The Moravian Rhapsody

Trip Start Jul 01, 2010
Trip End Jul 29, 2010

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Poets Corner

Flag of Czech Republic  , Moravia,
Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Once in Prague, my mission was to find a train to Olomouc. I was woefully unprepared and, as is becoming the custom, I wandered the Prague streets for hours looking for the correct, international train station. During this time, as my bag weighed heavily on my back and my sunburned arms were beginning to peel disgusting flakes of skin, I found enormous crowds on tourists, hearing Australian accents peppered all over the place. It was undoubtedly a beautiful city, but I find that a city is defined by the people rather than the monuments - if the city has been lost to tourists, I feel something significant has been lost. After a few hours of exhaustion and coke bottles, I somehow managed to buy a ticket to Olomouc - correctly pronouncing it as 'Olomoats' to the quiet, blonde Czech man behind the counter. Missing the express train, I was boarding a clunky, Czechoslavakian-era train before 5pm.

On two occasions, old Czech men spoke to me. The first time I said 'sorry, I can't speak...', the man smiled and dismissed his question. The second time, the unshaved, rural-looking man in badly fitting jeans tried to begin a conversation. Again, saying 'I'm sorry,', he weirdly agreed with me, nodding and continued to talk until I looked out the window and ignored him. Soon, it was apparent that he had no ticket, and after a long argument with the ticket-lady, he was led out of my cabin and I spent the next three hours of my trip with a strange, scrawny dog in front of me.

Olomouc was dead quiet on Monday night. I knew that it was supposedly off-the-radar, but it felt even moreso than I expected. Not only were there no tourists in sight, but it was more like an country town - albeit with a noticeably vast old-town. I caught a train into the centre of town and easily found the Poet's Corner hostel - the aussie-run hostel that I viewed with so much suspicion back in Australia, only deciding to book it when I was in Lyon, on the basis that I needed to make more friends.

Greg and his wife, Francine, came to this city eight years ago, and you can see what they're doing - when the eastern bloc fell, Prague was pounced upon and claimed, for the first time since the second world war, as an incredible tourist destination. Olomouc has never had quite as much historical importance, but it was still the past capital of neighhbouring Moravia, and the impressive old town is distinctively quiet. It's location is a convienient stop-gap between the Prague-Krakow train route. When the tourism picks up, Greg will be crowned king. I know what he is up to.

The hostel was simply and cosy. No internet or television, but a kitchen and bookshelf and a few showers and bedrooms. A nice Czech girl, typically quiet-spoken, gave me the map of Olomouc and gave me the unfortunate news that nothing is open - and here I was, starving at 9pm. But I needn't have worried; I was soon whisked off alongside fellow guests Betsy, Derrick and Arrika to come to dinner - of course, I accepted, and soon I was trotting down the stairs with these three strangers, who I felt remarkably comfortable with already.

We found a Czech restaurant and relied on Arrika's knowledge of Czech - having had older Czech ancestory, she had studied the language and was now researching for a PHD. Dinner involved pork steak, sauerkraut and potato pancakes, alongside a large Czech beer. I felt better than at any part of my trip so far - conversation flowed naturally amongst the four of us and I was no longer eating supermarket food.

Francine, the co-owner of the hostel, is a woman from a country town north of Sydney, and I had a lovely, intelligent discussion about the merits of Australian history. This gave me further confidence - every Australian in this hostel was the intellectual type - no stoners or heavy drinkers were to be found, unless of course, you are Norwegian (I'll return to this later).
Soon, Betsy, Arrika and I had found a clothes hamper and were playing dress-ups together. There is an incriminating photo of me in a short dress - this is the first image the Norwegians had of me when they checked in that night. Lovely.

The next day featured Greg's walking tour. Legend has it that he arrives every morning at the astronomical clock - if no one turns up, he just does leaves. He advertised himself as an english speaking, completely authorised tour guide - he sounded almost defensive. The tour was, however, very informative and opened up the history of Olomouc - an important part of Moravia, founded by the romans, a walled fortress city with a patron saint, with much brutal catholic imagery everywhere. It seems to be built in the same style as both Vienna and Prague - basically a key part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Less noticable is communist aspects - a big part of it is the rebuilt astronomical clock. It used to be the same as Pragues, but the Olomouc clock was shot to shit by existing nazis, and rebuilt in honour of communist leaders, removing religious symbolism and replacing it with images of workers - the real heroes. Stalin, I salute you.

Betsy and I started missing parts of Gregs tour, as I whispered Moral Mouse episodes in her ears, dawdling behind everyone else. As the tour finished, she, Derrick and I decided to go for our own wonder about the town - climbing up a spooky, dark belltower, and eating some amazing, 'Olomouc style' chocolate pie. We then had more Czech food for lunch - such delicacies as fried cheese and potatoes. The menu was, frankly, ridiculous. Take this menu description: 'Bretik', the non-swimmer: If your name is Bretislav and you prove that you're a non-swimmer, you get three pieces for free!' Or else, 'Gutter breath of Knight of Lostice': Toothbrush which we kindly request the customers to return, we only one one'. I assume that referred to the famous stinky cheese of lostice. We didn't dare eat it, because as Derrick pointed out, we were all sharing a car soon.

We drove out to the Helfstyn Castle, a lovely example of medieval remains, but we were free to roam around for as long as we like, with only a few Czech schoolchildren around, and a black and white cat that I named Brno. It was also the location for the annual blacksmiths festival and seminar - and so it had many pieces of interesting, blacksmithed artworks. It made the whole experience, up in the Moravian hills, quite unique. Afterwards, we all found a beautiful lake, filled with bathing locals, with a backdrop of Moravian hills. It didn't sort out my horrible tan-lines though, that make me appear to be wearing a white shirt.

Late that night, the Norwegians returned to the hostel. One of them was gagging over the toilet, while the other two watched in excitement. The blonde girl was explaining to me how the guy never drinks - I was also excited. But I moved my backpack away from the bottom of my bunk bed, to keep it far from any late night spewing. Then I watched a video they had made of this drunk blonde fellow - a video of only minutes before, as he stumbled from side to side over the cobbled streets of Olomouc, a dazed grin on his face while the other two snigger behind the camera. 'You are horrible people,' I joked. Later, the drunk Norwegian fellow decides to climb up on the old town wall, over two metres from the ground. 'This won't end well,' I remark. It doesn't, and trying to jump to the ground, stumbles right off and lands on his side. The camera zooms into his face, moaning something in Norwegian.
'You don't know norwegian so it's probably not so funny for you,' she said.

'Oh it makes it even funnier for me.' I replied.

Olomouc was definitely worth it - it is an instance where my europe plan makes some sense. But if I didn't meet Betsy and the others, it would have probably been a different story.

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