If you’ve been following Beyond Prague for a while, you are likely familiar with my existing article about the Czechoslovak RAF airmen. If not, please spare a bit of time to visit it.
If you want to know more about the Czechoslovak airmen and their stories, you’ll do no better than a visit to the Free Czechoslovak Air Force website. It is a rich resource for anyone who wants to know more about these airmen.
2023 marks the seventh year that Dry February has taken place in the Czech Republic. In Czech, Dry February translates as Suchej Únor.
2023 also marks the first time I’ve decided to give the event a try myself.
The Czech Republic has a deep association with alcohol production that forms part of the nation’s image at the international level.
Beer has been made in the Czech lands since years had three numbers and wine has been made here since the days of the Roman Empire. That is to say nothing of the wide variety of spirits produced by Czech hands.
Anyone who visits the country, even for a short period, will come face to face with the easy availability of alcohol on their first day here. Alcohol is available not just in pubs and restaurants, but also every corner store and supermarket.
Everywhere you turn in the Czech Republic, alcohol of some sort is within easy reach. Breweries, large and small, dot the nation’s map densely and even the smallest of villages have at least one drinking establishment.
Many breweries, distilleries and wineries around the country offer tours of their facilities that include tastings of their products.
Many beer festivals, large and small, take place around the country throughout the year and wine festivals are common in the Autmn months.
In spite of alcohol being so deeply woven into Czech history and national identity, it may come as a surprise that it’s not a point of pride for all Czechs.
I’ve met many Czechs, particularly younger ones, who abstain from alcohol completely for a variety of reasons.
To underline the fact that not every Czech is proud of the part alcohol plays in their history and the view much of the world has of the Czech nation and people because of it, the Dry February event enjoys a surprising popularity among Czechs.
This Radio Praha article goes into a bit of detail about how and why the event appeals to Czechs.
Nepít je Úmění – Not Drinking is an Art
In the Czech Republic, Dry February is organized by the Czech branch of the League of Open Men NGO. While that organization’s main focus is mens’ health issues, Dry February is certainly not aimed exclusively at men. A quick look at the Suchej Únor wesbite and social media pages shows a significant number of women also participating. This is a good sign, as alcoholism among women in the country is on the rise according to this Radio Praha article.
The theme of the 2023 edition of the event is “Not Drinking is an Art”. The idea behind it is that the time and money people save by not drinking for the month can be put into artistic talents they already enjoy, or towards taking up a new hobby of a creative sort.
As someone with a background in the arts, I find this a fascinating approach. There is an age old mythos that connects arts and alcohol, and many believe that alcohol is a help in “getting creative juices flowing” due to its ability to part people from their inhibitions.
I believe this is a mythos very much worth breaking as, with a bit of research, it’s not difficult to find a number of great artists and creative minds down the ages who were noted as very light drinkers if not outright teetotalers.
In this view, I have empathy for Czechs who wish to make alcohol a much smaller aspect of their national character as outsiders perceive it.
A Foreigner, Like Me
While I’ve been living in the Czech Republic for nearly two decades, have attained permanent residency, and am happy to call it home; I am still foreigner enough to have empathy for the newly arrived in the Czech lands.
The majority of foreigners in the Czech Republic come from countries where alcohol is heavily taxed or otherwise regulated by law and not so easy to access. Going from that into a place where alcohol is comparatively cheap and plentiful is a recipe for disaster for many foreigners here.
As a growing portion of the population of the country is made up of foreigners, many of whom are here for work or study, an event like Suchej Únor can serve foreigners just as well as it can native Czechs.
If you are a foreigner new to the country, or soon to arrive in the country, keep the following in mind:
Not all Czechs drink alcohol and many are not proud of the country’s history of alcohol production.
Czechs are not likely to be offended if you decline an offer of alcohol. Feel free to say “No”.
Consuming ridiculous amounts of alcohol will not impress any Czech who is worth impressing.
As For Myself…
I paid a visit to the Suchej Únor website and had a look around. it’s all in Czech, but I found it responded well to online translator functions. If you’re a foreigner in the country who doesn’t speak Czech, you should still be able to get something from the website in English at least.
I filled out the alcohol test questionnaire on the website and it rated me in the “Moderate” category in alcohol consumption. Not bad, but something to work on.
As writing is the main art I indulge in these days, I’ve decided to use “Beyond Prague” in my Suchej Únor endeavours.
My goal is to create a permanent page on the website that will be a comprehensive resource for native Czechs and foreigners in the country who have alcohol problems, or friends and family who have them, to find counseling services wherever they may live in the country.
To this end, I have reached out to a number of agencies and organizations around the country who may be able to help me gather enough information to create such a page in the near future.
At the time of writing this article, I have heard back from one or two. Hopefully I will hear from more before Suchej Únor is done for 2023.
Škoda automobiles are easily one of the most recognized of Czech products around the world. Indeed, Škoda Auto is one of the world’s oldest still active automobile maunfactures and Mladá Boleslav is the company’s home.
A visit to this city, located approximately 50 kilometres north-east of Prague, would certainly not be complete without a visit to the Škoda Museum. However, as I discovered on a day trip there in July of 2022, there is much more on offer in Mladá Boleslav than simply automotive history.
Let’s spend some time in Mladá Boleslav:
Young, Relatively Speaking
The name Mladá Boleslav translates into “Young Boleslav”, though the city has a history stretching back to the latter half of the 10th century.
The city takes its name from Duke Boleslaus II (c.927/928-999) of the Přemyslid dynasty. Boleslaus II established a fortified settlement on the rock promontory where the city’s Old Town district sits today.
A town grew up around the settlement and the name “New Boleslav” was used for it by the early 1100s, as there was already a city called Boleslav near to Prague. The existing Boleslav was created by Boleslaus I (915-972), Boleslaus II’s father.
Eventually, the two towns were named Mladá (younger) and Stará (older) Boleslav to differentiate them.
The city’s castle sits on the promontory and marks one end of the Old Town district. The castle dates to the 13th century and has served many purposes over the ages. It currently serves as the seat for the regional museum and archives, a role it has held since the early 1970s.
In its history, Mladá Boleslav has been a royal city as well as an important centre for the Moravian Church. At the end of the 30 Years War in 1648, the city went into a period of decline that would last until the late 19th century.
in 1895, Václav Laurin (1865-1930) and Václav Klement (1868-1938) established their bicycle company, Laurin & Klement, in Mladá Boleslav. This turned the town’s fortunes and put it on the road to being the dynamic and prosperous city it is today.
While Laurin and Klement started with bicycles, they moved into motocycles and three wheel type vehicles before going into four wheeled automobiles in 1905 and becoming the largest automotive manufacturer in the Austro-Hungarian Empire soon after.
In 1925, Laurin & Klement sold their company to the Pilsen based Škoda Works and Škoda Auto was born. In spite of World War II and the rise and fall of the Socialist regime, Mladá Boleslav has never really looked back since that point in time.
A Day in Mladá Boleslav
As I mentioned earlier in this article, my experience with Mladá Boleslav comes from a day trip I made there. My trip was made by bus from Mělník, where we had our hotel during a week of holidays in July of 2022.
My plan was to travel to the city airport after arriving and work my way back through town and finish at the Škoda Museum, which is across the street from the city’s bus station.
I opted to use the city public transportation to get to the airport, but the experience was disorienting as the route had many strange turns and the stop announcement system on the bus I was on did not work well. After finishing at the airport, I decided to try walking back through town and found it very doable. If I did it again, I’d probably just walk through town in both directions.
Methodius Vlach Air Museum
Being a lifelong aviation enthusiast, my first stop on my visit was to the Methodius Vlach Air Museum (Letecké Muzeum Metoděje Vlacha) at the city airport.
The collection at this museum is composed of 28 to 30 aircraft, some replicas and some originals, as well as other aviation related artifacts and art. A large percentage of the aircraft in the collection are flyable, so you might be lucky enough see some of them flying if you visit. The museum also has a very spacious caffeteria with an outdoor terrace that faces directly onto a runway, so you can enjoy drinks and snacks while taking in whatever aircraft movements might be taking place.
If you’re an aircraft fan, this museum should definitely go on your “To do” list if you visit the city.
To the Centre
After finishing at the aviation museum, I decided to walk back to the historic centre from there.
I walked back along Regnerova street ( the street that goes past the museum) towards Pražská street until I found Štyrsova street. Pražská is a main road and quite busy; Štyrsova is a quiet residential street just before Regnerova joins Pražská and it runs roughly parallel to Pražská.
Following Štyrsova will take you through a residential area and light industrial area before it joins with Nádražní street. once you reach Nádražní street, you will clearly be able to see the city castle on your right. From there you can walk to the controlled junction of Nádražní and Ptácká streets, directly below the castle.
If you follow Nádražní street, you will come to a staircase that will get you to the top of the promontory and into the Old Town district. Alternately, you can follow Ptácká street and you will eventually find a large glass lift to take you up.
Working through the Old Town district, with the castle as your starting point, will take you past a nice selection of historic buildings of various styles that include Renaissance, Gothic and Neo-Romanesque to name a few. The historic centre of the city is a protected urban monument zone under Czech law. The square has plenty of cafés and restaurants for you to have a drink or meal while taking in the ambience of the area.
Old Town Square, with the Jizera fountain as its focal point along with the sgraffito details on the Old Town Hall is certainly worth taking the time to absorb the details of. In the midst of the historic buildings, the Jizera fountain is a nice reflection of the city’s more modern and dynamic aspects.
The fountain is named for the Jizera river that runs through the city and it includes a metal trough for water to run through and represent the river as well as statues of young people having fun and enjoying the river.
My last stop in the centre was to the city tourist information office to buy a few postcards and ask the best way to the Škoda Museum as well as a recommendation for a restaurant to take lunch in.
They directed me to Václav Klement way (tř. Václava Klementa), which starts about 200 metres straight ahead from the tourist office door.
Václav Klement way will take you directly to the Škoda Museum and present several dining options to you along the way. It will also take you past the lovely Výstaviště park, where you could sit on a bench and give your legs a rest if you felt the need.
The Škoda Museum
My last stop of the day, and the main reason most people visit Mladá Boleslav, was the Škoda Museum.
As befitting a company with the long history that Škoda Auto has, this museum is extensive and comprehensive. The collection will take you from the early days of Laurin & Klement bicycles to some of the latest vehicles coming off the company assembly lines.
Pamphlets to guide you through the museum are available in various languages and there are also uniformed guides around the museum to help you further. This is truly a world class museum and even if you are not passionate about cars, the experience will still be accessible and enjoyable.
A short distance from the main museum hall and collection, you can find the depository hall of the museum.
The depository hall is dedicated to Škoda rally cars and other motorsport types as well as vehicle prototypes that never reached production.
The museum also has a well stocked gift shop for you to take home a memento of your visit.
Given the size of the museum collection, you may work up an appetite during your visit. In that case, you should definitely stop in at the museum’s restaurant, Václav. The restaurant is a very spacious and relaxing place with a lot of natural light coming in.
Paying a Visit and Learning More
Even though I only took a day trip there, Mladá Boleslav clearly is one of those places that can be very flexible to a variety of visitors.
The city makes an easy day trip from Prague as there are several buses between the two cities. If you are visiting from Prague, the majority of those buses depart from the Černý Most bus station which is the eastern terminus of the B (yellow) line of the Prague metro system.
The average travel time between the cities is 45 minutes to an hour depending on the bus you take.
There is, however, enough on offer in Mladá Boleslav and the surrounding tourist region that there is no need to limit yourself to a day trip there. With a variety of accomodation options available, you could use it as your base for a holiday in the region. In fact, Mladá Boleslav is considered one of the symbolic “gate” cities into the stunning and picturesque Bohemian Paradise (Český raj) region, so it would serve you well as a base if you wanted to access that region.
The city’s official tourist information website will give you a good deal of information about accomodation options, tourist attractions, dining options and so forth. While it is all in Czech, it does respond reasonably well to online translators.
The official website of the Mladoboleslavsko region will give you more information about Mladá Boleslav as well as points of interest nearby the city.
In the present, Tábor is an important transportation hub and commercial centre in South Bohemia. However, the origins of this city can be found in one of the more pivotal events in Czech history: the Hussite Wars (1419-1434).
Named after religious reformer, Jan Hus (c.1372-1415), the Hussites were a Protestant movement that rebelled against Roman Catholic forces for 15 years before eventually being defeated. Tábor was established in 1420 as the command centre for the Hussite forces; it was also home to the Taborites, a radical branch of the Hussite movement.
The city took its name from Mount Tabor, in present day Israel. However, the word “tábor” in contemporary Czech, translates into “camp” or “encampment” in English; a very appropriate name given the history of the place.
From 1437 to 1547, Tábor grew and prospered to gain great influence in Bohemia at the time. It was granted status as a royal city in 1437 and enjoyed a great degree of autonomy.
The city’s fortunes took a downturn in 1547 when it took a stand against helping Ferdinand I, then king of Bohemia, in his campaign against German Lutherans in the kingdom; an event known as The Estates Revolt. For that refusal, the king confiscated a great deal of the city’s lands and wealth.
In 1618, at the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), the city stood against Habsburg forces. While the city held its ground for three years, it did eventually surrender and was heavily looted by Austrian forces. In the last year of the war, the city was looted by Swedish forces.
In the wake of the Thirty Years’ War, Tábor knew a long period of peace and rebuilding. Eventually, it became a centre of culture and enlightenment and played an important role in the Czech National Revival movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This movement was a response to the Germanization policies of Habsburg rule, which had done severe damage to Czechs’ knowledge of their own culture and threatened the existence of the Czech language itself. The movement rekindled interest among Czechs in their own customs, history and language.
Let’s spend some time in Tábor:
Start at the Heart
The centre of Tábor is a well preserved and an urban monument reservation protected under Czech law. Žižka Square is the focal point of the city’s historic centre and a good place to start your exploration of Tábor. If you’re looking for inspiration and advice, the city’s tourist information office is on the square in the town hall.
The square is lined with architecturally and historically valuable burgher houses of Renaissance style and is a reminder of the city’s prosperous period between the mid 1400s and mid 1500s.
You will also find a prominent statue of Jan Žižka (c. 1360-1424), for whom the square is named. Žižka was a follower of Jan Hus and a very successful general during the Hussite Wars in spite of eventually losing both eyes in battle. He is enshrined as a national hero among Czechs. In the context of Tábor, he could be seen as a hometown hero given that he was born in the nearby village of Trocnov – a district of the contemporary town of Borovany.
To find out more about Žižka, the Hussites and the Hussite Wars; a visit to the Hussite Museum is certainly in order. The museum is located in the old town hall building on Žižka Square. The museum is separated into multiple sections and you can pay to see all of it or just selected sections.
Aside of the historical aspects, Žižka Square is also home to several restaurants of differing cuisine styles. In the summer months, most of these restaurants have outdoor dining terraces so you can have a view of the square with your meal.
Going off Centre
There’s more to Tábor than just the historic centre. The city is generally walkable and the tourism website gives tips on some self-guided walking tours.
Just to the east of the centre, you can visit the Jordán reservior that dates to the late 1400s and is the oldest reservoir in central Europe. Historically, it stored water for the community; however, it serves as a recreational area today and you can see many people partaking in water sport of one sort or another in the summer months.
The church is consecrated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and dates to the early 1700s
Among some of the city’s other attractions, you can visit the small botanic garden. Established in 1866, it is the second oldest botanic garden in the country.
For something a bit lighter and more whimsical after taking in all the history, Tábor also offers some smaller museums that include one dedicated to chocolate and marzipan and another dedicated to Lego.
Getting There and Learning More
As Tábor is on the train line that connects Prague and České Budějovice, rail is the best way to get there if you are travelling from either of those cities and don’t have a car.
If you decide to stay directly in Tábor when you visit, the city offers a variety of accomodation options to cater to just about anyone’s taste in travel, from campgrounds to four star hotels.
To see a bigger picture of what’s on offer to a visitor in Tábor, please follow this link to the city’s tourism website