Olomouc – Eastern Gem

The city centre from the south-west.

Hiding in Plain Sight

Olomouc is the Czech Republic’s sixth largest city and the seat of the county that shares the Olomouc name.

Many tourist guidebooks and websites refer to the city as a “hidden gem”.

I’ve visited the city many times. While I can agree it is a gem and not to be missed if you’re in the Moravian regions of the country, it is anything but “hidden”.

From the early Stone Age to the present, Olomouc has held importance as a crossroads for travellers. If you travel by train between the eastern and western parts of the Czech Republic, chances are very good that your train will pass through Olomouc. You may even need to use Olomouc as a transfer point.

The city’s role as a crossroads made it a very important and prosperous trade hub early in its history and very influential in the region. This gave the city a great deal of strategic importance and made it a major target for seige in both the Hussite Wars and the 30 Years War. In fact, the city was all but destroyed when the Swedish army laid seige to it during the latter conflict.

While the city’s political importance began to wane with the Communist coup of 1948, it still retains influence in areas of culture and education among others.

Let’s spend some time with Olomouc:

Town Hall on Upper square.

Start on the Squares

The most sensible place to start exploring Olomouc is on the main square, or squares.

The main square of Olomouc is divided into an Upper and a Lower section. Upper square is where you will find the town hall and the tourist information centre that’s located in the ground floor of it.

Construction of the town hall, which is primarily Gothic in style, began in 1378. After a number of interuptions, including the Hussite Wars, construction was completed in in 1443.

The town hall has seen a number of reconstructions and renovations over the years. The current face of the building is the result of a very intensive renovation and restoration carried out in 2017 and 2018.

It is sometimes possible to join a guided tour to the top of the town hall tower. The availability can often be weather dependent as the viewing area at the top of the tower is open to the elements. If you want to visit the top of the tower, ask the staff in the tourist information office about availabilities.

A very unique aspect of the town hall is the astronomical clock next to the tower. The clock has been part of the town hall since the 15th or 16th century and it has seen a few renovations and restylings through the centuries.

Town hall astronomical clock.

At the end of the Second World War, the clock was heavily damaged by artillery fire.

The present face of the clock comes from a reconstruction that was completed in 1955, in the style of Socialist Realism. It features figures and motifs of workers, scientists, athletes and other professions valued by the Socialist regime.

It also features images of local costumes and other aspects of regional ethnography.

The astronomical clock is one of the main draws in the city centre and is the only clock of its sort in the world in Socialism Realism style.

Adjacent to the town hall on the upper square is the Holy Trinity Column, a massive Baroque style column that is a key symbol of the city and was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000.

Work began on the column in 1716 and was completed in 1754. The column represents the largest grouping of Baroque style sculptures in a single structure in Central Europe. It also contains a chapel in the base that can sometimes be visited.

Aside of the Town hall and Holy Trinity Column, the Upper and Lower squares contain a number of fountains and are lined with many shops, restaurants, pubs and cafés.

One of the many rooms in the Archbishop’s Palace.

Spiritual Attractions

If you’re the sort that likes to visit churches and other religious monuments, Olomouc has much to offer you.

Olomouc has held great religious importance in the region since the days of the Great Moravian Empire (833 – c.907).

The bishopric, and subsequent archbishopric of Olomouc held great influence in the regions they oversaw and owned a great deal of land. A number of the castles and chateaus you can visit in the country spent part of their histories in the ownership of the Olomouc bishops.

On the eastern edge of the city centre, you’ll find the Baroque style Archbishop’s Palace. It’s possible to take a guided tour, but it requires a reservation and is only available to groups. It’s a quite expansive place and serves as testament to the influence the bishops and archbishops of Olomouc had.

Within a short walk of the Archbishop’s Palace, you’ll find the Gothic style St. Wenceslas’ Cathedral. It’s the tallest church in Moravia and the second tallest in the country.

Basilica of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary

The city has many other churches of different styles to visit. There is the distinctive three domed St. Michael’s church that is an unmissable element of the city centre skyline and the Gothic style St. Maurice church with its viewing tower that will give you a great view over Upper square and the rest of the centre.

If you leave the centre, you can visit the Basilica of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary in the Svatý Kopeček district in the north-east suburbs.

The basilica is in Baroque style and dates to the late 1600s.

Nearby the basilica is the city zoo. It’s a very nice zoo with a good reputation. It has spacious enclosures for the animals and is a pleasant place to visit if you’re in the area.

Svatý Kopeček and its attractions can be accessed by bus on the city public transportation system.

Ceremonial hall of the Komenium primary school

Scholarly Pursuits

Education has played as much a role in shaping the history of Olomouc as religion has.

Places of formal education have existed in Olomouc since the 1200s.

The city is home to Palacký University. Established in 1573, it’s the oldest university in Moravia and the second olded university in the country. Only Charles University, in Prague, is older.

From a tourist perspective, many of the university’s facilities are open to visits by the public. The university also operates an interactive science centre known as Fort Science.

Aside of the university, another testament to the importance of academia in the city’s history is the lavishly painted ceremonial hall of the Komenium primary school.

Work began on the richly frescoed hall in the 1890s. The work is mostly Neo-Renaissance in style, with some elements of Baroque mixed in. The work features numerous allegorical motifs that focus on academia, human virtues and professions considered to be worth aspiring to.

If there is a hidden gem to Olomouc, the ceremonial hall certainly qualifies. As the school is an active institution, it is only possible to visit the hall during July and August. Tours of the hall are organized by the city tourism office. If you are in the city at the right time of year and want to see the hall, enquire at the tourist information office in the town hall about the particulars of taking a guided tour of it.

An early spring walk in Smetana park

A Feel for the City

Olomouc is one of those places that carries much of its charm in the fact that it has much to offer visitors, yet is not touristy in atmosphere.

There’s a relaxed feel to Olomouc that makes it a great place to base yourself and make smaller trips to the surrounding attractions from. If you visit a more touristy place nearby, like Kroměříž, Olomouc will give you a good place to return to and decompress.

Being a university city, Olomouc does have a youthful energy to balance all the historical monuments. The city offers a number of cultural and recreational options to suit a variety of tastes.

On the subject of taste, Olomouc also has a number of dining options from full restaurants to small bistros and everything in between. You surely will not go hungry in this city.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try a serving of the notriously pungent Tvarůžky cheese. It is a local speciality that is made in the nearby village of Loštice.

The desert pavillion of the exhibition centre greenhouses.

Olomouc is a pleasantly walkable place in the centre and immediate surroundings. Along the southern edge of the centre, you’ll find three parks: Bezruč, Čech and Smetana.

The three parks are connected and occupy approximately 47 hectares.

In Smetana park, you can find the city’s exhibition centre and its adjoining greenhouses.

In Bezruč park, you can enjoy the exhibition centre’s botanic garden.

The exhibition centre itself hosts a variety of local and international events through the year, so you may be able to find an exhibition to your interests if you are in the city at the right time.

To visit areas of the city further from the centre, you can use the well organized and effective public transportation system that consists of both buses and trams.

If you are travelling in the area around the Easter or Christmas periods, the city hosts special markets for both holidays.

The UNESCO listed Holy Trinity Column on Upper square.

Paying a Visit and Learning More

This article has just touched on a bit of what Olomouc has to offer. If you decide to visit the city and make it your base for trips into the area, it has a variety of accommodation options to suit most travelling styles.

Being a transportation hub and the main city in its region, Olomouc is not difficult to access by road or rail.

Several train lines go through Olomouc per day. Even if you don’t make the city your base, it’s not difficult to get to for a day or weekend visit.

Depending on which train you choose, you can get from Brno to Olomouc in as little as an hour. Travelling to the city from Ostrava similarly takes as little as an hour depending on your choice of train.

If you’re travelling to the city from points in the west of the country, it’s approximately an hour and half from Pardubice and two and half hours from Prague by train.

To see all of what Olomouc offers to visitors, have a look at the city’s official tourism website.

Pragas and Škodas and Tatras… Oh My!

The Brno Technical Museum hosts an annual public weekend at their historic vehicle repository in the Řeckovice district of the city. The 2023 edition of the event took place on April 22 and 23.

The event showcases not only the museum’s own vehicles, but also vehicles belonging to other groups and organizations.

You can see classic Czech vehicles as well as some non-Czech ones as well.

Here’s a gallery of some of what was on view:

Veselé Velikonoce! – Happy Easter!

Easter is soon upon us, and Brno’s Easter market opened up this weekend.

From a foreigner’s standpoint, Easter in the Czech Republic is both familiar and strange. Familiar Easter eggs decorated in a variety of ways are in abundance. At the same time are the less familiar pomlázkas, a symbolic whip made of braided willow branches.

On the Thursday just before Easter, green beer becomes available for a limited time in pubs around the country. If you’re more familiar with seeing green beer around St. Patrick’s Day, seeing it at Easter would certainly be confusing.

If you’d like to know more about Easter in the Czech Republic, take some time to visit the existing article about it here on the website.

Here’s some pictures of the Brno Easter market from this weekend:

Hustopeče – Heart of Wine and Almonds

This weekend is the annual almond festival in the town of Hustopeče, not far from Brno, in the South Moravian wine region.

Hustopeče is home to the only almond orchard in central Europe, it is unusual as almonds like the warmer and drier regions of southern Europe.

Many people come from all around the country to see the almond trees in bloom and sample many of the almond based delicacies on offer. Many restaurants in the town serve dishes with almonds in the mix during this time.

Here’s a few photos I took of the event this year:

Koniklec – Purple and Protected

Koniklec (Pulsatilla grandis) is a protected flower in the Czech Republic that blooms in early spring and is known as the pasque flower or prairie crocus in English.

I took these pictures today in the Kamenný vrch nature reserve area in the south-west corner of Brno, one of the areas in the country where koniklec grows:

A Weekend in Budapest

This past weekend, we took a trip to Budapest. You may be familiar with my existing article about the Hungarian capital city; if not, you can find it here.

Budapest is a delightful city and certainly not to be missed if you’re traveling through central Europe. This weekend, we mainly went to take in the Christmas markets, but we also fit in a cruise on the Danube river.

Here’s a few shots of the weekend:

Královec – The Newest Czech Region

Královec in relation to the Czech Republic (credit: visitkralovec.cz)

Kaliningrad Under New Management

On October 4 of 2022, the formerly Russian held territory of Kaliningrad and the Czech Republic proudly announced that the Baltic sea enclave had seceded from Russia to become a Czech governed region.

The secession follows a referendum where more than 97% of Kaliningrad residents voted in favour of leaving Russia. In becoming part of the Czech Republic, the region’s name has been officially changed from Kaliningrad to Královec.

Updated map of the Královec region showing the new Czech names for major towns and cities. (credit: visitkralovec.cz)

What Does the Change Mean?

The first changes have already taken place in Královec as Czech flags have been raised where Russian flags once flew, and most municipalities have officially changed their names to Czech forms rather than Russian ones.

Other changes currently in progress are the shift to the Czech koruna as the official currency and an increase in the availability of Czech language courses in private language schools.

Czech will eventually become the official language in all public schools in the region, as it will become the official language of Královec. Generous financial incentives have been offered by the Czech government to teachers of the Czech language who are willing to relocate to Královec and expedite the Czech language learning process there.

Of course, changes are underway in the main part of the Czech Republic as well.

The new territory means that the Czech Republic now has its own coast, with well established ports and seaside resorts ready for an influx of Czech tourists eager for a seaside holiday within their own borders.

A Czech air force transport aircraft departs for Královec. (credit: J. Cimrman)

One of the first changes has been the establishment of a high speed rail link between Prague and the capital city of Královec. More rail links from other Czech cities, as well as air links, to points in the new territory are currently in the planning stages.

Of course, the security of the new region is of paramount importance. Units of the Czech army and air force have taken up permanent station in Královec and the establishment of a naval element of the Czech military is being given top priority.

In these early days, Czech military vehicles and aircraft going into Královec have been painted with a large “Ř”, a letter unique to the Czech language, in addition to their standard markings to ease quick identification of them as Czech.

A map showing the route of the Beer Stream 1 pipeline. (credit: KralovecCzechia via Twitter)

The Beer Must Flow

Along with the transportation and military infrastructure going into place, a beer pipeline from the Czech mainland to Královec is under construction and will ensure that quality Czech beer is always available there.

The first stage of the pipeline, known as Beer Stream 1, will run from Prague to Královec via Poland. There is a major junction in the line at Warsaw, with a plan to run Beer Stream 2 to Tallin, Estonia in the future. Latvia and Lithuania have agreed in principle to allowing Beer Stream 2 through their territories.

Paying a Visit and Learning More

If you’re in Prague and wish to visit Královec, the high speed rail link mentioned earlier in this article is ceratinly an option for you.

A visit to the official tourism website of Královec, visitkralovec.cz, will give you a good idea of what’s there to see and do. Keep in mind, these are early days and the website is a work in progress so not all functions may be working yet.

If you have a Twitter account, you can visit them at KralovecCzechia.

This article at the Radio Prague International website will give you more information on how Královec became Czech. It includes a quite interesting section detailing how the Czech Republic could have a genuine historical claim to the region. Rather than seceding from Russia, Královec may just be “coming home”.

Vinobraní – Wine Festival Season

With September well underway, the wine festival (vinobraní) season is in full swing across the South Moravian regions.

Festivals large and small are taking place and you can sample locally produced wine and burčák from now through October.

Here’s some pictures I took today of the vinobraní in Brno’s Svobody square:

Playing Around Between Articles

Very recently, I bought a new camera. The old one, which has served me well for the past 12 years or so, was starting to show its age.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been playing around with the new camera and I’m quite happy so far with what I’m seeing. I’m confident it will help take quality up a step or two where imagery is concerned in my websites.

Today after work, I went to the Masaryk University botanic gardens here in Brno to get some more practice with the new camera. Here are some of the results:

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.