Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Czech Trip 2015 - Cultural Day Part 2. Telč

The most photographed view of Telč
The second and final stop of our “cultural tour” was the UNESCO World Heritage town of Telč; which was a 50 minute train journey from Slavonice. Telč seemed to have a lot more going for it than Slavonice. For a start, its population is twice that of its near neighbour, and on the walk into the own centre from the station, we passed some proper shops; rather than boutiques selling items exclusively for tourists. 

Main Square
Telč has a long and illustrious history, which I won’t attempt to recount here, but one point worthy of note is that most of the current buildings in the town date from the 16th Century, as much of medieval Telč was destroyed by a terrible fire in 1530.  A look on the town’s official websitedescribes its history and development in greater detail; from its 12th Century beginnings up to the present day.
Telč has been described as the "most perfect example of the Italian Renaissance north of the Alps”, and with one of the most beautiful squares in Europe, overlooked by multicoloured houses, it is easy to see why.

Originally created as a moated fortress, Telč today is surrounded by crystal clear fishponds and it against these lakes that some of the best and most memorable photos of the town have been taken.
Main Square

Detail on building
As in Slavonice earlier, most of our party headed for the tourist information office in order to see what the town had to offer. Afterwards, we split into small groups with just me, plus two companions, forming one of them. We followed a narrow lane which ran behind some of the houses fronting the square, down towards on of the lakes. It was here we took several photos set against the backdrop of the picturesque buildings which now house the university.

Unfortunately our visit to the town was marred slightly by the unseasonable cold wind blowing through the town. It was hard to believe that just three days earlier I had been walking around Prague wearing just a T-shirt and shorts, enjoying wall-to-wall sunshine and temperatures in the mid twenties. We sought refuge from the unseasonable weather in a rather nice pub called Restaurace U Marušky. Here we enjoyed some Černá Hora beer (Ležák 4.8% ABV), and I broke my fast with a warming bowl of beef noodle soup.

Restaurace U Marušky

I could have stayed at U Marušky longer; it was my sort of pub, pleasantly old with solid wood furniture and the look which is only acquired after many years of trading. There were several groups of locals in the bar, all keeping the friendly barmaid busy with orders for both drinks and food.

My companions though were keen to move on, having noticed earlier, a small cellar bar selling Bernard beers, so we decided to give it a try. I don’t recall its name, but it seemed popular with the town’s younger and possibly student population. I tried the mixed light and dark Bernard beer, plus a smaller glass of the dark on its own. All three of us went for a pizza as well, in order to assuage hunger (in my case) and to soak up the beer in all three cases.

Afterwards, we made our way back to the railway station, from where local and regional buses also depart. We took the bus, which was more comfortable than the train, and also a lot quicker. The journey back to Jihlava took us through some of the most pleasing countryside I have seen; with rolling hills, dark forests and stretches of verdant green pasture. Numerous fish ponds dotted the landscape, providing fresh fish for the villages we passed through on the way, as we travelled along winding country roads, lined by blossom-laden apple trees. It was a fitting end to a packed and fulfilling day out.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Czech Trip 2015 - Cultural Day Part 1. Slavonice

Local train to Slavonice

First, I would like to extend a warm welcome to readers from my main blog who, maybe have not visited this site before. Paul’s Beer Travels is still essentially about beer, but with a little more information about the places I have visited in search of the perfect pint. What follows below is an account of the two “heritage towns” I visited on my recent trip to the Vysočina Region of the Czech Republic. As there is plenty in both towns to interest the reader, I have written two separate posts; one about each town.

The way into town
First on our list was the town of Slavonice, a small town close to the Austrian border, which was once an important staging post on the old coach road between Prague and Vienna. Between the 14th and16th centuries, this strategic position generated enormous wealth for the town, but when the route was relocated to the north, passing through Znojmo, Slavonice’s source of income dried up.
Slavonice is therefore very much preserved in its medieval renaissance look, with buildings dating from the 14th to 16th centuries, the oldest dating to 1545. Many are decorated with Sgraffito; a type of wall decor, produced by applying layers of plaster tinted in contrasting colours to a moistened surface, and then scratching, so as to produce an outline drawing.

Main square, Slavonice
We travelled by train; a journey which took around two hours. On the way we passed through some quite varied, but very pleasant countryside, with our train stopping at numerous rural halts. From the station it was a short walk into the town, via an old cinder track which led us past a cemetery, before emerging into the main town square.

The rain of the day before was replaced by grey skies, with the occasional glimpse of sunshine; but the main problem was the cold wind, which didn’t abate all day. Our first stop in Slavonice was the tourist information centre, then after that we split up either into small groups, or in many cases went off as individuals for a look around. Before going our separate ways we agreed to meet up for lunch at the town’s largest pub, which directly overlooked the square.
I must admit it didn’t take me long to look around. I took a few photos, but I think it’s only now, when I look at them again and see the attractive facades of the houses over-looking the square, that I appreciate the real appeal of Slavonice. The unseasonably cold weather was not conducive to sight-seeing, and to be fair there was very little happening in the town; with few people about and hardly any traffic.

Colourful houses overlooking the square
Reading through a pamphlet I picked up at the tourist office made me aware of the troubled history between the mainly German speaking inhabitants of the town, and their Czech counterparts, which began with the rise to power of a certain Austrian corporal in neighbouring Germany, and culminated with the expulsion of ethnic Germans at the end of the Second World War. The expulsions, which were often unnecessarily brutal in nature, left the town devoid of inhabitants, and whilst Czechs were moved in to fill the void, the communists, who seized power in 1947, were wary of the town’s position relative to the nearby border with Austria. 

 The border of course, was soon sealed with barbed-wire fences, watch-towers and armed guards, but some border villages were completely removed, and the town entered a period of stagnation from which it doesn’t seem to have recovered. No one was allowed to move this close to the border – unless, of course, you were a loyal card-carrying party member, which is why today, little exists outside of the square. There are a couple streets past the town’s thick late-medieval walls, then the town just stops. There are no dreary communist-era concrete block apartment buildings, and none of the more modern houses one would expect to find elsewhere in the country.

It is not surprising then that I soon found my way back to the hotel-like pub. I rather foolishly didn’t take a note of its name, but I remember entering through a large doorway and then ascending the stairs to the upstairs bar and dining room. I found several of my colleagues already there and it wasn’t that long before we were joined by the rest of the group.

One of these buildings was where we had lunch
The majority of the party wanted to eat, so we were moved into the substantial front room, overlooking the main square. This place had obviously been Slavonice’s main hotel at one point, and it had a certain faded grandeur about it which harped back to the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Our waitress though was quick and efficient and kept the group supplied with ample looking plates of food, plus plenty of beer. I had decided leave eating until later, and so just stuck to the beer- nothing unusual; just some good and well-kept Pilsner Urquell.

 Suitably fed and watered, we made our way back to the station, for the next stop on our “cultural tour”, the UNESCO World Heritage town of Telč.