Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Opava, Moravia, Czech Republic
When you say “Czech Republic” to someone in Western Europe or North America, they will immediately think of Prague. Everybody knows Prague and many know that it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
But if you ask them to name another city in the Czech Republic, most people will come up empty-handed (then again, how many people can name a Finnish city other than Helsinki…if even that). Some who are very cultured may be able to name Brno (I had heard the name, but knew absolutely nothing about it). But that’s about it. Unless people have some special interest in the Czech Republic, they will certainly never have heard of the third biggest city: Ostrava, which is where I now live.

And even those who visit the Czech Republic (CR) as tourists, only visit Prague. I did the same: I had dreamt of visiting Prague for a long time because everybody raved about its beauty. And, being an architecture buff, I simply had to see it for myself. But it did not even occur to me to visit any other city in the CR (I visited Vienna on the same trip).

But all those tourists who only visit Prague are missing out on a lot: what they don’t realize is that the CR is simply chock-full of “Mini-Pragues”: cities and towns every bit as beautiful as Prague, just a bit smaller. We have so far visited the following cities in the Czech Republic: Prague, Brno, Ostrava, Olomouc, Frydek-Mistek and Opava, and every single one of them was filled with absolutely gorgeous old buildings.

The cities are clean and friendly, we feel safe everywhere and we have never had problems of any kind…well, apart from not understanding the language. However, it has been interesting to note that English seems to be more widely spoken in smaller towns such as Opava (Troppau in German) and Frydek-Mistek than it is in Ostrava. Perhaps there are simply more tourists there.

At least on our visit to Opava last Sunday we saw at least three groups of German-speaking tourists, one of which was a big tour group with a guide. And during the four and a half months that we have spent in Ostrava, we have not yet seen any tourists. People look at us funny when we take photos and some (the rare few who speak English) come to ask us what we are doing here! Well, Ostrava has been an industrial town for a long time so there are remnants of that era around and Ostrava previously had challenges with air quality. So perhaps the reputation is not so good that it would attract tourists. But we find it to be a great place to live. The one place where there are a lot of foreigners in Ostrava is the university campus: lots of Erasmus students.

Then there is of course the beautiful Czech countryside and the mountains to be explored, but since we don’t yet have a car we haven’t been able to see very much of that part so far (just glimpses from the train). So more on that later.

I am these days nuts about photography so the CR is simply a dream to visit: every little town seems to have tons of things to attract the photographer’s eye. The CR is smack in the middle of Europe and perhaps for that reason it has been conquered and dominated by one super-power after another, but at least this history has given the Czech Republic a lot of gorgeous buildings and stately homes; every cloud does have that proverbial silver lining.  

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Colour Blocking

Frydek-Mistek, Moravia, Czech Republic

Well Gentle Reader,

It seems that you have found your way to my latest blog – I most heartily welcome you!

A wee introduction is perhaps in order? I am a Finn who has recently relocated to the Czech Republic for work and, on these pages, I shall ruminate on all things Czech and, as the name of the blog implies, report also on my travels in this lovely part of Europe.

My Czech friends complain that Finns consider the Czech Republic to be a part of “Eastern Europe” even though the Czech Republic is on CET (Central European Time) and Finland on EET (Eastern European Time). I believe that what my fellow Finns mean is that the Czech Republic belongs to that group of countries that those from outside those countries refer to (a bit rudely in my opinion) as “former Soviet Block”.

Well yes, the Russians were here and few here liked it (to put it mildly). But nowadays, the Czechs are all about moving forward with economical development and those days are not on their radar at all. The Western eye does see signs of those times here and there of course, in things such as Soviet style apartment blocks. But even those buildings look completely different these days because they are painted in lovely pastel colours instead of all being the same sombre shade of grey.

It also seems that half the people I know are currently renovating their apartment or house (including yours truly). It’s as if there’s a huge backlog (pardon my foul IT language – occupational hazard) of un-renovated apartments and now everybody finally has the means to fix them up. To be honest, our own apartment is in a condition that would be unacceptable in Finland, but then again our standards are unusually high. Compared to most other countries in the world, Finns (and Scandinavians in general) are perfectionists when it comes to housing. But, lucky for me, my hubby is quite good with his hands and so our apartment will be all spic ‘n span in no time….must say I'm really looking forward to it.

I welcomed you to this blog heartily and that choice of wording was quite intentional. If I had to describe the Czech people and lifestyle in one word, that would be it: hearty. They have hearty appetites and enjoy hearty meals consisting of copious quantities of meat, potatoes and dumplings, they drink hearty pints of beer (obviously!), take hearty hikes in the fresh country or mountain air, and have hearty humour, hearty handshakes, smiles, you name it.

There is a positive openness to the Czechs; they have a vigorous energy, a brisk walk. They wake up early, get to the office or factory early and leave early so as to enjoy hearty sporting activity with their friends or to cook hearty meals with their family. They are family-oriented and attached to their places of birth. Their values and hearts are in the right place.

I must confess that I have been living here in Ostrava less than 5 months, so these musings must be taken as first-impressions-only. Yes, I am the new kid on the block (pun most heartily intended). But there is more to come as the months and the years roll by. I mentioned that I came here for work, but I did not come here as an expat with a ridiculously lofty salary and benefit package: I am here on a local contract, so yes, we are here to stay…perhaps not forever (for that’s a mighty long time), but long enough to have plans of buying a house here. Czech language lessons too will soon begin…

Stay tuned.