|December 6, 2010
Elizabeth woke up this morning with a bad hangover and still feeling quite sick. After finally getting up and out we packed our bags and left our room. We were heading on today but at least the journey was to be a short one. We had a choice of trains but decided to get a later one so we could both recover a little and it would give us time to get some food. Given that I wasn’t sure how much Elizabeth would eat we decided to pick somewhere quick, easy and cheap – yep, McDonald’s! Thankfully she was able to eat most of her burger and fries and I encouraged her that if she could keep it down for an hour she’d feel much better!
Back at the hostel we got our bags sorted and had a chat with the owner, Greg, who gave us some good cafés to visit in our next destination, Brno. By the time we left to get the tram to the station Elizabeth felt a bit better and I think the fresh air helped too. The train to Brno was only about an hour and a half and we were at the station in plenty of time to buy tickets. Internal train tickets in the Czech Republic are so cheap – our tickets to Prostejov the other night had been under $2 for a return ticket and even today they were only about $5 each for a longer journey. When you consider the trains we have booked for around Austria and Germany in the lead up to Christmas have cost us up to 10 times that you realise what a good deal you get here.
The train ride flew by pretty quickly but we had a fair walk to get to our hotel in Brno. We were both feeling better by now so the exercise didn’t do us any harm and my map reading skills didn’t let me down. We also had the added bonus of wide pavements and most of these had been cleared of snow, ice and slush which made dragging your bag a whole lot easier! We were staying at the Hotel Europa here, a bit of a change from the hostels of late. We had trouble finding a hostel here with availability, which seemed strange for midweek, and so I made use of the free nights I had accumulated on hotels.com to get us a cheaper rate. Besides, the odd splurge and staying in relative luxury is the least we deserve, right?
For dinner we headed to the local pizzeria and we both had lovely, freshly cooked pizzas. The tomato base was a bit sweet but other than that it was perfect hangover food! I did order a beer in the hope it would help but it wasn’t very cold and was flat so it actually made me feel worse!
December 7, 2010
It is always nice the day after a hangover when you are able to wake up without one! Our hotel has breakfast included so we both pigged out going through a variety of ham and cheese and bread and sausage and eggs and a ton of orange juice and coffee!
We took a stroll into the main city centre after breakfast and although we had a couple of things we wanted to do here we didn’t really know what order we were going to do them or where they were. We strolled through the town square, complete with now obligatory Christmas market, and around some of the old streets and churches. Just around the square were a couple of funky buildings – one was renaissance style palace with a graffito façade, which looked like someone had scribbled all over the outside, and the other was called the House of Four Mamlases, which had four “atlas” men holding up the columns of the building and trying to support their loincloths at the same time!
We managed to find the old town hall which is guarded by a dragon. When we walked into the courtyard the “dragon” was hanging above us and looked a lot like a plastic alligator to me! We also stopped by the tourist information office but the woman in there seemed almost annoyed we’d dare to bother her. We did find out a bit of info about the ice hockey tonight so we had that penciled in!
We eventually headed out of the centre and towards the Old Brno Monastery which is home to a museum about Gregor Mendel, the world-renowned geneticist. After struggling to find the way in we were eventually directed to a large courtyard around the corner behind the massive and imposing abbey. The courtyard itself used to be home to the greenhouse where Mendel carried out many of his experiments but now only the foundations remain. Inside we visited the museum and it was really interesting. I’m not a huge science geek and trying to understand the diagrams in the museum about recessive and dominant genes was a bit much although eventually we managed to work out what the hell Mendel was supposed to have proved! The displays about his life were in many ways quite sad. He seemed like one of these people who let things worry him and he took on a lot of projects as he seemed to struggle saying no to anyone. As a result he suffered from a lot of stress and other illnesses caused by stress and spent more time than you’d want in recuperation. It seemed like his work experimenting with the genes of different strains of garden peas almost relaxed him and gave him some respite from everything else going on around him. The museum was really interesting and thought-provoking and I actually learnt something which I could probably explain, fairly roughly I hasten to add, to someone else… should anyone ever want to know!
After the monastery and museum we headed over towards the St Peter and Paul Church where there was supposed to be a good café which served beer from a Prague monastery. The only café we found looked crappy and certainly wasn’t serving what we were expecting so we carried on walking around. We found a restaurant called Špaliček, rumoured to be the oldest restaurant in the city. The food here was typical of local dishes and so I had potato dumplings and Elizabeth had the goulash. Both of the meals were huge and neither of us were able to eat much more than about half of the portion. We both left there feeling very bloated and fat. We decided to try and get a cup of tea at a local café but the first one we walked into was horrible and smoky and so we decided we’d skip the tea and wander back to the hostel to lie down!
Having found out about the ice hockey, we almost didn’t go as we were feeling so bloated and lethargic. However we decided we’d be bored if we just sat around all evening so we went. It was quite a walk to get there, taking us nearly 40 minutes, but we were quite glad of the fresh air and the exercise. We bought two tickets from the cashier and went inside the arena. We didn’t realise we had standing tickets and when we got inside we saw the two ends were both standing and were both already busy, even 20 minutes or so before the match started. The arena holds about 7,000 and there was barely an empty seat with the crowd making plenty of noise. The first period wasn’t great for either of us as we couldn’t see very much at all where we were stood. It was the first time we’d been behind the goal and with the netting to stop the puck flying into the crowd plus the steep banking meaning we couldn’t see one goal neither of us enjoyed it very much. Outside in between the periods we decided we’d try and stand near the front barrier and we got a much better view of the second period and could see the goals at either end. Of course, in the first period Brno scored 2 goals that we barely saw and in the second they got just the one at the far end. Still, the 3-0 scoreline reflected the play and the crowd were happy. The third period was just as good with both teams scoring a single goal and the final result being a good 4-1 win for the home team.
By the time we started the long walk back we were both feeling a little bit hungry. We decided to try and get some food on the way back as we knew we’d never leave our cozy hotel room once we got back there! We stopped at a microbrew bar called Pivnice Pegas for some dinner and beer. We decided to just have a small dinner and so we picked from the appetisers section. I went for the sausages (complete with bread to bloat me some more!) and Elizabeth had onion soup. We of course tried the beer too with Elizabeth having the extra-strong Gold beer and I tried the dark beer. The beers were good and we certainly will have to make the most of the cheapness as we certainly won’t be drinking as much beer when we get to expensive Austria!
Back at the hostel we both collapsed, tired and stuffed, but glad to be back in the warm!
December 8, 2010
We were planning on taking a day trip today so we set the alarm for a little earlier than usual. However, thanks to our excesses of yesterday I didn’t feel too good so we got up, forced down some breakfast (because it is free!) and then went back to bed for a bit!
When we finally got up and out I felt better and it was good to be out in the brisk air. We walked to a place called Villa Tugendhat, a UNESCO listed art-deco building. We knew it was under construction but we hoped we would be able to see fairly good views of the building at least from the outside. When we got there we saw that the construction and development had consumed the entire building and we could barely see anything. All was not lost though as we were able to see some other cool buildings along the way and we also found a lovely little café nearby for lunch. Wanting something lighter than yesterday’s offerings, we were glad when our burritos turned up and they were a normal size!
We walked from there back towards the centre and passed the Mahen Theatre, a lovely Renaissance building we’d only seen in the dark the day we walked from the train station. It was a really cool building and just around the corner we saw the Měnin Gate, the only original part of the medieval fortifications still in existence around the city, dating back to 1293.
We strolled around looking for a decent café but everywhere coffee seemed to be comparatively expensive so we ended up getting some hot chocolate and cookies at the Christmas market whilst walking around the stalls and checking out what we could have for dinner tomorrow night! We didn’t want to eat there tonight as we’d planned to have Laotian food at the restaurant next to our hotel. When we finally felt hungry we headed there and tucked into some fresh spring rolls, Pad Lao beef for me and Lao chicken salad for Elizabeth. The food was really good and it made a big change from the meals we’ve been having recently.
We’d had a fairly quiet day today, with plenty of walking around, but it was just what we needed after not feeling great and the fatty excesses of yesterday!
December 9, 2010
Today we took a day trip out of Brno and to a small town called Mikulov, known for its wine production. The train journey there took 1.5 hours, with a change in Břeclav, and when we arrived around midday the town was completely dead and like a ghost town. We decided to look around for a place to eat lunch first but we couldn’t find much – one place was packed, another empty but without English menu and WITH rude bar staff (you’d think empty places might want some custom!) and so it went on. We’d seen a small café nearer the beginning of the main street we were on so we went back there and had a ham and cheese baguette. We had found a wine “centre” where we could sample a variety of wines but when we got there we found out they closed between 12 and 2 for lunch. Given this was really the only thing we wanted to do here we were a bit annoyed but we thought we’d have a wander around the town chateau to waste some time.
The Renaissance Chateau of Mikulov is set on a hill over-looking the town and from the gardens we got some lovely views over the city and we were also able to see to the Czech/Austrian border just a couple of kilometers away.
Finally we’d wasted the required hour and we were able to go into the Vinařské Centrum and try some wine. The guy in there spoke excellent English and was really chatty and friendly. We got a list of the wines to try but he basically picked a few for us and we worked our way through them. We tried Veltlinské Zelené, Ryzlink vlašký (2009 and a quite sweet 2008), Svato Martinské (two 2010 bottles both released in November for St Martin’s Day, the second one by a vineyard called Gotberg), a rosé which I didn’t like very much and Rulandksé Modré (a red wine similar to Pinot Noir). Most of them were really good except for a couple which were much too sweet. Given we had some time in Vienna, our next stop, we decided to buy a bottle and we both liked the first one we’d tried. We tried it again to make sure we still liked it after all the others and we did so we got a bottle and paid for it along with the tasting fee. It had cost us around $20 to taste 7 different wines (including a couple more than once) with decent servings and to buy a bottle. It wasn’t cheap by Czech standards but it was certainly good value.
We took the train back into the city, just making the connection at Břeclav, and when we got there we walked back through the Christmas market. We decided to get some dinner here so we both went for the sausages and bread with mustard and ketchup and Elizabeth also got some healthy corn while I had the less healthy punč! After some food we decided to warm up inside one of the nearby bars and this time we tried another of the microbreweries, called Černohorský Sklep. The barman there was a bit moody as the taps weren’t working very well and wouldn’t help us with ordering so we just chose at random. I ended up with a light beer and Elizabeth ended up with a wheat beer. I’d have preferred a dark beer but my pilsner style lager was OK and Elizabeth’s was good, too.
Back at the hostel we got packed up and ready to leave tomorrow. We had a lot to do in Vienna so we’d decided to get an early train so we could be in the city by lunchtime and start looking around there!