on a pair of slippers.
However, in the Czech Republic you might encounter slippers where you would probably not expect them at all, in a château or even in a castle. Do not be surprised when encouraged to wear a pair of slippers by the guide at the beginning of your tour. Current castle conquerors do not have to fight with dogged defenders but it is a fight of its own to put the slippers on over your own shoes without hurting yourself, or somebody else, while touching them only as much as necessary.
On the one hand, wearing slippers makes sense from the precious parquet floor protection point of view. On the other hand, it might seem a bit humiliating to visitors from cultures where guests are not asked to wear slippers in their homes (I think Czechs do not see it that way, we have just stopped thinking about it and we do it because that is how things are done).
There might be an unspoken reason behind wearing château slippers; from the moment when the whole group of tourists (except little kids and elderly people with walking problems) is in the slippers, they change into a herd that is very easily manoeuvrable from one room to another and from one salon to another as you cannot really do too much other than to just move obediently while admiring what the noble (in most cases ex-) owners managed to create with their taste and money. That may well be the reason why, in the slang of château and castle guides, visitors are called “mouflons” after a type of mountain sheep.
Anyway, as a former château guide and always a keen château/castle visitor, my experiences with slippers are very rich. My recent visit of château Jemniště (owned by the noble Šternberk family themselves) showed me how you tell the difference between a state and privately owned site: in Jemniště, the slippers are clean, newish and do not make you feel like you wanted to wear surgical gloves before touching them. Slippers at some state-owned châteaus seem to remember some of the ancient owners of the site. In one or two they even offer shoe covers (quite similar to those that you might be required to use in hospitals), which is too much even for me who used to handle château slippers thousand times as a guide.
Yet, there are places where those who consider a tour of a château without slippers incomplete will be disappointed. Castles like Konopiště or Český Šternberk have laid down heavy-duty carpets that work like the Yellow Brick Road, they lead you through the tour and define the space where visitors are allowed to move. Frankly speaking, such a slippers-free tour is quite a refreshing experience but be ready to wear slippers at most Czech châteaus and castles. You might find some comfort in the idea that while wearing slippers you not only help to preserve that beautifully inlaid floor from the 18th century but you might be also helping the cleaning lady to polish it. 🙂