Monday, January 24, 2011

Walking in Brno

First of all, let me say I've tried to find better quality pictures, I've looked on my computer and it seems all I've got are not so good pictures of Brno, as if every time we go there, there is no time for photos. Maybe because of the partying?

A big part of Brno means the Universities it hosts, so the student life is quite thriving. Everyone who's lived in Brno knows Ceska, the street that starts near the Masaryk University's Social Studies Department and it ends in the main square, the Freedom Square or Svbobodaku as it is known by the Moravians. If you want to meet someone, just say Ceska, under the clock, they will know where it is, something like Piata Romana n°9 for Bucharest dwellers.

Very close by is a church dedicated to the great teacher Jan Amos Komensky. Of course there is also statue of TGM in front of the University bearing his name. For a very laic country, these guys are held in almost Saint-like reverence.

Going towards Namesti Svobody you will find bars and restaurants, nice places to take a young lady from MU. A cool place is this mall that hosts coffee houses and a Student Agency window. I will write sometimes about this company, another Moravian symbol. Anyway, the shopping gallery is in an old building that has kept its charm. You can go with the elevator to the top floor for a coffee or wonder around until you find a gem of an Indian tea  house. The shops are unique as well, art galleries, hand made, young designer clothes and jewelery, spice shops. From the outside you'd never say you're going to find some little treasure.

The Square is a large meeting place, I like it very much in the afternoon because the sun lights up the roofs beautifully. But at night it is mysterious and wonderful and the architecture helps create this air. Well not all the buildings are equally successful (much as my pictures I'd say). This green lit shopping center is outright horrible in my opinion. Of course the square (which isn't quite square, ironically) has it's Plague Column, but I don't have a picture of that, once you've seen one or two of these, the rest pretty much look alike.

Brno's old town lies between the hill of the Cathedral and the Castel hill. If you want to go to the Saint Peter and Saint Paul Cathedral, one way is to pass the Town Hall with it's interesting colums. There are many legends related to Brno and at least some of these have left a sign here. One is the legend of the dragon menacing the city who's skin hangs in the Town Hall. Another legend is that of the master who did not get paid for his work and so left one column crooked, as you can see below.

Above, a replica of the Castle Spilberk. The castle has never been taken and it has had a gloomy past as a prison, but it deserves a visit at least to spend some time in the gardens overlooking the town (maybe with that young girl you've met at Ceska?).

Both the Castle gardens and the Cathedral hill offer  beautiful sights to the city. These are favorite spots for Brno residents to relax in the sun and play some petanque for example. Sometimes, you can find couples celebrating their wedding on a terrace overlooking the city.

If you do go to the Cathedral though, and I wish you do, you will not be disappointed, the walk is long but the view is beautiful, especially at sunset.

Brno is the second biggest city in the Czech Republic and it has about the same size as Bucharest (around 230sqkm) but only about 400 000 inhabitants so it does not look very crowded. Several of the neighborhoods are perched up on hills, including old worker's quarters where you can now find the Montmartre of Brno, an area of older workers' houses restored by newer and richer owners.
The Cathedral is interesting as well and the astronomical clock it hosts, deserves a look. The bells in the two tall bell towers are said to have saved Brno from invading Swedish armies. After a long siege, the invading army's commander decided that if they don't take the city by noon the following day, they will give up the assault. Somehow a local soldier learned of this and convinced the priests to ring the bells 12 times at 11 o'clock. And so the city was saved but to this day the bells ring 12 times at 11. Just in case.

Now that you've been up the major hills of Brno, admired the sights (met a pretty Moravian blond, took her to a bar), and wandered in the cobbled streets,  you might want to try a local beer and a specific dish. Although Moravians are more proud of the local wine, they do have some good, traditional brews. One local beer is called Starobrno or old Brno, to be enjoyed responsibly. The brewery has a very good restaurant in the style of the Munich beer houses. I once ate some great spare ribs for a very decent price. Last time we were there, the restaurant wasn't open yet and we had to go just next door, to the Starobrno Pivnice, which would be the pub, but in very Czech/Moravian fashion, the pub serves food, very good food actually. What you see in this photo taken with my phone, is a wild boar goulash with bread dumplings, potato rosti and some slices of gingerbread that complemented the sauce very well and were a much welcomed although surprising, addition. It is among the top 5 goulash I've ever had. And the beer was just perfect.

There are much more things to see and do in Brno. There are very good theaters and art galleries. You should also visit the Villa Tugendhat for some design inspiration as well. If you are passionate about history, the site of the battle of Austerlitz is 6km away, in Slavkov u Brna. Each year the battle is reenacted for the public.

As for me, I like the Moravian capital for its laid back charm, the lazy afternoons after a picnic on the Castle Hill and the crazy nights spent barhopping. Reminds me of Nantes. Do give it a try, it might be a nice change from the hustle and bustle of Prague's many tourists.

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