AA on the road: Day 4 – Exploring Moravia

Day 4: August 30, 2015
Time: 10:00
Location: Skutec, Czech Republic
Destination: Olomouc, Czech Republic

Little past midnight we arrived in Skutec. Our original plan was to spend the night in beautiful town of Kutna Hora. Somehow with our short booking window and the late hour of looking for accommodation on Airbnb, we ended up grossly underestimating the distance between the two towns by a small 70 km. On the interesting side, nothing could beat our home for the night in Skutec.

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A picture says 1000 words. I hope this picture we took of our home in the morning sun is able to convey a little bit of that experience. A mixture of a clay hut and a nomad Mongolian tent, hand-made by our kind host Jan and his friends. Inside there was a mismatch of all kinds of furniture and hammocks occupying all nooks and crannies of the hut. The toilet was a dry closet, a polite way of saying hole in the ground. Quite an experience!

As it was a weekend, the local car workshop was closed in Skutec, so Kutna Hora, with its Bohemian charm stayed as an unexplored point on our paper map. Driving backwards with a car, whose behaviour couldn’t be quite predicted judging by its capricious actions of the day before was not an enticing option. Hence, forward lay the road. In the August heat across the Czech countryside to Olomouc in Moravia.

There is something very charming about Czech architecture. The cities feel like they are taken straight out of medieval fairy tales, the cobblestoned narrow streets, the colourful, beautiful buildings that are adorned with details ready to mesmerise you. Prague, the Czech crown jewel is of course hard to beat. But don’t underestimate the beauty that awaits you in the rest of the country. Beauty that is no less charming and comes with no tourist crowds.

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Olomouc is one of these small gems. We arrived in the city boiling in the heat to find charming streets, void of people, who probably had taken refugee in their homes to escape the summer heat.

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The multi-coloured facades of Olomouc

Our first mission was to locate food! On the way from Skutec the car kept us hostage, and we were afraid to do any extracurricular stops as long as the Rover baby kept on driving. So we arrived in Olomouc starving. With Andreas’ excellent food-spotting skills we found a charming café with a French name, tucked away in a quiet backyard, with plenty of cuteness and trees to shade from the sun. IMG_7729

Moving down the list of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we put a tick on the hunger box, and turned our attention to the next basic need – shelter. A quick Airbnb search brought us to a lovely apartment right in the center of the city overlooking the charming roofs of old buildings and with a prime view to the city hall tower. Our host was the sweetest Czech family, a young couple with two most adorable kids.

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Armed with local tips from our hosts, we set off to discover the city. First off, Olomouc is really small, you can walk across the city in practically 30 min. Nonetheless, the amount of cuteness we discovered was far enough to keep our travellers’ eyes occupied for a couple of hours.

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Cuteness overload. The cobblestoned streets and old buildings are a sweet sight for our eyes.

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Look at this mosaic! It is incredible. From this grandiose entrance you would expect to find at a very least a palace. Hold your breath. It is a restaurant! Supposedly gourmet and all, we didn’t try it but it had a sophisticated menu and matching prices to go with the luxurious entrance.

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Olomouc has surprisingly many churches for a city of its size. The imposing Saint Wenceslas cathedral is set on a hill and is a nice stroll to make from the old city center.

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Locals hanging out in a community garden.

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An abandoned venue turned into a “secret” cinema.

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During service times, bikes get a VIP parking inside the church.

When we travel, there is always one must-do item on our itinerary, and that is to get a bird’s eye view over the place. In European capitals, there is always a good chance to find a church, a hill or on few occasions a high-rise that has a commanding view of the surroundings. In Olomouc, this old charming city, the church of St. Michael had the honour to watch over the city. As we ascended its spiral staircase the sun was about to set, spreading a magical glow all over.

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The view from St. Michael’s church.

The main attraction of Olomouc is the city hall square with its Holy Trinity Column that is inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List. This is also the place where we kept returning to after criss-crossing the small streets. A pretty impressive sight.

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Besides the impressive column, the square has another highlight – an astronomical clock. Of course, Prague has its world-famous clock, so it would have been strange not to find one in Olomouc too. Don’t hurry to pass on judgement. It is not about copying all that Prague does. The one in Olomouc is not only astronomical, it is also very very Soviet. Yep! A remnant of the good old socialist times. As the cuckoo announces the strokes of an hour, slim figures of hard-working men and women pop out displaying the full glory and various trades of the Soviet era.

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The astronomical clock of Olomouc is quite a show.

After walking around for a couple of hours we ended the day’s adventures at a popular local brewery. The Czech food, at least this dinner plate we were served in Olomouc reminded quite a lot of Bavarian food. Simple delights, no effort spent on gourmet twists.

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Our dinner plate for two with the complementary Pilsner of course. Na zdravi!

On our way back home we passed by the impressive square again. The bustling liveliness of the afternoon had worn off and the beautiful silence was only broken by the steps of occasional passers-by. A beautiful day spent in a beautiful city. Tomorrow new roads await us.

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Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

AA on the road: Day 3 – Crossing the Germany – Czech Republic border

Day 3: August 29, 2015
Time: 11:00
Location: Berlin, Germany
Destination: Skutec, Czech Republic

Hallo! After 2 days spent in our wonderful Berlin we are ready to hit the road. The bags are packed, the car is tanked, and it is time to say good-bye to our lovely hosts – Miro & Isabell.

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Miro & Isabell – our dear friends in Berlin (Photo credit: Miroslav Mateev)

Miro is from Bulgaria, Isabell – from Germany, and now they call Berlin their home. Their love story is a beautiful one, I will just say that they had to travel all the way to Alaska to find each other there <3.

I first met Miro in 2010-2011 at my Deutsche class, when Andreas and I were living in Berlin. He was one of the most hard-working students in the class, on par with me (I am modest I know), and that is how our friendship was struck. I like hard-working people :) Miro is also a crazy bike enthusiast, he probably averages around 100 km a day or more, which according to my standards is insane and worthy of a trophy! So if you are ever in Berlin, you might bump into Miro, the famous cyclist of Berlin. Isabell is the sweetest English language/history teacher. She is probably the most diligent teacher in Germany, she puts so much care and love in her lesson preps, that one should seriously envy her students. Isabel is less into biking and more into hiking/strolling, which suits Miro just fine.

These lovely friends of ours became our first hosts of the road trip, and we couldn’t wish for a more wonderful start of the trip :) Tschüss Berlin, tschüss Deutschland, country #2.

Fahren fahren fahren auf die Autobahn. The course is set towards Basteigebiet, the last German stronghold before reaching the Czech border, the country #3 on our list.

The breathtaking scenery of Sächsische Schweiz

The breathtaking scenery of Sächsische Schweiz

Basteigebiet is an incredible bridge built in the rock formations in the natural park Sächsische Schweiz reaching across the border into Czech Republic. We heard about this place some years ago when visiting Dresden but couldn’t make it there at that time. Now the opportunity presented itself on a silver plate.

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Sandstone rocks were eroded millions of years ago and now stand as breathtaking columns. To ease access for the less adventurous visitors, a wooden bridge was constructed in the early 19th century. The heavy load of the visitors called for a sturdier construction and in the 1800’s a sandstone bridge was built between the columns. Today the number of tourists feels nearly as breathtaking as the view.

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The bridge, the rocks, the view across Elbe and the plains were incredible, however the place felt a bit crowded. Probably visiting it in the 1800’s would have provided a nicer thrill of adventure than walking on the bridge together with an army of hundred others dominated by Chinese groups and selfie stick couples. Nevertheless, it is quite a thrilling sight especially from a distance standing in a secluded corner and taking in the view.

#fromwhereistand

#fromwhereistand

#fromwherewestand

#fromwherewestand

After making our way back through the hordes of tourists it was time to refuel our own engines. We found a small selbstdienst cafeteria just by the entrance to the bridge. To put it in a nutshell, it was a bit dodgy food featuring deep-fried schnitzels from a place run by funny ladies and overruled by angry wasps. The only good thing about that place was the commanding view of the valley. Shame it was spoiled by this joint.

Rocks, Elbe and fields

Rocks, Elbe and fields

Time to get back on the road. The first international border is waiting to be crossed. Ahoj Czech Republic! First off you need a vignette of course. It is only Germany that allows foreigners to borrow their super nice highways free of charge, probably not for much longer though.

Ahoj Czech Republic! We have made it to country #3 :)

Crossing the German-Czech border was smooth as always in the EU, we barely noticed the small sign indicating the change of countries and the imposing structure in dull concrete. Andreas was very excited at the sight of the former customs station that barely had energy left to give us a wave for a safe journey.

The German-Czech border crossing or what is left from it.

The German-Czech border crossing or what is left from it.

Just across the border we found the next stop on our itinerary: Hrensko. Supposedly a small village with traditional brick and timber houses, instead we found a local version of the Chinese markets we frequented in Beijing. Later we learned from our hosts in Zlin, that the cheap Chinese goods are in high demand with the Czech people. Who would imagine?!

Hrensko - the timbered houses that we were looking for turned out not to be quite so spectacular.

Hrensko – the timbered houses that we were looking for turned out not to be quite so spectacular.

 

 

The apparent landmark of Hrensko - the copycat Chinese market.

The apparent landmark of Hrensko – the copycat Chinese market.

Looking closely behind the seemingly endless rows of cheap merchandise we did notice some traditional houses, but all the charm had been lost with the Asian invasion. In one of the local restaurants we enjoyed a local specialty of three sorts of schnitzel! Together with us there was a very merry crew of Germans that made it across the border for a cheap dinner and some local schnapps. They were quite an amusing sight worthy to have been photographed for memories.

When leaving Hrensko the car started to misbehave just after hours of buying it. In the moment of panic on my side and trying to keep it cool on Andreas’ side, he put on his favourite headlamp and opened the hood of the car to locate the point of cause. After feeding it some lovely motor oil, we resumed the drive. Little did we know that motor oil was not the point of cause and that the first signs of a motor shutting down while driving would become quite a troublesome mystery keeping us stranded in a small city for days to come. But I am running ahead of things…

On the Czech roads...

On the Czech roads…

Back to the Czech roads. We still had some kms to cover and the night was catching up. Apparently when booking our stay for the night we had misjudged the map and ended up booking a place that was much farther from the destination we initially wanted to find us at. After spending a few long hours driving through the Czech hills and forests we have finally arrived at the hut little past midnight. Fortunately our kind host was up waiting for us.

To be continued…

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan