Europe | Czech Republic | Olomouc – ahoj there, mateys
I love hearing Czechs answer their cell phones with what sounds like ‘ahoy’ but is actually ‘ahoj,’ the Czech word for hi. It just cracks me up. 🙂
Well, I ended up spending a good long time in Olomouc (pronounced Olamoats) in the Czech Republic. I’d decided to break up my trip from Krakow to Budapest because of the frightening gassing-of-night-trains stories I’d heard while still in Poland. The Czech Republic holds a special place in my heart, and I thought that Olomouc would be a perfect pitstop to break up the lengthy trip to Budapest. Plus, though I’d travelled in Czech before, I’d never been to Moravia (well, except for Moravia, Texas, which doesn’t count).
How to possibly describe this city? It is Prague’s studious, quiet little sister. The streets are full of Baroque architecture and wind themselves up into a beautiful knot of a square before untying themselves again. Olomouc is a university town, so as students are out of school for the moment, and the streets are devoid of tourists, the evenings are eerily quiet. I’d no idea what to expect when I arrived. I took the number 5 tram and found Poet’s Corner hostel, which was on the third floor of a large corner building. The hostel is owned and run by two Aussies, Greg and Francie, who immediately make you feel at home. There are only two rooms of beds…I was in a room with four beds…and so the hostel feels intimate and cozy. Only ten people can stay there! The hostel was full the night I arrived, and all of us had dinner at about the same time, then decided to walk the twisty streets down to the teahouse. On the way down, I found out that the Cesky Krumlov teahouse that I’d loved so much when I visited a few years ago was washed away by last year’s flooding of the Vltava River…noooo!! The hostel I’d stayed at with Kara and Ryan is probably gone, too…it was right on the river. Francie advised me to not return to Cesky Krumlov (which is in the south of Czech)…it would be too painful. Much was destroyed, and they are still cleaning up. But Olomouc still has a teahouse, and it’s just lovely. I had a delicate green tea called ‘Old Mountain’s Hair,’ chosen for the name, of course.
After the teahouse closed, we slowly wandered the empty streets back to the hostel. But we didn’t stop there…the consensus had been to try out the airplane bar. Francie groaned. ‘Here’s a warning,’ she said. ‘The beer is served in cans.’
We arrived at the bar…yes, it was indeed located in an old Russian airplane. You board by climbing old flight steps, and then make yourself ‘comfortable’ in the plane seats. There is actually a small dancefloor in the cockpit, though dancing to remixes of ‘Mr. Vain’ didn’t seem to be anyone’s cup of tea. It was definately an experience!
The next day, I hung out a bit in the common room, having a nice breakfast, and then headed out. I walked to the town square, where I watched the astronomical clock strike 12 o’clock. The clock is pretty interesting in the fact that statuettes of the original 12 Apostles parading around at noon were replaced with citizen-workers during Soviet times. I spent the rest of the day walking and taking the flavor of Olomouc in. The evening brought on a huge storm which rainbound most of us in the hostel, where we hung out and played cards and chess. I really love evenings like this.
The next morning, we all found out that Bianca’s (from Sydney) birthday was the next day. Francie decided she’d try her hand at making a vegan birthday cake, and invited Bianca and me to come with her to the farmer’s market for some ingredients. Later on, Bianca, Kira (from New York), Francie, and I thought we’d try to go to a yoga class, but as the class was no longer running, this proved difficult. So instead, we walked down to the park, where we spread out our towels and followed Francie’s lead. It was so relaxing, feeling my muscles stretch out, watching clouds go by. Relaxing, that is, until two kids–probably 7 and 10 years old–interupted our class and demanded payment. They told us they were gypsies and owned the park, and we should pay them for the priviledge of using it. This should have been funny…but it wasn’t. Francie did a great job of distracting them enough so they didn’t grab our bags and run. We had to leave then, and the kids spit at us as we walked away. Shame. We walked around for a bit, trying to find a good place to continue, but eventually gave up. We strolled by the pool on the way to the hostel…no swim trunks allowed on guys…speedos only!!! That night I went with a few people to get a hearty Czech meal. Yum.
Day four–Bianca’s birthday!! To celebrate, Francie had asked Bianca, Kira, and myself if we wanted to be her guinea pigs for the new project she’s trying out…Fairytale Adventures. The concept is that her patrons will visit a ruined castle in Lipnik decked out in costumes (which she sewed herself), while assuming a traditional Moravian fairytale character’s identity and learning about Slavic folklore and what life in a castle would have been like. Sounded like fun…So we took a bus to Lipnik and then a taxi up to Helfstyn Castle, where we put on our fantastic princess costumes. Francie told us about castle life and medieval times as we walked the castle grounds amid other tourists, dodging little old ladies who told us we were beautiful and teenagers that asked when our performance would be. We met the manager of the castle, who seemed so taken with our getups that he personally escorted us around, telling about each section of the ruined castle. Then we decended into a celler gallery, where work from the modern blacksmiths (who have a smithy school on the castle grounds) was displayed. Had a bite of lunch, climbed a wooden lookout tower where we took lots of goofy princess-in-a-tower pictures, then headed to a deserted room to learn a medieval dance. Just great fun.
When we arrived back at the hostel, we discovered that Greg had decorated the place for Bianca’s birthday! Streamers and balloons were strung up everywhere, and a sign on the bathroom door said, ‘Happy Birthday, Bjanka’ (the Czech spelling of her name). (I haven’t mentioned this yet, but Greg and Francie have post-it notes up everywhere, giving Czech names for things like ‘door’ and ‘friends’ and ‘hello, little doggy’ (useful for greeting their neighbor’s pup), to help the hostellers learn the local language.)
Bianca was so excited that Greg and Francie had taken time to make her birthday special. We all had dinner together and then went to see the Matrix Reloaded (with Czech subtitles). Later we had yummy vegan carrot cake (with strawberries). Such a great night.
Most of the hostel left the next day, including me. It was so difficult to leave Olomouc behind. The city welcomes you with open arms, as do Greg and Francie. I’ve never cried leaving a hostel before, but I did that morning. It had become home.
Now I’m in Budapest…and am trying to get over my culture shock at being in a party hostel. Oh, for Olomouc! But this giant city is growing on me, and I’m looking forward to whatever is in store in the next few days.