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.  

1 comment:

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