Trip Start Jul 02, 2008
27Trip End Sep 22, 2008
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Where I stayed
So now I am in Olomouc, Czech Republic. Yes, I have left Poland. I really enjoyed Poland as there is a lot to see and do and it's easy to get around and meet other travellers and even some locals are chatty.
I got a fairly early train from Wroclaw to Czech Republic on Aug. 21 as I had plans to meet up with a Czech friend of mine. Her name is Jana and I worked with her way back in Dublin. She actually still lives in Dublin but happened to be at home when I was passing through and she told me to stop in as the town she grew up in is on the main train line between Krakow and Prague. The train I was on was a fast intercity train so it didn't stop in the town she is from so I had to do a transfer. Once I figured out what train I needed to catch, it was easy.
Jana grew up in Studenka. It's in eastern Czech Republic in an area known as Moravia. Prague is in the area called Bohemia. Studenka is near the city of Ostrava and also near the town of Pribor where Sigmund Freud was born.
I didn't do anything in particular in Studenka, just met up with Jana and Jonas (her son) and her mother. I also met her sister.
The day I arrived in the Czech Republic, Aug. 21, happened to be the day of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. It happened in 1968, so it was the 40th anniversary this year. To mark the day now, most towns and cities seem to have events going on from what Jana told me. I know in Studenka (which is a small town) they had some amusement rides set up. Not sure what else happens but it seems to have become more of a festival than a mournful day of remembrance.
The invasion involved the Soviet Army, along with East German, Polish, Hungarian and Bulgarian troops, marching into Czechoslovakia to prevent the liberal reforms of a Czechoslovakian politician. Between 200,000 and 500,000 troops were involved in the invasion. I think nearly 100 people died and it worked as the reforms did not happen.
The event is marked fairly heavily in the minds of Czechs as I know it is the reason why Jaromir Jagr wears the number 68 on his hockey jersey.
I only spent one day with Jana as she was due to go back to Dublin in a few days but it was excellent to see her again.
On Aug. 22, I headed to a small city called Olomouc (pronounced Olla-moats). It turned out to be a great place. Sort of like Prague but without the hordes of tourists. Quieter and not as many things to see as Prague but still has lots of town squares to hang out in. And it has an astronomical clock similar to the one in Prague but in Olomouc it's had some communist touches added to it.
The clock itself is about 600 years old I think but in the 1950s they were going to fix it after it had been damaged in World War 2. So the communist government decided to have the mosaic on the face of the clock depict some good old socialist images. You know, one image is of a woman with a bundle of wheat in her arms and another depicts a worker.
Even after 600 years the clock still works and at noon everyday a special little show takes place. Well to call it a show would be an overstatement. It's more like some bad music gets played and the figurines on the clock move around a bit. The clock movements are 600 years old so the figurines don't move so well anymore but the clock is still accurate (it does get wound up every couple of days). Along with telling the time, the clock also tells you what day of the week it is, what season it is, shows what stars you can see in the night sky that night and it also lists the name days.
In the Czech Republic (and several other countries in this part of the world as I know Polish people do this as well) a person's name day is celebrated as much, if not more so, than their birthday. Every day has a saint attached to it and whatever name you give a child who is born, they also get their name day. Apparently it's not very often that a Czech person is given a name that doesn't have a name day. So you don't get many kids named Moonbeam or Flash in the Czech Republic.
An example of a few names days I looked up on the clock: Jana (my friend), her name day is the 144th day of the year (sometime in May I think). Jarmomir Jagr's name day is the 267th day (yes most of the names I looked up are hockey players as those are the only Czechs I know). Milan Hejduk's name day is the 169th day. Miroslav Satan's (who is Slovakian but they have similar traditions, plus I love his last name) is the 332nd day.
Olomouc's is a nice town like I said. Great to just wander around and explore the little lanes. But one big reason I was happy to be there is the beer. The Czech Republic is home to some of the best beer in the world and they give you every reason to drink it as its cheaper than Coke and sometimes cheaper than water. For less than a Pound you get half a litre of the stuff (that's less than $2 Cdn).
I am a big fan of Budvar Budweiser, a Czech beer the Americans stole the name of and then attached to some really bad beer. Trust me after you have Budvar Budweiser you will swear off the American stuff forever. You can find Budvar more often now in other countries, so I decided to try some beer I had never had before, some local Moravian beer. It was of course very good. In my opinion you know you're in a great country when they play and watch good sports (that would be hockey) and brew good beer.