04.08.2016 - 07.08.2016 25 °C
Thursday started with a slightly more conventional cultural experience - the modern art museum. We stopped at a randomly chosen cafe on the way and had smoothies for breakfast, and as a result, we should be fairly right for vitamins for the rest of our lives. Anyway - modern art. I'll admit that I was apprehensive before going in, as modern art and I haven't had the best relationship in the past, but I'm pleased to report that there was plenty in the gallery for me to appreciate and even enjoy. It probably helped that only the titles of the artworks were translated to English - it's usually the pretentious descriptions of a wiggly line that gets on my nerves. And I enjoyed thinking of more creative names for the plethora of "untitled" works - "Pat and Simon Working on Belinda's Peat Farm" was a personal favourite. There was also a photographic exhibition from Jindrik Streit who captured the happy and not-so-happy moments in everday socialist Czechoslovakia in the decade leading up to the Velvet Revolution. Look at me, I'm learning stuff and things!
We were out of there in time to see the Astronomical Clock do its socialist thing at noon, and then jumped on a tram and a bus out to Svaty Kopecek to 'Holy Hill'. The basilica on a hill has sweeping views over Olomouc and the district, and its claim to fame is that Pope John Paul II just popped in unannounced one day. We availed ourselves of one of the many nearby restaurants. Pork knuckle = excellent feature of Czech cuisine.
We caught the bus and the tram back into town - we really could've walked from the bus station but it was hot and humid and although we only paid 24 crowns each for a ticket (less than one pound...) we figured we may as well get as much out of it as possible.
We had the universally loved meal of 'use up the leftovers' with Jakub and Zuzana that night, after going to the pub to buy some beer. That was an experience in itself! We offered to buy the beer because we thought we knew how to do that. Turns out we didn't. Apparently the procedure involves grabbing a large vessel, walking downstairs to the pub and then paying the lady there to fill said vessel with draught beer. And since you're there anyway, you may as well stop for a small beer to drink in the pub. Winning.
Aside from the beer, we had a thoroughly entertaining night with our hosts, and we learnt all sorts of things - planned homebirths are illegal, the communist party came third in the most recent election, and that Jakub who is a doctor (but not the medical type) needs to hurry up and finish his book about the use of opening credits in television programs. And then we finished the night with Zuzana's grandfather's home made slivovice...
The next morning we were a little sad to farewell Olomouc, but excited to say 'ahoj' to Prague. We took the budget train (still fancier than Vline, but no free coffee) and then navigated the underground and the tram to our next apartment. We settled in, then went straight to Peklo, a shmancy restaurant in a cave under a former monastery whose name unfortunately translates to 'Hell'. Lucky we didn't know that when we walked in, because otherwise we would've missed out on gulash served in a bowl made of bread. Edible serving bowl = living the dream.
From there we explored Petrin Hill - we oohed and aahed appreciatively at the city views, and were sufficiently entertained by the mirror maze. After all that excitement, we went home and ate baked beans on bread (found Heinz in the local supermarket, but no sign of a toaster in the flat).
For our first whole day in Prague, we walked down into town. Literally. Downhill all the way, hurrah! We crossed Charles Bridge relatively unhindered by tourists or vendors, on account of it being early morning. We found the Astronomical Clock (which warned against the evils of greed, vanity and being an infidel) and then found a tour group to take us to Kutna Hora and the Sedlec Ossuary.
It was quite liberating to be touristy tourists again, and to pay someone money to deal with working out what to do at what time and how to get there. A Czech version of Anita talked us through our bus journey, ordered our lunch, made sure we knew what we were looking at all day and got us safely back to Prague at the end of it. Ahhh...
The Sedlec Ossuary (definitely worth doing a Google image search) is a chapel that is decorated with the bones of tens of thousands of plague and war victims. Not in a sinister way, though, just in a "we're all going to die and then we are all equals" kind of way. Hard to explain, but definitely worth a look.
Kutna Hora used to be where 2/3 of all European silver was mined (if I remember correctly - if not, makes for a good story). The water tank from 1497 still stands proudly in the town centre and continues to provide hydrating for any tourist willing to brave the slightly erratic pressure it generates. The highlight of Kutna Hora was Santa Barbara church, which was impressive because of the spacious feeling inside (rather than the excessive use of gold and bling). Lunch was also fairly amusing, and we ended up getting tips for our trip to Lisbon from two Irish/Australian/American couples.
When we returned to Prague, it was busy. Here, at last, were the promised hordes of tourists! It was a Saturday night, so there were a few groups celebrating impending marriages thrown into the mix. We somehow managed to be escorted part of the way home by musicians promoting the upcoming performance of Don Giovanni. It's quite enjoyable to make your way through a crowd with a trumpeter and drummer in period costume leading the way, you should definitely try it sometime.
We had dinner at the monastic brewery near our apartment for approximately half the price of city centre restaurants, thereby totally justifying the pain of having to walk uphill to get home.
On Sunday we ventured back into the city centre, and mastered the art of getting through the crowd on Charles Bridge. We discovered that if you walk quickly and purposefully, people just get out of your way. Maybe it made us look more important and intimidating than the average ambling tourist, or maybe it was actually Simon's beard that was intimidating people. Whatever it was, it worked, and we made it to the Old Town Square in record time and joined a walking tour for the afternoon. Our guide, Lucie, was a terrifying Czech woman who spoke English with a strong Cockney accent which meant that sometimes I was amused when I was supposed to be appalled at the stories of defenestration, execution and religious persecution. I didn't feel that I got a sense of Prague as a whole, but perhaps that is because the country itself has such a history of being part of an empire, separated, taken over and then separated again. I agreed with Lucie when she said that travelling is like doing a puzzle - every time you go somewhere, you fit more pieces together. Somtimes they are pieces you didn't even know you were looking for! And I certainly don't think that I have found any of the corner pieces yet...
After the tour we celebrated Czech culture with some Budweiser Budvar and walked back up the hill for ridiculously cheap food. Two meals + two beers (Kozel) on the deck of a nice pub = 14 euro. Bargain. Czech culture and nink culture are fitting together nicely. As we walked back to our flat, we were treated to a fireworks display way off in the distance. Why? Let's assume it was to celebrate the end of another successful day of ninking.