Tag: Czech Republic

Return to Olomouc

Back in Olomouc

After Bratislava, I came back to Olomouc and Poets’ Corner. It was a reunion and then some; Stacey, Katka, and Dave whom I’d randomly let in Budapest were still there, as were Ivan and David, two guys I’d gotten lost with in Budapest who’d gone their separate ways and ended up in Olomouc on the same night. Stuart, a long-time guest, was sitting in his usual chair as he was when I first saw him. Two new guys, Oskar from Australia and Randy from Texas, were loving Olomouc, too.

So began a few great days, filled with massive cooking projects involving the entire hostel and nights at Metro playing foosball and drinking through the club’s supply of beer. The students had returned; one night they could offer us only bottles.

A Daytrip to Helfstyn Castle

Iron wrought Helfstyn sign

There are a lot of good daytrips from Olomouc: a couple of castles, the zoo, caves, and long hikes. I couldn’t not take one while I was there, so I chose the Helfštýn Castle ruins. The train stopped at Lipník nad Becvou, a very old, medieval town one tenth the size of Olomouc. You know a place is good when the first thing you see is a train station tunnel covered in painted scenes of fairy tales. There were fighting knights, princesses, celestial demons, and a puss in boots standing in the gate of a castle holding a flagon of beer.

It was a quiet and cloudy day with a bit of drizzle. I only saw a few people around. There was no man selling ice cream cones on the way into town as there had been in Karlstejn; I entered town without preamble and walked for fifteen minutes past colorful little houses and a single gas station until I reached a small, quiet town center. It was a scaled down version of Olomouc’s main square, which was a scaled down version of Prague’s main square. I felt like I was in a nesting doll of settlements. The statues here were smaller, the rows of equally quaint buildings closer together, only here they formed an L rather than an actual square. Under repainted white archways stood a vinarna (winery), whose windows blocked out light with heavy wooden doors fitted with iron.


Holy Trinity Column

I wanted to see more of the Czech Republic. The back of the Prague map at Sir Toby’s listed some popular places and the logical next destination, where everyone headed after Prague, was a quiet little town in southern Bohemia called Ceský Krumlov. Its maze of medieval alleyways twisting around an unusually large castle reportedly took you back to the fourteen century, but with a sewage system. And there were 200 bars for 15,000 people; surely here I could stumble into my time-traveling medieval tavern and be set on adventure. The downside was that with so much charm oozing around every corner its tourist population topped its actual population in the summertime, and Prague had thoroughly worn me out on that account, not to mention the clubs, pubs, and busy big cities accounts, too.

I scanned the map further and the name “Poets’ Corner Hostel” caught my eye; sounds like just the kind of place I want to be, I thought. But it was in a town called Olomouc, in the opposite direction of Ceský Krumlov.

“What’s in Olomouc?” I asked the girl working at the front desk.

“Oh, nothing,” she rolled her eyes. “It’s the kind of place to go if you want to write a book for two days.”

Historic Prague

A slice of Prague

Ever since some family friends took a spontaneous trip to Prague five years ago and returned singing its praises, it shot to the top of my list of places to see, and on this trip, Prague was the city I was looking forward to more than any other, a lone bright star in an otherwise dark and obscure Eastern European sky. Visions of a dark, gothic paradise beckoned; if I was going to wander around narrow streets and stumble into a dim underground bar invited in by a single lamp swinging from its door and be transported to another time, it was going to be in Prague.

Unrealistic expectations aside, like most people who visit in the height of summer, I was let down. Prague wasn’t dark; it was Disney dark. Its buildings were painted in pleasant shades of peach, pink, cream, and powder blue, it was filled with colorful overpriced kitsch shops by the Charles Bridge, and every old, crumbling, looming church topped with threatening black spires was swarmed by loud tourists who wouldn’t let each other take a single photo. To say Prague was touristy is a gross understatement; every hour of every day people rubbed elbows in the historic districts, fighting each other to see the astronomical clock. The atmosphere in this pretty area was strictly commercial, which I found very unappealing.

Everything But the Main Course: The Outskirts of Prague

One of the creepiest things I have ever seen.

Someone described Prague to me like this: “it’s dark, it’s gritty, the buildings are covered in gargoyles, it comes at you!”

Prague’s train station was a multistory complex with a dollar store feel to it. A Burger King, generic coffee places with sparse seating, and stores selling tacky zebra striped handbags I often spot on Russian women at home desperately geared toward every tourist created the bleak atmosphere of a mall around closing time. There was even a stand in the middle of the ground floor devoted to rhinestones.

Here I quickly discovered the benefit to being a Russian speaker in the Czech Republic: Czech is written in Latin script, so it’s like reading Russian written in English (or like reading the emails I wrote home). Czech and Russian aren’t similar enough to be mutually intelligible, but they’re similar enough that when I saw the sign “sever,” I instantly knew that it meant not “to cut,” but “north.” Getting around was a cinch. I would’ve struggled more in Russia, at least until my reading speed picked up.