June 27, 2004

Brno and Olomouc, the Second Cities

After our visit to Telč, we drove through Třebič. Then we drove on to Brno. With a population over 400,000 Brno is the second largest city in the Czech Republic. We arrived after three in the afternoon and found the information center. We got a referral to the Hotel Kozák. The room was OK and the price of $40 per night included breakfast. After settling in we had supper next door and then called it an early evening.

Press HERE to see a slideshow from the Czech Republic.

Old City Hall
View from Clock Tower
Young Ones in the Stone
More of Brno

Thursday was the one of the nicest that we had seen in days. It was warm all day, and the sun shone brightly. We did a self guided tour, based on a tourist map. It got us to many of the most beautiful buildings in the city. We climbed the clock tower in the old town hall, bought strawberries and cherries at a farmers' market, visited churches, parks, a museum, and we ended the Špilberk Castle. After dinner we returned to our hotel.

Except for the row over the laundry Friday went well. We started by visiting the Tugendhat Villa. Although not really very large, it is considered a masterpiece of the Functionalist style. It was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rhoe. Then we went to the center to continue are exploration of the old city. We again walked by churches, parks, and visited a museum, shops and the train station, where we got some English papers. We stopped along the way at an internet café, and a real café for coffee and cake. We ended the afternoon with a matinee, watching Fifty First Dates. After the movie we spent several hours in a nice brew pub, the Pegas, drinking beer and having dinner.

Finally the laundry story from Brno: When we first arrived at the Hotel Kozák, I had asked about a laundry. The hotel receptionist claimed that there were really no laundries in the city, at least none that would take less than three days to wash our clothes. Later I was to discover that Brno had one laundromat, which I still find strange for such a large city. In any case the receptionist implied that the hotel would wash my shirt gratis. When I said I had a load to wash, she said the hotel washer would take care of it - but that there would be a charge. The next morning, I gave the clothes to the washer and found out that they would be ready the next morning. Unfortunately, I did not ask about the price. We had already had a load washed a week earlier for $2 and since she had suggested one shirt was free - I just figured it would be cost from $4 to $8. Boy, was I wrong! The next morning I could not believe my ears when Betty told me that she was presented with a bill of $41 - and suddenly a price list had appeared. I just flatly refused to pay it. We could have replace most of the clothes at one of their many used clothing stores for $41. In the end after I complained vociferously and refused to pay, they asked for nothing - but we paid them $10 anyway. Lesson learned: when staying at a hotel, always check the laundry prices before using the services.

The Town Square and Bishopric of Kroměříž
The Bishopric Gardens

Saturday, we pushed off to the east again. We drove through Slavkov u Brna, planning to visit a castle. There was no place to park as the town was filling with visitors looking for a classic car show. Although the car show would have been interesting based on the few cars that we saw driving into the town, we moved on toward Kroměříž. As we drove through the countryside, we stopped to pick cherries from a few of the thousands of fruit trees that line many of the roadways. We had been seeing huge fields of white flowers all day. We knew that they were a field crop, but flowers? We finally figured it out: They were poppies being raised for their seeds - a mainstay in Slavic baking. The main draw of Kroměříž is the bishopric. The grounds were expansive and beautiful - including ponds and a zoo of sorts, not to mention the great garden designs. We bought wine from the bishopric store after wandering about the grounds. Before leaving Kroměříž we had coffee and crepes in a beautiful old restaurant on the town square.
In Olomouc we found a nice Privat to spend the night at. After Betty rested a bit, we walked to the town square, where there was a lull in the two day festival centered at the square. Their town hall is the most beautiful that I have seen in the Czech Republic. We got be beer and food from the vendors. It is hard to spend much money with beers costing 60 cents and a plate of food for $2. Unfortunately we came between the live bands, and Betty was too tired to stay after nine. So we will have to wait until tomorrow for the live music.

We took it easy today, Sunday. We didn't get out of our room until eleven. We walked to the town square, where the local festival was still going strong. From the square we walked to several churches and a museum. This is a beautiful old city, almost as old as Prague, and it has similar charm and style to Prague. While Brno may be the second largest city in the Czech Republic, Olomouc is her spiritual second city. Before long, we were back in the town square, where they were wrapping up the festival with a procession with the Bishop, and town's people.

Olomouc Courthouse
Festival Actor
The Czech Audience
The Town Guard

We will soon be leaving the Czech Republic. Here are some of my observations and thoughts about the country. It is a beautiful and charming country about the size of Iowa but with ten million people. Agriculture dominates the landscape and every mid-sized town has at least one industry. Other than Prague and Brno, most of the towns are small or mid-sized. The second language here is not English, but German. Most people are good and kind, but not overtly friendly. It is very uncommon to see people passing with smiles on their faces.
For the traveler, the cost of being here is much less than the rest of Western Europe. But prices seem to be rising fast. When they joined the EU their VAT went from 5% to 20%. Remember that we travel very frugally. Even so, the average cost of a double with breakfast was about $32. In Prague our room cost $50 per night and it was $40 in Brno. In most of the small towns we paid at least $28 and often $32 per night. Food is a good bargain. Meals for two in nice - but not luxurious - restaurants ranged from $15 to $18, including tips and beer. Travel by train is reasonable at 5 to 8 cents a mile. Buses and trams in cities are 50 cents. Gasoline is expensive like the rest of Europe at about $1.10 per liter or about $4 per gallon.
Most of the towns are like mini museums. Three to five hundred year old buildings are common in almost every town. Every town seems to have its castles and museums. The entry costs for most of them are extremely reasonable.
We have really enjoyed our visit here. The air has always been perfumed with the scent of the lindens that have been blossoming since the day we arrived.

Posted by bill at June 27, 2004 10:53 PM