Mladá Boleslav – Škoda City

Looking across Old Town square.

Much More than Cars

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:

The city’s imposing castle.

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.

Statue of Laurin & Klement at the Škoda Museum.

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.

Statues having fun on the Jizera fountain on Old Town Square.

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.

A view of some of the aircraft in the Methodius Vlach collection.

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.

The sgraffitoed facade of the Old Town Hall.

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.

Výstaviště park on Václav Klement way, between the centre and the Škoda Museum.

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.

Škoda cars from the 1930s on display.

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.

Škoda rally cars and other motorsport models in the depository hall.

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.

A suggested walking route between the bus station and airport that includes the Old Town district.

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.

Vintage Public Transport in Brno

On June 18 of 2022, Brno Public Transportation hosted an open day at their trolley bus garage in the Komín district of the city to celebrate the 25th anniversary of that garage’s opening.

Both currently serving and historical public transportation vehicles were on view and it was possible to get rides on vintage busses and trolleys from the garage to the centre and back.

Here’s some pictures of the event:

Tábor – Hussite Heartland

Looking toward the town hall on Žižka Square.

Born in Battle

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.

Kotnov Tower and Bechyně Gate, remnants of Tábor’s medieval fortifications.

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:

Examples of the historic architecture on Žižka Square.

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.

Statue of Jan Žižka in the Hussite Museum.

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.

The Jordán reservoir, a popular recreation area in the city.

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 pilgrimage church in the Klokoty district.

In the Klokoty district of the city, to the west of the centre, you’ll find a Baroque style pilgrimage church and a Way of the Cross that leads to it.

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.

A vintage Škoda racing car on display at the chocolate and marzipan museum.

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

My Book has Arrived!

In late October of 2021, I made a post about a book I had just finished writing on the Czech Republic. I’m happy to say that on April 8 of 2022, I took delivery of some sample copies of the finished product!

I’m quite happy with it overall and hope it will be helpful to anyone travelling to the Czech Republic and will make Czechs happy with how I’ve portrayed them and their culture to the rest of the world.

I’ve set up a dedicated page in the main menu of the website with more information about the book. I have nested another page under it with some suggestions of where you can order the book.

From Behind the scenes

Cover image of “Culture Smart Czech Republic” (Kuperard Publishers)

A book on the way, with my name on it!

Over the last couple of years, my posting on Beyond Prague has not been as regular as usual. There is the obvious reason of the COVID pandemic making travel more restricted. Also, WordPress changed their editor to a block type and that has taken some getting used to.

However, there has been work going on behind the scenes with the updating of some older articles and general houskeeping of the website.

The biggest news is that over the past three years I have been writing a book about the Czech Republic. In October of 2021, the writing and editing had been completed and it was sent to press. The paperback version is due for release in late January of 2022 and the eBook version in late February of 2022.

The book will be published by Kuperard Publishers as part of their “Culture Smart!” series of books designed to reduce possible culture shock for travelers.

The book is available for pre-ordering now. This link will take you to the book’s page on Kuperard’s website for the “Culture Smart!” series:

https://www.culturesmartbooks.co.uk/europe/czech.php

České Budějovice – Beer and Beyond

The city hall and Samson fountain on Přemysl Otakar II square.

In the Heart of South Bohemia

Serving as the capital of South Bohemia, České Budějovice is best known outside the Czech Republic for being the birthplace of Budvar, the ancestor to contemporary Budweiser beer. While you can visit the brewery and sample the product, there is much more to this city than that.

České Budějovice is an important city historically that has maintained its relevance to the present. Established in 1265 as a royal city to enable the king of Bohemia, Přemysl Otakar II, to project his power into the region. The city was fortified and was strategically important in both the Hussite Wars and the Thirty Years’ War.

From a very early stage, the city flourished as a commercial, cultural and political hub for the region. It built its early wealth through the mining of local silver deposits, fish farming, salt, beer and transport. The city’s placement on the Vltava and Malše rivers made it very important for boat trasnport. In the early-mid 1800s it became part of the first horse drawn-tramway on Continental Europe when a line connecting it to Linz, Austria was established.

The city still serves as an important transport hub in the region as well as an important centre for beer production; it is home not only to the aforementioned Budweiser Budvar brewery, but also the Samson brewery. The city has also built its economy on manufacturing; a notable company in both historical and contemporary contexts to the city is Koh-I-Noor Hartmuth, one of the world’s oldest art and office supply manufacturers.

České Budějovice is also a centre for education, being the home of the University of South Bohemia and the Institute of Technology and Economics.

Let’s spend some time with České Budějovice:

Looking in the direction of the centre from the parkland directly west of it.

Being in “Budějce”

Known locally by the nickname “Budějce”, the city presents a great balance of historic and contemporary aspects as well as urban development alongside a respectable amount of greenspace.

While it is not without attractions of its own for visitors, České Budějovice is a working city and a university town first and foremost that nobody could accuse of being particularly touristy, many would say that the somewhat lower level of tourism here is part of the city’s charm and I wouldn’t argue that.

In fact, with several higher traffic tourist attractions within easy reach, České Budějovice doesn’t need to be all that touristy. If you take accommodation here and use the city as your base for visiting other places of interest in the region, for which it serves very well, you’ll certainly appreciate the more relaxed pace and elbow room this town offers. After spending a day at the nearby and more heavily visited Hluboká chateau or town of Český Krumlov, returning to the more relaxed environs of České Budějovice is a great way to decompress.

The city has many restaurants and pubs, several of which have outdoor seating in the spring and summer months. Taking dinner at one of the restaurants on the main square on a clear summer evening with the warm light of the setting sun illuminating the historic buildings that line it gives a very peaceful atmosphere.

Directly west of the city’s historic centre, you can find the confluence of the Vltava and Malše rivers and Stromovka park which lies just beyond them. This area will give you a great opportunity for some walks in peaceful greenspace after a day of more touristic activities.

“Humanoids” on Lannova třída.

What to do Here

České Budějovice can be experienced in a number of ways depending on the length of your stay and your tastes.

If you arrive to the city via rail or bus, a good way to introduce yourself to “Budějce” is to walk to the historic centre along Lannova třída; a pedestrianised shopping and business district near the train and bus stations that leads directly to the centre. At the end of the street nearest the centre, you’ll get an introduction to the city’s contemporary artistic side through the highly visible “Humanoids” sculpture that depicts a group of business people on their way to work. The sculpture was created by locally born artist, Michal Trpák.

The city’s historic centre is a protected urban area that will provide history buffs and architecture enthusiasts with no shortage of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque style structures to take in and explore. Some sections of the old city walls are also still intact to be viewed. The centrepiece is the arcaded Přemysl Otakar II square and the Samson fountain that sits at the centre of it.

The Black Tower.

You can experience the square and fountain from ground level or view it from above by a climb up to the top of the Black Tower, which sits adjacent to the square. It must be said, however, that if you are claustrophobic or not physically fit, you may wish to avoid the tower.

Other notable attractions in the historic centre include Piarist square and the St. Nicholas Cathedral. A quick stop at the city’s tourist information centre on the ground floor of the city hall on Přemysl Otakar II square will provide you with a wealth of further tips on what to see.

If you enjoy good food when you travel, there are a number of well reviewed restaurants in the centre that serve a variety of cuisines, both traditionally Czech and otherwise.

Moving outside the centre, it is possible to visit the Budweiser Budvar brewery and take a tour. It is also possible to take sightseeing boat cruises along the Vltava river.

If you’re an active type, several cycling routes run in and around the city and this can be a very good way to see the city and immediate surroundings. As cycling is quite popular in the Czech Republic, bicycle rental places and bike sharing services are not difficult to find in places the size of this city.

As mentioned earlier, this city makes a great jumping off point to make day trips to other attractions in the region; Český Krumlov and Hluboka chateau to name but two such places that are easy to reach from here. As such, the city has a variety of accomodation options on offer to satisfy most travelling styles.

Parkland at the confluence of the Malše and Vltava rivers.

A Feel for the Place

Due to being a living city and a university town, České Budějovice comes across as an unpretentious place with a distinctively youthful feel to balance the historic side of things. The city is also an important sporting centre in the country and home to professional hockey and soccer teams at the national level. The city also hase several venues for other sports. As such, “Budějce” also comes across as an active city.

Getting there and Learning More

As České Budějovice is a regional capital, it is not difficult to access and is well connected by road and rail to other places in the Bohemian regions of the country

If you wish to know more about visiting České Budějovice and surroundings, the city’s tourism site carries a good deal of information about accommodation, transportation and other such vital information for travelers.

You can also find useful information on the České Budějovice pages of the VisitBohemia.cz website.

Chlebíčky – Slavic Snack Supreme

Delicious Chlebíčeks about to be savoured at the Ema delicatessen in Brno.

Art on Bread

Czech cuisine does not have a reputation for being particularly artistic when it comes to presentation. Many Czech dishes are hearty and delicious, but put presentation second to piling the plate high. The ubiquitous Czech open faced sandwich, the chlebíček, flies in the face of that norm.

If the Czechs demonstrate their artistic side in culinary endeavours anywhere, they do so most visibly when creating chlebíčky. Everything from the bread the snacks are made on to every one of the possible toppings are carefully considered and placed.

The chlebícek is likely to be one of the first items of traditional food that a new arrival in the Czech Republic will encounter. The snack’s popularity as a quick bite on the go and as party food make it a staple product for delicatessens (lahůdky) across the country and display cases full of the snacks are a frequent sight anywhere you go.

A Taste of History

The chlebíček traces its history to 1916 and was created by Prague deli chef, Jan Paukert. From his deli, Paukert served the who’s who of Czech society of the day including the first president of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Masaryk and opera soprano, Ema Destinnová.

Paukert’s creation was a hit from the start. In his original recipe, Paukert spread potato salad made with homemade mayonnaise on the bread and then topped it with Prague ham, hard boiled egg, Emmental cheese, Hungarian salami and a slice of tomato.

It was designed to be a quick and convenient snack for busy people that they could consume in just a few bites while on the go. It worked back then and it still works today.

Another chlebíček, fresh from the deli to be enjoyed at home.

Chlebíčky, Bottom to Top

The toppings on a chlebíček can be highly variable and limited only by the imagination of the maker. However, there are certain things that help keep a chlebíček traditional in the truest sense. Let’s take a look:

While it is possible to find or order chlebíčky on different types of bread, the proper type of bread is called veka. It’s a white bread that is similar in look to a French baguette.

Before the toppings go on, a base is spread over the slice of bread. There are a few different base spreads: butter, mayonnaise and horseradish cream are typical as are vlašský salát and pochoutkový salát. Often, the toppings will govern which base spread is used.

Traditional topping components include slices of cheese, hard boiled egg and meat along with fresh vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and sweet peppers. Typically, you will also see a slice of pickle and sprig of parsley to fully top things off.

Getting Your Hands on Chlebíčky

If you come to the Czech Republic, accessing this snack will be no problem at all; perhaps the biggest issue you may face is which to choose. Every delicatessen and bakery will have a selection, sometimes very wide, and you could find yourself with more choices than you imagined possible.

If you don’t live in the Czech lands, but in an area with a significant Czech ethnic community, you will probably be able to find chlebíčky without to much problem if there is a traditional delicatessen or bakery in the area.

Don’t fear if neither situation applies to you, this link will take you to a website that will give you the recipe for veka bread and all the other information you need to make this Czech treat for yourself. This link will also give you a recipe for veka as well as a good list of topping suggestions and recipes for base spreads.

Further Reading and Learning More

If you’d like to know more about the history of the chlebíček, I recommend checking out this article. Not only will it give you more historical information on the snack, it will also give you some idea of the dizzying array of toppings you might see on one.