02.08.2016 - 03.08.2016
Tuesday morning came around all too soon, and at 5.40am we walked into Leeds airport with our backpacks and our boarding passes. I don't remember much of the security/boarding process as I'm fairly sure that I was still asleep. Managed a snooze during the flight, and before we knew it, we were in Prague. I liked the place immediately - we were given free chocolate in the arrival terminal and the toilet doors were red. Winning.
We had to go on a bit of a quest to find the tickets for the Airport Express bus, but since we weren't lugging our suitcases around for this leg of the trip it only felt like a little quest and not an epic quest. The bus dropped us at the main train station in Prague, which looked graffiti-full and derelict from the outside, but inside had retained its glamour. We had two hours to spend before the train left, so we wandered aimlessly and found delicious and cheap banana smoothies, followed by a scrummy invention called trdelnik, a kind of grilled doughnut on a stick which was then filled with icecream. Totally winning. Prague was bustling, but not as busy as the guidebooks had led me to believe. We were rather amused to see signs for Rocky O'Reilly's, apparently Prague's biggest Irish pub. Looks like we will be able to sustain our Irish holiday a little bit longer...
Onto the train to Olomouc and my goodness did it put Vline to shame! Clean! Comfortable! Cheap! Free wifi! Movies, games and music screens on the back of every seat! And free water, tea and coffee! Thanks RegioJet, you're the best. Another little snooze and some pleasant scenery later, we arrived in Olomouc and successfully navigated the tram system to get to our Airbnb - Jakub was well-prepared for our arrival with maps and information about the things to see and do in the area. We took ourselves on a wander about the city centre, enjoying the experience of bumping into a fountain/church/monument every 100 metres or so without even trying. Apparently the Czech Republic has an increasingly atheist population but Olomouc is known for being a town of churches, and a town of students. As it was summer break, we had the city practically to ourselves. We strolled through the gardens, we felt tiny walking beside the hugely imposing buildings, we drank pilsener and we ate goulash. Off to a good start.
The next morning we slept well past 5.40am (huzzah!), and met Jakub in town for a private tour of the university, which just so happened to be his workplace. Little bit more history in that building than the RMIT city campus! We even got to see inside a deconsecrated chapel that is now used for lectures, performances, meetings... I would find it hard to concentrate on lecture material in there on account of all the frescoes on the walls. The seats looked incredibly comfortable though, so I am definitely considering enrolling in a Czech language course there one summer!
After lunch, we scored a private tour of the Town Hall with a guide who spoke Czech, English, Spanish and Dutch. As you do. We climbed 144 steps to the top of the building for vast views of the city. Suckers for punishment, we then climbed another set of steps up the St Moritz tower for more views. All that effort just about justified the gelati that followed... and it's lucky we only had the small come, otherwise we wouldn't have been able to fit into the chapel tucked inside the Holy Trinity Column. The mass is conducted by the priest standing inside the chapel (approximately two metres in diameter), and the column is designed such that his voice projects out to the masses standing in the square. Most unusual.
There really is an Italian feel about the place - cobbled streets, monuments and churches everywhere, and the few tourists that are about are all sitting outside eating icecream. Rome without the crowds. I like it.
For our evening entertainment, we decided to do an 'escape room' - just the two of us. While it would have been impressive to manage the puzzles and clues in Czech, we felt that was probably a little bit above us at this early stage of our Czech-speaking career, so we opted for the English language version. Without giving anything away, it was awesome! Very clever puzzles and very tricksy clues set up with excellent props and dramatic sound effects. Well worth it. To celebrate our freedom, we went to an Irish pub. Again. This one, however, served Indian food and Czech beer. And our waitress? She spoke Czech, English, Japanese and German.
And so ended a delightful day of culture and culinary delights, leaving us with full bellies and a gently nagging feeling of inadequacy in the polyglot department.