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.

Hustopeče – Heart of Wine and Almonds

Hustopeče is a town located about an hour south of Brno by direct train, nestled in the hills of the South Moravian wine country.

As one might expect, the town has plenty of local wine on offer. What might surprize you, however, is that the town is home to an impressive almond tree orchard. This orchard makes the town unique in Central Europe and the town certainly capitalises on that uniqueness with a multitude of almond based products to buy.

Once per year, on a Saturday in March, the town hosts its major almond festival. in 2022, March 26 was that Saturday. I visited the town on the following day, here’s some pictures of the trip:

Paying a Visit and Learning More

Hustopeče is not particularly touristy, but it does host other events as well as the almond festival during the year. As it’s connected by a number of direct trains per day to Brno, most of which only take about an hour, it’s an easy day trip from the city.

If you go there and wish to visit the almond orchard, make sure you wear some sturdy trekking shoes or hiking boots. The orchard is on a hill and the path up to it is a dirt trail with some areas of loose rock on it.

To find out more of what Hustopeče offers, follow this link to the official town website. The website is available in Czech, English and German.

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.