After our visit to the Tatra Museum in Kopřivnice, we headed west to Olomouc, still in the Moravia region. A city of around 100,000 people, we had heard that it was less discovered than some of the popular South Bohemian destinations and worth a visit. It was on our way so we stopped in. It took a little while to navigate the sprawl and find the colourful centre. There were trams which is always a good sign, and we found somewhere to park near the main square.
The weather wasn’t promising as we wandered around but we admired the spired town hall, Baroque fountains, and its UNESCO listed column. The Holy Trinity column is purported to be the largest single Baroque sculpture in Central Europe, and built between 1716 and 1754 it certainly has a presence. Nearby there’s a much more recent addition – a funky turtle and dolphin fountain which dates from 2002. Said to have been founded by Julius Caesar, the city is a university town and also a religious centre, with grand buildings and churches, from the gothic cathedral to the baroque church of St Mary of the Snows. With its many tramlines and wide streets it has the feel of a much bigger city. One of the other major squares was unfortunately rather off limits – archaeologists were busy sifting through earth and brushing off what looked like remains of old walls down the middle of the road leading into it. We spent a few hours in Olomouc, including a gorgeous lunch at a pivovar – or beer hall, and a thorough walk around all the streets of interest we could find. There were very few tourists, which was part of its appeal – it is a real place, not a theme park and there’s plenty going on. It’s another very livable in place.
Reluctant to leave, but needing to press on, we headed south from here to Brno. Initially we were planning to transit the Czech Republic’s second city and head west to find somewhere to camp, but the roads kind of took us into the centre and as we descended the hill towards the city the sight of an array of spires and a castle invited us to stop for a quick look.
We found the tourist information for a map and set off to explore. Brno too has a Gothic Cathedral rising above its old quarter, as well as the citadel on another rise. We delved into the streets and squares, finding the Cabbage Market square and its rather bizarre Parnassus fountain dating from 1695, featuring a cave like structure with mythological figures most notably Hercules holding Cerberus, the watchdog of the underworld. The smart looking vegetable market was just about to pack up, and it was sweetcorn cobs that we bought, not cabbage. Brno is full of superb architecture and the trappings you expect of a major hub, and in spite of our having a map, we still managed to get lost – two streets with very similar looking names – apparently.
Leaving Brno was more difficult than finding our way in. We try to avoid motorways anyway, and we don’t have a motorway vignette (a permit to use them), but it turned out that our A road equivalent merged with the motorway so we didn’t have a choice. It isn’t always very clear which roads you can and can’t use under this system. Anyway we found our campsite at Ostrovačice and looked to be the very last customers of the season as he was due to close the next day.
Saturday dawned bright and fine after overnight rain, and we set off again westwards meandering via a diversion to Telč, autumn colours in full force. Telč is one of the Czech Republic’s gems and is also UNESCO listed. Strolling from the car park towards the middle of the village, we came to a large rather muddy pond. What was happening here then?
Crowds of people were leaning on the wooden fence looking down at the water where lots of burly chaps in waterproofs and waders were waist deep catching fish in nets. They were catching really loads of big fish. The pond was teeming with them. On the path below the fence lorries with huge tanks were parked and in front of this there were big round steel tanks and a sorting tray with more fish being emptied into it every few minutes, being selected and chucked into the right tank. They were fishing the entire pond out it seemed.
On the roadway into town, trestles and benches were already crowded and a stall selling grilled fish and beer was doing a roaring trade, even though it wasn’t yet quite lunchtime. A band was playing songs that everyone was singing along to, and it was obvious that beer had been consumed for several hours already. And the men below on the increasingly muddy water were working incredibly hard, beers in hand as they went.
We dragged ourselves away to go and see the village centre, entering the famous square through an archway.
To our right the church and castle, where a wedding seemed just about to kick-off, smart guests arriving, backless dresses in the chill air and a lovely decorated Citroën D Series parked up. To our left the expanse of the square, with its decorative colourful facades and arcades bathed in sunlight on one side, shade on the other. Every house different their appearance dates back to the 16th century when the town was rebuilt after a catastrophic fire. The houses have vaulted arches, creating an undercover walkway. It was idyllic and amazingly tourist free.
We asked the tourist office lady what was going on with the fish. Her English wasn’t up to describing it fully and our German (her second language) wasn’t up to it either. We established that this was an annual thing though, and found out later that the fish ponds and fishing out harvest tradition dates back to the 13th century. We’d arrived on the right day. We went to see if the queue at the fish stall had died down. It had, they only had a few left though, and we tucked into freshly grilled trout in a tasty crispy batter with our fingers at one of the trestles, washed down with beer (of course). It was as delicious as only fresh fish eaten outside can be.
Meanwhile the band played on and the men were still rounding up the few remaining fish. Several lorry loads of tanks had already left. It was increasingly muddy out there, and men were struggling not to get their waders stuck. Hard work wading in mud. As we finished our beer and fish, the stalls were already packing up, and the last few fish tanks were getting full.
As we watched the last knockings of this fish out, a stream of people from a tour bus arrived… they’d missed all the fun. And for once we’d arrived at just the right time.
We were in luck at České Budějovice too. As we strolled into the large town square, we heard music. Not traditional folk singalongs this time, but a Czech answer to The Shadows were twanging their guitars surrounded by beer and food stalls and lots of crafts on display. Everyone was out and about and you could pick up some lovely things for bargain prices. Beer (not the famed local brew though, in spite of the Budvar umbrellas) and handcooked spiral crisps were eaten perched by the central fountain gazing at more colourful decorated buildings.
Our campsite was just south of town, closer than we had expected, and was hosting a dog show the next day, so the motel part of the grounds was full, lots of beribboned long-haired dogs socialising with each other and getting prepared for the Sunday.
We walked into town to look for some more local beer and something to wash down with it. A river flows most of the way around the centre and we crossed over one of the many bridges, and spied a cosy bar or two. Still no Budvar beer though. Into town we looked at a couple of the famous beer hall restaurants, all fully booked and rather corporate looking anyway. Off the square we found more cobbled back streets and scenic lighting shone on some striking facades. Eventually we found a small bar with food and although busy, we perched on stools in the smoky fug (no smoking ban here yet) and had a delicious meal of chicken cooked with bacon and herbs with roasted new potatoes. More beer of course, though still not Budvar. We felt a bit guilty not drinking the town’s namesake beer, but honestly you can get it anywhere, and you can’t find the lesser known local brews elsewhere.