While in Munich I did some checking and determined that I was not going to get back to the U.S. any time soon. Since I really liked the Czech Republic and it was much cheaper than Germany, I headed that way on 14 September. I wanted to see some parts of the country that I missed on my visit the year before. I also wanted to drink Czech beer again. A really good beer needs to be drunk while it is fresh, which requires going to the source, and the Czech people brew the best pilsners in the world. I was ready for more.
My first stop was Cheb, which my guidebook described as a pretty town on the border that was popular with German day trippers. The book was right; Cheb is pretty and everyone there spoke German and nobody spoke English. There was a jazz festival in progress; I'd say it was good enough to visit if you are in the area, but by itself did not warrant a lot of travel. There were also a lot of mostly German tourists and some aggressive prostitutes on the streets at night. Cheb is the only place in the Czech Republic I visited where street walkers were such a nuisance they ran me off the streets at night. They are an annoyance in some parts of Prague, but not nearly as aggressive as in Cheb. On the other hand they were not nearly as ugly as the ones I had seen in Italy and Spain--in Barcelona I ran away from a street walker that looked like Frankie in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show". Anyway, the street walkers in Cheb were a nuisance and the town, while pretty, did not warrant a long stay. I took some pictures of Cheb's castle and central square (Namesti Podebrady), drank some Czech beer and moved on.
My next stop, on 16 Sept, was in Ceske Budejovice, home of the original Budweiser. I toured the town, which was photogenic, and the brewery, which was not. The beer was good, though not as good as fresh Pilsner Urquell. No great stories to tell on this stop. There are four pictures of the Central Square with its Sampson fountain, and one of the park that borders the old town area.
On 18 Sept I headed to Brno. I had been in Brno the year before and, while not disappointed, was not impressed either. But my guidebook gave the address of a few language schools and I needed help. I have no talent for languages. I could not figure out correct pronunciations from my phrase book, and I was visiting less touristed places where English speakers were hard to find. In Brno I took a few lessons and didn't retain that much. However I learned some of the basic restaurant foods and how to correctly pronounce "Nemluvim Csesky" (I don't speak Czech), "Mluvite Anglitsky" (Do you speak English?), "Zaplatim" (equivalent to "Check please") and a few other useful words and phrases. It helped a lot. I also noticed that many Czech people were surprised and pleased that I was making the effort to speak a little of their language. Most of the English speaking people who visit the Czech Republic, and some who stay for a long while, decide the language is too hard to learn and make no effort. So I scored a few brownie points just by trying. There is a lot to be said for taking language lessons. Also, my teacher, Jana, was charming (early thirties, single, college grad, loves dogs and has a serious boyfriend. If it weren't for that last point she'd be perfect). She is also much more attractive than the picture portrays her; I did not do a good job here.
Before I left the language school the director offered me a job teaching English. Earlier, while I was shopping for language schools in Brno I also got an unsolicited offer. Ambitious Czech people are practical and understand the benefits of learning one of the international languages, with English and German being their top choices. That makes it easy for a reasonably coherent English speaking person to get a teaching job. The pay was terrible, about $2.50 to $3 an hour, and I'd probably work no more than 20 hours a week, but it is enough to get by on in the Czech Republic. Something to think about.
Brno doesn't begin to compare to Prague for visual effect, but it has its sights. It's also relaxed, but has some nightlife options. The city was beginning to grow on me. The pictures are, in order, the exterior and interior of the 15th century Church of St James, Namesti Svobody, the Cabbage Market which has been a produce market since the 13th century, a shot taken from the Old Town Hall tower of the Church of St Michael with Spilbork Castle in the background, and finally a shot of the Old Town Hall tower.
After three half day language lessons, plus a wine festival, some shopping, and lazing about, I left Brno for Olomouc on 25 September. I had to leave because Brno was having its one event of the year, some kind of a big industrial convention that booked all available rooms and caused the price of everything to go up.
Before I left Brno I bought a sleeping bag for 1300 koruna, about $35 at the time. It is comfortable for temperatures down to around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, weighs 1 kg and packs down into a sack about the size of a small loaf of bread; just the thing for someone who wants to travel light but be prepared for a variety of sleeping arrangements. I checked many sporting goods stores and internet sites in the U.S. and couldn't find anything like it. When I got to Olomouc I gave away the $40 sleeping bag I'd bought in the U.S. that took up about a quarter of my backpack. If you want a sleeping bag for traveling in Europe, buy it in Europe. Check at a Tesco Department store, they have everything.
Olomouc is a medium size city three hours east of Prague by train. The city is a gem. Old town Olomouc is like a small Prague, but sees so few tourists that you can't get a decent postcard. My language lessons came in handy; there were some people who spoke a little English, and a lot of people who spoke none. Much of the defensive walls that surrounded the old town are still standing, and outside them, in the area that I assume was once a moat, is a beautiful park with trails, streams, gardens, and wooded areas that surround the old town. One stretch of the defensive walls had restaurants and a couple of bars in it--defensive walls were often ten yards thick and had living quarters, storage areas, passageways, and other stuff in them, so there is plenty of room for modern businesses in surviving walls. One of the wall bars was "The Crack Irish Pub", popular with local ex-pats. I talked with an English ex-pat who was amazed that I would holiday in the middle of the Czech Republic--he associated holidays with beaches. I explained that while I love a good beach, I had seen plenty. However I hadn't done much drinking inside an 800 year old wall. You can't do that in the U.S.
Some shots around Olomouc. A few of the park I described above, two shots of the Trinity Column in Horni Namesti (the town's central square), the town hall and two of the 16th century astronomical clock in the town hall. When the communists governed Czechoslovakia they removed the traditional saints and religious themes from the clock and replaced them with stereotypical workers.
Next is a shot of St Michael's Church and Dominican Seminary taken from the top of the town hall tower. The two pictures after this give a view of old town Olomouc from the top of St Moritz Cathedral and the town hall.
The pictures below are interior and exterior shots of St Wenceslas Cathedral, then interior shots of the nearby Premys Palace. The palace is so inconspicuous from the outside I had trouble finding it. The last two palace shots are of 15th century murals in the Chapel of St John. The murals are of outstanding talent and skill for their time.
I left Olomouc for Prague on 30 September. I took many, many pictures of Prague (I like Prague) on my visit in 2000, so the following is an eclectic collection of notable sights around Prague not covered before. First up is a picture of me and an original statue from Karlovy Most (Charles' Bridge). After that are pictures from an anti-corruption display put up in Wenceslas Square, "Arts Against Corruption". As with most post-communist countries, first Czechoslovakia and then the Czech Republic endured a serious corruption problem while transitioning to a more market driven economy. Corruption has been declining as the Czech people have become increasingly intolerant of it. Obviously some people feel there is room for further improvement. What struck me was that the display included names, positions, and detailed accusations against government officials, prominently displayed in the square that was the focal point of dissident in Prague and the Czech Republic. It was in Wenceslas Square that anti-communist demonstrations of the failed Prague Spring occurred. Later in this square were the successful demonstrations leading to a democratic government. On that note, following the two anti-corruption pictures is the memorial to Jan Palach, also on Wenceslas Square. He is a student who set fire to himself on 16 Jan '69 to protest the Warsaw Pact invasion ending the Prague Spring. Finally, still on the square, is a 9-11 memorial set up under the statue of St Wenceslas. The Czech Republic is one of the few countries in Europe where the United States' unilateral approach to world affairs has not pissed everyone off. Not yet anyway.
For the record, I agree with most of the things my country does in the world (this is a free country, I don't have to agree with everything). However I think we should work on our approach. When passing through a crowd, one can say "Excuse me" and politely pass, or rudely push through. The U.S. is notorious for rudely pushing its way through when it could get the same results with far less ill will by showing a little courtesy and working with other countries. We should be more considerate.
More random shots--a pretty lady in costume in Staromestske Namesti passing out flyers for a concert or play. The "New" Town Hall, built 600 or more years ago, where in 1419 the defenestration (throwing out the window) of some Catholic priests started the 30 year war which made a mess of much of Europe. After that is the Faust House, where in the play "Faust" Mephisto dragged Faust to hell. Now it is a clinic run by Charles University. How'd you like to be treated in a clinic with an opening to hell?
The next two pictures are of a statue outside the State Theatre, with a plaque reading "In Memory of W.A. Mozart's Don Giovanni Premiered in this Theatre 29 Oct 1787. "Don Giovanni" and "Carmin" are the only two operas I really like (not counting the Andrew Lloyd Weber stuff, which I'm not sure qualifies as opera and probably identifies me as a lowbrow). I thought finding the "Don Giovanni" debut theatre was cool. After that is the State Theatre the plaque refers to.
Near Prague is Kutna Hora, a former silver mining town which is now a popular tourist destination. My favorite spot was the Ossuary chapel on the site of Bohemia's first Cistercian monastery in 1142 (I don't know what Cistercian means, but you thought I did for a moment, didn't you?). It was such a popular place to be buried, people were dying to get in (sorry about the bad joke; I just couldn't resist). As a result of this it became seriously overcrowded. In the 19th century the monastery was abolished and a Czech woodcarver set about doing something artistic with the bones. There was some kind of religious rationale to this, but I don't remember what it was. Anyway, the place is morbidly fascinating. I sent a friend some postcards; I hope they arrived in time for her Halloween party. The pictures in order--the chapel from the outside, the interior of the chapel as seen from the entrance, a bone chandelier, the Schwarzenberg coat of arms in bones, a close-up of the coat of arms showing a crow pecking the eyes of a skull representing an Ottoman soldier, a pile of bones, and the signature of the artist written in bones. A very bizarre place.
The town of Kutna Hora was nice, but I didn't think it was that exceptional by Czech standards. The Czech Republic is full of cities, towns and villages with wonderful well preserved architecture from medieval times to present. So all I have of Kutna Hora is two pictures of St Barbara's Cathedral and one of the town.
Back in Prague I took a picture for a little room comparison. The first picture is of the four person dorm room in Travelers Hostel on Dlouha, where a bunk cost me 420 Koruna, about $12 at the time. Toilets and showers were down the hall. The next picture is of a 600 baht/$14, room I had in Bangkok on Sukhumvit Road. Not a luxury suite, but a comfortable room with full bath, TV, refrigerator, air conditioning, etc. After that is the 300 baht/$7 hut I had on Chaweng Beach in Ko Samui. Full bath, bed and mosquito net, not much else. But I was about ten yards from a beautiful beach and had dynamite views, as seen in the last picture. As much as I like the Czech Republic, I can't deny Thailand has a strong appeal as well.
I spent a lot of time in the Czech Republic; entering on 14 September, leaving for three days to go to Oktoberfest from 4 to 7 October, then returning to Prague for a week before flying to Bangkok on 18 Oct. I like that country, I'll definitely be going back.