|December 3, 2010
Today we were leaving Krakow and heading out of Poland and back into the Czech Republic. It was amazing how many people asked us if we were going to Prague but alas we were not – we were heading to Olomouc which most people won’t have heard of, including those who asked us about Prague! We’re heading out of Poland towards Vienna and along the way we cross the Czech Republic so we thought it might be good to stop along the way and both Olomouc and another city called Brno looked like good options.
The weather was pretty bad as we checked out of the hostel but thankfully it wasn’t actually snowing but the pavements were really horrible and slushy, making dragging our bags a pain in the arse. It didn’t take us too long to get to the station though given how close it was to the hostel and we were soon waiting for a train to Katowice, where we needed to connect to another train. We’d been told there were two different trains we could get but it seemed the first one didn’t actually exist and so we just waited a little longer for the second. With the weather being bad we were wary of delays but our first train was spot on time and arrived in Katowice on time, too. Here the weather was horrible and the snow was falling heavily and the wind made it seem a fair bit colder than it was. To compound this, the train to Olomouc was late and we spent over half an hour just waiting on the platform, not understanding a word of the announcements which were being made. We were glad when the train arrived so we could get sat down and warm up. The weather hasn’t been too bad when you are walking around but as soon as you stand still or have to carry your bags through the snow it becomes a little bit less fun!
We eventually arrived in Olomouc about an hour late and were glad we had detailed directions from our hostel, The Poet’s Corner, on how to find them. It wasn’t difficult but it is so nice to have clear, written instruction on how to reach somewhere rather than having to work out which trams or buses might go nearby especially when you haven’t visited a city before. Unfortunately we found the hostel was on the fourth floor but we’ve come to expect a fair amount of stairs now and this wasn’t exactly a huge surprise. We got checked in and chatted to the girl working there who gave us some good ideas of things to do and places to eat and drink. We also got to chat to the owners, an Aussie couple called Greg and Francie, and it was a really cosy atmosphere.
For dinner we went to a local bar called Moritz which is one of the two micro-breweries in the city. The place was packed so we pulled up a pew at the bar and got stuck into some local Moravian food and some tasty semi-dark beers. I had a massive sausage with fries while Elizabeth went for the healthy fried cheese! It was certainly a good start to our culinary exploration of Olomouc!
December 4, 2010
We only had a couple of days here but there wasn’t a huge amount we wanted to do so we set off this morning and headed into the main square. They were having a Christmas market here, too, and so we walked around the main and lower squares and checked out some of the stalls. We couldn’t resist having some “punč”, either – a couple of glasses of alcoholic fruit juice before lunch never hurt anyone! I also decided to buy a scarf as it was getting a little cold outside and extra layers always come in handy. In the lower square was an ice skating rink and we stood for a while and watched some of the children skating around. Some were pretty good and it put me off wanting to try it and embarrassing myself. We’ll have an ice rink where we are staying for Christmas so we might give it a go Christmas day morning! The main square also contained the large, horrifically gaudy Trinity Column which for some reason is UNESCO listed. I’ve given up trying to work out how this UNESCO thing works because other than being, well, old there isn’t much else going for this column. I suppose it does have some cool carvings on it and the top ornament is interesting even if the bright shiny gold makes it look ridiculous! Also in the lower square was a sculpture made entirely out of keys. The sculpture spelt out the word “revolution” in Czech and all the keys used to make it had been donated by the people of the city. It was really cool to see all the keys up close as from a distance you could not tell what it was made of.
For lunch we went to the second of the breweries in the city which was called Svatováclavský Pivovar. There we got a big plate of goulash with potato dumplings and another excellent beer. It was nice and warm in their too and we were both reluctant to venture back outside but we did in the end. We weren’t outside for long though as we headed to Café 87 to try their world-famous (OK, locally-famous but that doesn’t sound so impressive) chocolate pie. It was really yummy and very rich and Elizabeth hardly touched hers although I managed to stuff my whole thing down my gut. I felt a bit sick afterwards and the four flights of stairs back at the hostel weren’t any help!
We headed to the ice hockey game tonight with some of the people from the hostel. Olomouc weren’t playing so we got the train to a town called Prostejov to watch the LHK Prostejov Hawks against SHK Hodonin in the Czech second division, the third tier down! The train journey took about half an hour and when we got off the train the sun had gone down and the temperature had really dropped. Greg, the hostel owner, was with us and his cousin was there too. It was her first time outside of Australia and she had to buy clothes when she got here as it was so cold but even those didn’t help as the temperature dropped to around -10C. It only got colder as the night went on, too.
The arena for the hockey was pretty small and it wasn’t heated either so sitting around for two hours or so was a pretty shivery experience! The game was pretty good to start with but tailed off a little at the end as both teams were scrappy and gave away a lot of penalties. Prostejov eventually won 4-1 and the home fans went home happy. One of the highlights of the match was when one guy got badly wiped out and as a result the fans starting throwing the rubbish bins at each other on the far side. It was quite funny but we were obviously glad we weren’t getting hit with them! Walking back one of the group checked the temperature on the internet and it had reached -17C so the long walk back to the train station was done in double time!
Back in the city we left the rest of the group and headed to get some dinner. We went to a restaurant called Hanácká Hospoda which we had tried originally at lunchtime but it was too busy. This time it was fairly empty (unlike the place next door we’d tried first!) but given how busy it was at lunchtime we knew it was a decent choice. They served food from the local Hana region here and this was a bit different from the Moravian food we’d had last night. In fact, I had a Hana steak for a man (!) and it was a nice bit of pork covered in a pepper sauce and served with potato wedges. Elizabeth had a similar sort of dish but hers was with chicken and had a more tomato-based sauce. We were glad to get back to the hostel and into our warm beds – it was bitter outside but I shan’t complain because I wanted snow!
December 5, 2010
Today we went to a couple of museums in the city. We didn’t get up until quite late and so we went for lunch first. We tried to go in a local pub but it wasn’t open so we ended up in a crappy little café. We ordered a pizza to share (which ended up looking like it had started out its day in the freezer) as well as a coffee which wasn’t very warm and a tiny iced tea. Not exactly the bargain meals we’d become accustomed to!
The first of the museum stops was the Archdiocesan Museum and the second was the Museum of Modern Art. On the way to the first stop we passed by the wonderful St Wenceslas Cathedral and we popped inside for a quick look around. Why are churches always so dark? It never makes them seem very appealing and gives them quite a creepy feel, in my opinion. What is wrong with a good lick of white paint?!
Inside the Archdiocesan Museum, which was free on Sundays, we were pointed around a very disjointed route by some surly looking female guards. The route started with some quite interesting things as a small walkway took you beneath the current building and into the old, excavated ruins of former incarnations. It always makes we wonder why so many newer buildings were just built on top of older one, and in doing so covering up a whole layer of history. I guess at the time they didn’t see the harm in building over a crumbling building but walking into a basement area and seeing walls from eight or nine hundred years ago is pretty cool. The museum also had a carriage which belonged to the Archbishop and was covered in gold leaf and some strange carvings. Almost all of the remainder of the museum was a special baroque exhibit which was not really to our liking. We did stick with it, mainly because the guards kept leading us onwards and upwards, but we didn’t spend a whole lot of time really looking at anything. There was one room of the exhibit where the room was quite interesting, though, as the wooden paneling was covered in various shields. They had nothing to explain what the shields were or where they came from which was annoying but at least the shields were cool! Part of the display was plans and drawings done as part of doctoral theses and plans for items such as the Trinity Column. Had there been a few of these they might’ve been interesting but there were hundreds of them, supposedly designed by famous Czech people. There were also small rooms with ivory carvings in it (mostly from Japan) as well as a “Treasury Room” which seemed to contain a load of golden, gaudy chalices and some reliquaries with the odd bit of bone from a Saint. Honestly, I’m not sure I got much out of the museum at all and the only saving grace was that it was free – I could easily have left after seeing the old walls and foundations and been just as well educated!
The next stop was the Modern Art museum which was also free. When we got there we found out that this museum plus one other were linked with Archdiocesan Museum as part of a group which makes up the Art Museums of Olomouc. Unfortunately, this also meant that the baroque exhibit was continued here which was very annoying as I was hoping to see a good range of modern art. So much of the lower rooms were taken over by the baroque stuff that we were pleased when we finally found an upper room with some more modern art. This room was full of art deco style furniture, prints of paintings by Klimt and Mucha as well as a really cool lookout room up a small winding staircase. From the lookout you had some really nice views over the city although the large, imposing church opposite blocked out most of the view in one direction! There was one thing worth looking at in the baroque art exhibit here and it wasn’t the continued number of endless doctoral theses they displayed – I mean, seriously, are these considered art? No, the items in question were old globes with two particularly large ones documenting the earth and the sky. It was really funny seeing the shapes of the continents on these old globes and it made you realise just how far technology has come that we are able to photograph the Earth from space and use satellites to accurately draw maps and create global images nowadays. In terms of how old the Earth probably is, I guess it actually isn’t that long ago, relatively, that people thought the Earth was flat and the sun revolved around the Earth! We’ve come a long way and no-one has fallen off the edge yet!
On the way back to the hostel we stopped at a teahouse called Kratochvile and had a really interesting apple strudel tea. We got a massive pot and the first cuppa didn’t have much flavour so after letting it stew some more we had a really tasty second cup. However, by the third cup it was a bit stewed and, honestly, who needs three cups of tea one after the other?!
Back at the hostel they were decorating their Christmas tree before everyone was heading out. We hung out and chatted with the people there for a while before heading out to the main square. They had carol singing when we first reached the square and it was packed full of kids. There were going to be fireworks so it meant just about every parent in town had headed to the square. We had time to waste before they started and so we were able to partake in a few glasses of punč and we got to try some different ones including the local one which had a shot of Slivovice liquer in it! When the fireworks started at least all the crowd stopped moving and just stared upwards. The fireworks came from behind the town hall and looked really spectacular rising up over the old building as well as having the Christmas market and Trinity Column in the foreground.
After the fireworks we headed to a bar to warm up and have a few drinks. Elizabeth and I hadn’t eaten yet so we hoped we could get some food but when we finally arrived at a bar we could get in, called Vertigo, they weren’t serving food. This turned out to be a mistake for Elizabeth! We had a few beers and a couple of shots of the local spirit. Elizabeth started feeling really sick and we had to rush her to the toilet! Thanks to the help of one of the girls working at the hostel we were able to drag Elizabeth back to the hostel and up 4 flights of stairs and get her into bed. She was still being quite sick so I ended up making a bed on the floor by her bunk bed so I could keep an eye on here until she was properly asleep. I wasn’t expecting much sleep and was at least relieved there was cricket on the internet for me to follow to keep me awake!